Saturday, February 7, 2015

How To Make A Winter Sowing Container

Winter Sowing
Here's a brief summary on how winter sowing may improve your self-reliance.

  • Winter sowing allows you to start a large amount of plants from seed with reduced costs and work compared to growing seedlings indoors.
  • Reduces trash that ends up in landfill by using common, recycled materials.
  • Eliminates risk of plant death to overexposure (transplants are already hardened from sun/wind burn and some cold snaps), and reduces risk of pest problems.
  • A passive approach makes winter sowing easy and generally problem-free.

Last month, I began recording my progress towards self-reliance with an article about high-efficiency artificial lighting for decreased home energy consumption.  Today,  I am going to change gears a bit and talk about an important part of creating a sustainable and reliable food supply.

In order to be released from the choke hold of the modern grocery store, one must somehow provide themselves the bulk of their caloric needs from their own land.  And to do that, one must grow a LOT of food.  Furthermore, one must have a continuous supply of this food through the growing season.

Now I don't want to go off-topic by getting into the exact numbers of plants a family needs to grow in order to supply the majority of their food from their own land.  However, we can assume that in order to have a self-reliant food supply from one's own property, one would need to start by growing a lot of plants from seed.

Today's article is going to be explaining how to do just that: Starting plants from seed easily, frugally and efficiently by using a method know as "Winter Sowing."

Flowering plants are easy to winter sow, but will it work for vegetables as well?

Winter Sowing: What Is It, Exactly?

The name is essentially what you do in this method... sowing seeds in the winter.

It's more or less a simple method to get seeds to germinate and grow plants for using in the garden.  It uses common recycled materials to enhance early seedling growth, while also providing protection from some pests and moderately cold temperatures.  It also eliminates the need to grow many sensitive plants indoors, saving space for other plants or furniture, as well as eliminating the need for artificial lighting.  Additionally, just about anyone can use this method, as it is super easy to learn and very inexpensive.

What Materials Do I Need to Winter Sow Seeds?

Here's a list of things you need to winter sow:

  • Potting Soil (preferably a mix of homemade compost and peat moss, but store-bought soil will work too)
  • Seeds
  • An old plastic container (empty milk jugs are most common, but you can use things like soda bottles, juice containers, yogurt, ect.)
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Marker (optional)

How Do I Use the Winter Sowing Method?

In a nutshell, you will be growing plants in recycled containers that have been modified to hold soil and protect young seedlings from frost.

You can find step-by-step instructions at .  The pictures in the link show you how to make it out of semi-transparent milk jugs, but there are many kinds of containers (juice, yogurt, ect.) that will work the same way.  Just make sure they are clear or at least somewhat transparent.  The solid color containers won't work because they don't allow enough light to reach inside.

Here is a short video of me going through the entire process, with tips and pointers to help ensure your success with winter sowing.

I experimented with winter sowing last year with a few milk jugs and flower seeds, and I had a pretty good success rate.  My hypothesis is that growing vegetable seeds using the winter sowing method will work just as well, enabling me to start vast amount of plants outside.  This will eliminate the need use artificial lights and having to constantly monitor the seedlings before planting in the garden.  In the worst case scenario, I would just have to get a late start on most of my warm season veggies.  But in my optimistic prediction based on last season's experience, I think winter sowing just may be the most efficient way to start large amount of plants from seed in terms of cost and workload.

Why Not Just Sow the Seeds Directly Into the Ground?

Good question.  Many warm season vegetables (e.g. pepper plants) need a longer growing time to produce, hence the reason most of us resort to growing indoors with lights.  The outdoor soil temperatures stay too cold for these plants to germinate directly in the ground at the time we need them to begin growing.  There's also a good chance a late frost will damage or kill tender seedlings, even if they did germinate and grow a bit.

Winter sowing allows the seed to still be exposed to the same conditions as the outdoor environment, but the container it is planted in will help protect against extreme temperature swings and harsh winds.  Your seedlings will be hardened to the sun's rays and colder temperatures right from the beginning, and they are at a reduced risk for wind damage and slug attacks.

Some seeds may take longer to germinate when winter sowing compared to starting them indoors, but most of the anecdotes I've read from other people who've grown plants both ways claim that the winter sowed plants usually catch up and surpass the ones grown indoors.  I will determine if this is true for myself during the next growing season.

What If It Snows or Freezes?

Winter sowing will most likely protect your plants during unexpected cold snaps in the late winter and early spring, so long as they remain closed during said cold snap.  If you are worried about especially tender plants, you can put a blanket over the containers for the night and remove it the next day.  However, the idea behind winter sowing is to grow plants with less work.  I wouldn't worry too much about providing protection for your containers, as nature itself is pretty good at determining when seeds should germinate.

You may have even better luck if you sow cool season vegetables the earliest in the season, while waiting more towards the end of winter to sow the warmer season vegetables.

That's all for this article.  Stay tuned for more of my self-reliance journey series.

ADDENDUM 2/08/2015:

Here are some pictures I found of a few of the flowers I grew last season using winter sowing containers... just a bit of anecdotal evidence to add to the mix :)

Bachelor button, highlighted in the circles.  This was right before they all bloomed.

Asters with an insect enjoying its nectar.  I also had purple and white varieties.
A huge marigold that actually got out of control in my main vegetable garden bed.  It bloomed from July to mid-October.

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