Monday, November 3, 2014

Winter Sowing Workshop Overview

On Saturday, October 25th, twenty people gathered at the City of Hamilton’s Gage Park Greenhouse to learn how to winter sow native seeds.   By collecting seeds and getting them ready for the winter, we would have locally sourced native plants for our pollinator patches. Sowing native seeds outside allows the plants to grow as nature intended. 

The workshop was led by Crown Point resident Bev Wagar who has been germinating native seeds over the winter for many years and was able to share many practical tips based on her experiences.

·         Seeds can be sown outside after winter solstice (December 21st)
·         Most of the required materials can be found in your kitchen / recycling bins.  Bev buys soil because it is sterile and she can avoid finding surprises in her soil.
·         Most native perennials can be winter sown (outdoor germination over the winter)
·         It’s best to find a local seed source
·         Milkweed can be harvested in the fall as the pods are splitting. The seeds should be put in a paper bag in the fridge and can then be planted out after winter solstice.   
·         If you are unsure how to sow the species you’re working with, research it online

·         Protected outside space that is not in direct sunlight
·         A clear lid to cover pots that has ventilation holes (ex. freezer weight plastic bags). Store bought plastic greenhouses can also work make sure to create air holes in the cover and bottom. Secure the lid to prevent the cover from dislodging. 
·         Bev uses commercial seed starter mix, ex. Premier PGX
·         Marker to label the container (note that the marker may fade over time)

·         Deep enough to fit approximately 3 inches of soil and have rigid sides
·         Drainage holes will be needed in the bottom
·         Good containers include: mushroom containers, old seed flats, Tupperware all can work.  Bev also suggested re-using clear plastic cake or croissant containers and transform them into small greenhouses, holding all of the containers inside.

·         Pour soil into a large mixing bowl and add water until soil holds together when squeezed, but is not dripping wet
·         Fill containers to the top loosely, ensuring there are no air pockets
·         Tamp the surface gently and level with a straight edge
·         For large seeds (ex. milkweed) add 2 seeds to each pot and cover with a thin layer of soil
·         For small seeds scatter around pots and lightly tamp down
·         Mist with water
·         Put the pots outside, away from direct sunlight and ensure the soil stays moist until germination which generally occurs between March and June

·         Gradually increase the exposure to sunlight
·         When there are 2 true leaves the plant can be transplanted to a different container.  The first two leaves you see are not ‘true’ they are from the energy in each seed.  Wait to see you see two more leaves.  Bev transplants her seedlings into single serving yogurt container with drainage holes cut in the bottom.
·         Add potting mix to the container and carefully “prick out” the small plants with a small stick and plant in the new pot, watering from the side, not directly on the stem
·         Place pot in a protected location away from direct sunlight. Morning sun is good as it mimics increasing light under natural conditions
·         When the roots have reached the bottom of the container, the plant can be planted in the garden

Here are some reference sites that Bev suggested:

·  (focussed on data on germination and everything you will need to know about seed starting and helpful tips.  A searchable database that includes Latin names of plants)
· (dedicated to winter sowing and handy tips that include re-using containers found in our recycling bins)

Our thank yous:
A huge thanks to Bev Wagar for leading this informative workshop.
Thanks to everyone who came out on a beautiful Saturday and joined us.
Thanks to Hamilton Future Fund and Hamilton Community Foundation for their support. 
Thanks to City of Hamilton for sponsoring the room rental. 

We are planning a number of events for 2015, starting on Seedy Saturday, details be announced.  STAY TUNED!