Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Winter Sowing!

One of the nice things about being an instructor is that I can pass on handy tips I've learned over the years so others can save time and trouble (and often money). One of the things about being human is, I don't always follow my own tips!

So I spent several hours on Sunday cleaning out containers from last spring's winter sowing. (I use nine parts hot water to one part bleach, with a few dollops of antibacterial soap for good measure (but any soap or cleanser would do). And a scrub brush.) Might I just mention that it takes a long time to clean out nine seed tray bottoms and lids, plus all the cell packs that go therein. Whew! Of course, I recommend cleaning the containers on a onesy-twosy basis right after transplanting the seedlings. (Because plants all sprout on different schedules, they are ready at different times. This is handy because it makes it easier to keep up with transplanting. But not, as it turns out, with cleaning containers!)

So yesterday afternoon, under grey skies in balmy 40-degree weather, I filled my trays with pre-moistened soil mix and got to plantin'. I sowed a ginormous amount of morning glories (in purple, blue, fuchsia, and white), more than my privacy screen will need. But since my rotund sciuridean backyard dwellers made a quick meal of the morning glories I planted last year (apparently, they taste just like French fries and you can't eat just one), I want to have reserves. I will also put up some chicken wire. The morning glories did bloom last year as the groundhog ate the leaves, but not the stems, but not in their full glory. They were more like morning ho-hums!

I also sowed some lupins (which Carole brought back for me from a trip to Nova Scotia), sea holly (whose seeds I may or may not have procured at a garden in the land of Sparty and which I hope make it as it's a notoriously persnickety plant to start), Maltese crosses (which I've been wanting to grow ever since I saw a stunning display in one of the gardens I visited in Saskatoon in, er, 2005), and nasturtiums (which I haven't traditionally been wild about but which have really grown on me over the last few years, much like zinnias).

I got a cool resin potting cart the day before off Craigslist (from, as it turns out, someone who works at Old House Gardens and who had donated surplus bulbs both to the garden I manage at Cobblestone Farm and as door prizes for a Matthaei's volunteer recognition event) and used that as my working surface, though it will eventually be needed as flat surfaces for seed trays as well.

I managed to sow (yes sir, yes sir) four flats full before darkness fell and just after clearing the last seed packet away, it started raining. Timing is not usually a strong suit of mine, so I felt snug and smug inside, I can tell you.

Now you very may well ask, "Oh,sure, that reads OK, Monica, but where the *bleep* are some photos?" Or perhaps you're more polite and not in the habit of swearing, which is commendable. And of course I do love sharing photos, and just this afternoon braved falling snow the size of saucers to attempt to capture said seed trays, when the camera refused to cooperate, telling me to change the batteries. Fair enough. I even miraculously had four of the correct configuration on hand. With the fresh batteries snug in the camera casing, I eagerly traipsed outside again and... the camera is still telling me to change the batteries. Which I'm pretty darn sure were all fresh. Ahem.

I also order heirloom seeds for Cobblestone Farm from the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, some of which arrived today. (I love their seeds, and the packets are pretty and have decent plant descriptions and histories, but for some reason they ship UPS in a cardboard box way too large for the few seed packets instead of regular mail in a padded envelope. And, invariably, the seeds arrive in two different shipments of said larger cardboard boxes, even though I order maybe 6 packets total. They're always shipped on the same day and I can never figure this out.) Most of the plants in that garden are perennials but I like to add some annuals each year. I ordered Joseph's coat (Amaranthus tricolor), pot marigold (Calendula officinalis), painted lady sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus cv.), 'Empress of India' nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus cv.), and Canterbury bells (noog! noog! so cute! (and yes I do realize they're biennials, not annuals), Campanula medium). I'll be winter sowing those this weekend. And hopefully my camera will be fixed or replaced by then, as well.


  1. You are quite the good housekeeper, cleaning all those trays and pots so professionally. I am not good at following those tips every single show and article explain the necessity of doing. Just the stacking of the empty trays and packs neatly is about all I can muster. They they are reused, unwashed again. There are some winners, some losers with this system, but think of the time saved! ;->

    Frances at Faire Garden

  2. Hi Frances,

    I'll admit it isn't 100% necessary to wash the pots in terms of success of the seedlings. And I'm lazy about a lot of things, using shortcuts where necessary. But a) I'm also German and we like things neat and orderly and b) they were kind of ooky-looking and c) once I start something like that I tend to push through to the finish, even though smarter people might stop!

  3. Hi Monica
    thanks a lot for your visit on my blog and your nice comment. I've just noticed that your blog is very interesting too and I'm sure I'll come back again to get to know more about your "way of gardening".... Oh, jetzt sehe ich gerade im Kommentar den du frances gibst, dass du Deutsche bist....also kann ich mich in "unserer " Sprache mit dir unterhalten. Ich halte es mit den pots wie du. Sie werden immer im Frühjahr geputzt, weil ich im Herbst gar nicht mehr dazu komme.
    Ende Februar geht es bei mir auch los mit Aussäen...freu!

  4. Hi Monica,
    I used to do the same thing as you and clean and disinfect my pots every year before planting, but then it just got to be to much work. Now I just knock the dirt out of them and start planting. I've been doing that for years now without any problems. I really enjoyed reading your blog and will come back again.

  5. Hallo Monica, und ist ist Bayern auf Gegenbesuch. Danke, daß Du bei mir vorbeigeschaut und kommentiert hast.
    Schon, weil ich dadurch auch Deinen schönen Blog kennenlernen durfte, in dem ich inzwischen schon ein bißchen "spazierengegangen" bin!
    Ich bin eigentlich gartenvernünftig, sprich, ich warte bis Anfang März mit dem "Garteln". Aber dieses Jahr ist alles anders. Wir hatten in Bayern 2 x 5 cm Schnee, der innerhalb Tagen weg war, das war unser Winter. Seit zwei Wochen lacht die Sonne von einem stahlblauen Himmel, nur nachts gibt es natürlich noch Nachtfrost. Jedenfalls, gestern habe ich es nicht mehr ausgehalten: Cyclamen coum, Schneeglöckchen, Krokusse, Kissenprimeln und Winterlinge kämpfen sich durch die Abdeckungen. Also habe ich gestern angefangen die Beete freizuräumen und die alten Staudenreste abzuschneiden (ich bin ein leidenschaftlicher Frühjahrsräumer). Vielleicht werde ich ja im März dafür bestraft, aber die Vegetation ist halt schon sooo weit.
    Ich werde bald wieder bei Dir vorbeischauen und wünsche Dir einen guten Wochenbeginn.
    Lieber Gruß vom Wurzerl

  6. Hi Monica,
    thanks for visiting my blog. To answer your question, I'm in southwestern PA, zone 5 or 6.
    I see you already started lots of seeds. I have to confess I'm not as meticulous about cleaning containers as you. I used to wash and disinfect everything, but it was just to much work. Now I just knock the dirt out and plant. Done it for years now without any problems.
    I enjoyed reading your blog and I will be back.
    Gruss, Sabine

  7. Hallo Monica,
    Danke fuer deine netten Kommentare bei mir. Gut zu wissen, dass du deine eigenen Ratschlaege nicht immer befolgst:) Ich hab heuer zum ersten mal probiert, Samen im Winter auszusaeen. Mal sehen, ob und wie es etwas wird;)
    LG, Bek

  8. 40 degrees sounds good to me right now , I suppose I should think about the same thing instead of sitting here mopping and wishing for spring which feels like it will never come

    Steve From
    The Power Gardeners Guide