Are your seeds growing yet?

By Cheryl Shenkle

BROOKVILLE Have you ever found the weather getting mild enough to garden and then realized there are some jobs that you neglected and now they're difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish?

So much for all that spare time during the winter when you could have made "good cheap hay."

Plant propagation is generally thought to start at St. Patrick's Day, but that's too late too. Your seeds should have been ordered in early January, your garden journal updated, seed starting soil purchased and seed starting equipment sanitized before warm weather.

Would you like to have seeds already outside, ready to spring to life just as soon as their natural inclination to grow is tickled? Do you really want to lug all the soil inside, buy expensive lights, check the moisture of the seeded trays at least twice a day for weeks or months?

Do you have a morbid yen to experience the delight of Fungus Gnats, Aphids, root rot, low humidity, damping off disease, and a whole host of other possibilities? Well, I have a fun solution for you.

Try sowing seeds in the snow. Lots of people do it all the time and nature does it every winter.

Have you ever wondered why some plants hold on to their seed heads through most or all of the winter, then drop them at the coldest and wettest times of the winter, yet in the spring, there's a million new seedlings?

Plants that have naturalized to our climate, have learned to hold their seeds high till the cold weather closes in which prevents their seed from germinating in the fall after which they would die.

Then, to prevent them all from being eaten by birds, mice and invasive insects, the plants drop their seeds steadily onto the snow where they eventually sink down to the soil.

They lay dormant but safe till the warmth of the sun and soil trigger them to germinate. Any plant hardy to your growing zone can be sown directly onto the snow at any temperature.

Just plant a little heavier than usual to account for seed which may become food for little critters.

So why not imitate the plants that know how to survive the elements by winter sowing some of your seeds?

Tropical crops, which include tomatoes and peppers in our zone five, will not work because in their native locations, they never get freezing temperatures and the seeds are encased in dried pulp or gelatin waiting for the proper wet time to germinate.

Plants such as native perennials, flowering perennials, cold hardy vegetables and herbs can all be winter sown. Some of these are very expensive and complicated to buy as started plants, but you could find yourself with many seedlings, almost free in May, just in time to become garden or potted transplants.

Find any kind of gallon, translucent plastic containers such as juice, milk or water jugs. They should not be solid white or yellow. Wash them thoroughly.

First, cut lots of slices or make holes in the bottom of each container for good drainage. Carefully, using a cutting tool such as a box cutter, make a small horizontal slice halfway down the jug into which you can insert scissors.

Cut mid-line around the container from one side of the jug to the other, almost cutting it in half but not quite. You want to leave a hinge to connect the top to the bottom, preferable directly under the handle. Toss the lid and open the container.

Fill the bottom half with two to three inches of slightly moist seed starting soil. Add an underground identification tag. Sprinkle a few seeds and cover with a very thin layer of sand.

Many people make the mistake of adding too many seeds which are then difficult to divide when transplanting. Close the container, seal with a circle of duct tape, and add the name of the plant again on the outside in very bold water proof marker, perhaps in several locations on the jug.

The marks tend to fade in the sun and rain, so you may find yourself with plants but no idea what they are. The underground tag tends to survive as long as the marker is waterproof.

Dig all of the jugs out into a snow drift or non-windy area and leave them to the weather. The rising and falling snow levels will mimic the seeds' natural needs for stratification and chilling. When the temperature is right, they will do the rest.

Keep a list of what you plant versus what grows and add it to your garden journal so you will have good ideas for the next winter. Who says we will be bored when it snows?