2016 Sow True Seed Cover Art: Emily T. Herzog

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Planting Seeds in Winter and Cold Stratification

It surprised me when I stopped hating winter. Now, don’t get me wrong, I can’t stop dancing when it’s warm and bright out, but I have come to appreciate and even love that there is a certain magic happening during winter.

As a beginner gardener, I started dreaming of spring as soon as the holidays were over. As I became more interested in growing things, this time of dreaming turned into planning, and as I became more experienced, a time of planting!

Marigold seed for winter sowing

Be like Mother Nature

Mother Nature is a masterful teacher. So much of what we try to create in our gardens are just shadows of what she does perfectly herself. When we plant in mid-winter, we are taking advantage of the cold and wet conditions to help break down seeds for us, for easy germination come spring. This process is called cold stratification. We often recreate this in controlled atmospheres by mixing our seeds with barely damp sand, vermiculite, or peat moss and putting the damp seed mixture in a container in the freezer. But why go to all this trouble when nature is ready and willing to help out?

There are generally two types of seeds that benefit from cold stratification, those species whose insides go into a period of embryonic dormancy and often will not sprout, (or will have a poor germination percentage) until this dormancy is broken. The other type is those seeds that have a very hard seed coat, and exposure to the moist cold helps break down the shell for easier germination in spring. Sometimes you will find that both apply. When we let Mother Nature do the work for us, the cold and moist of winter triggers the seeds growth and subsequent expansion, eventually breaking through the softened seed coat in its search for sun and nutrients. The time taken to stratify seeds depends on species and conditions; though in many cases two months (8 weeks) is sufficient.

What kind of seeds can be sown in winter?

Once you know what to look for, it’s easy to plan. On your seed packets, look for terms like “self-sowing”, “direct sow outside in early spring (or) fall”, “perennial”, “cold hardy”, or “cold stratification”. Keywords like these are good indicators of seeds that will work well for winter sowing. Generally speaking, perennial seeds, cold weather vegetables and hardy annuals are great options for winter sowing. If you are unsure, you can always try and sow a few seeds from your packets and see how they come up for you come spring.

When is the best time to sow winter seeds?

This answer depends on where you live, but a good rule of thumb is to wait until winter temperatures are here to stay. Folk wisdom for centuries has suggested that the Winter Solstice is a good time, and while that sounds charming, my experience has been mixed with that date. Here in Asheville, (zone 7a, 7b) it is usually still too warm for good results. The risk here is if you sow too soon, the warmer soil temperatures can break down the seed coat too quickly, and give spotty germination come spring. The sooner you plant the more chance you have of a critter looking for food making a meal of your investment. January or early February is my favorite time to plant now. It gives me the required 8 weeks, and it is consistently cold enough at that time that I don’t worry as much.

What are the best ways to sow seeds in winter?

There are two fantastic options for this. The first is just direct sowing in the ground right where you want them to be. This couldn’t be easier, just clear the soil and scratch in where you want your plants to be, and spread a half inch or more of straw on top. It’s an excellent idea to write down in your garden journal where you planted and on what date, and if you want to be very thorough, place a plant marker in the soil where you planted. I use this method a lot, both because it’s super easy, and because I am a fan of all things easy.

The second way is similar, but more controlled, which makes it a great option for seeds that are expensive, rare, or otherwise special to you. In this case you will sow your seeds in pots, which will allow you to maintain more control over the seeds and their environment, and if needed you can baby them through their infancy until they are strong enough to transfer into your gardens. If planting in pots, I still recommend keeping the pots on the ground, and if possible in a sheltered location for protection. And don’t forget to water! The point of cold stratification is to keep the seeds cold and moist, so if you let your seeds dry out too much, you will not get as good germination results as their wetter counterparts.

What specific varieties of seeds can I sow in winter?

