Now that we are living in an uber tiny place as a fam of 6 we have zero space for starting seeds indoors. Let alone the electricity to start seeds early with the use of heat mats and lights so this winter we came up with a few ideas to make the most out of our growing season one of which was milk jug gardening. I have done some milk jug gardening before with greens but have never really explored it much past that but this year I am planning on milk jug gardening all of my perennials, cold hardy annuals, brassicas, fruit trees and some other bits here and there.
So for the most part milk jug gardening is a pretty easy concept. Any perennials that are for your zone can be sown using this method. Cold hardy annuals like poppies, calendula, zinnia and more can also be sown although some annuals don't always transplant all that well so don't put all your seeds in a milk jug...save some for direct seeding. Brassicas such kale, broccoli and cabbage are said to do well too I am planning on doing my cabbage this way and have always had luck with kale. Greens like lettuces, spinach and chards can be done this way for a little bit of an earlier harvest as they too prefer cooler temps and a variety of herbs do well for winter sowing. I will be starting up thyme, oregano, savoury and some sage.
The idea behind milk jug gardening is basically we are taking what nature would already do to seeds outside but containing them in a milk jug. By creating this tiny greenhouse effect we are increasing the chance of germination and harvest from 2-4 weeks earlier than normal. When you plant perennials using this method you are stratifying them- you are giving them their cold treatment that would normally happen when seeds fall to the ground. The cold helps them break through their seed when warm weather comes but when you use a milk jug you are increasing the odds of a seed making it to becoming a little plant as opposed to being buried under too much snow, washing away with the melt or being eaten by some critter. So if you have forgotten to toss your perennial seeds out in the fall or don't have the fridge space to stratify your seeds grab some milk jugs and toss them outside in the snow and let them be.
Now that I have told you a little about they why of milk jug now the how? First collect milk jugs, rotisserie trays anything clear to semi clear containers that can hold soil and seeds. Once you have your containers gather up some soil, a good quality seed starting soil. I use my big bail of growers mix that I use for soil blocking and I add a little bit of Gaia green 4-4-4 and some worm castings to it. Punch some holes into the bottom of your containers for drainage and then if your using a milk jug cut around the middle leaving a half inch on either side of the handle so it acts like a hinge. Lightly pack in some damp soil and spread your seeds on top and top dress with a little more soil and spray with some water. Put the top of the container back on and wrap it up with duck tape and voila your little milk jug garden is ready to go. OH! Before you go and toss your jug outside make sure you label it well! Put on some boots and venture outside somewhere south facing that you can access. Tuck your jugs into the soil with the little pour lid off! You can even toss snow all around and even on the top of your jugs and just let nature run its course. If the weather gets really warm check to make sure your jug hasn't dried out it needs to stay moist. Once your weather starts to really warm up you are going to want to check on your jugs daily for water and germination. If germination has begun and your plants are growing you are going to need to start taking the tops off during the day so you don't scorch your plants and once they have reach the top of the container and have a strong root system they are ready to be transplanted outside.
So you wanna milk jug garden? Check out my video here. Here is also a great post and set of instructions that Krista from Zone 3 Vegetable Gardening put together. Pay attention to your zone and if you don't know your zone you can find it here. When you are looking through your seed collection anything that says stratify or scarified will work great for winter gardening. Direct sow or self sowing seeds and anything that says cold hardy or sow when cool will also work well.
As I write this I have already sown highbush cranberry seeds, black elderberry, wild leeks (ramps), wild ginger, wild ginseng, zinnias, marigolds, calendula, delphiniums, lavender, echinacea, onions, poppies, valerian, wild bergamot, hyssop and saskatoons. I still have about 50 more packets of stuff I want to get out while it's still cool but can only plant as I get milk jugs so in the meantime I will be trying a few trays of soil blocks in greenhouse trays with lids and use the same idea. Some other great benefits of growing seeds this way is you are eliminating insects. I have found I often get little gnats or aphids when I indoor sow due to the confined moist conditions. I have also never been great at hardening off plants. It seems like a pretty simple process but somehow I manage to kill perfectly beautiful healthy plants by leaving them outside or putting them outside too soon. With milk jug gardening they are growing in the elements so once they are ready for transplant there is no need for hardening off. The one thing that I really like about milk jug gardening is keeping all this plastic from going to the landfill. I have saved a lot of milk jugs from going to the dump and depending on how they are stored they can be reused year after year and once your done you can cut the hinge off and keep the top part as a garden cloche for sensitive plants.
I hope you found some helpful info and possibly feel inspired by this blog. If you haven't already head on over to our YouTube page and check out our gardening videos. By viewing our videos, commenting and or even sharing helps us get seen and brings our family that much closer to our goals.
Thanks so much for being here and reading to the very end. Have you ever tried milk jug gardening? If so what was your favorite plant to grow? If not will you try?