Winter Sowing Round 1

One of my goals this year is to start as many plants from seed as I can.  I’ve been reading a lot about winter sowing and knew I wanted to give it a try this year (even though it seems we haven’t had a “real” winter!)

I can see now that I should have started collecting plastic containers months ago.  Fortunately, a friend took me through all four floors of her apartment building…there’s a recycling room on each floor, and I had a good selection to choose from – mostly milk jugs,  soda and juice bottles, and lettuce containers.  I’ll still need more, but it’s a start:

Using pliers to hold a nail over the flame of our gas stove, I heated the nail enough to easily make drainage holes in the bottom of the containers and ventilation holes near the top.  It worked well, but I don’t like the idea of breathing plastic fumes (!!) so next time around I’ll try just hammering nails through and see if that works.  What methods do you use to puncture the thicker plastic containers like 2-liter bottles and milk jugs?

I cut containers nearly in half with a utility knife:

A few take-out type containers which I’ll put in the cold frame I made from an old window last Spring:

Ready for some greenhouse action:  Containers have been filled with watered and drained potting mix, seeds planted, jugs held shut with duct tape, lids off to allow for ventilation and rainwater.

So far the bricks have kept the cats from knocking over any containers.

At first I tried to research which of my seeds require cold stratification, but I ended up just throwing caution (or seed?) to the wind and planting everything I wanted to try, just as an experiment.  For each variety, I made sure not to plant all the seed so that I can also try them indoors in case some of the winter-sown seeds don’t grow.  Here’s what I winter sowed, nearly a month ago now, the last week of January:

  • Fairy Tale Eggplant
  • Italian Frying Peppers
  • Jalapeno Peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Brandywine Tomatoes
  • Rutgers Tomatoes
  • Cosmonaut Tomatoes
  • Paul Robeson Tomatoes
  • Jaune Flamme Tomatoes
  • Sun Gold Tomatoes
  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Borage
  • Mustard
  • Agastache
  • Calliopsis
  • Autumn Clematis
  • Mirabilis (4:00s)
  • White Coneflower
  • Catnip
  • Campanula (pink)

That’s arugula in the upper left, which I planted last fall…it’s coming up nicely now.

So far the only things to show any signs of life are the Mustard and the Calliopsis, both of which look green and happy so far.  I’m hoping in another month I’ll see more action out there.  I had to give some extra water to a few of the containers that seemed to have really dried out under the porch awning…it’s a really sunny spot, but they’re not getting any rainwater there.  I’m hoping they survived!

Building A Cold Frame The Hard Way

I finally did it!  It’s a little late, but I finally put together a cold frame!

I wish I had started it a month or two ago so that I could have started some seeds in it earlier, but at least it’s done.  It’s one less thing I’ll have to do in the fall, and I’ll be grateful for it then, I’m sure.

Now, I can skate by with a lot of things, but carpentry isn’t one of them.  Spacial relations and I are not close friends.  Power tools and I are not well acquainted.  I haven’t made anything with wood and screws and brackets, well, probably not since my 8th grade woodshop class, so I’m pretty darn pleased with the results:

I found some old windows in our basement and got the okay from our landlord to use them.  I gave the measurements to a nearby hardware store and asked them to cut pieces of wood (not pressure treated, please  – it’s for growing food!).

It’s pretty solid and I’m happy with it, but it was a little more challenging than I expected.

My first mistake was not brushing up on geometry.

When I gave the measurements to the guy at the hardware store (27″ for the side pieces, please) he told me “when I cut the diagonal, they will be longer.”

<silence while I try to wrap  my head around this>

“Longer than 27 inches?” I asked.

“Yes, miss.”

What??  But how?

There was a little bit of a language barrier going on and that coupled with the 25 years since my last geometry class, well…it made for  a pretty funny conversation…him repeatedly telling me it will become longer than 27 inches when cut on a diagonal and me repeatedly saying in response “how can it become longer than it actually is?”   (Not like it’s going to GROW, right?)  “If the rectangle is 27″ long and you cut it on a diagonal, how can it possibly become longer than 27″  The wood is only 27″ wide!”

I picked up the cut wood, took it home, and lo and behold – it was longer than 27 inches on the diagonal.  Holy cow.  He was right!  How could this be?

A friend later reminded me that the hypotenuse is the longest side of a right triangle.  (huh.  And I got an A in geometry in 8th grade…guess it hasn’t exactly stuck with me.)

Mistake number two was not taking into consideration the extra inch or so (width of the wood planks) that I’d get when I joined two pieces together.  Huh.   When I started putting the frame together and set the window on top…the frame was too big.

This led to me purchasing my very first saw and removing a couple of inches on each diagonal plank so that the window actually fit the box when it was assembled and there weren’t 3 extra inches of wood sticking out the bottom end.

My screws are slightly crooked and it took me a heck of a lot longer than it probably should have, but I now have a solid cold frame!   It was easy on paper, but putting it together was more challenging than I’d imagined.  (Okay – two pieces of wood that must be joined together with screws…how do I hold one board steady while attaching board #2?)  Sigh.

As you can see, I was really starting with the VERY basics.  Someone might as well have asked me to change their carburetor.

Somehow I managed to lodge that first piece against the porch using some bricks and a barrel and get the second one attached.  From there it was a little easier.

Here’s the progress, step by slow step:

Success!  The first two pieces joined together.

These screws actually went in straight. 😉

Board #3 gets attached:

I added these braces or brackets or whatever they are called hoping that they would make the frame sturdier overall and help to stop the wood from warping over time:

The 4th and final board attached!

Next came the hinges. It was a little tricky because the side of the window frame wasn’t totally solid on one half, where the chain / sash is. Of course I neglected to notice that or think of it before making the frame. Had I noticed, I could have turned the window so that the sides with the chain / sash would have actually been the sides of the cold frame, giving me a solid top and bottom to drill the hinges into.

Somehow I made it work. I’d consider buying an extra set of hinges and attaching them just because it can’t hurt, but it’s working for now:

Overall, not so bad!

I had considered adding some sort of handle (and still may) to make it easier to open the frame. In the meantime, the window chain actually makes it easy to grab and lift up the frame:

Not sure that it will continue to live here in this spot, but it fits well enough for the time being, and it’s certainly easy to move.

Woo hoo!