I swear, I’m going post a recipe. Really, really soon. I tested it yesterday and it’s SUPER tasty. But I gotta get this garden info going because it’s exciting and fun and dirty (in a good way) and wonderful and makes me SO SO SO happy. Don’t you want me to be happy? Of course you do. I’m glad we’re on the same page. Also, see those gorgeous Purple Lady Bok Choy sprouts up there? One day in the not-so distant future one of those plants will be in a recipe! How cool is that? Very cool.
Before we dive in to the garden update and talk about winter sowing, I want to thank you all for your kind and encouraging comments when I posted my “prodigal blogger returns” post last week. It meant so much to me to know I was missed. Getting a little misty-eyed as I think about it, truly. Ok, I wiped my eyes and now we can dig into the gardening stuff. Don’t pardon the pun, it has every right to be here. #punsforlife
I have no space for a traditional in-ground garden. We have a small front yard and a tiny backyard. But every year I attempt to garden anyway, usually with plans bigger than my procrastination will allow for. Never underestimate how much I can intend to do and then abandon recklessly. My husband still can’t talk about the year I tried straw bale gardening (don’t ask). But friends, I am here to tell you, that 2021 is going to be The Year of the Garden here at our homestead. I am going to use every bit of space available to me to grow as much as possible, and I’m taking you along for the ride.
Here’s how I plan to make the most of the space I have:
- Edible landscaping
- Vertical gardening
- Container gardening/raised beds
First, let’s chat about edible landscaping. Basically, it means using edible plants mixed in to your landscaping. Go figure. Technically I guess you could grow only edibles in your landscape, but I love the look of mixing it up. I’m inspired by people like Rosalind Creasy, who is a pioneer in edible landscaping, and wrote an incredible book called…wait for it…Edible Landscaping. This is just a glimpse of what a food-filled landscape bed can look like.
See how the different plants work together? Varying heights, colors, texture…and they’re mostly edible! I see lettuce, parsley, onions, kale, chard, and that’s just what is leaping out at first glance. This is what’s possible. And what I aspire to. But let’s get real for a minute. My yard looks nothing like that right now.
This is my front yard. Please pardon the winter bleakness of it all. It’s winter, after all. We’re going to call this picture…Before.
Thankfully I have a bunch of perennials laying dormant in the ground just itching to pop up. A few already have but you can’t see them in the photo. But none of them are edible, except for the rosemary hiding behind the mailbox. Yes, we have every single neighborhood accessory in our yard. Here’s what it looked like last summer when everything was in bloom and just after our house was painted.
See? Lots of pretty flowers. But I want to make those landscape beds come alive even more with tons of plants we can eat. I’m picturing bright rainbow chard, purple basil, colorful peppers, and edible flowers. Peas and green beans growing up trellises. I can see it in my minds eye. And you can’t see it in this photo, but I do have ONE edible plant already going for a few years now. Meet our artichoke!
Now, in fairness, I haven’t actually eaten an artichoke off of this plant yet. Last year was the first time it produced enough to eat (4), but the flowers are so strikingly beautiful when they open, I couldn’t bring myself to pick them before they bloomed (which is when they need to be eaten). Check this out…
Ok, so edible landscaping is going to happen for sure. But I need to make the most of my space, so we’ve gotta grow up. Vertical gardening, I mean. I’m not that interested in growing up, personally.
Here’s what I’ve done with vertical gardening in the past (pre-house painting). A huge planter box in front of the house with spaghetti squash vines (and in some years, tomatoes).
But as you can see, the vines naturally die off while the squash ripens, and, um, it’s not the best look. So while I want to do this again, I have to figure out how to grow other vines mixed in that will hide those ugly dried up squash vines. I might go back to tomatoes, because they look beautiful until frost. This particular box was recently disassembled because it was breaking down, but something else will go there in time to plant it for growing up. I also have similar vertical growing plans for our side yard, which I’ll show you on our next update (because it’s a disaster right now). But here’s a picture from May of 2017 when it was much a less of a disaster and will give an idea of how you can do both raised beds and vertical gardening in a small space.
My vision for this space is raised beds on both sides with an arched trellis for plants to grow up and over. Some twinkle lights mixed in for evening ambiance. It’s gonna be gorgeous, when I can get the ideas out of my head and made into reality. Michael is reading this and rolling his eyes. But also deep down, he knows I will make it happen. 😉
The front yard and side yard are the only places with full sun, so the backyard is where I’ve currently got my winter sowing setup in place. Yes, we’ve finally gotten to the winter sowing part. I knew you were wondering if it would ever happen. Well, it did.
So what the heck is Winter Sowing and why should you do it? Firstly, I want to say that I am not an expert on this topic yet. I’m sharing what I’ve learned so far and will continue to share my experience as the growing season unfolds. The majority of what I’ve learned about this method was in Facebook groups, which are both helpful and overwhelming. And in some cases, prone to drama. Who knew? Anyway…here’s a winter sowing primer.
What is Winter Sowing?
Winter sowing is a way to grow plants in protective containers (commonly milk or water jugs) outside in the elements without any special equipment needed. For seeds that benefit from exposure to the cold, they’ll get it, and those that don’t won’t be affected negatively. They can literally be covered in snow for weeks at a time. Each seed will sprout when the conditions are right for them. For example, the soil temperature was right for the bok choy pictured at the top of this post and that’s why it’s sprouting now. And prior to that it was one of the jugs under that thick blanket of snow.
