Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sow Easy I'm Suspicious and Other Seedy Tales


Don't tell anyone but I'm pretty sure I've discovered the secret to global seed growing success: wine and lots of tin foil.
Step 1: Drink the wine and then fill the bottle with pea gravel
Step 2: Stick the bottle in a container full of sand
Step 3: Add a clamp light and a grow bulb.
Step 4: Encase the entire thing in foil.
Step 5: Drink a bit more wine and feel smuggly satisfied.


I bought this wine because the label featured a toad wearing a vest. It seemed logical to me.


Insert bottle into a container full of sand and step back to admire how high class you are.


Last year I helped the bottle stay upright by using a clean paint stirrer and plastic bags. This year I upgraded to a can of leftover pumpkin.


By encasing the entire "greenhouse" in foil, I prevent the light from diffusing into the kitchen and am able to keep the seed trays warm without needing to buy a heat mat. I turn the lights on every morning as I stumble about making breakfast and then turn them off about 12 hours later. This is set up next to my coffee pot to guarantee I'll remember to turn the lights on.


The little greenhouse trays are balanced on two huge cutting boards that have been wrapped in old towels. Magazines and newspapers keep the plants close to the grow bulbs in the clamp lights.


'Sweet Chocolate' pepper seeds from  Baker Seeds germinated in about 10 days. I use little coir pots that came with my Burpee seed trays.


'Yellow Brandywine' tomatoes from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

I picked these seeds up at a seed swap in early February. I didn't think the seeds would sprout so quickly and had little seedlings before I remembered to prop up the seed trays with old newspapers and magazines. Oops! The seeds germinated in a week. Ultimately, it doesn't matter that the seedlings are a bit taller than I wanted since tomatoes grow best when the main stem is buried several inches into the soil, anyway.



As much as I love my Rube Goldberg Greenhouse, I'm limited to only growing a few types of seeds. While I should be satisfied, I'm not. I've also started something called winter sowing, which is allowing me to grow more plants than I have room for. Most excellent!  

Here's what you do:
Step 1: Get an old plastic container and poke some holes in the top and bottom.
Step 2: Fill it half way with seed starting mix and then water it thoroughly.
Step 3: Sow your seeds and put the lid on, unless it's a plastic milk jug.
Step 4: Stick it outside in a spot that receives morning sun and afternoon shade.
Step 5: Forget about it. Water it if it doesn't rain/snow for a while.

I've never done this before and am suspicious of how well it will work since it just seems too easy. However, after spending the weekend researching winter sowing online, it seems effortless and highly effective. The natural freeze and thaw cycles of winter/early spring weather is perfect for helping seeds germinate in the mini-greenhouses you created with all those plastic containers. The seeds germinate and grow in the containers and are hardier than seeds grown in traditional greenhouses or under lights because they don't need to be hardened off. Once the seedlings are several inches high, they can be transplanted into the garden.


I filled several containers with seed starting mix and then watered well.


Dalea (purple prairie clover) seeds were the only perennial I sowed. Leaving the lid off the jug helps water reach the plant. I cut the jug almost in half to plant the seeds and then taped it shut.


I also sowed biennial malva 'Zebrina', also known as French hollyhocks. I used a hot screwdriver tip to poke the holes.


I sowed talinum (Jewels of Opar) and garlic chives as well. Once the rest of my seed orders come in, I'll sow more seeds.


I tucked these containers into the mulch and have high hopes for their success. It might not work, but I'll never know till I try.

Links to bloggers who know more about winter sowing than I do:

62 comments:

  1. This poet made my day! I literally took my little beans to Lowes so that I could buy plumbing materials to construct a stand for my light. Needless to say when I got home with the stuff I didn't have all the right pieces. Ha! Everyone talks about growing seeds but few spend the time to show their methods! Thank you for this!!! I think I'm going to try the first one due to the winter storm coming through tonight! You are one funny gardening chick! Have a wonderful weekend!

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    1. I jumped over to your suggested sites and I am going to throw some of my seeds in bottles today too! Fingers crossed!

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    2. Woo-hoo!! I hope everything grows. I'm so glad you like my crazy style! :o)

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  2. Tammy, great idea to use the old containers, especially those that have a lid on top.
    I liked your way of fixing the foil with the bottles. However,one should drink a lot of wine to empty two bottles!
    Haven't you tried to cover greenhouses to use old cake cover instead of foil?

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    1. I use the foil because it keeps the light from diffusing into my kitchen and helps concentrate it onto the seedlings. But I'm sure a cake cover would be more attractive!

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  3. This is so cool Tammy! Thanks for showing us your seed starting methods. I may try the foil greenhouse idea as I have all the materials already. Now to empty those wine bottles...

