Winter Sowing Using Milk Jugs – The Right Way to Plant Early

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Winter sowing using milk jugs is a clever hack every gardener should follow….This is a great workaround for when you get that “itch” to start planting before spring. It satisfies a few main criteria: The containers act as a kind of micro – greenhouse which allows light to pass through – two, it lets you get a jumpstart on some frost-hardy crops, and three – it’s a great “green” way to plant because you use something that is normally a throwaway item!

There are some people who claim that this strategy works better than indoor seed starting….because the budding seedlings are acclimated to the elements early yet protected within the confines of this mini “greenhouse”,  they develop better and stronger. I’m excited and hope I will be able to draw up a good comparison of both!

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winter sowing milk jugs

What Kind of Vegetables Can Be Winter Sown?

First, before you get started, and I can’t stress this enough, check into your seed/seedling collection and determine that the crops you want to plant are compatible. Some just will not work for this kind of project – they still need to be compatible with your growing zone and the time of year before you plant them as they will still be going outdoors!

The best bets for this, are perennials and self-sowing crops. Also those that require stratification – if you’re unfamiliar with that term, it refers to a method of placing seeds in a cold location, e.g the fridge, for a certain length of time to simulate their natural dormancy period in the wild so they will germinate well in the spring.

Some crop types are more able to withstand the cooler temperatures as long as their foundation is sound. They include the brassicas, kale, spinach, lettuce, and leafy greens Be sure to check the variety for indicators like “stratify” “can be direct sown early” “winter hardy” “can sow in early autumn or spring”.

Materials

Ok, you will be needing to get started with, a few empty milk containers The reason we want to use milk jugs for this is because they are semi-opaque. If you’ve ever seen a greenhouse, you know why they have transparent/semi-opaque walls that absorb sunlight. Wash them out good if needed. My maternal grandmother kept lots of milk containers…I found plenty of them in her outside shed, which was twice the size of mine.

I’m wondering if she used any of them for this planting method, as most of the time I’d see her using them for two things…watering cans, and deer deterrents….they would be hanging by the handle via a string every few feet or so of crop land. But anyway, moving on….You can always use a different type of container, make sure it’s semi-transparent like these…(detergent and bleach bottles won’t cut it.).

Drill a few drainage holes on the bottom of each jug and a few on the corners or sides. Cut your milk jug around the middle all the way until you reach the handle – leave a 1″ spot where the two halves (including the handle) remain hinged together.

milk containers

You may want to pre-dampen your soil mix first so it is slightly moist (but not TOO damp). Fill the bottom half with your potting soil mix. and pack it down good so there won’t be trapped air pockets or room for fungus to develop. Make sure you have a depth of about 4″ at least for proper growth of seeds. Now is when you can plant your seeds.

Don’t worry about how far to space them out, as later on you can thin out the sparse seedlings, leaving behind the strong and healthy ones.

Take a roll of tape and pull out a strip long enough to go around the milk jug. Take it and secure both the top and bottom half of the jug and stick it down on the seam to secure the area. Leave the lid off…moisture will be able to enter through which is good.

winter planting in milk jugs

Don’t forget to label each seeded jug, you can write on the outside with a Sharpie, and while you’re at it include the date you planted it, it will help to keep track of things later on.

Set your milk jug planters in a location close to direct sunlight.

You will know when growth starts, there will be some condensation on the inside of the container.

As you notice growth taking place, keep an eye out for the soil condition and if it starts drying out fill a tray or shallow pan with water to set the jugs in, this will allow them to wick up moisture from the bottom.

growing vegetables in milk jugs

Winter seed sowing in milk jugs is a great planting strategy that will let you get the experience of playing in the dirt off season, and you can do it with limited space and materials – after all, you’re making use of items straight from the recycle bin.

It provides the best environment for them too in spite of the chilly season, so you won’t have that “hardening off” period to contend with…try it and see how it works for you.

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