You have several options to start your garden next spring. You can buy your seedlings from a garden center. This is expensive and the variety is limited. You can start your seedlings indoors. Less expensive but it takes a lot of room and you need to be careful about the seeds drying out and you need to do a "hardening off period" where you gradually expose the seedlings to the spring environment. I've been using another method for the past three years and found it to be better. It's called Wintersowing. You can read about it in http://wintersown.org/. I just checked their website (December 17 2013) and they still have the offer of free seeds when you send them a self addressed stamped envelope. The other website I've used for seed trades has been http://www.garden.org/seedswap/. But here are the essential elements:
- You start your seeds outdoors around Christmas
- Your container becomes a miniature greenhouse protecting the seeds and seedlings from harsh conditions, foragers and wind.
- You wait until planting season and by then your seeds will have sprouted in their outdoor containers and you will open the caps of the containers to let in the less humid air for two days and then put them in the ground.
The other advantages are:
- They are very inexpensive
- Because you are starting from seed you can choose unusual (heirloom) varieties
- You don't have seeds taking up a lot of space in your house
- There is no fancy equipment for lighting
- They are automatically hardened off
- You can leave for a weekend or a week and not have to worry about watering.
- You get to reuse containers like milk cartons and other translucent or clear plastics
Step 1: Clean and Prepare Your Containers
You can use milk containers or clear containers. Because they need light don't use dark containers. Wash the container out well and then drill holes in the bottom for drainage and then drill some in the top for ventilation. You will need this in the warmer spring weather. You will mark and then cut the container into two sections. Label containers with grease pencil. I've found that pens, pencils, and even sharpies tend to fade but grease pencils stay legible all season long. I use pencils called China Markers but any grease pencil will do.
Step 2: Prepare the Soil
Any good potting soil will work. Just make sure that you initially saturate it and then thoroughly let it drain. I let my pots sit in water for ten minutes, stir them and then let them drain for 10 minutes.
Step 3: Plant the Seeds and Put the Pieces Together With Duct Tape
Plant the seeds and cover them with 1/8 inch of dirt. Space the seedlings so that you can more easily break them apart when the spring comes with minimal root damage. Then put the container together and tape them shut.
Step 4: Put Your Seeds Out in a Sheltered Location and Wait for Spring.
Now comes the hard part: wait until spring. When it is time to plant out, make sure that you open the caps for two days to get the seeds ready for lower humidity. At that point you can plant them in the garden and wait for the magic to happen.
Ah, December in Pittsburgh. It's a great time to start gardening!
Again, for more information, look at the http://wintersown.org website. It lists directions and suggestions about which plants do best. And they will send you seeds if you send them a stamped envelope! This is what I've grown successfully:
- tomatoes (mostly heirloom)
- broccoli rabe
- brussels sprouts
- did I mention tomatoes?
- swiss chard
- all kinds of annual flowers
I will update the pictures of the seedlings in the Spring!