But why do it? For most people, the benefit of winter sowing is the set it and forget it concept. Meaning you can plant the seeds, water them in, tape up their containers, and just let them chillax outside until they’re ready to be transplanted. The freeze/thaw cycle also can make the transplants more hardy and vigorous when they’re planted out. You don’t need fancy grow lights and heat mats, and you won’t have to make space in your house for a bunch of seedlings you need to babysit. Not to mention, it’s so much more affordable than buying transplants. You can get one organic tomato transplant for $3.00 at the garden center, or you can buy a packet of 50 seeds for $3.00 and plant as many as you want this year and the year after that, and…you get it. Not only that, you get to reuse something instead of throwing it away. Remember my jugs?
So that’s how you plant a jug, be it milk, water, or juice. But why jugs? They are able to let light in, they are deep enough for 3-4″ of soil and root growth, and provide protection from wind, birds, and other seed predators like squirrels. You can also use other containers with similar properties, like vinegar jugs, as long as it is food safe plastic. The main requirement is that they be able to let light in (so nothing opaque) and be tall enough for roots to grow down and foliage to grow up. And if you know exactly where it will be planted, you can cut the bottom off the jug, plant the seeds, and then cover it with the jug, staking it in as needed so it doesn’t blow away. I have a few like this that I still need to plant.
But Beth, Winter is almost over. Why are you only telling us about this now?
Well, first of all, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do you wrong like that. I was busy hiding for over a year. Second, even if it’s technically not Winter, you can still do this method! It’s just called jug sowing then. And in many parts of the country, it’s still cold enough to snow well into Spring. So it’s not so much the name of the method as what it enables you do to when it comes to preparing your garden, whatever that looks like. So no matter where you live, you can start seeds in jugs like I show in the video and the seeds will sprout when they’re ready (the soil temperature is right for those seeds). However, there are a few considerations to keep in mind depending on where you live.
- First, if you live in a windy area, you’ll want to make sure the jugs are in a place where rain/snow can still get to them, but they won’t be knocked over.
- Once the jugs sprout, you’ll need to provide some protection overnight if you still get hard frosts. Throw a blanket over them and they’ll be good to go. Light frosts won’t tend to harm them.
- If you live in a dry area, you may need to water the jugs beyond the initial planting. If you don’t see condensation in the jugs, it’s time to water. Mist them carefully so you don’t dislodge the seeds. A fun project for kids to help with! Or if you live where it rains endlessly (like me), you will likely never need to touch them until it’s time to plant.
Other than that, you can just plant up as many or as few as you’d like and enjoy the process!
Here’s what you need:
- Milk, water, or juice jug (or similar container) – make sure light can get through
- Sharp tool to cut a hinged opening in the container (I use a utility knife)
- Quality potting soil (NOT seed starting mix), organic preferred
- Duct tape to seal the jugs after planting
- Garden marker, paint pen, or China marker to label jugs (DO NOT use Sharpie! They will fade and you will have no idea what you planted)
- Plant markers for inside the jugs
- Seeds! A few of my favorite seed companies are Baker Creek, Botanical Interests, Territorial, and Renee’s Garden.
How to plant the jugs
If you don’t want to watch my awesome video above, here’s how to prepare your jugs and plant them up.
- Create 4-5 holes in the bottom of the hole for drainage. I used a 1/2″ drill bit. Make sure to drill the holes BEFORE the next step, it’s much easier. You can also use a glue gun or anything that will make a hole. 🙂 You can also add a hole on each side about an inch or two up just ensure proper drainage if the bottom holes get plugged.
- Cut a horizontal hinged opening either just below or above the handle of the jug, leaving about an inch uncut to form the hinge. I usually make the hinge just below the handle. A utility knife works best for this.
- Fill the bottom portion of the jug with moistened potting soil (NOT seed starting mix). Make sure there is at least 3-4 inches of soil in the jug so allow for the roots to spread.
- Sprinkle seeds on the surface of the soil and press down. Sprinkle a very small amount of soil on top (don’t cover the seeds completely). Water in with a spray bottle or watering can to help the seeds make contact with the soil. Some seeds need light to germinate so it’s important not to completely cover the seeds. They’ll sprout just fine.
- Add a plant marker in the jug and tape it up with duct tape. Painters tape and packing tape don’t work as well as duct tape. I use duct tape and it does a great job.
- Write the name of the seed on the outside of the jug and place it out in an uncovered area where it can be exposed to the elements. Make sure to recycle the lid – it’s meant to be off for ventilation and to allow moisture in.
- Wait for the seeds to sprout! When the weather is favorable for them to be transplanted, open the lid and let them hang out uncovered for a day or two. Then plant them in their forever home and watch them fulfill their destiny!
How are my jugs, you ask?
I knew you’d want to know! This video was made a week ago and we’ve had even more progress since then!
I mentioned the update video above is a week old – so much more has happened since then! Here’s the most recent update of SproutWatch 2021. 🙂
Before you say anything, I know my peas don’t have any soil over them. I forgot to sprinkle a little over when I planted them (they don’t need to be planted deeply in the jugs). I may take the tape off and sprinkle a little soil on top. But I’ll give them a few more days to see how they look.
Phew! This was a doozy! And I imagine if you’re interested in the winter sowing stuff you might have a lot of questions I didn’t cover here. I’m happy to answer them the best way I know how!
I can’t wait to share more progress as soon as the rain stops here and I can make some of my projects happen! So, see you in May! Just kidding. But it sure feels like that right now. Life in the Pacific Northwest.
I’ll leave you with some links to the items I find most useful for winter sowing to make your life easier. You’re welcome. 🙂
If gardening is not your bag, no worries, just skip these posts as they come up! My first recipe of 2021 (not that there were any in 2020) will come next week!
Now get growin’!