Tag Archives: WinterSown

Wintersown.org Revisited

WinterSown.org last year

Last year, the Snarky Gardener discovered wintersown.org, which gives away seeds that can be used to grow plants outside during the winter.  The idea is to sow your seeds in milk jugs (or other recycled objects) and then put them outside until the temperatures are correct for germination.  I had mixed results with the WinterSown system but I believe I made several mistakes that I am pledging not to make this year.  First of all, I tried plant too many seeds at once – 8 different varieties in just one carton!.  This time, I’m using my new 2” square soil blockers to keep the number of plantings to a minimum – just 7 starts per carton.  And only one variety per carton with identifying labels (what a concept!).  I’m also keeping the choices to those I know well, and that I have too many seeds of already – Red Russian kale, spinach, cilantro, parsley, and leeks.  All of these are cold weather hardy, so they are perfect for being winter sown.

4 cubes per squish


7 2″ cubes per milk carton


Another issue I ran across last year was watering.  The instructions explicitly said to open the milk carton to water but I got lazy and sprayed into the opening at the top.  The one carton I didn’t put bottom slits in did the best as it didn’t go dry like the others.  For me, putting my seed starting efforts outside leads to the “out of sight, out of mind” problem.   This time around I’m putting them right outside my back door, which I will pass everyday on my way to work and back.

WinterSown.org part 2

On 4/10/2013, as I looked down the plastic jug holes, little leaves finally sprouted!  From the looks of the leaves and the jug itself (the pink plastic ring on the top), they are kohlrabi and Swiss chard.  This wasn’t planted back on 3/22/2013, but one I prepped later on 3/28.  You will notice the spray bottle in the picture.  It’s my secret weapon (don’t tell anyone) to watering once the jugs are sealed up.  The WinterSown.org instructions say to take the duct tape off to water, but that sounded like a lot of work.  I just spray water in from the top, thus not disturbing the seeds nor over watering.

Kohlrabi and Swiss chard winter sown on 3/28/2013
Kohlrabi (clover shaped at the top) and Swiss chard seedlings – 4/13/2013
Kohlrabi (clover shaped at the top) and Swiss chard seedlings – 4/13/2013

The other jugs are also making progress, though not as much as this first one.  The Apiacea (or Umbelliferae) family jug (carrots, cilantro, celery, and chervil) is almost totally barren, but I’m not surprised as these usually takes longer to germinate than others.  If you look closely though, you can see a little green at the top of the picture, but since they are all the same family, I’m not sure which plant it is.  The Snarky Gardener will taste them later to see who is who.  If it tastes like licorice, it’s the chervil.  Cilantro and celery are very distinct tasting also.

Snarky Gardener fact:  they are known as Umbelliferae because their flowers spread out like little umbrellas (think Queen Anne’s lace).

Carrots, cilantro, celery, and chervil – 4/13/2013

The broccoli, leek, echinacea, and carrot below are still at a standstill, though you can see a few broccoli poking their little heads out at the top of the picture.  Seeds from the Brassicaceae family (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, mustard, kale, radishes, and turnips) tend to sprout pretty quickly, with radishes being one of the first to develop (ready to eat in 3 to 4 weeks).

Broccoli, leek, echinacea, and carrot – 4/13/2013


IMG169 IMG164

Through my Internet wanderings, I ran across a mention of a site where people received free seeds – WinterSown.org.   I checked it out and decided to go through the ordering process as I just LOVE (XOXOXOXO) seeds (the more, the merrier).  WinterSown has developed and tested a system to start seeds outside without the use of expensive setups or even lights.  Just use recycled materials, starting soil, and the great outdoors (here are the instructions for use with a plastic gallon jug).

To order, just follow the instructions on the site, which is basically mail in a printed order form and a self-addressed stamped envelope (aka SASE) with two stamps.   With that, they will send you either the seeds of 6 randomly picked plants or 6 tomato seeds that you have chosen.  If you donate money via check ($5 minimum), you will get your order doubled (or more with a bigger contribution).  I mailed my order for 12 random seeds with a donation of $10 on 3/5/2013.  The site said it could be up to 4 weeks to receive the order but found my SASE in my mailbox on 3/21/2013.  The whole process reminded me of my youth, as I would wait by the mailbox for something I sent away for from the back of a comic book.  Of course sending in a check these days meant I could log in to my bank account every day to see when it was cashed (which of course I did).

Below are the seeds obtained from WinterSown.org

Red Pear Piriform tomatoes
Long Purple Eggplant
Danvers 126 Carrot
Petite Marseillais Pepper (2 packages)

Shirley Poppy
Dwarf Toadflax
Large Dahlia Mix
Evening Primrose
Shasta Daisy
Perennial Lupine

The timing of my delivery was perfect as we have been having a very long winter/spring this year in Northeast Ohio with snow on the ground 3/22/2013.  Last March we had temperatures in the 80’s and my garden was completely tilled up by April.  My understanding of the WinterSown process is the seeds react to natural weather patterns to start when the time is right.  With the use of protection and heat capture, the exposed seeds are able to germinate earlier and better than just sowing them in their final growing location.  I’m also trying a variation of this method by direct sowing my spinach seeds under 2-liter pop bottles.  My house is full of starts, so I’m out of room under the lights.

The WinterSown system is designed for early plants, like broccoli, kale, spinach, lettuce, herbs, wild flowers, and even root vegetables like carrots.  I was surprised by seeing carrots on the list as I didn’t think you could transplant those.  I’m guessing if you get them out in the garden before they create much of a tap root, you should be good to go.  In seasons past, getting them up before the weeds take over has been a Snarky Gardener pet peeve, so this sounds very promising.  I’m also starting Purple Top turnips to see if they will transplant.

Below are pictures my WinterSown sowing.  As you can see by the last picture, I decided to just place the milk cartons out in my garden.

Note:  Here’s the update from 4/16/2013

IMG157 IMG158 IMG159 IMG160 IMG161 IMG162