Containers – We drink a lot of distilled water, so I use the plastic gallon-size jugs it comes in. They’re just like milk jugs, but I don’t have to wash them. Whatever container you use must be tall enough to accommodate the seedlings as they grow and transparent enough to see your hand through its side.
I cut almost all the way around the jug about 5 inches up from the bottom and leave a hinge on the handle side. Then I poke 4 or 5 holes in the bottom. Most people seal these jugs with duct tape after they’ve planted in them. Last year I just punched holes in the top and bottom at the corner opposite the hinge and tied them together with a twist tie. This method allowed more air inside the container, so I kept the caps on the jugs. I was successful with starting leeks, celery, cilantro, hollyhocks, and even a few delphiniums this way. Who knows? Perhaps more would have come up if I’d used duct tape.
Potting Mix – I use a professional quality soil-less potting mix, the same kind I would use for indoor seed starting. It must hold moisture and drain well. I fill the containers at least 3 inches, which is deeper than necessary for indoor seed starting. You don’t need a ruler: the rule of thumb is to fill it to a depth that is about the same as the length of your thumb.
Labeling – I use a grease pencil to write the name of the seeds sown on both the bottom and top parts of the jug. These labels will not fade. Plant only one type of seed per container to avoid confusion. Use smaller containers, such as 2-liter bottles, if you’re planting only a few seeds.
Seeds – Use fresh seeds. When I first discovered winter sowing, I thought it would be a great way to use up my oldest seeds. Wrong! Hardly anything came up, and it was a waste of time and effort. Before going to this year’s seed swap, I threw out all my seeds that were five or more years old. One to three years old is OK for many seeds. Remember that the older the seeds, the more you should plant because fewer of them will germinate.
Spacing – Except for plants that grow well clumped together, I space the seeds about an inch apart. If I expect the seedlings to grow in the container for a while before I transplant them out to the garden, I thin them to the appropriate spacing as soon as they pop up. Be firm: do not postpone thinning! Otherwise, those seedlings will not grow well.
Watering – As with indoor seed starting, I prefer to water winter sown seeds from the bottom so I put them in trays. Let the trays hold water until the potting mix is soaked; then drain them. After you put them outside, they will not need any watering during the cold and snow of winter. When the seeds sprout, start monitoring the moisture level in the containers. Water when needed. This could be as often as every other day or even every day when the lids are off later in the spring.
Location – I have wire shelves outside in the corner between our house and the garage. Here the winter sowing containers will not be disturbed by animals or blown around by a strong wind. It’s also easy for me to check on them because they’re right by the garage door.
Protection – After the seeds sprout, open the containers up on warm days and close them at night. Add a covering for tender seedlings during a light frost and for all of them during a hard freeze.
Transplanting – The sooner you can get your winter sown seedlings into the ground, the better. I left several languishing in their jugs last spring for too long. Once I separated and finally planted the hollyhocks, they hardly grew at first. They did better later and are biennials, so I hope they will grow and finally bloom for me next summer. The tiny winter sown celery plants never caught up to the indoor sown ones. I didn’t plant the winter sown delphiniums until the third week of June when I got a couple blooming ones on clearance. Nothing came of them. My cilantro started to bolt before I could transplant it. The leeks, which I planted out sooner, were fine. Next spring I hope to transplant all my winter sown seedlings to the garden as soon as their “plant out” dates and temperatures arrive.
MAKING CHILI WHEN IT’S CHILLY – garden-style eating
My winter sown seeds are fine with the deep cold of winter, but I am not. Last week it was super cold: -22º on our deck! One of my favorite ways to warm up is to make chili in the slow cooker. Plus, it’s a fantastic way to use many vegetables from my summer garden, and that warms my heart, too.
My chili recipe did not start out as a way to use garden vegetables. I’ve adapted it from a recipe that originally came with my first slow cooker over 25 years ago. I’m a recipe tinkerer, not a recipe developer! Almost from the beginning, I substituted ground turkey for the ground beef, dried pinto beans for the canned kidney beans, and a salt-free herb blend for the salt. Later as a beginning gardener, I found that chili was a great way to use end-of-season tomatoes that were ripened indoors and then frozen whole. Those tomatoes don’t taste as good as the ones ripened outdoors, but they’re still homegrown organic tomatoes. The spices in the chili kick up their flavor. Since I grow more things in my garden, I now use my homegrown tomatillos, peppers, onions, and garlic, too, whenever possible. You could make adaptations like mine with your own favorite chili recipe if you get any of the ingredients from a garden, farmers market, or CSA.
If you have to buy tomatoes from a supermarket, then I recommend that you get canned ones, diced or whole. Those will be tastier than anything in the fresh produce department. I also recommend that they be organic. The same goes for bell peppers, hot peppers, and anything else on the Environmental Working Group’s annual “Dirty Dozen” list.
Chez Rea Chili
2 pounds ground beef and/or turkey
1 1/2 cups onion, chopped
1 cup organic green pepper, chopped
2 whole garlic cloves, minced
32 ounces organic tomatoes, canned (undrained) or frozen (from the garden)
16 ounces dried pinto beans
2 teaspoons salt-free seasoning
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
Optional garden additions: If I have tomatillos and jalapeños or other hot peppers from my garden, I add them, too. I don’t grow squash, but I know that some people add squash puree to their chili. You can use whatever you like! If you don’t have a freezer full of garden goodies, you can still make this recipe with store bought ingredients.
The night before: Sort and rinse beans, and then leave them in a large bowl of water to soak overnight. You can skip this step and replace the dried beans with 32 ounces canned kidney beans, undrained.
Preheat pot on a range top. Add ground meat and brown. Move pot to the slow cooker base. NOTE: If your slow cooker does not have a metal insert that can be used on the stovetop, you will have to use another pan to brown the meat. If using an Instant Pot or other multi-cooker, use the saute setting to brown the meat and then use its slow cooker function to cook the chili.
Add everything else and stir to combine. Cover and simmer on LOW for 7 to 10 hours. Keep warm for serving.
May garden food and flowers keep your heart warm this winter!