This list is a good one, but I’m sure I’m missing some, and we’d love to hear about them in the comments! I should note that with the exception of Asparagus and Spinach –because they germinate better with the cold period, I rarely winter sow my vegetables anymore. It just works for me to sow directly in spring, or start them inside to transplant out, but that’s just me. Experiment! Gardening is an art, and what doesn’t work for me may be perfect for you!

Vegetables

Arugula, Asparagus, Beets, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrot, Cauliflower, Collards, Endive, Kale, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Lettuce, Mache, Mustard, Pak Choi, Radicchio, Radish, Rutabaga, Salsify, Spinach, Swiss Chard, Turnip.

Kale growing in the winter

Herbs

Anise, Anise Hyssop, Borage, Burdock, Catnip, Chamomile, Chervil, Chives, Cilantro, Clary Sage, Dill, Feverfew, Hyssop, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Lovage, Marjoram, Mullein, Nettle, Oregano, Parsley, Pennyroyal, Sage, Scullcap, Sorrel, St. John’s Wort, Tansy, Thyme, Spilanthes, Valerian, Yarrow.

Growing Chives in Winter

Flowers

Bachelor Button, Bee Balm, Black Eyed Susan, Columbine, Coreopsis, Cosmos, Daisy (all varieties), Dianthus, Echinacea, Flower Mixes, Forget-me-not, Gaillardia, Lupine, Marigold (all varieties), Milkweed (all varieties), Money Plant, Morning Glory, Nemophilia, Nigella, Poppy (all varieties), Snapdragon, Sochan, Viola, Zinnia.

Sowing Echinacea seeds in winter to cold stratify

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Seed Artist Profile: Kathryn Crawford: Nasturtium

In 2015 Sow True Seed decided to design beautiful artwork for 160 of our seed varieties. We reached out to the gardening community for help with the artwork and were humbled by the awesome response. Seed is beautiful! Over the next year we will be highlighting all of these wonderful artists. Please check out their work and support them if you can! Follow them on Social Media, comment below with messages of adoration and big kudos for supporting small business supporting sustainable and responsible agriculture!

Kathryn Crawford was selected to design the artwork for our Nasturtium seed packets.

146_Nasturtium_DwarfJewelMix_2000 147_Nasturtium_EmpressOfIndia_1000What is your favorite vegetable to grow and why? I really love growing sugar peas because they produce so many delicious pea pods (but not too many that I go a little pea crazy) and I can snack on them right off the tall vine that grows up towards the sun.  And their leaves are tasty as well.

 

 

Why were you excited about this project? The most exciting thing about this project was the opportunity to collaborate with a local company that shares a passion for art and growing food like myself, along with many other artists.  A lot of my artwork is influenced by plants and the natural beauty they encompass, so I felt very inspired when coming up with design ideas for the nasturtium packets.

See more of Kathryn’s work:

Website *Etsy * Email *

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Seed Artist Profile: Jonny Thomas: Carrots

In 2015 Sow True Seed decided to design beautiful artwork for 160 of our seed varieties. We reached out to the gardening community for help with the artwork and were humbled by the awesome response. Seed is beautiful! Over the next year we will be highlighting all of these wonderful artists. Please check out their work and support them if you can! Follow them on Social Media, comment below with messages of adoration and big kudos for supporting small business supporting sustainable and responsible agriculture!

Jonny Thomas was selected to design the artwork for our Carrot seed packets.

27_Carrot_CosmicPurple_1500 30_Carrot_RedCoreChantennay_1000

28_Carrot_Danvers126_1500 31_Carrot_Tendersweet_2500 29_Carrot_LittleFinger_1000

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is your favorite vegetable to grow and why?

Winter squash. It’s so visually diverse, symbolic, celebratory — and the consummate homesteading food in the way it can provide sustenance all winter long.

Why were you excited about this project?

I love growing food and I love making pretty pictures!What is your favorite flower and why?

Snapdragons. The memory of my mom showing me how to make them ‘snap’ will always be with me.

