Wintersowing Tutorial: Upcycle Trash to Make Garden Greenhouses & Start Seeds in Cold Weather

Photo credit: nociveglia via Foter.com / CC BY

Photo credit: nociveglia via Foter.com / CC BY

What is Wintersowing?

Wintersowing is a method for seed starting developed by Trudi Davidoff. I first heard of the wintersowing method several years ago on Garden Web. The idea is a simple one; creating mini greenhouses out of recyclable materials to use for seed starting outdoors during the cold winter and spring months. I thought that it was a brilliant method that was inexpensive, environmentally beneficial, flexible, and allowed me to keep dirt, bugs, grow lights, and whatnot out of my home.

I also love wintersowing with the kids. We can plant a little bit at a time over the course of the season, which keeps planting fun and manageable. We talk about the stages of growth as we check on the progress of our seeds. We also discuss different aspects of plants and their needs as we create our little growing spaces (e.g., we need holes to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide; the greenhouses hold in moisture and allow the sun to shine through, we open the lids in the warmer weather so that we don’t overheat and cook our seedlings, etc.)

Why Use a Wintersowing Approach?

There are many reasons why I love wintersowing, but the basics breakdown to cost, convenience, and success.

Wintersowing is extremely economical. The containers used are generally free and readily available. Wintersowing eliminates the need for grow lights or any special equipment. A bag of potting soil is typically my only true expense. Some years I also purchase seeds, but not always (see seed discussion down below for many resources for free seeds).

I love the convenience of wintersowing. Because I am sowing seeds in the comfort of my home across a period of weeks or months, I can do a little at a time. I don’t feel overwhelmed by my garden or a need to start all of my seeds in the same small window of time 6-8 weeks before our final frost date. I also really like the low-maintainance of the method. Once I prepare a container for sowing, it just sits outside rain or shine, and there is no mess in my home. There is no need for upkeep until the seeds sprout, and from then on it is fairly minimal. It is important to make sure that sprouts don’t dry out, overheat, or “hit their heads” on the tops of the containers, but these needs can be managed with little trouble (see resources below for tips and guidance on wintersowing). Additionally, since the seeds come to life in the great outdoors, there is no need to coddle them through a hardening off period, they re ready to plant after the final frost date in your area.

The best part of wintersowing has to be the success of the method. Since wintersowing keeps seeds contained and protected, there is little seed loss due to weather conditions or animals, as there can be with direct sowing. Wintersowing also keeps temperature and moisture conditions controlled better than indoor setups in my experience. I find that I have incredibly high germination rates with wintersowing.

What Seeds Work for Wintersowing?

In my experience, just about any type of seed adapts well to wintersowing, with the exception of plants that are notoriously difficult to start from seed under any circumstance (rosemary comes to mind). Perennial plants are very well-suited to wintersowing, but I find annuals to work great as well. I have used wintersowing to grow a wide range of annual and perennial flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables with great success.

Basic Steps of Wintersowing

To wintersow, you will need your potting soil or preferred growing medium, seeds, and your containers. You will also need a knife or other object for poking holes in your containers, a marker to label your containers, and possibly some heavy-duty tape and rubber bands. I sometimes also purchase paper cups to use within some of my little greenhouses.

Wintersowing is generally done using plastic, food-grade containers that have not previously held any toxic or hazardous materials (I stick with old food containers that I would otherwise recycle). You want to look for containers that can hold at least a 2″-3” depth of soil with some head space for your plants. If the container itself is not clear or translucent plastic, you at least want the lid to be a clear plastic to allow the sun’s rays to shine in. Sometimes a lid can be adapted by cutting away a portion of the lid and replacing it with plastic wrap or similar as discussed in the video.

Wintersowing will shift how you look at your garbage and recyclables. Once you figure out your preferred types of containers, friends, neighbors, and others are often more than happy to route their garbage to you. Some of my favorite containers are quart size yogurt tubs, large plastic clamshells from bulk lettuces, and traditional seed starting trays coupled with single-serve yogurt cups and reused large plastic bags. Other people are milk jug enthusiasts,

The video will give you an idea of how to use and modify your containers to create your mini greenhouses.

