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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Coaxing Spring, Part I

This time of year, I'm itching to see green sprouts, but the earth still freezes at night sometimes... and stays frozen in places. Time to get creative with giant zip-sealed bags and jugs! How many different kinds of crazy-looking contraptions can one wild-about-spring woman make?

1. The Light-Duty Mini-Greenhouse

Using a milk jug, make one cut, leaving a hinge, 
along with some holes in the bottom for drainage... add soil, and you're ready to plant!

Another optional layer is to put them inside a huge ziploc. I did this because it's not very friendly out there, with snow still coming from time to time. If you don't have giant ziplocs, you can just use masking tape to seal the crack to keep cold air out. The lids can be left on when it's really cold and then removed for ventilation on sunny days. You can also punch holes to twist-tie the mini-greenhouse shut (instead of masking tape). These can be planted with seeds at any time in the winter or early spring, set out on your porch, and the seeds will germinate when the conditions are right. 

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2. Stepping it Up: The Commercial Duty Mini-Greenhouse

Huge commercial-duty jugs, 5 gallon: 
With one cut and some holes in the bottom, you have an instant mini-greenhouse.

Soil, seeds, and water (the world's greatest combo)

The whole thing inside a gargantuan ziploc, for double protection from the elements

And there you have it: ready to go outside! 
(I still bring it in at night sometimes, just to baby these sprouts along a bit)

(planted March 4; updated April 8)

This mini-greenhouse has been transitioned full-time to the outdoors.
The greens seem to be doing quite well, and the large bag around the whole 
thing also protects the tender greens from being devoured by chipmunks. 
(The chipmunks even ate my potted garlic on the deck, so they are not picky!)

I had my first nibbles today. Mmmm!

If you live in the North Okanogan of WA State or the South Okanagan of BC and want to try a commercial-duty mini greenhouse, you can get the jugs for free from Alpine Brewing in Oroville, WA. The jugs must be thoroughly rinsed out before being used for this purpose, and power tools are preferable for making the cut and drilling the drainage holes. They are very sturdy; I have some in their 3rd year of use, and they are still going strong. 

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3. An Upside-Down Table Makes an Even Bigger Mini-Greenhouse

Can you see the table legs showing through the plastic? Go to antique and thrift shops and ask if they have any really junky tables they want out of their hair. I got this one for free that way (don't forget to smile and explain what you are doing, too). You can see the carefully engineered design, I mean... It's a clear plastic "contractor" size bag, with the upside-down table inside it. That leaves only one seam to close -- at the top. Clothes pins do nicely. Presto!

You can see that it's positioned against the house, on the deck, and of course it is on the south end of the house, in the most sheltered yet sunny spot we have.

Inside are two pots. I decided not to put the soil directly on the wood... it will last much longer this way. I added some styrofoam panels for extra insulation at the base.

These sprout photos were taken just today. Good morning, lettuces!

Good morning, radish!  
Life inside an upside-down table greenhouse seems to agree with the radishes and lettuces.

Thank you, Kezia Wills, for those three words... that was all you had to say: 
"Upside-down-table." I think yours involved a shade cloth in summer maybe... remind me! How do you like the contractor bag approach?

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What are your favorite ways to coax spring growth?


  1. I have a big greenhouse, unheated, but I use some of the same type of system. I generally use flats which come with a matching clear plastic dome for the mesclun and things that I seed a lot at a time. Other seeds I use smaller pots or kraft paper trays, again, covering with a lid. The important thing I've found is to shake off the condensation from the cover - if you don't, that's where you'll get damping off and other dire things happening. Great to see your lettuces and radish!

  2. That's interesting, Jacki, about the condensation; thanks for sharing. I tend to open mine up to let them breathe from time to time, especially on sunny days. I try to put them outside on the deck whenever I can, to help develop strong starts. Otherwise the indoor starts are so wimpy, it takes forever to harden them off! I have some trays that resemble the plastic dome starter flats -- you put one below and one on top and the flanges meet. They were sterile discards from a hospital and apparently hundreds of them get thrown away on a regular basis. I wish all the avid gardeners out there could tap into that resource! Thanks for sharing about what you're doing, and please keep in touch.

  3. It's all about the light - that's what makes the little guys stretched and pale. If they have enough light, and it's not too warm, then they're strong and sturdy. I like your idea of the discarded trays from the hospital. I have also used the plastic clamshells from things like lettuce mixes and so on from the grocery, though I don't buy that kind of thing. There are lots of other things that you can use; even the paper milk jugs, cut down the side to make a flat box.

    Spring finally seems to be here - frost last night though, so I'm not counting on it too much, yet.

    1. Yes, light is really critical. I use plastic clamshells from food items and milk cartons too -- before I get rid of anything, it goes through the filter of "could it help me grow something?" -- LOL. But, this year my main focus is on getting things started outdoors, with protection, to help avoid transplant shock and to keep things in the ground. It's a novel challenge. Frost here too this morning... but the time is coming... and the rhubarb is peeking out!


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