Cold Sowing, Traditional Knowledge, and Community: A Conversation with Audrey Logan

by Lucy Carlson

On May 6th, I met with Audrey Logan to talk about all things agriculture and community, with some incredible stories woven throughout. If you’re familiar with the practice, cold sowing or dry seeding/winter sowing as it is sometimes called, is a traditional practice of sowing seeds in the fall, winter or early spring, and allowing seeds to come up when the timing is right with the season. 

I met Audrey over Zoom, because she is based in Winnipeg, Canada where she works in a community garden as a community educator in indigenous agriculture and permaculture techniques. We began by talking about this idea of cold sowing, and Audrey’s nearly 40 years in the practice. 

She is growing in a cold-climate, similar to our region in Minnesota, and does not grow anything from transplants. All of her food she directs sows in the Fall or early Spring, so that the seeds may be stratified (experience cold temperatures). She also uses a practice of scarification, or gently abrading the seed coat to improve germination. 

Logan describes this practice as going with nature, and not fighting against it. She has tried both techniques of transplanting and direct sowing, but finds that the cold sowing brings better yield and more delicious fruit every time. She told me that babying the transplants, watering them carefully and providing artificial sunlight makes the plants too reliant on the grower. 

When you direct-sow the seed, the plant is forced to find its own nutrients and water since germination, making a stronger, healthier plant. Not only does this practice yield stronger plants and more delicious fruit, it is also more accessible. There is no need to till or put hours of labor into caring for transplants. Instead, you toss the seeds in place and wait for nature to take its course. Audrey shared that she has mobility limitations, but that this technique allows her to garden freely and spend time sharing knowledge and food with folks in the community. 

If you are not ready to start your entire garden with cold sowing, Audrey has another method you can try to get an easier start. Fill a milk jug with organic matter like leaf material or compost and some potting soil, and plant the seeds in the material. Leave the jug outside and the seeds will germinate and harden-off on their own. 

Cold sowing technique using gallon jugs

Audrey is also an avid seed-saver, following the natural ways and cycles of the seasons. She has not bought seeds in over 40 YEARS using these techniques, which she shared in our interview. Logan Advises that you collect the seeds in the fall, and for root vegetables leave them in the ground for two years and the second year they will produce a flower from which seed can be harvested. She described how using these strategies, you can save a lot of money and have many, many more seeds to share. 

Seeds should be stored in a really cool area, such as a freezer where they can be stratified for the winter. In her own words, “If you sprouted more than you wanted, pass it [seeds] on to other people. That’s how things had been done for the longest of times. We need to get back to that instead of hoarding that knowledge and hoarding the seed.” 

There is also a tenderness in saving seed. “When I was first given the seeds of a Tepary Bean (native to the southwest US). I was given 8 seeds and I was thinking, ‘Oh crap. What am I gonna do with these seeds?’ But I planted them anyway, and because they are drought resistant, they don’t like alot of water, and so they flourished. That first year I ended up with half a bag of seeds. Then I replanted those. Within no time I had a full stock of seeds that were not only enough for cooking and eating, but also enough to pass on and give to others.”  

At one point, she was also given the Gete-Okosomin (“Big Old Squash” in Anishinaabemowin) seed from an elder, who gave her two seeds. This squash is a native pre-columbian variety that produces giant fruit. It has existed for generations and generations, carefully passed down, hand-pollinated and cultivated by the Miami nation of Indiana for 5,000 years. Audrey was given just 2 of these seeds to be planted. When she got those she said, “Oh boy, I better be good!” It was a success story as she produced eleven 20-pound squash full of seeds, which she was able to pass down and share with the community. “Seeds are basically a lifeforce,” says Logan.

Gete-Okosomin (Big Old Squash)

As I am always thinking about food and community the conversation invariably turned to this topic, and I asked Audrey how she thinks about food and community in her work. In her community, she operates a gifting garden where, “we grow what the community would like to be able to pick and walk off with without having to cook it. And so we planted cucumbers, beans, zucchinis, things that people can walk off with easily.” It is a gifting garden so they never worry about how much or how little someone takes, because it’s irrelevant. It’s really about providing for the community with no restriction. “The more zucchini that people pick, the more it produces and the more flowers it grows leading to more fruit.”

Audrey shared many traditional indigenous stories with me, which I am so grateful to receive. With European colonization of the indigenous land that we call the United States and Canada today came violence against the indigenous nations that already existed here. In particular, Audrey spoke to the specific ways in which Native people were targeted for gathering wild plants, which colonizers viewed as ‘toxic’ or ‘noxious’ weeds. This colonial violence came after indigenous people had shared their knowledge of cultivation and gathering with the incoming Europeans, which in turn fostered mistrust and generational pain. 

Audrey said as our conversation started “Now is the time for sharing again” after this painful history, and I want to honor her generosity and hold the space to have gratitude for her openness in sharing her knowledge with me and our community. We did not exchange money for the interview, but she asked that in return for sharing this knowledge that I make ‘A little people house’ for my garden, and post it on the Deer Spirit Permaculture Garden Facebook page, which is where she facilitates a community garden in Winnipeg, Canada.

Thank you, Audrey, for your time and for sharing your wealth of knowledge and experience!

Here are some resources that Audrey Shared with me related to dehydration and food preservation, and other food organizing groups:

  2. Grow North in Thompson, Canada 
  3. Deer Spirit Permaculture Garden (Facebook)