Contact Jonny Thomas:

Email

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Seed Artist Profile: Frances Cannon: Cowpea

In 2015 Sow True Seed decided to design beautiful artwork for 160 of our seed varieties. We reached out to the gardening community for help with the artwork and were humbled by the awesome response. Seed is beautiful! Over the next year we will be highlighting all of these wonderful artists. Please check out their work and support them if you can! Follow them on Social Media, comment below with messages of adoration and big kudos for supporting small business supporting sustainable and responsible agriculture!

Frances Cannon was selected to design the artwork for our Cowpea seed packets.

40_CowPea_PinkPurpleHull_1000 From the Artist:

What Is Your Favorite Vegetable?
Leeks
What Are Your Favorite Mediums? 
I primarily work with watercolors, pen and ink, and wood carving.
What Is Your Favorite Flower?
Nasturtium

See more of Frances’s work:

Website *Instagram * Email

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Seed Artist Profile: Elizabeth Singletary: California Poppy & Mammoth Grey Strip Sunflower

In 2015 Sow True Seed decided to design beautiful artwork for 160 of our seed varieties. We reached out to the gardening community for help with the artwork and were humbled by the awesome response. Seed is beautiful! Over the next year we will be highlighting all of these wonderful artists. Please check out their work and support them if you can! Follow them on Social Media, comment below with messages of adoration and big kudos for supporting small business supporting sustainable and responsible agriculture!

Seed Artist Profile: Elizabeth Singletary: California Poppy &  Mammoth Grey Strip Sunflower

148_Poppy_CaliforniaPoppy_1000 150_Sunflower_MammothGreyStripe_2000

From the Artist:
“Nature is usually my inspiration so this was a great project for me!

I use torn pieces of magazine glued in a canvas to create my work. I refer to it as “painting with paper”

 


See more of Elizabeth’s work:

Website *Facebook *

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Seed Artist Profile: Casey Arden: Arugula And Dianthus

In 2015 Sow True Seed decided to design beautiful artwork for 160 of our seed varieties. We reached out to the gardening community for help with the artwork and were humbled by the awesome response. Seed is beautiful! Over the next year we will be highlighting all of these wonderful artists. Please check out their work and support them if you can! Follow them on Social Media, comment below with messages of adoration and big kudos for supporting small business supporting sustainable and responsible agriculture!

Casey Arden was selected to design the artwork for our Arugula and Dianthus seed packets.

1_Arugula_ORG_3000142_Dianthus_SweetWilliamMix_1000What is your favorite vegetable to eat and why? 

Asparagus, because delicious.  Kale, because nutritious.

 

What is your favorite medium to work with and why? 

Depends when you ask me!  I love them all.

Why were you excited about this project? 

Because the attack on food is bullshit; PLANT SEEDS!

What is your favorite flower and why?

Morning glories because they bloom in the light, like humans.  Lately dahlias are also growing on me.  Figuratively

See more of Casey’s work:

Instagram *Facebook * Website * Email *

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Mushroom Grow Bags – Oyster, Shiitake, Reishi, Lion’s Mane

Oyster Mushroom Grow Bags at Sow True Seed

Oyster Mushroom Growbag

I’m pretty much convinced that mushrooms are going to save the world. This realization started as I read Paul Stamets’ book, Mycellium Running. Mycellium Running is the classic text that explores many of the phenomenal possibilities of mushrooms. However, it is our local east coast mycologist, Tradd Cotter, who continues to blow my mind. Tradd Cotter also has a book. Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation was published in 2014 and contains an incredible amount of practical information on growing your own mushrooms (among a multitude of other fascinating mushroom stuff e.g. making mushroom infused beer!).

Some Reasons to Grow Mushrooms

Sow True Seed got into mushrooms because we care about food, and growing food. Mushrooms seemed a great partner to growing herbs and vegetables. Here are a few of the great reasons to grow your own mushrooms:

  • Many mushrooms grow well in cooler weather
  • Mushrooms are a good source of non-animal protein
  • Mushrooms grow well in the shady areas of homes and gardens
  • Mushrooms break down their growing medium into excellent compost
  • Mushrooms and plants work symbiotically

How Do I Grow Mushrooms?

