Monday, October 3, 2022

Common Reasons for Winter Sowing Failures


Winter Sowing Failures and Reasons

Winter sowing has become one of my favorite ways to grow plants.  It's also becoming more and more popular because it's easy and it works!

But, if you’ve read the Winter Sowing 101 guide and tried the winter sowing method but had some failures, the reasons for your lackluster results are probably listed below, along with ways to help ensure future success.

Further Reading:  Winter Sowing 101

Seeds Didn't Germinate

A common reason is bad seeds. Simple enough, right?

If you had very little or no germination at all, it could be as simple as old seeds.

Different types of seeds have different shelf lives. For instance, onion seeds are only viable for one to two years and should be used the year after they’re harvested, ifpossible; whereas seeds of collards and cucumbers can be viable for up to and even after five years when stored properly in cool, dry conditions.

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A Little Bit About Traded Seeds

For years I tried to save money by trading seeds on the internet and locally. Trading seeds will save you money, but you really don’t know that those seeds are actually the type of seed marked on the packet, how old the seeds are or how the package of seeds has been stored.

If you’re growing flowers from seed, having a germination failure from old or traded seeds is not a really big issue as you probably have time to reseed.  But if you’re trying to grow a food crop from bad/old seed, you could lose an entire growing season of that crop by the time you realize there's a problem.   

I recommend that you spend the money and buy your food crop seeds from a reputable seed supplier. There are several big names that will pop up on an internet search.

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A Bit about Sow Times

There’s really only a few things to remember about when to sow the seeds and put them outside in their winter sowing containers.

Seeds of annual warm-season plants are generally sown four weeks before your average last frost date. Sowing them a lot earlier increases your odds of the seeds sitting in the containers longer than they need to and rotting from excessive moisture.

Some seeds, like most hardy perennials and cold weather crops,  need a period of cold stratification, and that's why these seeds are sown and placed outside a few months earlier than the others.  This "cold stratification" helps the seeds to slowly break dormancy and initiate the germination process when the weather is right.

Conditions Aren't Right For Germination Yet

It's important to remember that different seeds of plant types will germinate at different times as the seeds are waiting for the right conditions.

For instance, seeds of cold hardy plants need the cooler temperatures and will generally germinate before seeds of warm weather plants.

If the seeds haven't  germinated when you expected, it may just be a case of waiting a few weeks longer for the seed to get the right conditions to germinate.  Don't give up too soon.  Many winter sowers, including myself, have chucked a winter sown container only to find out that the seeds did germinate later.

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 Seedlings Germinated then Died

Excess Water

Excess water not only can rot the seeds as they wait to germinate, but can kill seedlings once they’re up.  Having an adequate amount of drainage holes in the bottom of the winter sown container is very important.

For a milk jug container, I put at least five to six drainage holes in the bottom. If you’re using a knife to cut slits for drainage, I would double that. More is better.

If the containers were placed for the winter in an area where excessive rainfall has fallen on them, like under house eves, (I've done that), that extra rain could rot what's inside.

Also, if the containers were placed directly on soil, the soil underneath may have eventually clogged the drainage holes.  I place my winter sown containers on top of a graveled area for extra drainage.

Late Frosts

If there's a late frost after the seedlings are up,
throw a blanket or like item over the containers and take it off in the morning. Winter sown seedlings are relatively hardy since they are already somewhat acclimated to the outside weather, however, they are still only seedlings, and big swings in temperature will necessitate the extra care.

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Excess Heat

The same winter sown enclosures that keep the soil and seedlings warmer in cold weather will also allow the containers to keep in the sun's warmth, and an unusually hot, sunny day can literally fry young seedlings.

Placing the containers facing south will give the containers a bit of an edge against really harsh winters.  Once the weather begins to warm and the sun becomes stronger,  moving the containers to an area with less direct sun is recommended.

As late spring approaches, I like to cut "windows" into the sides of the containers for even more airflow.

Soil Dried Out

The lids of the containers are left off for the sole purpose of letting moisture in during the winter or colder weather.  But once the seedlings are up and the weather warms and rainfall decreases,  it’s necessary to check on the soil every few days just to make sure it hasn’t completely dried out. A good spritz of water on the top of the soil may be enough.  

In drier conditions you may need to water the soil well, and  bottom watering the containers is the best way to do that. Just set the containers in a tub of a few inches of water, maybe a kids' pool, and let the soil drink up what it needs. Make sure you take the containers out once the soil is saturated.

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Lack of Nutrition

Spring is a very busy time in the garden, and sometimes my winter sown seedlings or plants don't get planted as early as I would like.

If you notice that some leaves on the seedlings are yellowing, a shot of diluted balanced fertilizer at  1/4 strength can give them the shot they need to remain healthy.  This is even more important if you had used a soil mix in the containers that did not contain any fertilizer.

I use a regular potting soil that contains a small amount of fertilizer, and that is usually enough to sustain the seedlings until transplant.

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Seedlings Die After Transplanting

Even though winter sown seedlings are already much hardier than those grown inside under grow lights which need to be hardened off, they will still need more care until they are well established in their final destination.

Further Reading:  How to Harden Off Seedlings

If in doubt that the seedlings are strong enough to transplant out into the garden, let them grow in the container a bit longer.  And when you do transplant the seedlings, shade them for a few days with a tented piece of cardboard or the like as you would with any transplant.