Wintersowing Resources

Wintersowing is supported by an enthusiastic community. There are many great places to learn more about wintersowing, ask questions, and to see the setup and successes of other wintersowing gardeners. Some of my favorites:

Trudi Davidoff has her own website about Wintersowing. The site is currently under construction but still has some information and pictures.

Gardenweb’s Wintersowing Forum is a great place to post questions and reap the advice of winter sowers of all ranges of experience and from all across the country. It is also a treasure trove of pictures about wintersowing from seed starting to planting, and for the “after” shots of beautiful gardens built from wintersown plants.

The Wintersown Facebook Page is another useful public forum for discussing wintersowing and sharing progress photos. The page has over 9,000 members. The Facebook page is administrated in part by Trudi Davidoff as she continues to share her passion for the method that she developed.

But What about the Seeds?

Of course in order to wintersow, you will need seeds. One of the most exciting aspects of starting seeds on your own versus purchasing seedlings is the exponentially greater range of plant options available to you. I love thumbing through seed catalogs looking at the beautiful and exotic plant varieties. I gravitate toward unusual colors, shapes, and sizes that I would never see at a grocery store, and are a rare find even at the farmer’s market.

Whenever I purchase seeds, I prefer to support companies who are committed to biodiversity and who are against GMO seed. If this is important to you as well, I recommend purchasing from companies who have signed the Safe Seed Pledge, indicating that they will “not knowingly buy, sell or trade genetically engineered seeds or plants.” A list of companies who have signed the Safe Seed Pledge can be found here.

I also prefer to grow heirloom and open pollinated plants to allow me to save my own seed over the years; giving me a large stash of seed to work from. See a video tutorial of how I save tomato seeds here. Saving seeds from other plants such as flowers, peppers, peas, and beans is even easier.

I also find that because wintersowing has such high germination rates for me, I waste less seed and can successfully grow older seed. As a result, seed packets go a very long way and I often have extra seed from my own seed saving efforts to share. Seed swaps are another growing trend. I have participated in seed swaps through online communities as well at through my local botanic garden. Seed swaps tend to occur in January or February to allow gardeners to start their seeds in time for spring planting. This list of seed swaps around the country can help you prepare for next year’s events. Local seed libraries are another resource for seeds. See a partial list by state here, or search online for seed libraries in your state to find options local to you.

Wintersowing Final Thoughts

I hope that you find the wintersowing method to be as exciting and useful as I have over the years. After trying and succeeding with this gardening method, I really can’t imagine starting my plants any other way. I’m curious to know if you’ve tried wintersowing before. Do you have any experiences to share? I’m happy to field questions in the comments too so feel free to ask. There’s still time to start seeds for this year’s garden.

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Poppin’ Tags: A Guide to Shopping and Selling at Kids Resales

Crunchy Parent Tips for Buying or Selling at Kids Resales or Consignment Sales

I am a long-time tag popper. I started shopping at thrift stores, children’s resale stores, and “pop-up” resales before I even had children as a way to shop for gently used clothing, books, toys, and gear at a significant discount. In the whole “reduce-reuse-recycle” circle of product life, shopping previously-owned results in a lowered carbon footprint and allows us to tread a little more lightly upon the Earth. As my own children have outgrown their clothes and toys we have handed things down through friends and family, but find that there are always items that are the wrong size or gender for the littler ones in our lives at a given moment. Many end up being donated, but selling some of these items at local “pop-up” resales lets me squirrel away a little money for the kids’ clothes for the season ahead. Selling and/or volunteering to work at sales often comes with the added bonus of getting to shop the sales before the general public, when the best selection and deals can be found. For those who may have less experience with children’s resales or consignment sales, I wanted to take a minute to pass along some tips so that you can take advantage of the bargains to be had in and around your town.

How do you find the sales?

