Sowing in the snow

HOUGHTON – Spring can seem a long way away for gardeners looking out their windows, but there’s an inexpensive strategy that can provide a head start while saving time in May and June.

It’s called winter sowing, and consists of starting plants in miniature greenhouses made of gallon milk jugs. Transplant them into the garden in spring, and you could see a bumper crop come harvest time.

“It lets you get going when you’re antsy,” said Lynn Watson, an advanced master gardener at Michigan Technological University.

Watson will be leading a Keweenaw Garden Club workshop on winter sowing at 7 p.m. Monday at the Portage Lake District Library. The club will be holding its general meeting at 6:30 p.m., prior to the workshop.

It won’t be Watson’s first library workshop, and PLDL community program director Chris Alquist said she’s been a popular presenter in the past.

“She draws a huge crowd,” Alquist said. “She brings samples of veggies and fruits and flowers and actually demonstrates how to do cuttings, transplants, whatever.

“She’s really hands-on and gives audiences in-depth knowledge of her topics,” she added.

Watson said winter sowing is a great way to start vegetables including tomatoes, corn, squash and pumpkins, as well as sunflowers, dill and nasturtiums. While the early start doesn’t necessarily lead to a harvest-time size advantage, a winter-sown pumpkin did win a blue ribbon at last summer’s Houghton County Fair, she noted.

“We’ve won over some very skeptical people,” she said.

Some of that skepticism, Watson said, comes from reluctance to believe that milk jug greenhouses left in the snow can really incubate life. Some, she said, comes from people whose winter sowing experiments failed due to inattention to detail.

Watson outlined the basic winter sowing process, but warned that gardeners would need to dig deeper, by attending the workshop or researching the process online, if they expected to succeed.

Those unable to make the workshop who would like to learn more can go to