Welcome to the third and final installment of The Winter Gardening Itch. Here in Manitoba, the GREAT THAW has begun. It is time to start sowing some seeds.
Since I began my Manitoba gardening adventure, almost three years ago now, I’ve been harvesting seeds from our Summer yield to save for the following growing season.
We store each variety of seed in old pill bottles that I’ve collected. I like them because they are clear yet tinted so one can see how many seeds are on hand. They are also somewhat protected from light and heat by the tinting of the plastic. We store them on darkened shelves around the potting bench throughout the off-season, to make double sure they will be viable in the Spring. I then simply print out labels that fit the bottle with the name and a picture of the plant.
I usually use all of the seeds from the previous year when sowing new crops, so there is really never a concern about seeds being past their prime. I’m not terribly convinced of seeds having an actual expiration date, though. Considering that horticulturists have gotten seeds found in ancient Egyptian dig sites to germinate. But, the fresher they are, the easier they are to germinate and grow, so I like to share any surplus.
Another thing I like to re-use is the trusty egg carton. Darren and I like to do a lot of cooking and baking, so eggs don’t sit around for long here at The Olenick House.
REDUCE, RE-USE, RECYCLE
I can really appreciate the versatility of these because each cup is the perfect size to start seeds (even larger squash and melon seeds). I do make decent-sized holes in the bottom of each cup for drainage and when the seedlings have grown enough to be transplanted into large pots, each egg cup can simply be separated from the rest with scissors and the whole thing can be put into a larger pot.
The paper material just biodegrades and becomes a part of the new root ball when transplanted outside. Think of it as instant gratification composting!
Also in my arsenal of recycled items, are popsicle sticks. These can be put in the dishwasher after initial use to be used for this purpose. The heat of the dishwasher kills most of those microscopic little critters that nobody wants hanging out with their tender, new seedlings. I use them as seed markers.
NURTURING YOUR SEEDS
I don’t use any fancy heating pads or anything. To heat the soil and seeds up, in order to encourage germination, I lay each egg tray in a lipped baking sheet and then fill the sheet with between a 1/4″ to 1/2″ of water and then let the egg trays soak it all up, by way of capillary action, for about 30 minutes. I then drain the remaining water from the baking sheets, allowing the egg trays to dry out a bit. The soil still retains quite a bit of moisture.
I wrap each egg tray in plastic wrap, poking several tiny holes in the wrap with a push-pin. I then set the egg trays, with those tiny bits of a future harvest, in a sunny windowsill….and wait.
Every other day or so, I unwrap the trays and water them, again in the baking sheets, and wrap them up again. The moment I see a speck of green, I unwrap the trays and let them breathe in the sunshine. At this point, there is no longer a need for the plastic wrap. I just let nature do its thing.
Depending on the germination time of the seeds, before long, healthy seedlings begin to emerge, full of the promise of recipes to come. When the second set of leaves grow in, its time to add a bit of fertilizer to the watering regimen. As soon as the seedlings outgrow the egg cups, they are ready to move into larger pots and when the weather permits, outside they go!
In California, I was able to plant my seeds right into the ground, in March, and let them fly. But here in Manitoba, my yearly gardening journey is a bit more dynamic and quite educational from a gardening standpoint. It definitely keeps me on my toes and this method hasn’t let me down yet!
Feel free to try this method for yourself. I’d love to hear about your results and how you scratch the winter gardening itch.
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