Most gardeners that start seeds do it inside, either in a sunny window or under grow lights. This year, I have been trying winter sowing as well as indoor seed starting. For a complete explanation of the winter sowing process, check out this site or frequent posts by happyhobbyblogger, a fellow garden blogger who is wild about winter sowing in zone 5 (upstate New York). With winter sowing, you plant your seeds in plastic containers, such as gallon milk jugs or the clam-shell containers from takeout food joints, to create mini-greenhouses, and then set them outside no matter what the weather. The theory is that the seeds know when to sprout and they will come up at the right time. I’ve had plenty of “volunteer” tomatoes and snapdragons in my gardens over the years, so the idea makes sense.
I set out a few seeds in February and a few more in late March. And, they have started to grow. Not surprisingly, the first sprouts were radishes and beets–two cool-season crops. (Unfortunately, the gale-force winds we had a few days ago blew the radish greenhouse over, so those are lost.) I also now have sprouts of Apricot Blush zinnias and hollyhocks. I hope that as we have more warm weather, like today, more sprouts will emerge. Managing the moisture in the containers is a bit of a trick. I went outside the other day to poke bigger holes in the covers of the containers because they seemed water-logged. Yesterday, some of the containers seemed too dry. It may be that my containers are not big enough. Most of the really successful winter sowers use gallon milk jugs.
What are the advantages of winter sowing? 1) It gives you something to plant in the winter. 2) Good way to start seeds if you do not have enough space in the house or a good light source for indoor seed starting. 3) The seedlings are acclimatized to outdoor weather early on, and are less likely than indoor seedlings to faint when placed outside. In addition to winter sowing, I put up a modified cold-frame this past week. We bought a piece of Ikea furniture this winter and it came with some handy boxes and lots of plastic in the packaging. I’ve got two of the box ends set up to start vegetables and the cover the boxes with plastic at night or on cold days. Whatever the method, it’s good to be planting again/