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    1. Just invite over some friends and those bottles will be empty in a flash. ;o)

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  4. What an interesting post! I like the humor, too..ha-ha!! If I lived where winter is, I'd try this. Our tropical weather here shoots up seeds in no time. I like the toad on the wine bottle. He looks like he enjoys his wine, too!

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    1. Thanks! I can imagine plants practically jumping out of the ground in the tropics. :o) Farther north, ours need more convincing.

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  5. Hi Tammy! I've never tried winter sowing, but I have several gardening friends who do it and they have great success. I bet you're going to have a lot of plants to transplant when spring arrives! Good going!

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    1. If it works, I'll have more plants than I need but the fun part is swapping them with friends.

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  6. Sowing indoors looks great, though I'm too impatient to do it. But, tell me, how's the wine?

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    1. The wine is delicious! It's one of my favorites and is available from the grocery store.

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  7. I'm here to say that winter sowing works, at least in North Carolina. I did angelonia and heirloom tomatoes. The angelonia wasn't ready for the garden until late June, so if you're in a hurry it's not the best bet.

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    1. I hope mine don't take til late June! I'm putting the last of my winter sowing outside on Monday and hope something grows.

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  8. I've often thought of starting seeds indoors, but trying to get the timing thing down just right here, I haven't bothered... you buy wine the way I buy wine, snicker, if I like the label I buy it... would be okay for me, but I don't really drink wine, it's usually for gifts... not sure if my logic fits their palette! LOL! Cheers~

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    1. This past summer my husband and I started going on wine tastings at some of the many local vineyards in our area. It was a fun way to learn about wine but I still love wine with a cool label. I've had pretty good luck. I don't buy wine that often but when I do I don't want a boring bottle. :o)

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  9. Am I not jealous of you. I planted the seeds about 4 days back and no sign of any seedling yet. I am so impatient. I have some similar arrangements like you. Except the winter sowing. My winter sowing is done in laundry-bags (clear ones) and those bags in which bedding items come.

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    1. It took my tomato seeds 6 days to come up and 10 days for the peppers so give your some more time. I like the idea of using those big bedding bags to wintersow. What a cool way to recycle. :o)

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  10. Based on my experience you could probably just toss a handful of Talinum seeds in the air and they would sprout from every driveway and walkway crack. Cool plant but I laugh every time I see one for sale in a nursery.

    Now pass that wine...TGIF!

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    1. The talinum were a total impulse buy. I'd read they were tough, easy to grow, and thrived in heat and drought. How could I pass that up? Now that I've said they're easy, they probably won't germinate. Pass the wine! ;o)

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  11. Awesome! I am inspired, at least until I finish the bottle of wine.

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    1. LOL! If I can grow seeds, anyone can grow seeds. :o) Growing them is more fun when you have a crazy tin foil greenhouse. All I need is a hat to match. ;o)

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  12. After taking a bite of a truly tasteless tomato from the grocery store, I'm ready to start some seedlings and can already taste a fresh garden tomato . . . hurry Spring.

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    1. Grocery store tomatoes are the worst. They taste like wet cardboard. Maybe you could use your new blowtorch to roast your tomatoes. :o)

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  13. You have quite a system going, Tammy! I need to try the winter sowing--I've been meaning to do it for a couple of years...

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  14. For the life of me I couldn't figure out what you were sowing in those wine bottles until the reveal - of course! What an inventive system, and great use of wine bottles. I've tried winter sowing before without any luck but then I inevitably forget to water or put them in too warm a spot. You've reminded me I really need to try this again in future.

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    1. I'm excited about the winter sowing and hope it works. Because I don't have snow cover I'm tucking them into the mulch a bit. I hope it works!

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  15. I have read about this winter sowing method on Pinterest - I might give it a go - you never know. Love the wine bottle label it looks like Toad of Toad Hall.

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  16. Oh my Tammy, you have really taken the bull by the horns with your seed sowing....well done!!

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    1. Seeds are addictive. :o) Thanks to winter sowing I'm growing way more seeds than I have room in the garden for. But that's half the fun.

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  17. I will be following your experiment as I have thought about doing this outside even with all the snow we get...

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    1. I think your snow is an asset because it insulates and waters the containers. I'm tucking mine into the mulch a bit to compensate for our lack of snow.

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  18. A friend of mine has great success with winter sowing in recycled milk jugs. I should try it! I think it is just what my garden needs! I have started some seeds indoors and I am keeping my fingers crossed. I love your innovative methods!

