Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Starting Seeds & Winter Sowing

If you consider the time of year, not surprisingly, I've had a lot of visitors to my blog who are searching for more information on either Winter Sowing or seed starting.

So, my 2 cents on the subject (Please take it as such!).

As you can imagine, living up here in the lake effect pummeled part of Upstate New York, our indoor seed starting times are, more than likely, quite a bit more delayed than in other areas of the state. Or country, for that matter.

Up here, it's quite the complicated guessing game as to 'exactly' when to start what. We've had snow as late as the end of May, and years with deep freezes into June. As a matter of fact, we had a snowstorm a few years back on Mother's day, and I remember a certain July 4th that was absolutely frigid. We donned winter coats to go watch the firework displays! And the flooding is no picnic either...or the droughts...or sultery, humid summers. But, back to topic.

Usually it's quite a simple process to figure out when to start anything inside - just know your last frost date, read the package to find out when to transplant (most all of them will have the info written on the back), and count backwards from planting time (so many weeks before or after your last frost date) as to when to sow them.

Don't know your first or last frost date? No problem! Just go to Victory Seeds First & Last Average Frost Date, select your state and then your nearest city.

But remember, these are just averages and you'd probably get more narrowed information from neighbors and local gardeners that have lived in your vicinity for a while, so this is more of a guide than info set in stone - I live in a bit of my own micro-climate, so it's usually way off for me. I'm doing well so far to not start anything too early, but it's getting more difficult every day to stare at those packages and not plant something! In fact, each day I pay a tad more attention to where that little butterfly is on my 'countdown to Spring' ticker.

Don't want to do the counting? Problem solved by simply plugging the dates into this handy little Grow Guide. I've had this link listed on my blog for quite a while, but I don't think many ever notice it.

You don't even have to buy pots if your in the mood to Make Your Own.

Ways to start seed are as varied as the sowers themselves, but here are a few places to get you started:

The Seed Site


Weekend Gardener

Taunton's Fine Gardening

Savvy Gardener

If you just have a question and want a quick answer (that you can't find already answered in the FAQ section) GardenWeb is full of experienced gardeners (they're very friendly, so don't be afraid to ask anything!) and is the best place to get fast replies.


Winter Sowing is a different matter. No muss, no fuss, no coddling, no light set up, no inside space needed, (usually) no damp off, and a yard full of strong hardy plants. It couldn't be easier! :

Grab a used (but clean!) container. Milk jugs and big soda bottles are perfect!

Cut, drill or slice drain holes in the bottom.

Cut or slice vent holes in the 'shoulders' or top of the container (these will be enlarged as the temps rise). I make 3 or 4 U shaped slices - I find it much easier to just use small toothpicks or sticks jammed in to these openings to widen them as it warms up rather than keep enlarging slits constantly.

Cut it in half, about 3 or 4 inches up, leaving a hinge by the handle for easy venting come heat of spring. Some people prefer to cut the top off completely or make a 'window'.

Fill with at least 3 inches of a good potting soil (it doesn't have to be the expensive stuff!).

Sow seeds as directed on seed packet.

Tape shut with duct tape.

Stick outside and wait for spring and sprouts.

Bottom water if the soil in the containers starts to dry or add more drain holes if they seem to stay too wet.

Voila! Plants easy as pie and on the cheap. This site explains it all: Winter Sown. And for a SASE, Trudi Davidoff will send you free seeds to get you started.

Colleen, at In the Garden Online, also has an informative article at Suite101 on Winter Sowing.

If you're still sitting on the fence about trying this method, or have more questions, just pop over to the Winter Sowing forum on GardenWeb to have them answered in a jiffy.

I hope I've helped out with some of the answers to the questions people have been searching for.

Good luck and have fun! After all, isn't that what it's all about?



Colleen said...

I think trying to start seeds indoors in your area would drive me batty! Our dates can be iffy sometimes, but never all that far off.

Great post! This will definitely help anyone who is just getting started with growing from seed.

Thanks for plugging the article, btw ;-)

Tina said...

Batty is probably a good word for it! lol. I've gotten to the point where I just figure whenever I sow anything, I should have waited three more weeks, even if I've already waited three extra weeks as it is. Maybe we'll get surprised this spring - because I'm not waiting anymore. Hey, a girls gotta have hope! lol.