Monday, February 24, 2014

Winter Sowing Herbs

A friend of mine who lives in zone 7 recommended this.  She said instead of sitting back with your seed catalogs and dreaming of that gorgeous garden you are going to grow next summer, take action now and get a head start on spring.  But I kept thinking, I live in zone 5 and trays of seeds will just freeze out there and die.  This winter I decided to give it a shot. (Why this winter I can only guess is because it has been so much winter that I am dying to get into something like gardening.)  This is what I know about it.

Winter sowing refers to planting seeds in flats or trays during the winter months and setting them outside to allow seeds to germinate and seedlings to emerge naturally when the weather warms. Not only does this give flowers and vegetables a head start in the spring it allows you to start seeds in the midst of winter while the landscape is frozen.  Once temperatures rise and the soil thaws, seeds germinate and sprout naturally at the ideal time for growing.

The best source on the internet for winter sowing tips and guidelines is by Trudi Davidoff.  On that site you can identify what can be winter sown or if you should just save the seed and direct sow it in the garden.  Not all flower and vegetable seeds are suitable for winter planting, but many are. Tender annuals or tropical flowers and herbs are not likely to do well if planted in winter as their seeds do not require cold stratification and may not survive the exposure to cold temperature. Look for seeds from plants that self-seed. This includes many wild flowers and native plants. If you have noticed seedlings emerging in early spring near flowers and herbs, they are a good candidate for winter sowing. Most perennials thrive with winter sowing.

The materials you need to winter sow are pretty simple:

Seed starting soil (you can make or buy)
containers with lids
waterproof markers
assorted tools

You can also look in seed catalogs for plants with notations for "fall planting", "early spring planting", "hardy seeds", "self seeds" or "will colonize". Some may note the seed requires cold stratification. These are all perfect to use for winter sowing. I like Park's Seed catalog, it has a great germination table right in the middle of the catalog. They have a numbered guide indicating the best germination requirements for seeds. I took a yellow highlighter and went down that numbered list and highlighted all the numbers that would be appropriate for Winter Sowing, then I carefully went through their list of seeds and highlighted the varieties that corresponded to the correct numbers. This is how I chose which varieties I would Winter Sow. A lot of catalogs, not just Parks, will have a germination table, or some information about germination, look at them, study them, and learn. Additionally you get sowing information on the back of seed packets as well.

Nice to have dirt under the fingernails in February

Milk jugs and soda bottles seem to be the best choice for me in Zone 5 to use for winter sowing.  They create mini greenhouses for seeds. You can also use traditional seed starting trays, but this is not necessary. One person I know lines toilet paper tubes up on a cardboard box, fills them with soil and seed and covers it with a clear plastic bag.  Each tube is a different seed.

Wash and dry the containers with hot soapy water to remove food residue and to prevent the spread of bacteria or disease causing organisms. Poke holes in the bottom of the container. 

Add the moist seed starter to the jugs.  It does not need to be very deep about 1 ½ to 2 inches at most.  You can make your own seed starter by mixing equal parts potting soil, peat moss and vermiculite or perlite. Mix in large bowl or bucket and moisten with tepid water. The starter should be damp, but not soggy.

Plant seeds to the recommended depth and cover with soil. Firm down with your hands to remove air pockets. Since I did not cut these containers I used the handle of a wooden spoon to firm the soil. Replace the plastic cover or cover with plastic. You need to have 2 inches above the soil to allow space for seedlings to grow. 

Label the container. Even though you think you will remember, chances are you will not. A label makes your life easier.

Place trays outside. Many prefer to place trays on a picnic table or an elevated structure where they can be reached easily. Although you want to expose the seeds to elements, placing them in a sheltered location prevents them from being blown over when the winter winds howl. Seeds can be placed on the deck or porch and moved to a sunnier location once snow begins to melt and spring approaches.  I placed mine on the shelter of window boxes.  I tied ribbon on them so they looked like a decoration to those passing by.
Allow trays to freeze and thaw naturally. When spring arrives, the soil will thaw and seeds will germinate at the proper time. Remove the plastic once seedlings emerge and danger of freezing has passed.
As many people know my garden is rented and I live in an apartment, so the place where I am winter sowingis on my apartment patio.  I placed a window box on the ground near the windows so the containers did notssit on the concrete.  I have several hanging window boxes that I decorate with greens for the holiday that 
were frozen to the railing by January, so I tied bows on pop bottles and nestled the bottles down in the old 
soil and started a few there as well.  My patio faces north to northeast so those near the window are rather 
sheltered the ones in the hanging boxes are exposed to more elements.

 Winter sowing is relatively maintenance free and produces young seedlings just in time for spring planting. There is no need for constant monitoring of the seeds as you allow nature to take its course to produce vigorous young seedlings that do not require hardening off and don't take up precious space in your home. So, get out those seeds and satisfy that gardening bug by starting your seeds now with winter planting.
We will see what happens and follow up with you about it as winter progresses.

Herb seeds I recommend for winter sowing:


No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...