Transplanting Tip

If you have more seedlings than you really need and they've grown together in a hunk, instead of disturbing the roots and planting them separately, you can transplant a hunk of seedlings together and let the hardiest survive. 


So there’s my top reasons for why you may have gotten less than stellar results from your winter sowing attempt. 

Paying extra attention to those pitfalls at the critical stage of germination and early growth can ensure you future success.

And once that success comes, you'll want to winter sow every year!


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Sunday, October 2, 2022

Ten Steps For Vegetable Garden Success

Ten Steps to Veggie Garden Success

Successful gardening doesn't come by accident, and in my opinion, there is NO SUCH THING as a green thumb. Success comes from good pre-planning and thoughtful follow-through. It's knowing what each vegetable plant needs to grow to a successful harvest and giving each plant what it needs.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

15 Garden Chores for Early Spring

Early Spring Garden Chores

Although the term “early spring” for me in Zone 6 Ohio may not be the same time as the “early spring” for your garden zone, for this article, early spring means that time of year when winter seems to be coming to an end and intermittent freezes and thaws are happening in the garden. The first signs of Spring!

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Epsom Salt for Roses and Bloomers!

Closeup of Beautiful Pink Rose

Epsom Salt for Rose and Bloomers

You may have heard that Epsom Salt is a great, safe, effective and economical garden amendment for use on your flowering plants. But what is Epsom Salt and why is it so popular among rose gardeners?

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

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I personally don't believe there are people with “green thumbs.” Successful gardening of any type takes good planning and dedication to follow through. Your plants are like children; they need what they need when they need it and not when you have time to do it.  

Thursday, July 7, 2022

The Role of Vinegar in Canning

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The Role of Vinegar

If you have been looking into the process of canning your own food, you've undoubtedly noticed a lot of talk about safe canning.  Some of the most-asked canning questions relate to the correct use of vinegar.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Monetizing Your Homestead to Market Success

Monetizing Your Homestead to Market Success

by Lance Cody-Valdez

You’ve got a homestead you can be proud of and have plenty of homemade products that you know people would be willing to buy, ranging from soap to cheese to woodcrafts and more. The only problem is getting your products out on the open market!

If you’re looking to monetize your hobby farm, look no further—this guide from The Homestead Village Blog will break down everything you need to know about monetizing your farm’s products from start to finish.

Establish Your Business

Planning to sell goods means planning to operate a business. It’s important to consider forming your business as an LLC—it reduces your personal liability and provides tax advantages. While this can be costly using the services of an attorney, you can save on cost, time, and paperwork by using a formation service online. Each state has different requirements, so be sure to check them before going forward.

Create a Brand

Firstly, you need a brand that your future customers can associate with your hobby farm. If you don’t have one already, make sure your farm has a unique name. Add some signs to the farm and any place where you think you might invite customers to do business in person.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to start an online website for your hobby farm. Make sure to register a domain name and website title that is similar to the physical name of your hobby farm.

By building a brand, you’ll ensure that no one forgets where they bought that excellent homemade chair or delicious goat cheese from, setting yourself up for future profits and success later down the road.

Marketing Your Goods

After creating an iconic brand, you'll need to market your goods so people know that they can buy from you! Marketing in this day and age is best undertaken as a mix of in-person and digital marketing.

In-person marketing can include:

  • Putting up posters in your local community

  • Putting ads in your local newspaper

  • Setting up signs on the road around your hobby farm

Digital marketing means:

  • Using digital ads, like Google Ads, to advertise to locals in your area

  • Creating a top-tier website to make it easy to order your products online

As you market your goods, be sure to emphasize:

  • What you sell and your products' prices . What makes your hobby farm unique? Is it the atmosphere, the types of products you offer, or specific aspects of your products, such as a unique flavor of food?

Collaborate with Graphic and Web Designers

As you draw up a marketing campaign for your homesteading business, it might be wise to branch into online marketing. If you make a website to sell your goods or want to come up with creative, attractive online ads, odds are you'll need to speak to a graphic designer or web designer.

Hire a graphic or web designer with a strong portfolio and examples of their prior work. That will give you an idea of whether they’ll be good for your entrepreneurial endeavor or if you should find someone else.

Once you find someone, be sure to communicate with them regularly. As you swap ideas, compress any JPG files to email important information or design ideas back and forth.

Selling Products for a Profit

As your marketing train leaves the station, you'll need to ship your products efficiently. That may mean enlisting the assistance of a shipping company to get your products to online buyers.

Alternatively, you can sell your hobby farm products in town by having a “shipping day” once per week. You can take orders all week, then load up your truck or car with all the products you sold to ship them to customers or to meet buyers in person if the customers are from your local community.

As you sell your products, be sure to keep a detailed record of each profit or loss. Good accounting is the hallmark of a steady business no matter the industry!

Be the Homesteading Hero You’ve Always Wanted

At the end of the day, selling your hobby farm products is more than possible: it’s profitable! As you reach greater success, you can take those profits and put the money back into your farm to expand their operations. Who knows? In no time at all, you might be running a bustling entrepreneurial enterprise from your backyard!

This article is brought to you by The Homestead Village Blog. Homesteading is a journey, an adventure, and an ever-evolving quest to make our homesteads more beautiful, run more efficiently, and be the haven that we've dreamed of creating for ourselves and our families. For more information, please visit my website today!

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