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If you are itching to get your hands dirty but have few gardening supplies on hand, take a look around the house and yard. You may find many items that can be repurposed into just what you need. Here are some cheap tips and tricks!
Collect plastic and waxed containers to start seeds in. Plastic clamshells that greens come in make great community pots for starting seeds. Mushroom boxes, muffin containers, strawberry containers, and other containers work fine as long as there’s room for at least 2 inches of soilless potting mix (without added fertilizer which can burn the seedlings). Be sure to clean and then poke some drainage holes in the bottom before adding your potting mix.
Egg cartons can be used for a while but they are small so be ready to move seedling to larger containers when they need more room. Just be sure if you are starting more than one kind of plant that they all have the same requirements for heat and light and take about the same amount of time to germinate.
Starting seeds in egg cartons is fun for kids, too! Credit: FotoHelin
Milk jugs are awesome for winter sowing because they become little greenhouses which warm up the soil and air to let seeds germinate several weeks ahead of direct sowing. (Don’t start too early!) Clear plastic totes also make awesome little greenhouses and large ones of any color can be turned into planters. Again, punch drainage holes in the bottom. Then cut the milk jug in half, just below the handle but leave about an inch uncut so it can work as a handle to open and close the mini-greenhouse. After planting, replace the top of the jug and tape it to the bottom (with packing tape) and put the jugs in the sun. You can remove the tops when it’s warm enough 50 to 60°F but cover up again at night.
If seeds are tiny, use an old spray bottle to gently mist the soil to prevent dislodging them. I love old condiment squirt bottles because they allow me to direct water right to the base of newly emerged seedlings.
When your seedlings have 2 to 4 true leaves and are large enough to handle, pot them up in larger pots or you can transplant into the ground if it’s warm enough. Yogurt containers, plastic cups, and even toilet paper rolls cut in half can be used as individual plant pots.
For a larger greenhouse, stick hoops made from PVC pipe or heavy-duty wire into the ground and cover with clear plastic. The wire frames from old campaign signs are perfect for making little greenhouses or for supporting reemay covering in your garden. Any political signs still left from the primaries are fair game!
Cardboard tubes make good cutworm collars or you can just wrap the stems of your transplants with foil. I dare a cutworm to chew through that!
Collect water in a rain barrel to offset water costs. We made one years ago from a plastic trash barrel. Adding a spigot to the bottom made it easy to attach a hose.
Be sure to grow some open-pollinated heirlooms versus hybrids (check the packaging!) and saving some seeds from the best ones to grow next year. Beans, peas, cukes, squash, dill, peppers, and tomato seeds are easy to save. We find that they germinate better than our store-bought ones.
For winter sowing, I would recommend cold-weather crops such as brassicas. Otherwise, start the plants indoors. Anyone buying plants this far ahead of the season has to be prepared to repot them into bigger containers and provide proper lighting (on a windowsill or with grow lights) and the plants should be quite happy until they can then be planted properly either outside or in a greenhouse. If you’re not prepared to repot, do not buy or the plants will suffer and it’s not worthwhile.
Refer to our planting calendar to know when to plant indoors or in the ground. Or, read the seed packet instructions. If it says “sow 4 to 6 weeks before last spring frost,” then it’s fine to sow midwinter. If it says “sow 3 to 4 weeks before last spring frost,” then sow in later winter. And if it says “sow after the danger of frost has passed,” this means early spring.
Don’t get discouraged. Get creative. And when it comes to repurposing supplies, remember: One man’s trash is another man’s trellis! See more upcycled gardening ideas!