Grumpy old man winter took a small step back today and allowed me to get a head start on gardening season! Yay! Last spring, I was determined to successfully start my own plants indoors (every other time I have tried this, it’s been a bust due to less than ideal lighting), so I set-up a grow station in my basement, complete with fluorescent lights of varying color temperatures. A sound effect would best describe how this effort turned out, but we’ll just leave it at — thumbs down, boo, no work-y. This may have something to do with my low-maintenance approach (oops), so I immediately began searching for a more low-key (read: lazy) method. My imagination led me to a quaint backyard greenhouse made from recycled materials, but common sense, lack of time and a little research led me to winter sowing (or mini greenhouses, as I like to call them). So, that’s what I did today… and you can, too!
I have no idea how this will turn out, but EVERYTHING I’ve read leads me to believe it will be a success. The water or milk jugs act as little greenhouses, so your seeds will be growing outdoors… also great because this essentially eliminates the hardening off step. Since this is an extremely low-cost approach to starting seeds, it’s worth a try. For much more detailed information from someone who has actually seen results, visit A Garden for the House to learn more, including what to sow and when.
A quick how-to, you’ll need:
- water or milk jugs (or something that will allow light to penetrate), make sure they’re clean inside.
- potting soil (make sure it’s potting soil, not garden soil – I vote for an organic type)
- an x-acto knife or something similar (scissors could work in a pinch)
- small rocks (for drainage)
- trays to set your jugs in (optional)
- duct tape
Remove caps from jugs. Cut around them, just slightly below the handle – but leave a 1-2 inch uncut section (this will act as a hinge) to provide easy access to the interior.
Carefully poke several holes in the bottom of your jugs. You could use anything sharp, I started using the x-acto knife, but found it much easier to use a soldering iron (outdoors, as the smell of melting plastic will stink up your house).
Place a few rocks in the bottom of your jug – these will help with drainage and will also add weight should your location be windy.
Fill your jug with 2-3 inches of potting soil (p.s. – if you are eco-minded and using organic soil, you may want to find one without peat moss – a web search will give you more info about this). Moisten your soil, and plant seeds according to package. I used a bag containing 16 dry quarts – it was the perfect amount to fill 18 jugs.
Place your jugs somewhere outdoors where they will get plenty of sun, won’t easily blow over, and are out of reach from any pesky critters. If you will be placing them on a patio or someplace you want to keep clean, you may choose to place trays under them (storage tub lids, paint trays, or seed starting trays would all work). Place a piece or two of duct tape (no need to seal the entire seam) along the opposite side of the hinges so that the jugs don’t blow open. I’ve placed mine in a barren flower bed along the side of my house.
The cap hole will provide a way for moisture to enter. The jug itself should provide enough protection to allow plants to grow outdoors before they would typically be able to do so. Many people plant/place their jugs outdoors while there is still snow on the ground (thus, the term winter sowing), and the seeds will germinate when they are ready. The plants will be more hardy than those started indoors and from what I understand, the problem with lanky seedlings is eliminated. Once warmer weather rolls around, you’ll want to keep an eye on your plants and may need to vent the jugs a bit more to prevent overheating. Read more about winter sowing and what to do once your seeds have sprouted and it’s time to transplant, at A Garden for the House or Get Busy Gardening.
Have you tried this method? Let me know how it worked for you!
My mini greenhouses were a partial success. Nasturtiums, 4 o’clocks, and melons did the best. Had I watered more consistently, I am sure the success rate would have been much higher. I would suggest using a quality organic potting mix so you don’t have to contend with weed seeds. I’m not sure I want to share this, but it is too funny not to — I planted some Snowdrift marigolds (a white variation) and thought they were coming along nicely. Well, without taking a closer look, I transplanted them into a pot to do their thing. A month or two passed and they became taller without budding… I finally realized I was cultivating RAGWEED! OOPS. Lesson learned, with a bit of a red face and a whole lot of laughing. This may be worse than the time I picked spotted knapweed and framed/displayed it, thinking it was a pretty purple wildflower. You’d never guess I can actually identify a huge number of native plants!