Winter Sowing: An easy, budget-friendly method to start seeds.
What is Winter Sowing?
Winter Sowing is a seed-starting method where seeds are planted in recycled containers (no special equipment) which are left outside so Mother Nature can do the work. All the gardener has to do is sow the seeds, wait, then open up the containers and plant her fabulous, hardened-off* seedlings.
What is so great about the Winter Sowing method?
Many people who want to start their own seedlings feel reluctant because of the equipment, space, and effort required (including watering and hardening off*). Winter sowing removes all those barriers, making seed-starting easy, cheap and achievable, even for a beginner.
*Hardening off is the process of taking seedlings that have been pampered under grow-lights indoors and getting them used to outdoor elements like the sun and wind. This has to be done methodically over a number of days. This is unnecessary when using the Winter Sowing method.
What kinds of seeds can be winter sown?
Most seeds can be winter sown! I follow these general guidelines but feel free to experiment.
Winter: seeds of perennials, cold hardy plants and plants that “volunteer” or self-seed such as:
Kale, Brussels sprouts, Broccoli - all the Cruciferous vegetables
Early Spring: tender annuals such as:
Peppers - hot and sweet
Squash - winter and summer
Winter Sowing supplies:
plastic containers (clear or translucent - they have to let light in)
a tool to make drainage holes (we use a drill with a large bit)
a tool to cut the containers (we use a utility knife)
potting soil mix
seeds (have a look at our post on doing a simple germination test here if you want to learn how to know if your older seeds are still alive)
duct tape (packing tape does not hold well)
labels (we use wooden popsicle/craft sticks)
marking pen (we use a sharpie to label the popsicle sticks)
10 Easy Steps to setting up Winter Sowing containers:
1. Collect several suitable containers and rinse them out
The containers must be translucent (they have to let light in)
2. Drill a few drainage holes in the bottom of the containers and a few on the sides
3. Cut your containers horizontally, leaving a “hinge”
4. Dampen your soil (we do this in a bucket or wheelbarrow)
5. Fill container with 3-4 inches of very damp soil
6. Plant your seeds according to the package directions
7. Include labels with date and plant variety
8. Tape the container closed all the way around with duct tape to seal it and allow the condensation/greenhouse effect to develop
9. Take your mini-greenhouses outdoors - it is good for them to be in the elements (snow and rain, etc.)
10. Go about your life and allow Mother Nature to take care of your seeds and baby seedlings!
Check out this video tour of a winter sowing "session":
My seeds grew into healthy, hardy seedlings, now what?
You will notice tiny sprouts pop up which will quickly turn into full grown seedlings, all ‘hardened off’ and ready to be transplanted!
When the conditions are right (outdoor temperature, chance of frost, etc.) transplant your seedlings to their final homes.
It really is that easy.
Do you think you will try Winter Sowing some seeds this year?