How Does Your Garden Snow?

3 Feb

It’s time to garden!

Well, kind of. At least it’s time to start dreaming about gardening if you live anywhere in the Northeast, Midwest or Mid Atlantic.  It’s time to pore through seed catalogs and to plot world domination over aphids and flea beetles.  It’s time to buy pots and soil, to take inventory of seeds, to cook from cans, to force bulbs and to aimlessly stalk birds. It’s also time to get your hands dirty.

Or at least that’s the theory behind winter sowing, a seed-starting movement¹ that Christina recently sent me a link to.  I was immediately hooked.  Winter sowing adheres pretty closely to a theory on seed-starting that Isaac and I have been scheming about since last summer.

Our idea is to start seedlings indoors on the windowsill (preferably in one of these gorgeous seed-starting trays).  We’re not willing to/don’t have the right space for setting up grow lights/heating pads, plus, we started a few things this way last year and they turned out brilliantly.  In the second step of our plan, once the seedlings have grown to a hefty state they will be moved to the back porch to toughen up in a makeshift, unheated ”greenhouse” cobbled together from a set of metro shelves, clear plastic sheeting, duct tape and Velcro.

But winter sowing makes even this level of sophistication unnecessary, and it also requires fewer shopping trips (which is both a plus and a minus in my book).  In winter sowing, you use recycled take out dishes, soda bottles, produce cartons or even Ziploc bags made rigid with scavenged cardboard (I really do think this guy is some kind of evil genius) as seed-starting containers.

If there are no holes, punch a few in the top and the bottom, label what seeds you’re going to start, plop in some dirt, water and sow your seeds.

I'm starting Pawpaws in the little newspaper cups. They don't need to be protected from the elements, in fact they need winter to germinate.

Next up?  Find them a nice spot outside. Yep, outside. In the snow.

Actually, this step is crucial.  The seeds need the water (from precipitation) and the wind and the thawing and freezing to allow them to know when it’s safe to germinate.  This is also the aspect of winter sowing that fascinates me.  The “naturalness” of it means that  (theoretically at least) your seedlings won’t be felled by damping off.  It also helps with seeds that need to be nicked or filed or soaked to speed germination (I don’t grow a lot of flowers, but I can imagine it would work really well for some).  It also precludes the need for hardening off and gives the seedlings an idea of what kind of climate they’re growing up into.

I know last year was a (hopefully) anomalous year weather-wise in the Northeast, but it also taught me something.  The plants that did best in my garden were the ones I started myself.  The ones that did worst were seedlings I bought from a certain grower that I won’t besmirch on the Internet.  Maybe she just had a bad year, too.  The ones I got from Silver Heights generally did well, and if anything goes awry, I’ll be ordering from Trina again this year, too.  But, that said, 2009 lit a zeal inside me to grow as many of my own plants from seed as possible, and to set those plants up for success as best I can.

But back to winter sowing. Once the seeds begin to germinate, you have to start gradually enlarging the vents in the roofs of you mini-greenhouses (be sure to read the instructions on wintersown.org) until the plants are ready to head out into the garden.  Neat, huh?

I can’t say that I’m suffering from cabin fever as we’re spending a good amount of time outside, but I can say that I’m suffering from a severe case of winter this year.  I finally, after years of hemming and hawing bought a pair of snowshoes just after Christmas, and,  yep, wouldn’t you know it but it’s gotten very, very cold and basically stopped snowing upstate.  And they moved all my giggly, bubbly, hilarious co-workers to another area of the newsroom at work so I’m left in a giant cubicle park all alone with no one to talk to (I swear I saw a prairie dog and some tumbleweeds yesterday).  All this is to say, I’m a bit grumpy this winter and that the act of winter sowing and seed catalog perusing and garden plotting have kept me (relatively) buoyant and cheery.

So, has anyone out there had any experience with winter sowing?  What about cold-starting seeds?  Anyone have any other winter gardening hints, tips or ideas they’d love to share?  What are your favorite seed sites? Please share them in the comments.

I know it’s not winter everywhere and that not everyone is plagued by sidewalks gloppy with grey, snowslush, but I am, so cheer me up!  If you’re not a gardener, share a joke or a funny Website.  It may not be winter everywhere, but it’s February everywhere.  How can such a short little month feel oh so long?

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¹ Winter sowers are a very passionate group with a very active online community. Before you jump in, you should definitely poke around in this forum to see if it’s for you.

11 Responses to “How Does Your Garden Snow?”

  1. ann February 3, 2010 at 9:48 am #

    To get started, here’s a few of my favorite things:
    Seed Savers
    Hudson Valley Seed Library
    Baker Creek Heirlooms
    Seeds From Italy

    And here are three things that have made me cry with laughter lately:
    Sleep Talkin’ Man
    Crash Blossoms (this is what I do at work all day, and this absolutely killed me)
    Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 Gallon (read the user reviews)

  2. Audrey February 3, 2010 at 10:03 am #

    We are in mid summer here in Cape Town and anyway just have a wet winter. What are those gorgeous birds?

