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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Spring sown seeds the painless way

Nutty as usual...that's how things are going. I'm madly trying to get the garden tidied up and the dandelions out before everything starts germinating. I'm also trying to get my daughter's quilt done and two smaller projects done before April 15. The ides of April are also tax time, and I have to have ours (including my Amazon business) done and in...and we're doing college visits for my daughter .

Time and tide wait for no man. Nature has a habit of coming along even if you don't have time to do what you want to do. I love the spring "minor bulbs" of scilla siberica, chinodoxa, and pushkinia. These little blue beauties are often overlooked but should be planted more frequently. They may even be planted in the grass as usually they are done blooming and die back before the grass needs to be mowed. We've had such warm weather here, however, that this year it would not be the case. The blue beauties are blooming and we've had to cut the grass this weekend.

When I was a child, my mother used to start plants in milk cartons and other things. I hated it as it seemed like the pots were taking over the house.

Through the wonders of the internet, I discovered a wonderful way to start seeds. This is "winter sowing" . Trudi Davidoff has a wonderful site which explains her method. I discovered Trudi on the Garden Web's winter sowing forum. It is the only method I have discovered that I am successful with poppy seeds and other plants which if I direct winter sow doesn't seem to work. Basically you take a container which is about 2 1/2" - 3" deep (the length of your thumb). Gallon milk cartons work well...but any clear or translucent container this deep will do. Juice bottles, containers which have had spring mix greens or whatever are great.

Cut the bottom of the container off. You can start it easily with a serrated knife, and finish it off with a pair of scissors...or whatever your favorite cutting implement is.

Put drainage holes in the bottom of the container. I use an exacto knife or a box cutter to stab it in. Usually about 16 slices works well. Be very careful not to stab your hand. This part can be really dangerous.

Fill the bottom of the container with soil-less mix, pro-mix or seed starting mix. Water it. Then sow the seeds on top. Follow the instructions for the depth at which to plant them.

Use a sharpie pen to mark name of the seeds on a piece of duct tape. Tape the label on the bottom of the container.

Tape around the sides of the container to hold it on. Do not put the lid back on the jug as it is how the hot air is vented out. Place the jug outside. If you live in an area where there are high winds, put it in a spot where they won't blow away. Some people put them in one of the hard kiddie swimming pools. Others tie several jugs together.

This is cheap, effective and has no need of lights, special stands, heating mats or anything.

In a couple of weeks, you'll see the baby plants start to come. Keep an eye on them. You can un-tape the container when the plants become larger, but don't forget, they are still at the mercy of mother nature and you could have a frost.

As long as the plants are in the jug, they are safe from frost. In essence, you've made a miniature cold frame. This is far better than having them in the house and the plants are sturdy little things.

You can start almost anything this way...The colder loving plants and perennials you can start planting in the winter. The warmer things you can plant later in the season. I'm madly trying to plant marigolds, zinnias, tomatoes and other plants which will need to go in the ground in mid-May. I've had great luck with this. You'll get a little forest of plants and you can break off a clump of them and re-pot them, or plant them directly in. I've been doing this for 5 years, and just love it. I hope you can take advantage of it too.

The Garden web's forum on this method may be found here .


Vivien Zepf said...

ooo, what a good idea! I've never had luck germinating indoors, but this might just be the way I can get a jump start on the season.

Jessica said...

Hi there! It's been a while. Just wanted to let you know I am still alive and kicking. Love this tip. That is one seed method I have never tried. Thanks for sharing.

Michigoose said...

Vivien and Jessica, I can't tell you how much I like this...No more fungus gnats in the house! YAY! I do have to say that my neighbor and my mom didn't have too good of luck with this, but then they used old seed...use viable seed just as you always would.

Doing this with perennials in the depths of January and February is absolutely feel like you really are going to have spring sometime. Doing it now is also fantastic because for the nominal expense of seed, you get great, hardy results, far better than the spindly things I have grown inside. And, as a bonus, you can often get seed for plants which are not commonly available at nurseries and garden centers....not to mention the ones which you save from previous years wonders. :)

Happy growing! Now, get out there and plant!

patty a. said...

What a great idea! I have a couple of milk jugs I just emptied and guess what I am going to do when I get to back to the house from work tonight! Is it better to keep these in the sun or partial sun?

Michigoose said...

Either would work I think Patty...Probably partial would be better. If they are in the full sun, do be careful when they get to be seedlings.

Mine are in a little wierd angle made by our south facing deck. It is nestled next to the house because there is a cut out there which prevents them from getting blown away, always a problem in the windy midwest.

I have had them sitting directly on the deck (full, unmitigated southern sun) which has done well, just as long as I keep an eye on them and make sure they don't get dried out or cooked as seedlings.

If you are in the zone 5 or 6, now is the time to be doing marigolds and the like....I suppose perennials will go as well, but I usually like starting them earlier.

This method is fantastic for things which need stratification (cool/warm periods alternating) and for things which have thick skins (nasturtiums, morning glories, sweet pea). They are less likely to get dried out than when I start them in the house (I sometimes have a brain like a sieve and forget to water) and because you have a sterile soil and have a little mass planting where then you can break off the hunk of seedlings as Judy calls them and plant them where you want them rather than putting one seed here and one seed there...