Lions Mane Mushroom Grow Bag at Sow True Seed

Lions Mane Mushroom Growbag

There are a few ways to grow your own mushrooms. Two ways to integrate them into your garden are by inoculating logs and inoculating wood chips (we’ll be writing a post on this in the coming weeks). You can also grow mushrooms inside! The quickest way to grow mushrooms is by using a mushroom grow bag. Mushroom grow bags have a growing medium that has been sterilized and pre-inoculated with mycellium (mushroom roots). This means looking after the bag is fairly easy and mushrooms will fruit from the bag pretty quickly. These bags are described as ‘ready to fruit’, although some slow growing mushrooms like Shiitake could still take a month or two.

Types of Mushroom Grow Bags

At Sow True Seed, we offer four types of mushroom growbags. We have an info sheet for the particulars of each variety, but the general care is the same for each bag (Shiitake’s are the one exception).

Oyster

Pearl Oyster Mushroom Grow Bags at Sow True Seed

Some baby oysters just starting to grow

Reishi

Red Reishi Mushroom Grow Bag at Sow True Seed

Shiitake

Shiitake Mushroom Grow Bags at Sow True Seed

Lion’s Mane

Lions Mane Mushroom Grow Bag at Sow True Seed

 General Care of Your Mushrooms

I like to think of mushrooms as the cats of the growing world; sometimes they just do whatever the hell they want. However, there are some good general rules for looking after your mushroom growbags:

  • The mushrooms will not fruit until the all of the growing medium has been colonized by mycellium (mushrooms have a conquer before reproduction mentaility). So if you are waiting a while for your mushrooms then there’ll probably still in colonization mode.
  • Once fruiting, the mushrooms likes to be kept moist, young mushrooms can dry out very easily, so spraying often is important. At Sow True Seed we create a humidity tent to help control moisture (picture below).
  • The bags should flush more than once; think of the bag (and the growing medium) as the mushroom battery. Each fruiting will deplete the battery until there is not enough energy to fruit (at this stage you have some excellent compost material).
  • Each subsequent flush will be smaller than the last because the battery is getting weaker.
  • The mushrooms are delicious!
Mushroom Grow Bag Humidity Tent at Sow True Seed

Homemade Humidity Tent (fabric supplied with grow bags)

Growing your own mushrooms is a rewarding and fascinating thing to do. Oysters can double in size in a matter of hours; The Lions Mane with its shaggy hair like growth is a natural wonder; Shiitake are super tasty and smell great; and the Reishi is known in Chinese as ‘The Mushroom of Immortality‘ because of the multitude of medicinal benefits it holds. Tradd Cotter Joke:

I don’t know about immortality, but I’ve been eating Reishi for 415 years!

For specific details on growing each bag, please see the full growing guide below. Links are also provided to order the mushrooms online. Sow True Seed mail orders the mushroom grow bags.

Full Growing Guide

Order Page

Oyster Mushrooms Oyster Growbags
Reishi Mushrooms Reishi Growbags
Shiitake Mushrooms Shiitake Growbags
Lion’s Mane Mushrooms Lion’s Mane Growbags
Shiitake Mushroom Grow Bag at Sow True Seed

Shiitake in full fruiting mode.

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Seed Artist Profile: Andrea Donar: Pumpkin

In 2015 Sow True Seed decided to design beautiful artwork for 160 of our seed varieties. We reached out to the gardening community for help with the artwork and were humbled by the awesome response. Seed is beautiful! Over the next year we will be highlighting all of these wonderful artists. Please check out their work and support them if you can! Follow them on Social Media, comment below with messages of adoration and big kudos for supporting small business supporting sustainable and responsible agriculture!

