Early last September, when the smoke was so thick that it was inadvisable to go outdoors without a gas mask, the Master Gardeners got together on my patio to make plans for the spring plant sale. The air was slightly clearer at our elevation, and the patio, surrounded by tall evergreens, seemed to be filtering the air.
One of the projects on the agenda was an idea sparked by a piece in the magazine Garden Gate. The article gave directions for starting seeds in an empty milk jug, watering them and then burying the lower part in the garden. Next spring, when you dig up the jug, voila! There are your seedlings ready to transplant!
Perennial seeds work very well, but I suggest trying vegetable seeds and flower seeds as well, especially ones that are ready to transplant in early spring. We used seeds from a biennial Turkish Salvia plant that grows in my waterwise garden.
Here’s how we did it. Starting with a clean gallon milk jug (the ones with a handle), take a sharp knife and slice horizontally through the jug about a third of the way up from the bottom. Leave enough connection so that you can fold back the top while holding the handle.
Next, fill the bottom with good moist potting soil. Sprinkle in the seeds, cover with a light layer of potting soil and moisten them. Leave a little room between seeds, because they have good germination in their own little hothouse! Tape the jug closed with strong transparent packing tape. Leave the plastic top of the jug open.
Bury the lower part of the jug in your garden where it will get morning sun and be somewhat protected from the elements. Bring the soil up around the sealing tape. We put the jug in one of my raised vegetable beds that had been cleaned out for the winter.
One of the fun things for me was going up to the garden and peeking through the hole to see if the seeds had sprouted. They did sprout in just a few weeks. All fall I kept going up and peeking in, and the sprouts were fine. As the weather cooled, they didn’t grow as rapidly, but still stayed green.
The jug stayed in place all winter. No need to add water or insulate it beyond the protection surrounding soil provides. When we arrived back from Arizona early in April, the first thing I did after getting out of the car was run up to the garden and peek in the hole. The jug was full of healthy green seedlings!
Next step is just to remove the tape, open the jug and transplant the seedlings. I put them in black plastic pots to grow on a few weeks before they went to the plant sale. Depending on how early you transplant them, they can be planted out in the garden or kept in the greenhouse or cold frame until the weather stabilizes.
This was the easiest way I have ever started seeds and I am looking forward to trying many different kinds this winter. Hope you have fun experimenting.
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in the At Home section. Gloria Kupferman is one of three columnists featured.