|A hands-off approach to starting your garden from seeds.|
I have always loved growing things outdoors, but my feeble attempts to start seeds indoors were always failures. If I did get seedlings going, the hardening off process usually killed them. Last year, I was directed to look up Winter Sowing. I'm not sure who came up with this idea, but Kevin Lee Jacobs writes about it on his awesome blog, A Garden for the House. I suggest starting with Winter Sowing 101.
No grow lights, no pellets, no pampering. This is by far the easiest and cheapest set up I can imagine. Milk jugs act as mini greenhouses. Put them out in the snow and rain, they can take it! Perennial seeds that often need series of freezing and thawing to sprout are ideal for this, but everything that I planted sprouted just fine. Here's how I did it:
1) Collect milk jugs for a few weeks. If you don't drink enough milk or you don't have enough time, ask your neighbors and friends for theirs. You can promise them seedlings in exchange. Other food-safe containers such as vinegar gallon jugs, 2 Liter bottles, and etc can be used. Milk jugs were preferable to me because they resisted tipping over and taped back together well. They also let in enough sunshine, but not too much to heat up the seedlings too fast.
2) Prepare the containers by washing them out and cutting around the center, leaving a small amount attached to act as the hinge. Puncture the tops and bottoms for ventilation and drainage holes. There are many ways to do this. I first tried heating up a screw driver over the stove and melting the holes. It works, but it had a danger factor from burns and made my house smell like burnt plastic. I found that my sharp kitchen shears easily pierced a hole and with a twist, widened into a nice hole. Since last year, I have learned that I don't need as many drainage holes as someone who lives in a humid, rainy climate. Here in the arid west, one or two holes should be sufficient.
3) Fill bottom of containers with seed starting soil. Last year, I only had potting soil in the garage, so that's what I used. And it worked! I figured if it didn't work, I was only out a few bucks for seeds. But it did work. The moral is- if I was buying soil, I would get the seed starting one, but it's ok to break the rules and use what you have! Moisten the soil with a little water.
4) Sprinkle seeds* on top of the soil, press down, and cover with a little more soil. Use less soil for tiny seeds, more for large ones. Sprinkle a little more water on top.
5) Label the containers and tape them shut around the center. Last year, my labeling washed and sun bleached off. This year, I will find a more permanent way to label. Maybe sharpie marked popsicle sticks inside the container.
6) Place in sunny area of yard, out of reach of animals and secured from wind. I used low boxes from costco placed on patio chairs to protect from frugal schoodle and wind. Again, use what you have!
7) As the weather starts to warm, allow the seedlings to be open in the day, closed at night. This will naturally harden them off.
I was amazed at the success of this easy, inexpensive experiment. I used free containers, potting soil I had on hand, and spent maybe $25 on seeds. When it came time to transplant, I had more seedlings than room and gave away a lot of plants! If I can do this, anyone can! Good luck and let me know how your winter sowing goes!
*As for selecting seeds. Last year, I got a selection of organic, non-GMO vegetable seeds from Costco for a really good price. Flower seeds I got from my yard, Lowes, and the dollar store. Everything grew great and I had a lot of color in my garden and patio pots last year. This is a great alternative to spending hundred$ to buy annuals in the spring!