It’s February so you know what that means? Yes, planting time!! What? You don’t plant your seeds in February? Well, until last year, I didn’t either. Then I discovered winter planting. I was skeptical but willing to give it a try. I used milk jugs as mini greenhouses and planted a variety of seeds. Then, I did the unthinkable. I put them outside. It was 34 degrees! It was so hard not to run out and bring them back in but I stuck it out and had one of the bests gardens ever.
Now, I can’t say I know how it works but Mother Nature does know what she is doing so I left it up to her to take care of my little seeds. The milk jugs were semi transparent and when the sun shined on them, it warmed up the soil and since it was a closed space, it stayed moist all the time. It was like having a terrarium. Don’t think you are going to get instant gratification with this method. The seeds will chill out for a while (pun intended) and then when the time is right, they will start growing in time to plant in the spring.
There are a few advantages to planting this way. First, recycling is great! Using 1 gallon milk jugs is responsible and economical. Second, There is usually nothing much to do in the winter anyway. Why not use a cold day to plant a few seeds and dream of Spring? And, lastly, since they are growing outside already, there is no hardening off. Oh yea, and you don’t have to figure out where to put trays of seed pots when you try to start seedlings indoors. There never is a good spot to put them or enough light. So, is that enough to talk you into it? I thought so! Let’s get started.
I start saving my empty milk jugs right after Christmas. Be sure to wash them out thoroughly and dry. Be sure to keep the lids. With a sharp knife or blade, start just under and to the side of where the bottom of the handle is and cut around the jug leaving about 1 to 1 1/2 inches still connected just below the handle. This will act as a hinge for moving the lid off and on.
I use planting mix made specially for planting seeds. It is light and doesn’t have large chunks of material in it but any potting soil will work. In a large bowl or container, mix potting soil with enough water to moisten the soil but not be soggy. Fill the bottom of the jug about 2/3 full of potting mix. Sprinkle or place seeds on soil and then add 1/8 to 1/2 inch of soil on top based on what your seed packet indicates. Lightly tamp soil down but don’t make it firm. I usually then give a few quick sprays of water from a spray bottle on top of the soil.
Fold the top of the jug back up as a lid and, using duct tape, tape the top and bottom back together along the cut area, ensuring that you seal it so there are no open areas. Place the cap on the jug. Be sure you label your mini greenhouses with the seed name and date you planted.
Now, set your jugs outside in a sunny location. It doesn’t matter that it is only 24 degrees. The seeds will sit safe and sound in their little bed until it gets warm enough during the days to make them sprout. As the days get longer and warmer, you will see condensation on the inside of the jugs. This is a good thing as it helps to keep the soil moist. Open the caps and peak in periodically to ensure the soil isn’t drying out. If it does, spritz some water down inside. If it is too moist, open the cap during the day to help it dry a little.
I was so excited when my seeds sprouted! I kept checking on them until they were big enough to thin. I then carefully removed the duct tape and thinned them out. Then put the tape back on. My little sproutlets were ready to transplant at the correct time for my area. I had more than enough sprouts to fill my garden and then some. It was the best yield I had ever had.
I will keep you informed on how my plants are faring but for now, they are out in the yard, waiting for the right time to grow. I hope they do as well as last year’s.
I can’t wait for spring!