Andrea Donar was selected to design the artwork for our Pumpkin seed packet.

96_Pumpkin_ConnecticutField_1000Why did you choose the medium you used for the packet design?

I chose Prismacolor markers and ink to do my designs because as of a few years ago, markers became my favorite medium for its smoothness and boldness. With markers I feel like I have complete control over what colors I’m using. 
What is your favorite flower and why?
My favorite flower is the orchid, because it was one of my dear friend’s favorite flower and she passed away a few years ago. I’ve grown many orchids in her honor and even have one tattooed on my wrist.
Why were you excited about this project?  
I was excited about this project because it gave me an opportunity to showcase my art with a new and local business. My dream is to become an illustrator/designer for books, movies, ads, etc., and this project gave me a taste of what it’s like to have my work displayed on a tangible object such as the seed packets. It’s very rewarding!

See more of Andrea’s work:

Facebook * Email *

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How to Prep Your Outdoor Garden for Winter

After a long, hot summer filled with gardening chores, some gardeners are tempted to ignore their outdoor garden in the fall and just let nature take its course with the dying plant life. Don’t do it! Fall is the ideal time for preparing your outdoor garden for winter and getting a head start on spring planting. Follow these garden tips in late November and early December and get ready to grow an abundance of vegetables and flowers when warm weather returns.

Preparing your garden for winter - fall pumpkin

Clear and Till

Remove all dying vegetation from vegetable and flower gardens in the fall. Pluck up vegetable plants and annuals by the roots and cut down perennial plants to the appropriate height and place removed vegetation on the compost pile. Clearing the soil will help prevent pests and disease from over-wintering in the soil.

Rough till the garden soil to prepare it for a fall cover crop.

Fall Cover Crop

One of the best ways to improve the quality of your garden soil is to plant a fall cover crop.  Planting a crop, like turnips, legumes or clover, in your garden during the  late fall and just allowing them to grow all winter will benefit the soil immensely.

The cover crop of choice will prevent soil erosion due to heavy winter rains, windy weather or snow melts, add nutrients to the soil and prevent soil compaction.

When the ground thaws in spring, till the cover crop directly into the soil. As the green plants decompose into the soil, they will enrich the soil with nutrients and help the soil retain water for growing crops later in the season.

Planting a fall cover crop is not only good for vegetable gardens, but also for landscape location where you typically plant annual flowers.

Apply Winter Mulch

Preparing your garden for winter - mulching

A fresh layer of winter mulch applied to areas of the garden and around shrubs and trees does much the same as a fall cover crop. Adding a layer of organic winter mulch will help your flowers produce bigger and better blooms next year and keep the soil insulated and at a constant temperature to prevent flower bulbs from being forced up out of the soil through a process called heaving. A thick layer of organic winter mulch will prevent soil moisture evaporation so plant and tree roots won’t dry out during the winter months. The mulch will also slowly decompose and add nutrients to the soil to improve fertility.

Containers

Preparing your garden for winter - containers

All container grown plants should be brought indoors prior to the first freeze. Start slowly so the plants can become acclimated to indoor living by bringing them only at night and placing them back outdoors during the day. Do this for three days, then leave them inside all the time unless the afternoons are still very warm (above 75) in your region, then place the containers outdoors in the afternoon.

Saturate the container plants with water once last time before bringing them indoors for good. Water them until the water in running out of the bottom drainage holes to ensure all roots are completely soaked.

Prepare Garden Tools for Winter

Preparing your garden for winter - garden tools

Fall is the ideal time for preparing garden tools for winter also. Give hoes, shears and shovels a good cleaning and sharpening. Repair any loose or broken parts, oil the metal and sand the wood to prevent rust and splinters. Give garden tools a fresh coat of paint if desired, then store them away for winter in a dry location.

Written by Guest Blogger, Cathy Hall

I love to spend time with my family and gardening. I run a site called WhenYouGarden.com where beginners and intermediate gardeners can find helpful information.

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