In order to sell and shop at sales, you first have to know where to find them. I have found sales through a number of channels. The first (and probably best) is through word of mouth. Talk to other mothers at playgroups, school, place of worship, around the neighborhood, etc. Do they have experience shopping or selling at any sales in the area? Are there sales that they recommend or have had poor experiences with in the past? If you have experience shopping or selling at a particular sale that you like, ask the volunteers or sellers there if the can recommend similar sales in the area. It is not uncommon for “resale moms” to be familiar with other sales that happen nearby at other times.

Another resource for finding sales is through listings like Craigslist. I suggest looking in the “for sale” listings using search terms like “resale; kids” or “consignment; children.” This can be a good way to find sales to shop, as well as places at which to sell. Remember to also keep an eye out around town. Schools and churches will often post signs weeks in advance to announce upcoming sales.

Finally, as clothing resales have grown in popularity online resources have become another way to find local sales Consignment Mommies is a site that lists sales by state as well as by date; often providing additional information such as sale dates and hours, location, admission costs, and discount day options. The site also has great tips and information for the new shopper or seller.

What to look for in a sale as a shopper, seller, or volunteer?

Sales can vary greatly in the quantity, quality, and variety of merchandise sold, as well as the type of shopper that they aim to attract. Some sales are held in very large venues with tens of thousands of items piled onto tables and in bins by size and gender; requiring more time to sort and sift through. Other sales are smaller and designed to emulate a resale shop; with items hung and displayed on racks and shelves. Some sales focus on higher-end merchandise; restricting the brands sold to higher-end chain store and boutique brands, whereas other sales may be a goldmine for play clothes and baby/kid gear. It helps to know what you are looking for when shopping a sale as well as the types of items that you might be looking to sell, and the time and motivation that you have to dedicate to finding that great deal.

In addition, when considering where to shop and sell, think about the price that you are looking to pay, or the dollar amount that you hope to earn as a seller. Sales aimed at a boutique market will often price clothing higher overall, even though some of those same brands may be found as lower priced “diamonds in the rough” at more general sales. As a seller, it is also important to know what percentage you will earn if your items sell. Seller earnings typically range from 50%-80% of the item sale price, with lower earnings from more “full service” sales where your items are tagged, priced, and prepared for you; and higher earnings from sales where you fully prepare your items and volunteer to work to support the sale during promotion, preparation, sale, and/or clean-up. In addition, some sales welcome volunteers who are not actually selling at the sale with the incentive of being able to shop the sale before the public; other sales may require volunteer hours of all sellers.

Tips for success as a seller:

As the kids outgrow their clothes or when I rotate the wardrobes with new season, I sort their items into what to keep; what to pass along to friends or family; what to donate; and what to sell. Sale items have been given the once over to make sure that they are in good to excellent condition and free of stains, spots, or holes. These items then go into bins labeled by season (fall/winter or spring/summer). When sale time rolls around, I pull out the bins and get to tagging my items. Sales will differ in their tagging and display rules, so be sure that you know if you are handwriting or printing tags; pinning to the item or tagging with a tag gun; hanging all items, or pinning outfits together. I keep my supplies (pins, tag gun and fasteners, sweater shaver, etc.) in one of the stored sale bins so that I’m not scrambling each season. I also keep items that may have been leftover from other sales in bins all ready to go so that I don’t have to do my work again. Some things may need a quick ironing or other freshening, but that is all.

Bin of shoes, boots, & slippers ready for the sale.

Bin of shoes, boots, & slippers ready for the sale.

It is important as a seller that you understand a bit about the sale that you are selecting. You will want to know what percentage of your ticket price you will receive. You will also want to understand the volunteer responsibilities, drop off and pickup arrangements, and sale times. If you are hoping to shop the sale, be sure to understand if and how you will qualify to shop earlier than the general public. As a seller, I also like to know how well the sale does overall (i.e., what percentage of the total items typically sell); are they well-established, is the sale at a desirable time and location, how do they get the word out to potential customers, and how many customers generally come through their sales (hundreds? thousands?)? I also ask questions about security available at the sale because sellers must often sign a waiver releasing the sale sponsor from liability for damaged or stolen items, and knowing about security allows me to make informed decisions about what I choose to put in the sale. Finally, I ask about pricing. If their customers are looking for $1.00 shirts and onesies, a European Boutique outfit probably won’t sell for $25 even if that is a small fraction of the retail price. This helps me find the right sale for the types of items that I am looking to sell.

