Last year, as in most years prior, I did a few jugs of winter sowing. It’s likely that you, gentle reader are familiar with this seed-starting technique but just in case there are some “newbies” here’s a brief summary.
For seeds that need cold stratification, or for people who don’t have a good indoor growing space/lighting system winter seeding is simply cutting a plastic jug horizontally at handle-bottom level but leaving it attached and punching some drainage holes in the bottom. Add 3-4″ of moist potting soil, sprinkle seeds on top, cover those that need to be covered, and tape the jug shut. No need to put the cap on top, but I do keep them handy in case they are needed later on. Be sure to label. I write on the tape with a marker, but also put a pencil on plastic label inside as well. If you suspect mice might be a problem, a piece of window screening over the top and secured with a rubber band may be helpful. Now sit the jugs outside in a place where they can get sunlight, but are protected from wind and curious critters (Raccoons and opossums like to tip them over or pull them open!) Just ignore them for a month or so, then check them weekly to make sure they are getting enough moisture. As the sunlight hours increase, they may dry out more quickly than rain or snow provide moisture. When the sprouting begins, check more often. With tiny sprouts, I sometimes put the cap on if the forecast is for temps in the teens or lower just to hold in a bit more heat. As the plants grow, you may need to open the jug by removing the tape (thus the inside label proves helpful) to keep them from “cooking” on sunny days and to begin the hardening off process. When it’s time to plant, remove the plants from the jug and transplant into the garden. Simple, right?
My issues come when we hit that “remove the plants from the jug and transplant into the garden” part. Despite my efforts to seed thinly, there are always too many plants in the jug, and the roots are entirely intertwined. If I’m just “chunking” the mass into smaller groups, there is still a lot of root loss and damage as I cut the clump. If I’m actually trying to divide them into single plants, it’s nearly impossible unless I slosh them around in a pail of water, gently pulling them apart in the process, but that removes all the soil around the roots. Either way, the plants suffer some shock.
Last year as I struggled with this problem, it occurred to me that I could solve it by using toilet paper rolls inside the jugs. When it comes time to transplant out, the rolls will easily be removed from the jugs and the plants’ roots will remain intact. It should make the whole process easier, quicker, and be better for the plant’s root systems. So, all year I’ve been saving toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls, and wrapping paper rolls. The new problem is that there are not nearly enough rolls generated in our two-person household! A gallon jug can hold 11 tubes, and there were only enough to do 5 1/2 jugs. I’ll need at least 10, hopefully 15 to start the plants on my list. I’m thinking of trying to make some brown craft paper tubes, and crossing my fingers that they will work.
I’m excited to give this technique a try, and will report back on the results come spring planting time. Til then, happy dreaming of next season’s gardens. It’s only still January, but the countdown to Spring has begun!