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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Thrift Store Fall Haul: Adventures With My Tween

Crunchy Parent Thrift Store haul for tween or tween girl

Last weekend I finally admitted that the cold weather was here to stay for the season. It was not moment too soon as yesterday the Chicagoland area was blanketed with several inches of snow. Along with the plummeting temperatures came the cold, hard fact that twelve year-old Eva really needed warm clothing that would fit her. I think that she has fully outgrown her wardrobe at least four times in the past year, which is making it a challenge to keep her clothed.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have shopped for the kids’ clothes at children’s consignment sales for many years. I love consignment sales and thrift stores as a way to reduce our carbon footprint and to conserve our family’s financial resources. For us, spending money on healthy food and other wellness choices trumps fashion. I have also found that there are a lot of great clothes to be purchased through resale routes. Kids’ consignment sales are still a great resource for me to find clothes for Alina and Asher, but in the past year Eva has shot up to almost 5’6″ and has really grown beyond the sizes featured at most children’s sales. It is also difficult to buy clothes for her that she cannot try on for fit, and that cannot be returned if they don’t work for her. Clothing resales generally do not allow try-ons or returns.

To solve this lack-of-wardrobe challenge, Eva and I set out last weekend for our old neighborhood to hit the racks at a couple of my favorite thrift stores. The thrift stores that I have found by our new home have been very hit or miss, and I knew that making a day out driving to visit these stores would be a good use of our time. Eva balked a bit at the idea of a long drive to spend hours at thrift stores, but she too was getting tired of trying to get dressed for school each morning without clothing that fit properly.

Our first stop was a privately-owned thrift store that was featuring 50% off of two of their four tag colors on that day. Mind you, three days earlier I had received a text that everything in the store was 50% off, but pulling Eva out of school for a sale seemed irresponsible. I settled for my more modest sale and remaining in good parental standing. I was able to hold Eva’s attention at the jeans racks for a short while before I lost her to the books. I played the role of her personal shopper and loaded up the cart with jeans and tops that I thought that she would like, and then listened to her refrain of “are we almost done?” as I made her try everything on in the dressing room. In the end we left with several pairs of jeans, and a handful of sweaters, as well as a pair of pumps and a few books. I have a shopper card at the store, and although I completely do not understand their rewards program, I apparently had earned a $10 coupon previously which I applied to my purchase. After making this purchase, I earned another $10 coupon for a future visit.

Thrifted tween jeans: Aeropostale, Express, Guess, 7 For All Mankind

Thrifted tween jeans: Aeropostale, Express, Guess, 7 For All Mankind

Our second stop was to a large Goodwill store. Once again, I knew that my timing was not ideal because we were missing their % off tag days, but I was more concerned about getting the errand done than about getting the best deal for this trip. If we lived closer, I might have tried to capitalize on sales. As it turned out, it was student discount day and Eva was offered 10% off at checkout with her student ID (I knew that kid would pay off someday). Goodwill was a layering tee and sweater goldmine. We found another pair of jeans here too, and more books of course, but overall the tops won the day at Goodwill.

By the time we were done we were tired, thirsty, and hungry. The reward for our efforts was a new wardrobe to carry Eva through fall and winter, assuming that she doesn’t grow more by then (which I am not really assuming at all). It was interesting to see her style leanings. She is clearly straddling the worlds of girl and young woman. Her choices ranged from the cute and whimsical, to hipster.

Tween clothes: quirky and bright

Tween clothes: quirky and bright

I must admit that it is fun watching her grow up, and to spend the better part of a day shopping and laughing with her. Eva and I don’t get a lot of one-on-one time together. Even if the time was spent shopping, we still had fun.

Hipster chic: Gap, Halogen, Land's End, and LOFT (aka, "the one with the bacon sleeves.")

Hipster chic: Gap, Halogen, Land’s End, and LOFT (aka, “the one with the bacon sleeves.”)

