BY ALDONA BIRD
I love the idea of winter. The concept of plants and trees taking a break before springing back to life appeals. Hunkering down indoors on cold days for my own rest time sounds great when I’m worn out on summer days.
After only a few winter weeks, my day dreaming turns to spring — hands-down my favorite season. The reality of being either cold, stuck indoors, or both wears on me. I lose some appreciation for beautiful snow-covered vistas when muddy days inevitably follow.
As buds begin bursting in spring, I feel my own refresh. Warmer weather, new growth, each spring flower triggers a happiness response. My hopes for a good year grow.
While we still have weeks of winter to get through, I feel in desperate need of seeing plants grow. So I’m jumping at the chance to start seeds for my garden. It’s too early to start everything, but some of the longer season crops can get growing.
Last year I helped my mother with seed starting and learned the method she honed over many years.
She uses a mix of upcycled containers (mostly plastic and Styrofoam food boxes) with sand or vermiculite in them, which we wet with boiling hot water before densely planting seeds. Once the seeds sprout my mother pricks out the seedlings and plants them in pots (or other upcycled containers) with soil.
We keep these indoors until the weather warms enough to put them into a couple of cold frames my father built. On frosty nights we cover the cold frames with quilts and put bottles of hot water inside to give the plants a little protection.
Last year I watered the seedlings every day as part of my morning routine, along with taking care of my chickens and checking on garden perennials.
It was a lot of work to start seeds this way, but worth it. I enjoyed the process.
This year, along with starting seeds this same way I am also trying a process called winter sowing.
To winter sow I gathered plastic milk jugs, fruit juice bottles and vinegar bottles and cut holes in the bottoms for drainage before cutting them around the middle, leaving about an inch of the plastic as a hinge.
I filled the bottoms with moist potting soil (not seed starting soil), and then planted a few seeds in each container. I duct taped the containers shut and put them outside with the tops off to allow precipitation in.
The first seeds I started this way were poppies, cabbage, broccoli and onions. I’ll start another round of similar crops soon and in a few weeks I’ll experiment with warmer season veggies.
This method supposedly produces hardy seedlings with a very hands-off process. Unless there is a particularly dry spell I shouldn’t even need to water them. The seeds should come up when they know it’s the right time. The plastic container gives them safe shelter and a little extra warmth, so they grow faster than directly seeded in the garden.
Once I am ready to transplant them into the garden, they should be ready to go without any special care like hardening off.
I am excited and hopeful for starting my garden with winter sowing. But I’m not trying all of my seeds this way for two reasons — I haven’t tried it before and don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket, and because it won’t give me the chance to enjoy watching the seeds grow starting in the next.
ALDONA BIRD is a journalist, exploring possibilities of local productivity and sustainable living in Preston County.