Let Nature Help You Grow Your Seeds

Maureen Rice is a naturalist/gardener living in Talbot County. She is the author of “Not! Your Granny’s Garden.” Email notyourgrannysgarden@explodingcoder.com to receive the blog straight to your inbox.

Oh, those tempting seed catalogues. Oh, those “can’t fail” seed starter kits, newspaper pots, toilet paper tubes, egg cartons, juice containers, salad trays, paper towels, even eggshells themselves…and every seed light is, of course, the very best one that could ever be. It’s exhausting just thinking about it.

Fortunately, there are geniuses amongst us. And, they’ve figured out a solution to our pain!  Even better – it’s easy. Set up the seeds, sit back and wait…that’s it.

Got a milk jug? Gallon size? Or even a two-liter soda bottle? We’re looking for a plastic container that can hold at least two inches of soil and have a good bit of air on top of it. It needs to be open a little at the top, so jug lids are discarded; for other flat topped containers, cut a small hole into the top to allow good air circulation.

You have a tiny greenhouse, and that’s the secret our genius friends have bestowed upon us. And, rather than worrying that you’ve planted too early/late, just let nature decide.

The outright genius of this approach is apparent if you consider what nature thinks seeds should experience. Most seeds should, in temperate zones, experience freezing and thawing and warm and then cold temperatures. These “unpleasant” changes scarify seeds, which means, opens the seed coat, so that the seed can germinate. It’s genius. Set up the seeds, sit back and wait.

What you do

Buy some good seed.

Buy some good seed starting mix (no fertilizer).

Clean a milk jug (soda bottles, rotisserie chicken containers, whatever).

Cut your “greenhouse” apart in the middle, at least four inches from the bottom.

Cut a milk jug in half and place some fresh seed starting mix in the bottom.

Punch several (at least four) drainage holes in the bottom.

Put at least four holes in the bottom of your milk jug as drainage is essential.

Moisten your seed starting mix – MOIST, not wet.

Place at least two inches of moist seed starting mix in the “greenhouse.”

Sprinkle seeds on top of the soil, cover with a little seed mix, and gently pat them down. Seed packages will recommend the amount of soil for coverage.

Cover the seeds according to the directions on the seed packet.

Tape your greenhouse back together (duct tape rules). Consider making a “hinge,” so you can check on progress.

Tape the jugs closed but do not put the lid or cap on the top of the jug as air circulation is critical.

Make sure the jug’s cap is NOT on top – open to air is key.

Label your greenhouses.

Place your capless greenhouses in a sunny area; this can be under a leafless tree.

Await nature’s plan…

Keep an eye on containers (who can resist?). On a WARM day, open the greenhouse to see progress. Close it up again before walking away.

Water seedlings only if the soil is dry by spraying gently to moisten.

If temperatures will be well below freezing for more than a day, you may wish to cover them with a blanket of some sort to keep them warm. Leaves, old blankets, whatever. It’s probably not necessary, but some like to baby their seeds.

When the seedlings have at least two sets of “true” leaves (the first, “baby” leaves don’t count) transplant them into individual containers or directly into garden soil. You lose the “greenhouse” when you remove them from the container, so if you’ve moved the seedlings into your garden, protect them as you would any others if there happens to be a freeze. If you’ve moved them to pots, move the pots into a protected area (garage, basement, etc.) if it freezes.

Happy Seeding!


Dear Sassy,

I thought when it got colder things wouldn’t grow, but there’s a whole bunch of weeds my neighbor says is “Chickweed” that have taken over my beautiful garden! How can I stop this weed?  It’s everywhere, even in the lawn!

~ Sick of Unfair Weeds

Dear Unfair,

I mentioned this to Reba Sue and we both think your neighbor is probably right. Chickweed does like to grow in cooler temperatures and is rather amazing in how fast it can take over even the most weeded garden like Reba Sue’s.

Good news, you can pull that Chickweed really easy. It’s very “shallow rooted.” Better news – Chickweed, and its cousin, “Mouse-Eared Chickweed,” can be considered a winter vegetable.

You heard me right! Eat the Weeds! Don’t be shy. Me and Reba Sue eat Chickweed all winter long. It’s to the point that we have to ask our neighbors for some. If you put all sorts of nasty things on your lawn or in your garden, don’t eat it. Just pull it. We don’t want to eat nasty. Like pesticides, herbicides, etc.

Reba Sue says Chickweed is chock full of Vitamin A, and, of course, there’s fiber. Reba Sue is big on fiber. And vitamins. Me? I’m big on taste, and it tastes just fine. Like Spinach. And, since I don’t have to buy seeds and plant it and all, Chickweed (and Mouse-Eared Chickweed) are tops on my favorite plants in the winter.

All you gotta do is pull ‘em, cut the roots off, and wash ‘em. The stems are stringy, so, if you’re like Reba Sue, pull the leaves off the stems before you cook (stems are good eatin’ too, just sayin’). I don’t get it. She’s all about fiber. So, whether you’re a cheapskate like me or a health nut like Reba Sue, Chickweeds are for you.

Eat those doggone weeds!

~ Sassy

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