Winter Sowing

Doesn’t look so cold, but the temperature was 12 degrees

One of the hardest elements of love for gardening is how things seem to stop in the winter. Well, I’ve found a way to keep it going, without a greenhouse. I’m trying winter sowing this year. I’ve heard about it for years and this year, I’m bored enough to try it. 

This is a phenomenon that has taken hold in the gardening world for those of us in colder winter climates. Basically, you sow seeds for the spring garden outside, in the cold and snow, but you do it in makeshift greenhouses or cloches. 

It’s a simple concept, and although you can certainly sow some seeds of hardy perennials and vegetables directly into the garden with occasional success, this method gives more control and actually works fairly well according to everything I’ve read. So, I’m giving it a try. 

I sowed my seeds in their little milk-jug cloches just after the winter solstice, and after many days of frigid cold and off-and-on snows, I checked yesterday and some of my seeds are actually germinating. 

This method is not for warm-season plants like tomatoes and peppers, but it supposedly works well for cool-season plants like broccoli and cabbage, not to mention cold-hardy flowers like cosmos, lupine and calendula. My broccoli rabe has already germinated. Putting them out in the fluctuating cold actually breaks the seed coats faster, and the constant moisture assures the germinating seeds will survive. 

The method: basically, you cut plastic jugs in half (leaving a hinge), fill partially with damp potting soil and sow your seeds. You tape the jug shut, leaving the cap off to allow moisture in and out. Then you wait. Once the seedlings are up and the weather is leveling off, you transplant them into pots for growing on. Or directly into the garden. 

I won’t go into all the details on how to do it here, but there are many good videos and tutorials on Youtube and the internet. I found a great video series on the Buncombe County (my county in North Carolina) extension site. There are several active Facebook groups also. 

A recipe for winter time

And, here’s a recipe not necessarily connected with winter sowing, but our dinner last night, paired with roasted salmon. The kale and chard were from my cold frame!

Delicata squash stuffed with couscous and greens

Delicata squash with couscous
  • 1 delicata squash, sliced in half and seeds removed
  • ½ c. whole-wheat couscous
  • ¾ c. stock
  • 1 c. greens of choice (kale, spinach, chard), chopped
  • ¼ c. sliced onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Parmesan cheese 

Brush the squash with olive oil and roast face down at 375 for about 40 minutes. 

Meanwhile, heat the stock to boiling. Add the couscous, turn off the heat and cover. Let sit for five minutes. After letting it sit, fluff it with a fork. 

Saute the onion, garlic and greens in a splash of olive oil, about five minutes until wilted. Mix into the couscous and season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Fill the squash cavities with the couscous mix. Sprinkle with parmesan or other cheese of choice and slide under the broiler until delicately browned.