If you are new to selling, tagging guns, needles, and fasteners can be bought inexpensively on eBay or on Amazon. Some sales will specify plastic hangers, wire hangers, or will accept either type. Plastic hangers can often be obtained for free from stores like Carter’s or Old Navy who often otherwise dispose of their excess hangers. A quick call to the store’s manager is usually all that it will take to see if a store has free hangers available. Friends and family may be more than happy to unload their wire hangers that have accumulated from trips to the dry cleaners (I can’t even type that sentence without having “Mommy Dearest” flashbacks). Zip ties may also be required to attach shoes together. Amazon or home improvement stores can be good sources for these, although if the sale allows, I prefer to tie shoes together with yarn or ribbon (prettier and more eco-friendly).

When it comes to pricing, a general rule is that items in good to excellent condition can sell for 25%-35% of their full retail price. This percentage may be a bit higher or lower depending on the item. For instance, an outfit from a brand with a cult following like Matilda Jane might fetch a higher percentage, but that gorgeous French designer outfit that was a massive splurge, may have to be reduced even less than 25% of the full retail to sell to the general resale crowd. Of course, if your items are “priced to sell” you will likely end up selling a larger percentage of the items that you brought to the sale. Likewise, if you price an item too high and it ultimately goes to half price toward the end of the sale, you may end up making less than if you had priced it a bit lower to begin with and sold it for your full asking price earlier in the sale.

Tips for success as a shopper:

To best prepare yourself for any sale, you first want to have a sense of what you are looking to buy. If you need some really special outfits for holidays, a special portrait, or an upcoming occasion, or you have a preference for higher end brands, you may want to head over to a “better brands” boutique-type sale, which is not to say that the same items could not be found elsewhere, but it may be hit or miss. If you are looking for a lot of varied items, especially for everyday, a large sale with lots of items may help you cross more items off of your list.

Kids looking cute in their sibling portrait. Fancy dresses bought at a “better brands” resale. Asher’s shirt was bought later at a thrift store to work with the color story (yes, I watch Project Runway).

Kids looking cute in their sibling portrait. Fancy dresses bought at a “better brands” resale. Asher’s shirt was bought later at a thrift store to work with the color story (yes, I watch Project Runway).

Speaking of lists, I would recommend that you make one. I try to review the boxes of hand me-downs, last season’s clothes, and things that I’ve picked up here and there to see what I need to fill in the wardrobe for each child. I also note shoe sizes and other necessary sizes on my list, as well as current clothing preferences or needs for each child (e.g., will only wear dresses and leggings; needs elastic waist or adjustable waist pants; brown or black dress shoes). Then when I hit the sale I know who needs a winter coat, boots, or snow pants; who needs layering t-shirts, play dresses, a bicycle with 20” wheels, etc.

As a shopper, it helps to know a bit about the sale before you go. If resale shopping or a particular sale is new to you, here are some general tips to consider. Resale enthusiasts often show up early. Do not be surprised if there is a line outside before sale doors open. If you want to get the best deals, by all means line up early, but don’t assume that if you arrive later all of the good items will be gone. The shoppers before you may have needed different sizes, different items, or have different preferences. Admission to the sale may be free or they may charge a nominal fee such as one dollar. Exact change helps move that line of eager shoppers along when they are excited to get in.

