In the northeast, winter’s dreary cold can almost make us forget the glorious spectacle and fun of summer. A close connection to the land and growing things starts to feel like a distant memory, but many gardeners and nature lovers overcome this by engaging in winter seed sowing projects. There are several styles of winter seed sowing, including the uncomplicated free throwing version demonstrated by my farmer friend in the photo above, with Eupatorium dubium seeds. There’s really no wrong way to do this method of wildflower seed sowing, as long as seeds are spread early enough in the season to allow the process of scarification- the freezing and thawing to crack the tough perennial seed hull- to complete. When spreading seeds freely outside in the winter, we are always careful to limit our species choices to wildflowers native to New York state, because native plants begin the process of habitat restoration by supplying food to our native wildlife.
Another, more controlled method of winter seed sowing is a simple project utilizing the clear plastic containers that spinach, kale or salad greens come in. Some people also use milk gallons and clear soda bottles. This works by creating a modified greenhouse effect: the environment inside the plastic container warms up and accentuates the sunlight each day, even though it is many times smaller than the greenhouses used in commercial nurseries. Holes must be cut into the tops and bottoms of each container for ventilation and drainage purposes. A fine layer of soil or other light organic potting material is layered with seeds and hope.
It’s exciting to know the quiet process of seed germination is happening on our back porch through the snowy, icy dark months of the year. Our favorite plant species native to Saratoga are represented including Vernonia noveboracensis (NY Ironweed), Asclepias incarnata (classic Monarch butterfly larval host plant, Swamp Milkweed), Eupatorium perfoliatum (Boneset), Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinalflower) and Eupatorium maculata (Joe Pye Weed). A project like this has no guarantee on success, in fact it feels a lot like a crap shoot. Regardless of the outcome though, winter seed sowing projects are fun, they enlarge our imagination’s space for daydreams of nature and they make spring feel that much closer.
Many gardeners I know dream of acquiring or building a greenhouse. Whether it’s to prolong the relatively short upstate New York growing season for vegetable gardening or to start perennials and herbs, wanting a greenhouse seems to go hand in hand with a love for gardening.
Sourcing greenhouses can be tricky. Building them well is an art, and finding an affordable one that’s well built is not always a cakewalk. So I was delighted to learn that a local artisan in the Saratoga Springs and Glens Falls, NY region decided to begin creating handmade greenhouses for sale this year. His greenhouses can be customized, with different options in size and shape, and other custom features like zippered openings for air circulation.
Harvesting fresh greens in Saratoga Springs or Glens Falls in January could put a smile on anyone’s face. This particular greenhouse has enough insulation that these Kohlrabi, Rutabaga and Kale plants do okay, even in upstate NY’s mid-winter.
The Saratoga Springs area greenhouse builder has also developed an aquaponics-like system that’s customized to be more sustainable and solar-powered, called, “quadroponics.” These organic, edible greens are grown with water funneled daily through the fish tank below, and the whole system exists in one of the locally handmade greenhouses. This greenhouse can get up to 100 degrees on a warm winter day, but probably averages between 60 to 70 degrees. Further inquiries about the greenhouses can be fielded through the Jessecology contact form.
Recently I was invited to write a guest post on the local dog lover’s resource website, Saratogadoglovers.com. The post was titled, “Dog Lover’s Introduction to Safe Landscaping Practices”, and can be read in full by clicking the link. Our pets, our children, area wildlife and human neighbors are really at the mercy of our good or bad decisions about chemical applications in our yards. Organic landscaping becomes effortless when we make better plant choices, plants indigenous to this region adapted to the conditions here and can withstand the natural pressures doled out by our weather patterns, local herbivorous insects and endemic diseases. Therefore the question, “Is your landscaping designed to be safe for pets?” can be easily assessed by how much of your plant material: shrubs, trees, herbacious plants and ferns, are native to this region, because it’s easy to equate from there whether you find the need to use chemical fertilizers and pesticides or not. Landscaping and gardens that consist of native plant species easily thrive with no chemical inputs, making these systems safe for pets and everyone else. The Saratoga Springs region has some stunning native plants that just shine with natural beauty in landscaping systems. Native plant installations even lay the groundwork for habitat restoration in the surrounding properties as birds allow native plant germination through berry and seed dispersal.
Native plants can be difficult to track down, and a trip to the local native plant nursery will most likely be in order. Traditional big box stores and garden centers are ill equiped for habitat restoration, they depend on our repeat business for chemical fertilizers and pesticides: it’s not in their best fiscal interest to empower us with sustainable landscaping information or materials. A specialty nursery that grows native plants has a very different business model: empowering you to grow a sustainable garden is exactly what they do. Picking up a handful of native plants to add to the landscape this spring will make inroads to quitting the chemical landscaping addiction- and begin the cycle of a creating a safe space for your pets and other loved ones.