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Judy Spooner Viewpoint: Get a jump on spring with seeds in snowbank

A year ago, a Washington County certified master gardener told me that I could grow bedding plants in a snowbank. This sounded crazy but I followed her directions, supplemented by information on the Internet, and it worked.

It turned out that she was of sane mind, and by planting time, I had plants ready to put in my garden that I grew myself. It's called "winter sowing."

Every spring, I spend a lot of money at garden stores buying plants. I still enjoy buying plants but I've saved money by growing some plants on my own.

Start by commandeering clear or semi-clear plastic distilled water or milk containers. Gallon or half-gallon ones are best. There is flexibility in this process, but you can't compromise on the soil type. At a home store, Target or Walmart, buy a bag of soil used to start plants indoors because the soil is sterile.

The Internet instructions tell you to heat up the end of a screwdriver to poke two or three holes in the bottom of the containers. This doesn't work well and indoor flames are only good on birthday cakes.

Instead, make two small circles with a marking pen. Use a razor blade or box cutter to make small slits in the circles and widen them with the end of a screwdriver for drainage.

Using your marker, draw a line around the middle of the container. Using a kitchen scissors, or box cutter, cut along the line leaving about four inches or so to create a hinge.

Fill the container with at least two inches of soil. I use four to five inches. Get it wet enough to make mud pies. The excess will drain off.

Plant seeds in the soil, about 1/8 of an inch deep. Tomato seeds are really small so you might have to sprinkle them and thin them out later.

Close the container and seal it with see-through duct tape. Remove the bottle cap. Put containers on south side of your house, out of the wind but still getting sun. You've just created mini-greenhouses. Some people poke additional holes in the top half of containers but I don't.

Check them in about two weeks to make sure there's still moisture in the containers. Dry soil can be misted, but I use my indoor-plant watering can to add about one-quarter cup of water.

Don't forget to label the container. I didn't do that last year and had to wait until plants bloomed to identify them.

As May 15 gets near, open the containers to the sun during the day and close them at night so they get used to being outdoors; it's called "hardening off."

There is one peril of winter sowing. You'll never look at semi-clear plastic containers the same way again. All will appear as possible seed containers.

I was shopping with my daughter Margie and stopped at a display of Hawaiian Punch jugs on sale for $1.87.

"Mom, I've never known you to drink Hawaiian ... Now, I get it," she said. "Eric likes the orange kind."

"How long do you think it'll take him to drink it?" I said.

For more information, and possible containers, go to

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600