Monday, May 7, 2012

In the Backyard: My Milk Jug Mini-Greenhouses

A little over a month ago I mentioned how I was cleaning and saving my family's empty milk and vinegar gallon-sized jugs for a seed-starting experiment. I was introduced to the idea of winter-sowing through the blog A Garden for the House, where he claimed that you didn't need to do much to start seeds. No special lights, no seed-starting kits required -- you didn't even need to keep them inside! Since I don't really have a space in my house to devote to seed starting (I guess there's one space that would have worked, but that spot had a chick brooder up until a couple weeks ago), I was instantly interested in trying this method out.

I'm so excited to be starting my own seeds, especially my tomato seeds. I've grown lots of things from seed but never tomatoes. I always just cop-out and buy the transplants after the last frost date. Even though the results are great and totally worth the expense ((mmmmm....homegrown tomatoes. Is there anything better? I'm dreaming about this recipe already.), it's not the most frugal way to grow a garden. For the same price as a single tomato plant at the nursery, I can get a packet of seeds and grow waaaay more tomatoes.  It's pretty much a frugal no-brainer. So why is this first year I'm actually starting my seeds? Simple answer: intimidation. Again, I thought I'd need all sorts of special equipment and fluorescent lighting rigged up.

Nope. To start seeds, you just need some seeds (obviously), some potting soil, duct tape and some gallon-size jugs. 

Although I highly suggest reading all about winter-sowing on the blog I mentioned previously, I'll just quickly run through how I went about creating my mini-greenhouses.

To start, I cut all the clean, empty jugs almost completely in half around the middle of the jug, only leaving a one-inch section uncut. This way the jug is still connected but also opens for easy access. The uncut part sort of acts like a hinge.

Next, I made about 15 holes in the bottom of the jug and a couple holes on each side of the jug (about an inch or so above the base).  This allows for proper drainage and ventilation. Speaking of ventilation, remove the caps from whatever jug you're going to be using.

Next, fill each mini-greenhouse with a few inches of potting soil, wet the soil thoroughly, and then plant the seeds. It's important to keep in mind the calendar when you're deciding what to plant. For instance, I wouldn't start tomato plants in these mini-greenhouses in February. That would be way too early. Instead, I waited until April (as you can see labeled on the jugs) to plant them. For a complete list of what to winter-sow and when, click here.

Once your seeds are planted, close the jug and seal it shut with some duct tape. Since it's windy where I live, I put my greenhouses in a plastic storage container to keep them from blowing away. Once the greenhouses are sealed, be sure to label what you've planted and when they were planted.

Then you wait. Occasionally check to see if the soil is too wet or dry. Sometimes I'll spray some water over the top of the greenhouses with the hose. Since you're keeping these outside, you'll also get moisture from rain and snow.

A few weeks after I planted the greenhouses, I was feeling pretty frustrated. The insides of each greenhouse showed no progress. Not even a single little sprout. I was so discouraged. The method had come so highly recommended! I was getting ready to plant again but then I saw them...

They were in my tomatillo greenhouse first: tiny little sprouts, as cute as can be, growing away despite the chilly nights outside.  Then the slicing tomato seeds started to sprout and then the San Marzano paste tomatoes. I was so excited! It actually worked!

It's been about a week or so since I took this picture. The sprouts have grown so much since then! They're actually starting to look like the transplants I used to buy at the store!  Every time I check them, there are more and more little plants emerging.

Our last frost date where I live is around Mother's Day, so I'm going to be putting them into the ground soon. I'm not going to lie -- I'm pretty nervous about transplanting my cute little seedlings.  At the same time, I still feel excited and optimistic about it, especially since, according to the blog I keep referencing, winter-sown plants are said to be more hardy than ones started indoors.  We shall see.

Hooray for experiments that actually work -- especially if they produce delicious and juicy tomatoes!


kzsweetworld said...

I have been try to find ways to make a small greenhouse for a small crowded space.So can't wait to try this.Plus I just saved about 10 jugs so all I need is seeds.

Heather said...

Awesome! I hope it works out well for you! :)

Amy Kampstra said...

I didn't see this post until mid-summer last year. Needless to say, I was excited the whole year about trying this! Well, spring FINALLY came around, and kudos to you for sharing this! ALL of my veggies and flowers germinated! Now, some of the seeds never amounted to anything (which I think can be expected), but I got at least a couple of plants out of every vinegar jug. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart!

Heather said...

You just made my day! I'm so happy it worked for you! Isn't it exhilarating to start your own plants? I think it is -- I just transplanted my broccoli starts from a milk jug and I felt pretty awesome. :)

Thanks for coming back and letting me know!

Heather said...

(one thing I forgot to mention -- totally normal for some seeds to not do anything.)

momofmanymasterofnone said...

I modified this concept by cutting off the entire bottom inch or two. Then hole punched two holes catty corner to each other, the using garden staples I fixed these to the top of my hay bale garden over the tops of seed starter pots. Every seed has geminated! So excited.

momofmanymasterofnone said...

I modified this concept by cutting off the entire bottom inch or two. Then hole punched two holes catty corner to each other, the using garden staples I fixed these to the top of my hay bale garden over the tops of seed starter pots. Every seed has geminated! So excited.

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