Sunday, December 19, 2010

Winter Sowing for the Solstice

In the midst of the cold weather, the not-being-outside-as-much, and the holidays I am eager for small chores that pertain to the garden and the land. This is a good time for Urban Land Scouts to prune trees and shrubs as well as to cut back the dead growth of perennial flowers (like sedum, butterfly bush, any of the rudbeckia/daisy family, and others). Beginning in early spring many people will start seeds indoors (which can earn you your Level 7 and/or Level 5 badges). While I feel comfortable tending most plants, I am not very experienced starting them this way. Some plants (like basil or tomatoes) are easier to start from seed, while others require more advanced care (like stratification, scarification, or more careful attention to humidity).

For those of us who are enthusiastic but less experienced in starting plants from seed there is winter sowing, a method promoted (and branded?) by Trudi Davidoff. The basic idea is to use perforated plastic food containers as micro-greenhouses in which to start seeds. The seeds are exposed to freezing and thawing which serves to break their dormancy. The semi-sealed environment of the container creates a slightly warmer and more humid micro-climate for the seeds. I am using the large plastic containers in which we get baby spinach at our local food co-op. They are deep enough to accommodate the recommended 3-4" of soil and perfectly clear so as to let in the most light. Some of the photos on Ms. Davidoff's website feature translucent plastic gallon jugs cut 0ne third of the way up which I will try later.

This method appeals to me both for its relative do-nothing-ness (once the seeds are established) and for the chance to celebrate the solstice in an Urban Land Scout way. After rinsing and perforating the plastic containers the next step is to figure out which of the seeds I have will do well with this method. As Ms. Davidoff explains on her website, I'll look for language on the packaging like,
Needs Pre-chilling (freeze seeds, refrigerate seeds, stratify for x amount of days or weeks), Needs Stratification, Will Colonize, Self Sows, Sow outdoors in early Autumn, Sow outdoors in early Spring while nights are still cool, Sow outdoors in early Spring while frosts may still occur, Hardy Seeds, Seedlings can withstand frost, Can be direct sown early, Wildflower, Weed (such as butterfly weed, joe pye weed, jewel weed.)
I pulled out a handful of flower seeds that I've had for a while and either never tried or tried unsuccessfully. A quick google of "plant name" + germination helped me to figure out which might succeed with winter sowing: Aster, Yellow Verbascum, Pepperbox Poppy, and Beauty of the Livermere Poppy. I know from experience that poppy seedlings are delicate wispy things that do not like their roots to be disturbed in transplanting so I will embed eggshells in the potting soil in hopes that I can later transplant a rooted poppy without disturbing the soil around it.

The perforated containers are filled with soil and nestled into a layer of leaf mulch in one of my garden beds, but I'll wait until the winter solstice (this Tuesday) to put the seeds in. This is more for metaphor than anything else, but I like the hopeful gesture of it. In the middle of the cold, still, darkness, we can look forward to the return of light and life. That kind of hope is important to an Urban Land Scout who would believe that the small gestures of tending and caring for land, urban land at that, might have a positive effect on the larger whole.

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