Large Scale Winter Sowing Experiment – Starting Flower and Vegetable Seeds Without Grow Lights

A few seasons ago, a brief introduction to the winter sowing method completely changed the way I garden. Without the need for grow lights or fancy seed starting setups, it is truly a way for those of us with tiny garden budgets to grow something that is absolutely amazing. The options when using the winter sowing method are limitless – you can start both vegetable and flower seeds with ease. This method is especially useful when attempting to grow some perennial flowers and herbs from seed (which may be difficult to germinate). Seeds are naturally stratified when needed, there’s no need to fuss about hardening off the seedlings before transplant – I could seriously sing the praises of winter sowing for hours and hours.

Even though I think that winter sowing is totally awesome, there are so drawbacks. In many ways, your success will definitely vary depending upon what growing zone you’re in. While the process works absolutely great for me, I’m not sure how well it would work in a place that has considerably warmer or exceptionally dry winter weather. In addition to the variability, containers for the winter sowing method can be a little messy. First, you have to save tons and tons of plastic containers. If you’re like me, and live in a small space, this can be quite the task. Next, when sowing the seeds, only so many seeds fit into each bottle. This presents a huge problem for those of us wishing to create the largest garden possible. Last year, I had something like 300 soda bottles in the backyard. The whole place looked like a dang garbage dump!

Winter Sowing in Low Tunnels

This year, instead of the traditional winter sowing method, I’ve decided to try something new.

This little low tunnel will be the home of my winter sowing trays this year. I simply secured the plastic with landscape fabric pins into the soil.
The bottom of the tunnel is covered with this black plastic. The hoops were made with a hoopbender from 1/2 inch conduit.

I’m fairly certain that it will work, however, I’ve never seen any other blogger or flower farmer online do it – so why not share my experience with everyone?

The first thing I’m going to do is use my hoop bender to bend several lengths of conduit. These will serve to construct our “low tunnel” winter sowing environment. Next, I’ll need some 6 mil poly plastic from the hardware store. I have no idea if greenhouse fabric would work, I don’t see why it wouldn’t. I usually just grab some poly sheeting because it is readily available where I live.

I added a few small ventilation holes in the plastic. I’m not sure whether or not this is actually a good idea, but I wanted to make it mimic the process using milk jugs as best as possible – we’ll see what happens.
The first seed trays are officially inside the low tunnel. I hope it works!

At the end of January, I will begin the process of winter sowing, as usual – starting first with perennial flowers and other plants that are cold tolerant. Instead of using milk jugs and bottles, I will be using large seed starting trays. This season, I’m using both flats (is that what they’re called), as well as some trays will cells in them.

After I have sowed the seeds in a moist growing medium, I place the trays on top of a layer of landscape fabric. This will keep the water from standing (since this part of my garden doesn’t drain well) and will also help to make sure all the slugs and other bugs will definitely stay out while the germination process takes place. Then, I simply cover the tunnel will the poly plastic and secure it. For ventilation (similar to that of the milk jugs), I decided to cut a few small holes in the top of the plastic tunnel. Hopefully, this will also allow for additional moisture.

That’s it! Here’s hoping we’ll have a beautiful growing season! Have you ever started seeds this way? I would love to hear all about it in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “Large Scale Winter Sowing Experiment – Starting Flower and Vegetable Seeds Without Grow Lights

  1. I’m excited to see you try this! I actually thought of this idea too and wondered if it would work!! I’ve only grown a handful of flower types last season and am expanding a TON this year! I’m starting some under lights indoors (we happen to be able to use some free things…) and then I am going to try some of the same seeds in some milk jugs outside and compare!

  2. This is exactly what I’d like to try this year!! Did it work for you? I love the idea of winter sowing things because it’s so low maintenance and gives you strong plants, but I want early blooms! : )

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