It total we came home with a lot of great clothes at a fantastic price. There are a few items that I did not include in the photos (books, the pumps, a few new-with-tags camisoles, etc.) but by my count the pictured piles include 5 pairs of jeans, 16 long-sleeve and layering tees, and 16 sweaters, hoodies, and cardigans. Our total for these items, including our discounts and tax was $168 and change, or just over $4.50 per item.

thrift store haul-tops & jeans for tweens and teens

Eva has loved wearing her new-to-her clothes this week. I love that we were able to pull together a whole new wardrobe in a day filled with cute clothes to reflect different aspects of Eva’s personality. I like that we were able to buy it all at prices that don’t put us in debt. I also understand that Eva is at a stage in her life when she could wake up tomorrow having outgrown all of her clothes again, and that spills, stains, and accidents happen. Buying thrifted clothes means that I won’t be upset if these clothes end up being handed down, given away, or if they reach the end of their useful life in our home.

I think that buying previously-worn clothing still carries a stigma in our society where abundance is the norm, and “new” and “expensive” hold status. I also think that unless you are in a trendy-Boho area, the notion of a thrift store often conjures up images tantamount to indigent individuals dumpster-diving for any rags that they can find.

With a family of five, including three growing children who need new clothes every season if not sooner, buying the bulk of our wardrobe through thrift and resales is a lifestyle choice that has a big impact on our budget. These clothes will make up the bulk of what Eva will wear over the next six months. Our total expense for the thirty-seven items was close to the full retail price of one of the single higher-end items in the bunch. In addition, I feel much better from an ecological and social perspective getting more wear out of clothing items that are no longer useful to someone else, and easing the burden on other countries (and their children) to produce clothing for us to buy new, wear, and toss. The items purchased at Goodwill give the organization funds to train people for jobs. Moreover, even with a tween focused on how she looks, and wanting cute, trendy clothes, we were able to pull together great clothes from quality brands, and in very good previously worn condition.

What is your experience with thrift store shopping? Any great finds or tips to share?

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Barganic Alert: Vegan Cuts Fall/Winter Style Box

Vegan Cuts Fashion Style Box

Vegan Cuts is one of the many crunchy-friendly subscription box services featured in the Crunchy Parent Ultimate List of Crunchy-Friendly Subscription Boxes. They source and send quality, 100% cruelty-free cosmetic, skin care, and beauty products to their monthly subscribers. On occasion, Vegan Cuts curates limited edition themed boxes available for purchase individually.

Vegan Cuts is currently offering a Fall/Winter Style Box filled with jewelry, cosmetics, and accessories to keep your look on trend and in style as the seasons change. All items included are cruelty free and vegan. Box price is $49.00 and ships free to the U.S. The box features 6 items worth over $150, including:

Badala Kalenjin Charcoal Druzy Earrings – 12mm diameter
Della Turban Headband – Various Colors – 18″ circumference
Deux Lux Zip Wallet – Various Colors – 7.5″ × 4″ × 1″
Gleam by Melanie Mills Lip Radiance in Pop my Cork – 0.176 oz
Pacifica’s Supernatural Eye Shadow Trio – Various Colors
Pewilben Mini Sleek Black Vegan Leather Bangles – 8″ (Set of 3)
BEETxBEET coupon

See link above for item photos and details, as well as to purchase. This is a one-time box purchase and will not start a re-billing subscription with Vegan Cuts. Boxes will start shipping the week of October 26th.

I love the look of these items and the idea that a few color changes and accessories can really help freshen up a wardrobe for a new season, and those druzy earrings are gorgeous! Are you going to take advantage of one of the Vegan Cuts limited edition Fall/Winter Style boxes?

**Barganic Alerts are an effort to spread awareness about affordable crunchy goods and services (and here’s why). They are not endorsements, nor am I compensated in any way. They tend to be time-limited, and often go quickly. To make sure that you are always in the know, subscribe to CrunchyParent.com to receive emails of all Barganic Alerts as soon as they are posted**

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