Winter Sowing in Milk Jugs
Since my garden is new I don’t have any perennials or annual plants in yet. Last year was spent planting shrubs, clearing and establishing the foundation. It was The Year of the Shrub. This year is The Year of the Flower now that I have space to start on smaller plants. I’m growing several from seed – I am a mass planter and let’s face it, buying a gillion perennials can get expensive. I have the advantage of being in zone 7b which allows me to not have to use duct tape and mess with sealing containers perfectly. I did try duct tape for a bit but ended up removing it completely.
Recently a very nice family provided me with bags of milk jugs for my winter sowing project and I got to talking with the Mom – she was interested in what I was doing and how to go about sowing seeds in this manner. This post is for her, the illustrated guide to the Karyl’s Warmer Climate System of Sowing Seeds in Milk Jugs, aka easy seed starting containers for southern climates.
Sooo…take one milk jug and…
Poke drainage holes in the bottom of the container. Since I do these containers in mass, I use an inexpensive soldering iron I bought at a hardware store for $15. Melting plastic smells pretty darn bad so doing this outdoors is the location of choice! You can also use an awl but I found the soldering iron whips through them a lot faster.
I usually poke about 4 holes per quarter section of jug bottom, this will depend on the diameter of the tool used to create holes.
Cut the milk jug right below handle level, leaving the handle area intact to act as a hinge. You will not want to cut the container fully in half as later the tops will end up all over the place – just keep the top and bottom attached for your own sanity.
Using a hand held hole punch, punch a single hole in the top and bottom of the jug. There is a vertical seam in the plastic which I use as a guide so that the holes line up. Twist ties will be used to keep the jugs closed and these holes are where the twist ties will be threaded later.
Fill the containers with dirt. I use Miracle Gro Potting Mix. There are a zillion opinions on what type of potting mix to use but so far I haven’t had problems with Miracle Gro.
Water the dirt filled containers well and let them drain overnight. What I have always heard is that when you sow your seeds, the dirt should be wet to “the consistency of brownies”. I’ve found this to be a fairly good guideline.
Labeling is very important. Just wait until seeds sprout and your labels have faded or come apart and you’ll be aware of just how crucial it is. This is another winter sowing topic of a zillion opinions on how-to. For myself, I use some sturdy address labels cut in half and written in grease pencil. These pencils are available at crafts stores or crayon also works. Permanent magic marker such as Sharpie does not work, it will fade and you’ll have no clue what seedling is in what jug later. I staple the label on the side of the jug, I’m not counting on it to stick. One thing that I did for awhile was put a Popsicle stick with the plant name written on it on the inside of the jug for a back up labeling system but found that this wasn’t necessary, however it’s an idea if you would like a second name somewhere.
Sow seeds on top of the moist dirt. How many seeds depends upon the size of the seed, but do not be too heavy handed or you’ll be thinning out like crazy later when sprouts appear. Ask me how I know this!
I then mist the seeds with a spray bottle of water to help them adhere to the soil. The “pat gently into the dirt” system doesn’t work for me, I end up with seeds stuck to my hands. The spray works fine. Some seeds require light for germination and your seed pack instructions should tell you this, if they do not require light for germination, sprinkle a thin layer of dirt on top of them.
Close the lid and secure with a twist tie threaded through the holes made earlier with the hole punch. I buy twist ties on rolls at any hardware store. A roll is about $2, look for them where they keep plant labels and stakes.
Now just set your mini-greenhouse milk jug in a semi-shady location and wait for the seeds to sprout. For details on winter sowing, visit WinterSown.org and a forum where the experts hang out, Winter Sowing Message Board.