3 weeks ago today I started my first winter sowing container outside made from a 2-liter soda bottle. It is a green bottle which is why I loving refer to it as my tiny greenhouse.
I know. Clever.
Because we live on an elevated slope that catches a lot of wind from three directions, I needed to find a secure location for my winter sowing container. As luck would have it, the front steps provided just such a shelter, allowing for adequate light and protection from wind and accidental flooding.
After preparing the container and adding seeds, I stowed it away in the Fort Knox of winter sowing containers (seen above).
As I go into the house, I have made it a habit to look between the steps to see if there is condensation on the inside of the bottle. If the condensate is minimal, I give it a quick spray with a mister bottle and return it to the secret hideaway. I have only added moisture twice in the past three weeks. To put this into perspective, my indoor seedlings have required watering almost daily. They’re needy and starting to get on my nerves.
Thinking that somehow three weeks was the magic number (don’t ask me why), I pulled out the greenhouse this morning and took a closer look.
When what, to my wondering eyes should appear but 3 Aunt Ruby’s German Green tomato seedlings! Yes, three. I know you can only see 2 in this photo, but there’s 3, I swear. Fine, don’t take my word for it. Here:
Recap: As of Day 21, of the 7 seeds planted in this winter sowing container, 3 of them have germinated successfully. Daytime temperatures have been quite warm for the most part though temps at night have dipped into the low 40s more than once.
I look forward to seeing how these seedlings fare over the next couple of weeks.
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.
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:
You save space by not having to find room for seed starting trays.
You save time by not having to harden off your plants before transplanting.
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.
In 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.
At the risk of being accused of OCD, I share these diagrams of the new garden beds planted here on the homestead. Fresh on the heels of being called sexy by Ecosalon.com, I guess I felt the need to prove that I’m more gardener than sexy. When the beds are all finished, these diagrams will be complemented with photographs that will join them in the garden notebook for this season. (I’ll talk more about garden notebooks soon.)
Three rows of bush beans and two rows of Clemson Spineless Okra are virtually maintenance free once they are established. They were started from seed on 5/2/11. The Black Beauty Eggplant seedlings as well as the tomato seedlings were started indoors on the homestead in March. The “? Tomato” was a volunteer seedling that started in a leftover bin of peat moss, so it won’t be identifiable until there are some tomatoes on it.
This herb bed is absolutely gorgeous. It is a combination of some of the most aromatic and beautiful herbs around. We’ve already used basil and parsley!
This is one of two tomato beds, this one including tomatillos and wayward bell pepper and dill plants. The Homestead 24 tomatoes as well as the San Marzano heirloom came from our recent trip to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens Spring Plant Sale. The rest were started from my personal seed collection.
The second tomato bed was actually planted first. It includes seven tomato seedlings that were all started from seed here on the homestead. The banana peppers were also started here. The mini bell pepper was a purchase from the Birmingham Botanical Gardens Spring Plant Sale, and it is already producing!
Here’s the rundown of what has been planted since the last update:
Hard to believe that it has been two years since I started the Riverside Community Garden in NW Atlanta. In the space of a few days, a small maze of more than a dozen 40 square foot garden plots sprang up from a lot that had been overgrown and seedy (not in the good way) for several years prior. The lot was right across the street from my house and I was able to look out my office window to see things growing right in front of me.
This is the time of year that gardeners live for. The Springtime window of opportunity opens up and we dive our hands into the soil coaxing life into what was lifeless only weeks ago. Seeds break through the soil and the landscape is flooded once more with shades of green that artists spend lifetimes trying to recreate.
This year, Springtime scares the hell out of me.
I have a new relationship to nurture while simultaneously digging, amending and planting the gardens of the homestead we will share and tend together. I have a career to attend to, with the frantic ups and downs of a freakshow roller coaster ride. Then I have the new 2 acre garden space on the farm to design and create.
Despite the overwhelming sense of being overwhelmed, I realize that the beauty and the magic will happen if I just have the presence of mind to breathe and get out of the way. The heirloom tomato seedlings will soon find themselves stretching toward the sun without the interference of a bedroom window. The asparagus beans will climb their runners and compete with the house to see which will be taller. The herb garden will burst with amazing colors, textures and aromas.
In the end, what grows will grow. We will have more produce than we can use, we will preserve what we need and donate what we don’t. The garden is my life, so the mistakes made and lessons learned will each be chalked up to growing pains.
Michael Nolan is an author, food advocate and public speaker.
From the garden to the sewing machine, kitchen to the wood shop, Michael is taking Thoreau's words to heart as he strives every day to "live deep".
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