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    1. Thanks! I'm going to finish putting all my wintersowing containers together tonight and have been eyeing the almost empty jug of milk in the fridge. Every time I have a container for the recycling, I end up sticking seeds in it. :o)

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  19. I love your wine bottle set-up, very practical - particularly being next to the coffee! I arm myself with a mug of tea each morning before venturing out to check out my version, which also involves lots of foil. Winter sowing really works, and saves space indoors too. I wasn't organised enough last winter, but I have things outside now in the hope that there will still be enough cold patches to break dormancy. I'm interested in how you find the coir pellets for watering - I have some to use later too.

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    1. I love the coir pellets!! They are great for the seedlings and don't cause as much damping off. My little cheapo seed trays come with a capillary mat and a water reservoir that keep them watered for about a week. I'm hoping wintersowing is success. My hopes are high. :o)

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  20. I like the smuggled satisfied part. ;) The tin foil part looks like a crazy science experiment, I like that too!

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    1. The wackier, the better! I just need to figure out how to engineer a giant finger that will reach out and turn the lights on for me every morning. :o)

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  21. I've been noticing some pins about winter sowing on Pinterest....I will wait to see if it works for you, and then give it a try...

    Great greenhouse!

    Jen

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    1. I'm starting with seeds that are really easy to grow so I hope it all works out. :o)

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  22. Oh my word, that's insane! Look at all that paraphernalia! I laughed when I saw the creativity in the pictures. I thought I was dedicated by piling greenhouses in front of the patio doors to catch the warmth lost from the house, but this is takes it to a whole new level. It's brilliant, I'd just to do it but I'd never be allowed to get away with it.

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    1. It is crazy but it's effective so I love it. I love it more because of how weird it looks. :o) When I first put it up last year, my husband thought I had lost my mind. :o)

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  23. I sowed seeded outside last winter...modest success. I left the container of the non appearing seeds out in the garden, hi I am lazy. The containers were like the ones you get blueberries in. I thought the lack of success in that one was due to the container. Imagine my surprise when THIS winter I saw a seedling emerging in that container!!! It is a lupine...think it needed more of a stratification time. Only one so far has emerged, but wow.

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    1. I'm using a couple of milk jugs and some deep square Gladware containers. I'm hoping the deeper containers will promote strong root growth and less fluctuation in temps. I'm also tucking them into the mulch a bit to insulate them. I hope something grows!

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  24. Well done, I am jealous of your motivation and persistence. I have tried winter sowing and even posted about it but my success rate was abysmal. Perhaps you would send some tomatoes this way ?

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    1. I wish you lived closer so I could deliver them myself! I have the persistence of a terrier. Once I've decided I'm determined to do something, stopping me takes either a train or a well reasoned, logic bound argument that I can't out think. :o)

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  25. Wow, I am impressed! Actually the Toad Hollow wine is pretty good and I loved the bottles too. I've only tried the reds, and they were good!

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    1. I love Toad Hollow! Who knew wine with a toad on it could be so dang tasty? :o)

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  26. That is so interesting, I never thought to start seeds like this. I'll be following you to see how they do!

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    1. My wacky contraption is surprisingly effective. :o) I'm pretty excited about winter sowing. I keep stuffing more and more containers with seeds. It's a bit addictive.

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  27. Who needs fancy seed starting kits...I'd like to see you utilize an empty 12 pack of Budweiser!

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    1. Your comment made me laugh out loud!! That is so funny!

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  28. I have done the winter sowing in cold frames at the farm in late winter. The guys kept an eye on the seedlings for too much heat on warmer days. The milk bottles work pretty good too. I like your grow light contraption. I like keeping a close eye on seedlings and that looks like a good and economical set up.

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    1. Economical, indeed! I check on the seedlings several times a day. It's like a bit of summer on my kitchen counter. :o)

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  29. Well, here I am at the end of your comments. I hope you find me here. You have quite a system going there. I like the foil idea. We bought the heated pads. I like the wine bottle/lamp holder. Very interesting. We can compare notes along the way.

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    1. I was determined to set this up as cheaply as possible while still creating a successful environment. I rotate the trays every day as well as flip them front to back so that they all get the same amount of light. The foil is really key since it prevents the light from dissipating and also keeps the area warm. But if I had as many seedling trays set up as you do, I'd need a more conventional system. :o)

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  30. Who can argue with a method of sowing seeds that involves drinking wine! It will be interesting to see your progress.

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    1. Wine + seeds = no argument! I used this method last year with great results. The winter sowing is the real crap shoot but I think it's going to turn out well. :o)

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  31. You have been busy! At first I thought what is going on, I shouldn't read these things so late at night... but then I got it :-)

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  32. I'm curious; how're those young 'uns doing?

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