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What is Winter Sowing?

Winter sowing is one of those ideas that you hear and though you hadn’t considered it before, you wonder why because it just makes sense. Exactly as you might imagine based on the name, it is the act of sowing seeds outdoors in the winter.

Winter Sowing Jugs

The idea makes a lot of sense because it works similarly to a tiny greenhouse; you add soil and seeds to a container, cover the container (allowing for ventilation) and place it outdoors in a sunny location.

I have been thinking a lot in the past few months about my posting back in September (“Have We Made Gardening Too Complicated?” – 9/26/11) and how Ruth Stout’s methods were so simple and uncluttered. That thinking made me decide to fully embrace the concept of winter sowing this year for the first time. The beauty of winter sowing is that it works even if there is snow on the ground and it serves two great purposes for the plant-happy gardener:

  1. You save space by not having to find room for seed starting trays.
  2. You save time by not having to harden off your plants before transplanting.

Winter Sowing demo 1

Above you see the first winter sowing container we will be using this year. It is a 2-liter soda bottle that has been cut open leaving about 2” around the base. I used a knife to puncture several drainage holes around the base before filling it with soil and giving it a good soak.  Next I added 7 Aunt Ruby’s German Green tomato seeds and took the container outdoors.

Winter Sowing demo 2In the photo to the left you can see the 2-liter soda bottle planted and soaking up some sun outside. In the time it took me to move the bottle outdoors and go inside for my camera to take these photos, the condensation had already begun to form in the bottle.

You will also notice that the cap has been removed. This is absolutely necessary when winter sowing in bottles in order to allow for adequate ventilation. You wouldn’t think that it would get too warm inside a winter sowing container considering it is winter and all, but the truth is that it can get pretty darned hot and you don’t want to cook your seedlings.

In this case I did not use anything to secure the top and bottom of the bottle together, but when I move on to the milk jugs you see in the first photo, I will follow the advice of winter sowers who have done this many times before and use tape to secure the pieces together so that they don’t lose too much moisture and they aren’t blown off by wind.

I’m looking forward to winter sowing lettuce and the first hand-germinated dandelions as well.  With all of the jugs and bottles we have saved up, who knows what all I might come up with.

Do you winter sow? Tell us about it!

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Hope January 3, 2015, 5:32 pm

    Great idea!!! I don’t suppose you have step-by-step photos for cutting the bottle for us visual learners?

    • Michael Nolan January 3, 2015, 5:33 pm

      Nope, but there’s nothing to it. You can use sharp scissors or a utility knife.

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