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Winter Sowing STMO Style (Part 1)

Of the twelve of you who read this blog, all of you know that weather plays a vital role in our lives here at STMO as well as providing apparently endless material and blog ideas. In the past three years, since we started our food forest/turf grass elimination mission/native plantings/bringing diversity to our little corner project, there have been too many “WTH, Mother Nature?” moments to count.

Today was one of those days. Nearly 50 degrees and a few peeps of sunlight. Felt like spring here in Sconnie so my mind went directly to working in the food forest. However, even though some of the elderberries have new growth, the ground is still frozen, so planting is out of the picture for at least two more months. Unless Mother Nature deigns to provide us with another WTH moment and spring comes earlier than it ever has here in the Upper Midwest.

So as I’m trudging around the yard wondering what to do with my life, I found a solution! Winter Sowing!

Winter sowing consists of sowing native plant seeds outside to provide ideal stratification conditions to break dormancy and encourage favorable germination when spring arrives for realizes. That statement uses a lot of big words and even though my fingers are tired from typing them, I’ll push through to explain.

Stratification: The process of planting seeds in a way that closely mimics nature and provides the cold moist (giggle) environment that many native seeds need to break dormancy and germinate in the spring. Snow plays a particularly important role in the stratification process as seeds will experience less successful stratification in a cold, dry environment.

As Benjamin Vogt, author of “Prairie Up” says “[Snow] is the magical-seed-stratification device.” This causes me some concern since we have received less than three inches of snow this entire winter. As you can see in the picture below, our yard is completely clear of snow and we have little to none in the extended 45 day forecast. Which means the possibility for a lack of cold moist stratification for seeds, along with no insulation for plant roots against the cold that may still be coming, and if our trees leaf out in the next few days, a substantial lack of moisture if they are forced to flush out again after the cold spell passes.

Our yard today...

Dormancy: Most native seeds remain dormant (not actively growing) until they have experienced an extended period of cold (60 to 90 days) and then experience conditions that encourage them to start growing, usually temperatures around 70 degrees and more sunlight due to longer days in the spring.

How our yard should look...

Germination: When a seed experiences optimal water, oxygen, and temperature, germination occurs. This means simply that the seed is “waking” up after its long sleep and begins to grow into a seedling. Truly amazing when you think about it!

So I set about my Monday mission.

Step One: Gathering Tools

For the STMO process of winter sowing you will need an empty raised bed; various-sized pots/plug trays depending on what you are sowing; a wheelbarrow full of prepared soil mixture (more on this later); a pen, paper and clipboard for documentation; a shovel; seeds; and a cat (not optional.)

Ignore the green cooler; it's for later this week when I take cuttings from the food forest.

Caspurrrrrrr a.k.a Chubbs a.k.a "Mama's Gurl." He is the best supervisor!

For the soil mixture, I used equal parts homemade compost and native soil. And since our soil is heavy clay and wet this time of year, I added about two bags of organic seed starting mix. Native seeds like native soil so keep that in mind when preparing your mixture. Don't use store-bought potting mix, vermiculite or perlite.

If you don't have a raised bed such as this one, you can use totes as long as they have sides high enough to support the largest pots. But be sure to poke holes in the bottoms of the totes for drainage. I found heating up a screwdriver on the stove works best to melt holes into the plastic. A drill would probably work also, but that's not nearly as much fun.

Step 2: Place empty pots in raised bed.

Put pots in the bed, keeping similar sizes together for ease of documentation. In this picture I'm using shallow 6-pack plug trays (top) for the plants that have shallow root systems (purple prairie clover, white prairie clover, coreopsis, goldenrod, prairie smoke, etc...)

In the middle, I'm using slightly larger 6-pack plug trays for plants that tend to germinate and grow more quickly (bee balm, yellow coneflower, blue vervain, asters, etc...)

On the right hand side of the lower section, I have twelve "APB" pots. No, they are not for "All Points Bulletins!" APBs are what we at work call 2 1/2 wide x 5" deep pots that we use primarily for trees, shrubs and plants that have extensive root systems (Leadplant, New Jersey Tea, Shrubby Cinqufoil, Buttonbush, Ninebark (my favorite, etc...)

On the bottom right, I'm using a tray from Prairie Moon Nursery (highly recommend them!)

Each cell is two inches wide and 5 inches deep. Perfect for other deep-rooted native plants and plants growing from bulbs (All Blazing Stars (you can never have too much!) Big Bluestem, Butterfly Milkweed (you can never have too much!) etc...) How many parenthesis can I use in a single sentence? I think we are about to find out!

As a sidenote, I've been planting more and more blazing stars (liatris) and butterfly milkweed over the past three seasons and last year we had over 30 monarchs in our yard, double from the year before. I plan to double that number again this year and will be using a majority of the Prairie Moon Nursery tray for liatris and milkweed. All milkweeds provide food for the monarch caterpillar and the liatris provides high nectar content for the monarch butterfly. If you plant it, they will come!

Monarch butterflies on Tall Blazing Star in our yard this past summer.

When putting the pots in the raised bed, try different arrangements to fits as many in a possible and eliminate any gaps between the pots.

Step 3.

Fill the pots with the soil mixture. I just use a shovel to toss the soil onto the pots. Then I just use my hands and a small stick to spread the soil around evenly and make sure each individual cell is distiguishable.

Usually I would spray down the soil to help it settle, but since rain is in the forecast for Thursday, I'm skipping this step.

Rough draft of the lay-out and planned seeding.

Step 4.

Diagram and Documentation

Grab your clipboard and pen and draw a diagram loosely documenting the pots in the bed. You can tweak this later if you so choose. I may or may not...Or I may wait until I've planted the seeds and then use a program like Publisher or Adobe Illustrator to create a pretty litte diagram later. Depends on the day and my level of patience. Changes from moment to moment, if I'm being honest.

And that's a wrap for today! More tomorrow when I do the actual seeding, including using chicken wire on the frame to protect from critters. I can't wait! Patience, grasshopper!

Thanks for stopping by. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out!

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3 comentarios

Vicki Doud
Vicki Doud
22 feb

.. I have a yard..😁😁

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Michelle Bradley
Michelle Bradley
07 feb

There are some herbs that need cold stratification so they will germinate. Skull Cap and St John's wort spring to mind. I know what I am doing tomorrow.

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07 feb
Contestando a

It will be fun! It means spring is coming!

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