  3. Nathalie February 3, 2010 at 11:54 am #

    How do you get these pictures? I’m amazed every time you publish new ones. I don’t really have anything funny to share with you (that’s only because you can’t see me trying to convince myself to go for a long-posponed run) but you might be interested in this BBC programme http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld. Well actually, you might like this http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00qbw66.

  4. Christine February 3, 2010 at 2:39 pm #

    You get such cute bird visitors in your neck of the woods. In Philly I get robins at best and pigeons most often. Well, the cat is entertained either way, but then again, you should see how he loves twisty ties.

    You know, I was just googling scarlet runner beans, and I guess now is the time to start them. Do you think they would work well under this arrangement? They would be grown in pots in the summertime, so I might as well get them used to some containers now? Hmm. I’ll have to do some research.

  5. noblenourishment February 4, 2010 at 5:03 am #

    I love your blog! Those birds are just adorable, as are your mini greenhouses, tucked in beside eachother on the patio. Thank you for sharing your beautiful pictures and words (oh and P.S, I live in Glasgow, where is it is currently freezing, slushy and grey; I feel your pain) :)

  6. ann February 4, 2010 at 7:03 am #

    Audrey — Someday I will make it to Cape Town! I have a friend at work from there and he makes it sound quite nice in places!! The birds are all everyday birds around here. The first one is a chickadee, they’re the most common, but they’re my favorites. I just love their disapproving little faces. The yellow ones are goldfinches. They’re massively piggy and aggressive. The grey ones are called titmice, and I just love their buff pantaloons. I love my birds! Enjoy your summer!

    Nath — YES! I had heard about that radio programme on the BBC World Service and had meant to look it up, thanks for the link! I do love me some geeky archaeology stuff! I have a confession to make about the pictures: I take them through my kitchen window, which I keep scrupulously clean! That’s why the birds look so unpeeved. They know I can’t get them :-)

    Christine — I’m sure if I had a bird feeder in the city it would have only stupid little sparrows and starlings. Thank god for upstate!

    I don’t think beans need a lot of starting time, I think they’re just chuck-them-in-the-ground-and-go sorts of things, but if you’re growing them in pots, do be sure to get some innoculant in there or they might be a bit wimpy. Fedco sells small amounts of it for home gardens.

    Noblenourishment — Greetings in Glasgow!! Someday Isaac and I will get to Scotland, even if it’s in winter. It’s our dream vacation destination. I want to eat the salmon and see the ponies, he wants to drink scotch and eat haggis. We want to see the cliches ;-) Good luck with the grey and the muck. Spring will be here soon, fingers crossed!

  7. Julia February 4, 2010 at 10:28 am #

    All I want to know is: where the heck did you get paw paw seeds??? Oh, also: go, HV Seed Library!

  8. Christina February 5, 2010 at 11:26 pm #

    Woohoo! Hooray for the possibility of starting seeds when it is gray and horrible. Isn’t Gardenweb the greatest online conversation ever? I always find great info there. I even found the source of my free banana pups there.

    Almost all of my tomatoes and a few of my peppers have started and are now experiencing full on wintersowing. I hope it all works, for both of us! You definitely deserve some ‘maters this year.

  9. Chelle February 6, 2010 at 7:36 pm #

    I love seeing the little winter birds. It keeps the hope alive that we can survive until spring!

  10. ann February 10, 2010 at 12:40 pm #

    Julia — From a Pawpaw of course! No, but seriously; I was walking through the greenmarket one day and there was a guy selling pawpaws, so I bought a few. As I was walking away he said “Hey miss, do you have anywhere to plant the seeds?” and I said “Why, yes, I do!” and he gave me the instructions. Plant them, let them freeze, enjoy them. Apparently they’re very pretty trees. I’ve got 7, and I only need 2 or 3. Two are already spoken for, but if the other two come up, we could maybe broker a trade Julia, pawpaw seedlings for some marmalade maybe? :-)

    Christina — Yes, gardenweb is amazing! I love it! Can’t wait to see how your garden grows, though I do hope it stops raining on you soon :-)

    Chelle — Me too. I just love them. It’s such a joy to watch them.

  11. LeAnn Osborne March 6, 2010 at 1:10 pm #

    I also pine to garden in the winter. I literally dream of digging. I keep journals of my plans. I stand at the window and hope for the first spring day. We’ve had a mild winter in south west Washington state. Also I have a lovely green house. My step-kids and husband tease me about rushing out there with my coat on then shedding it once inside. I’m able to keep culinary herbs through the winter. I even had a tomato plant until one day in November all of the tomatoes fell off. I have lettuce there now and tomatoes starts 6 inches tall. Really, it’s cheaper than counseling.

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