Indoor Seed Starting in the Lull of Winter

Updated: Jan 26

We're in the last week of January, deep in the midst of winter here in Kansas. For me, it's the point in wintertime where I am actually getting sick of the drab grays and browns in the landscape, aching for the vibrance of springtime. My Instagram page reflects this. I try to stay pretty seasonal in what I post, and you can see attempts at that with photos of dry arrangements and snowy landscapes, but it's punctuated with photos of my verdant midsummer garden, fields of sunflowers, and things that remind me of the other half of the year here in the Northern Hemisphere when I just really need some color in my life.



It's at this point in the depths of the cold that seed starting comes to my rescue. Starting seeds is a tangible connection to warmer and sunnier days ahead, and it's good for daydreaming and buoying my mental health. Knowing that the tiny seeds in my hand will grow into tiny little sprouts, then teenager plants, then mature plants, all nurtured and loved by me, feels like some kind of magic that I can't believe is accessible to me.


Starting seeds is a tangible connection to warmer and sunnier days ahead, and it's good for daydreaming and buoying my mental health.

I have a little tin seed container that I bought from the Target dollar section years ago which still holds my (excessive) collection of seeds. My first task is to go through that tin, checking seed expiration dates, and discarding seeds that are too far beyond their expiration date. I don't stick too strictly to the expiration dates though - trial and error has shown me that it can be more of an estimation than a hard rule. For example, a packet that says 'sell by 10/2020' will probably be kept around for the 2022 gardening season. Anything older than that gets removed to make space for the (again, excessive quantity of) new seeds I've purchased.

My dinky little seed tin

My next task is to get my little repurposed black plastic planters rustled up out of the shed, buy some seed starting soil, dig my secondhand (and amazing!) grower light out of the storage closet, and find a place for my seed starting setup to live from February-April. This year that's going to be a challenge because I have two 16-month-olds running around my house and getting into everything! I'm thinking I'll set up my grower light and planters in our upstairs shower, which we don't use very often, and which my kids have no idea exists. Our house is unique, but it is not super conducive to projects like this because there aren't really any closed-off rooms where I can hide my setup from the kids.


In recent years I've also done the milk jug seed starting method, which has achieved, eh, moderate results, depending on my commitment to going outside in the cold and watering the wee mini greenhouses. I may have to lean more heavily on this method this year since the jugs stay outside, away from curious toddler hands. Looking at these photos again gets me excited to start some seeds this way, actually, because I'm remembering the feeling of going outside to check the jugs and finding that seeds have sprouted little green bebes! It's like dipping your toe into the gardening season before jumping in fully come spring. You also get to watch everything in and around the garden slowly waking up, the insects returning, and my favorite - the chatter and song of the Meadowlarks!



I try to treat each little task as a beloved ritual, doing each with care, because this is where my summer garden starts. This is the beginning of things to come, like the bright yellow house finches picking seeds from the heads of my Russian Mammoth sunflowers (and, hopefully, the Chocolate Cherry sunflower seeds I've ordered!), the fat and fuzzy native bees diving headfirst into the pollen of happy yellow luffa flowers, the hatchling coiled tight around the swamp milkweed on the western edge of the garden, the tattered monarch butterfly finding refuge on my echinacea growing from a cinder block border I placed in an earlier iteration of my garden, and the green, yellow, and black striped swallowtail caterpillars finding a snack and safe place on the dill that I've let overrun the garden come July.


I try to treat each little task as a beloved ritual, doing each with care, because this is where my summer garden starts. This is the beginning of things to come, like the bright yellow house finches picking seeds from the heads of my Russian Mammoth sunflowers


Just writing these words is giving me all sorts of feelings. It's easy to forget, in the depths of winter, why gardening is so magnetic to me. As we should, we get caught up in the season we're in. I ache for winter by the end of the summer - I'm tired, hot, and ready for rest. But looking at photos from last year and writing about what's to come makes me giddy for another year spent in my favorite little plot of land, ready for the heat, and bug bites, early mornings and late evenings outside pulling weeds.


I really believe, no matter where you live, no matter what you have available to you in terms of space, funds, or know-how, you can garden. I considered myself a black thumb four years ago, killing succulents and cacti on the reg, and now I call myself a gardener. You do not - I repeat - you do not need a huge backyard, lots of disposable income, or 99% of the things that are marketed to you as you try to figure out what you need to start gardening.


Remember that I started with the dirt in the ground, some leftover bricks, and a handful of spinach seeds and a few cuts of red potato, and I made things grow. It wasn't Pinterest worthy (but that's an incredibly overrated standard anyway - my garden today is still kind of an ugly mess), but it brought me joy and taught me so much. And I continue to learn every season, as well as in the off-season.


The gardening community is one that values collaboration over competition, and we are a friendly and enthusiastic bunch of weirdos, always happy to mail a friend - or stranger! - some seeds, share what we have, and always, always sharing in the excitement of new and seasoned gardeners getting amped up about learning something new or having new success. (I love mailing seeds! If you need some seeds, chances are I have what you're after. Send me a note and I'll set you up for a good mail day!)


The gardening community is one that values collaboration over competition, and we are a friendly and enthusiastic bunch of weirdos, always happy to mail a friend - or stranger! - some seeds

I welcome your comments, suggestions, and questions about seed starting, gardening, or life in general! I love interacting with people here and on my Instagram -- it makes my day to know that something I've written has resonated with you. Happy seed starting!


Love,

Morgan


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