Some weeks ago I promised I would explain the principle behind winter sowing. I can hear you all now, “Winter sowing, what’s that all about?” It’s a great, super inexpensive way to start lots of healthy seedlings OUTSIDE. There’s no need to have an expensive light setup, no need to clear out the food storage to make room for flats of seedlings (which wouldn’t make sense, anyway), and you don’t have to put your warring teenagers back intoa room together to give you space.

The idea behind this is that plants reseed themselves all the time and come back int he spring without any trouble. I have lots of flowers that I started with only a couple of plants and the next year I got sprouts form seeds–the same thing can happen with those that are winter sown. In fact, many seeds require some chilling, or even a freeze/thaw cycle before they will start to grow. Trumpet vine is one of these, the shell on the seed is so hard if it doesn’t get a lot of freezing and thawing, the plant can’t burst through it in search of light. Any seed that says: needs stratification, colorize, self sows, sow in autumn, or any other term indicating it can handle or needs cool weather to develop. Many seeds that don’t say things like that will still winter sow successfully.

To winter sow, all you need is a container with a clear or semi-transparent lid–snack trays, milk jugs, plastic zipper bags, even Styrofoam cups with plastic wrap on top–and dirt. It’s best if you use growing medium, or any bagged potting soil. If you simply don’t have the money, or you live in an area where you can’t get bagged soil at this time of year, you can use regular garden dirt, or better yet, homemade compost.

It’s best if you spread your own dirt or compost on a cookie sheet and bake it for ten minutes or so to kill the seeds and any diseases that may cause the seeds to fail. Another option is to fill a five gallon bucket (or other available container) half full of dirt or compost and place on the back porch. Boil water in a teapot or pan on the stove. Pour the boiling water on the dirt and cover the container as tightly as possible. The next day the seeds will be dead and you can go ahead and start planting.

I moved into my house in mid December, and spent months glued to gardening and landscaping sites trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my yard. I have nearly a full acre and didn’t want to grass the whole thing–I didn’t even want to grass half of it, actually, and gave the back half to my birds, but I couldn’t live without flowers. Being on a tight budget, and wanting to be able to get as much done as possible without breaking the bank, I gave winter sowing a try.

First I found several kind people willing to send me FREE seed through seed swapping–since I was just starting out, I sent them a padded envelope with postage, and they sent me the seeds back. It was great. I planted…dozens of containers that winter, and placed them out in the sunny back yard. If you do an Internet search for seed swapping, you can probably find oodles of people willing to swap or send you seeds. You can also check nurseries, or other places that still have seeds lift over from last year, and get them for deep discount at this time of year.

Later this week, I’ll finish explaining the process of winter sowing–and I’ll be giving away free seeds to start your own planting with. Take a look around and see what you’ve got that you can sow in, what seeds you’d like to use and what else you can get your hands on.