It is often helpful to bring a container with you to hold items while you hunt, gather, and shop. Sales generally have sorting areas set aside from the main hustle and bustle to let you review items and make purchase decisions, but you’ll need a “shopping cart” to transport items to the sort area and to the payment line. Shoppers often bring a laundry basket or large box or bag for this purpose. A wheeled laundry basket like this one can be a big help. I got mine at Target and I didn’t have to buy three of them like the Amazon bundle. It is worth noting that sales often do not allow children or restrict strollers for safety and space reasons, so inquire before heading out with children in tow.

When I arrive at the sale, I consider my list and prioritize heading over to areas with less selection like shoes, coats, gear, or special occasion clothing. Once I’ve taken a look through those areas, I make my way over to the clothing; working from the size of the child who needs the most, to the child who needs the least. Books, games, and toys are usually pretty abundant, so unless there is something really specific that I am looking for, I save those areas for last. It is sometimes also worth looping back to areas to see what has been put back by other shoppers who have “rejected” items that they initially scooped up but decided not to purchase after sorting through their items.

As a shopper, you want be sure to review your purchases carefully before buying as sales are almost always final. Volunteers often try to check items for quality control before they make it to the sale floor, but sometimes spots, stains, or holes are missed. You will want to look items over carefully, checking behind tags as well if tags are secured to the front of the garment. Another thing to consider is how tags and items have been attached. If a plastic hang tag or pin has been poked through the garment fabric you will want to consider the likelihood of it leaving a hole and damaging the material when the tag is removed. As a buyer, I far prefer when items are hung (not pinned) and when tags go through the manufacturer tag or are secured at a seam to minimize holes. Likewise, fabrics like knit jersey or silk are more susceptible to hole damage than more robust fabrics such as fleece, velour, or denim. When looking over items, review factors such as wear and shrinkage (i.e., is the fabric pilled, are the knees worn down, is the item likely true to its labeled size?). Consider whether the price fits the quality and purpose (play clothes or daycare outfits with some wash wear for cheap are not necessarily a bad thing). Be mindful of reasonable item value as well as gear and toy recalls. A quick search online with your phone before buying can be a big help. As a general rule, buying previously-owned car seats and cribs is often discouraged for safety reasons. Likewise, if you stick to low-tech toys made from natural materials as we do, it is far less likely that the item would have been involved in a recall.

While you have that smartphone out, give that older child, tween, or teen a ring. I have found that as children get older and embrace their own style and preferences it can be harder to shop for them without having a number of “misses” when their personal shopper arrives home with the loot. I have sometimes taken photos of items at the sale and texted them to Rich to show to the girls for a thumbs up or down. Recently, Eva and I FaceTimed while I was at a sale and I gave her a live-action show of what I had selected, allowing her to provide her input before I made my purchase.

What do you think girls, yes or no?

What do you think girls, thumbs up or thumbs down?

Another thing to be aware of as a shopper is that some sales will have discount days or hours where some or all of the items that have not yet sold will be reduced. It may help inform purchasing decisions to know if an item will be 25%-50% off at a later time when you might be able to revisit the sale or if it will not be reduced further. Of course if it is an item that you really want, you may not wish to wait as it could be gone by sale time. Likewise, you do not want to assume that an item is on sale during “discount time” only to find out at the register that you are wrong because you are unfamiliar with sale rules; some sales designate discount-eligible items with tags of certain colors or with a specific symbol on the tag such as a star, dollar sign or the words “Discount” or “Do Not Discount.” Before you show up at the register, it is also worth knowing the forms of payment that are accepted and if credit cards will carry a fee. In addition, some sales are affiliated with a charity and are tax-free purchases, whereas privately-hosted sales will often require the buyer to pay sales tax.

It is getting to be late in the season to sign up to sell at most fall or winter sales, but there is still time to buy. It is also a great opportunity to check out the sales as a buyer and learn about how you can be alerted of future sales or how you can participate in the future as a buyer or a seller. In my area, most established pop-up sales have a fall/winter sale in August or September, and a spring/summer sale around March. So make your lists and head on out there. It’s a really great way to give the environment and your wallet a break.

Have you shopped or sold at kids resales before? Please share any tips or great finds. I’d love to hear them.

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