Welcome 2014… winter seed sowing

Remember this idea I referred to last Mother’s Day? I had first seen it on Pinterest, and then tracked it back to this blog. In general, Kevin Lee Jacobs describes creating miniature greenhouses in reused plastic milk jugs. He also attributes the idea back to Trudi Davidoff. Thanks, Kevin!

We started saving our gallon milk jugs in the fall. It seems we’re always nearly out of milk, so I was really surprised that it took several months to accumulate 24 jugs. When they were emptied, we rinsed them out so as not to be too heinous-smelling come winter. Using Kevin’s directions, we cut them in half with a knife (kind of time consuming), leaving about 1″ hinge. KP used a drill to create the drainage holes in the jugs. We then used big tubs and put drainage holes in those too.

Recycled jugs for winter sowing.

Recycled jugs for winter sowing.

I filled each with 3-4 inches of seed-starting soil, and then sprinkled a healthy amount of seed into each little bed. After covering the seed with about another inch of soil and dampening with water, I quickly (!) labeled each one with the plant, species, and date of planting.

For the first batch – 12 jugs, I used 3 different kinds of celery (from Rare Seeds), two colors of cleome (collected from the uni), white nicotiana (seed from Lynch’s), two kinds of beans (leftover from the summer’s failure planting), and asclepsia collected from my garden. KP was most assured that we didn’t need to duct tape them as Kevin had instructed. Since we didn’t have any duct tape on hand, I went a long with it :).

Wouldn’t you know those damn raccoon varmints got in the seed and just mucked things up! Needless to say, there were beans all over the deck and in the asclpsia jug, and dirt every-where. I should know better! Remember this?

So, then we went to get duct tape. All that was available at the grocery store was day-glo PINK. See all the dirt mess inside the tub? Amazingly, as soon as the jugs were taped, I could FEEL the temperature difference between the air outside the jug compared to the air inside the jug!

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Varmint-proofing the jugs

Varmint-proofing the jugs

…and here they are, all “varmint-proofed”. Twelve jugs are starting, and when I’m back at the garden, I’ve got at least 12 more ready to go! …very exciting and I have visions of sharing lots of baby plants in the early spring.

Ready for keeping the seedlings warm and growing

Ready for keeping the seedlings warm and growing

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Managing expectations

One achievement of a well-established garden is having a full, lush garden with constant interest throughout the season… or so that’s what my fantasy always said! I was looking for relief from feeling the need to have all the blank spaces filled with gorgeous foliage and color. Having always been on a budget, here are some of the ways I’ve been able to fill in spaces and provide interest without spending a bunch o’money.

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Alcea rosea (hollyhock)

1. Growing from seed requires a bit more patience and planning. For example, here are the hollyhocks.  I have ‘Nigra’; the other is a pretty pink (as pictured).

Hollyhocks are biennial, and will bloom the second year only, in my experience. They self-seed, so after growing the first year, you can discard or move plant colors to a location that works for you. They are tall and well-behaved. These grew to be nearly 6’.  I’ll let the seed heads dry out and then replant in  another spot for blooms in 2015!

I do the  same to propagate Asclepias, butterfly milkweed. This is an important plant for monarch butterflies, and can be found alongside highways and roads. It is a protected plant in NY state. I have two varieties:

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Asclepias curassavica

This is Asclepias curassavica or “red butterfly” which is taller than the other I have – Asclepias tuberosa. I let the plant die back and in the fall when the seed pods brown and split open, I replant the escaping seeds that have a winged feather attached to help disburse it. Once established, they’re perennial bloomers.

2. Another means is by purchasing packets of bulbs and tubers from places like HD. The caladium(s) (caladiae?) I planted earlier in the season are coming up. Very happy with how these are faring and will get more next year. The white and green ones would be especially nice. Inexpensive with in-season gratification for not a lot of cost or care. (P.S. This is how I have also built up my crocosmia collection too.

Caladium “bicolor” (don’t mind the garden ornament!)

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Caladium “fancy”

3. By trading with friends and neighbors, you can propagate many species. The gooseneck loosestrife were gifted from another’s garden… the friend of a neighbor, actually. When in bloom and planted en masse, they are cheery and seem to bob their heads in unison when a breeze blows. A caution about this plant: it propagates like crazy and can be hard to control as it sends tubers out and will sprout up in shrubs and other plants.

Lysimachia clethroides "gooseneck loosestrife"

Lysimachia clethroides “gooseneck loosestrife”

Other plants I’ve received this way (and also shared in turn) are the irises that bloom in the spring: Two varieties from an aging neighbor who has now passed, and two smaller varieties from a dear artist friend.