BY KOKHEONG MCNAUGHTON
What do gardeners do in the winter months? We dream of Spring. We like to settle in comfortably with a spread of seed catalogs all around us, looking through them planning our gardens for next year. We look at all the beautiful pictures of flowers, fruits, and vegetables and day dream about what our gardens would look like next year. We think of planting new species we’ve not tried before. Others start the count down to the first day of Spring after all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season are behind us. Some of us Winter Sow.
What is Winter Sowing? It’s a process of starting seeds in a way that most resembles Mother Nature. Plants drop their seeds in the fall in great abundance, and those seeds not eaten by birds and other critters, nor landed in hostile environment where there is no chance of germination, will go through a period of freezing and thawing with the snow throughout the winter months. When the time is right for them, some of them will sprout. But once sprouted, there is no guarantee that they would grow into mature plants. They could be trampled on, eaten by bugs, die if conditions aren’t right, or accidentally pulled out by gardeners mistaking them for weed!
Winter Sowing provides these tender seedlings an ideal environment to grow up strong and healthy, and in so doing, wastes less seeds. Unlike seedlings started indoor which are often thin and leggy as they reach for more light, with or without grow lights, winter sown seedlings are tough to begin with. They have strong root systems and their stems are thick and healthy. Although when it comes time to transplant them, they may be smaller in size than those we buy from nurseries, they would soon catch up once established. What’s more, they don’t need hardening off, as they are already hardened by being outside the whole time!
Winter Sowing is also a good way to reuse and recycle plastic containers. I also reuse popsicle sticks as labels for the seeds and put them inside the jugs. The permanent ink writings are less likely to fade in the sun than those written on the outside of the jugs.
What I like best about winter sowing is the simplicity of it. Once I have the seeds sown, the jugs taped with the popsicle labels inside, I then put the jugs out in a shady spot in the garden, walk away and leave them do their own thing. I may check on them every once in a while, make sure the jugs haven’t dried up if we don’t have enough snow that winter. I do a few jugs at a time throughout the dreary winter months to keep me happy.
With seedlings that I start indoors, I have to constantly babysit them for months until they are ready to go outside – watering them just right to make sure they don’t die from damping off with over watering, or drying out from under watering, adjusting the height of the grow lights to accommodate the seedlings as they grow, re-positioning seedlings to give each one the best lighting without shadowing others, providing them with good air flow by having a fan blow on them to help them grow stronger, tougher stems, and making sure the cats don’t eat them! Finally, I have to harden them off for several days before transplanting in their permanent spaces outside.
The Seed Stewards of the Los Alamos Community Seed Library are offering a free Winter Sowing Class on Saturday December 3rd, from 2 to 3 PM at PEEC. If you’d like to participate and winter sow a few jugs to take home, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or join our Facebook Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/741830773546650) for more detailed information about the class. Look under “Featured”, select “Winter Sowing Class” and let us know that you’re going. We’ll make sure we have enough supplies for everyone!