As a beginning gardener, the most frequent issue I encountered related directly to seed starting. Online, I watched more experienced growers use elaborate setups and grow lights to produce healthy starts for their garden. With an extremely limited budget, I was forced to improvise. My many, many seed starting failures soon gave way to an important understanding of the growing process, and to making the best of my own available resources.
Starting Seeds Indoors
While I’ve always preferred sowing seeds directly into the ground, I quickly learned that this simply isn’t a viable option for many types of plants. Some seeds, such as those of perennials, often need more specialized care in order to germinate and begin to grow. I purchased a small grow light from the home improvement store, and eventually began sowing into trays in my basement. Within days, the small seedlings started to emerge. Over the next few weeks, however, I found that maintaining adequate moisture levels was an immense struggle. When spring finally arrived, there was nothing to show for my efforts but an empty seed tray – a complete failure.
It wasn’t until several seasons later that I first discovered the winter sowing method. The winter sowing method uses clear bottles, such as milk jugs, as small greenhouses. These miniature greenhouses are ideal for starting seeds outdoors, with very little assistance from growers. Since the jugs are placed outside during the winter, the seeds naturally begin to germinate when conditions are right.
I carefully sowed my seeds into the containers and sealed them according to the instructions that I had found. I started with perennial flowers and cold hardy plants first, followed by frost tender seeds about one month later. Much to my surprise, the seeds sprouted beautifully and grew in their containers until time to transplant them into the garden had arrived. The winter sowing method had proved to be an enormous success!
Since my first success with winter sowing, I have adapted the process quite a bit. Since my garden is larger, I now use a small low tunnel for seed starting. Though the process is generally the same, this space allows me to start a greater number of seeds with ease. Each season, I continue to grow an extremely diverse cut flower garden without the use of grow lights or other indoor equipment. Winter sowing is truly a very valuable garden skill, especially for those of us with very limited resources.