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Sowing Winter Seeds

My favorite kale to winter sow is Lacinato Kale

My favorite kale to winter sow is Lacinato Kale

It is still pretty cold here in our little corner of Chicago.  In fact, my kids had to line up for school inside today rather than on the playground due to the wind chill.  But, it is bright and sunny and it is making me anxious to get out and start planting.  Even though the tulips, garlic and crocuses are poking up, the ground still feels frozen to me.  Some may call me obsessive, but I cannot wait to get out there.  Since, I can’t plant directly in my veggie beds, I am going to do the next best thing…winter sow in containers.I first learned about winter sowing  in containers in a gardening class I took through a local Park District.  I am now ADDICTED. It feeds my values of gardening early, growing food, and reusing old containers.  Here is what you need:

  1. Any transparent or semi-transparent plastic container with a wide lid or a plastic milk jug that can be easily cut.  You will be amazed how many containers you will find that were headed for the recycling or trash.   I use milk jugs, clear clamshell containers from berries, clear plastic bottles from juice, and pint sized containers with lids from our local Chinese restaurant.
  2. A good quality seed starting mix.  I use store bought to make it easier, but you could make your own.  Do not use garden soil as it will be too heavy and dense and might have diseases.
  3. Cold season vegetable seeds.  Think lettuces, broccoli, kale, arugula, peas or spinach;  Not, tomatoes, melons or peppers.
  4. Scissors and/or something to puncture holes in the plastic.  A drill works nicely on harder plastics (like my containers that held $10 worth of chocolate covered almonds that I had to have from Costco)
  5. Clear, wide packing tape.

Once you have collected your materials, you are read to begin!

  1. Puncture air and drainage holes in the bottom of the container and around the top of the container or in the lid (if it is a wide mouthed container).
  2. For narrow mouthed containers (like milk jugs), you need to cut around the midline of the container to allow access to the plants once they grow.  I like to cut almost all the way around leaving a few inches still attached.  This allows me to use the handle of the milk jug to pull back the lid I have just created without the top and bottom being completely detached.
    milkjug   milkjug2
  3. Add soil and seeds.
  4. Water gently (a clean spray bottle works nicely)
  5. Close the lid on  wide mouth containers and/or tape over the line you just cut on the narrow mouthed containers to help keep the moisture in and to keep the seedlings protected from the wind.
  6. Set  the containers outside in the sunniest spot of your yard even if it is still cold.  I have mine up and down my back stairs.   I have found that seeds sown this way tend to be stronger and healthier plants than those I grow under lights in my basement because they are protected, but are not completely sheltered.  The seeds basically have the best of two worlds:  their own mini greenhouse and gradual exposure to their future growing conditions.
  7. When the seeds sprout, you can remove the lid  or pull back the lid to allow the seeds more room to grow and direct access to the sunlight.
  8. When the seedlings are ready and the weather is cooperating, transplant them into your garden.

Enjoy!  Please post and let us know how your seedlings are doing!