Seed Starting in Recycled Milk Jugs @JudysChickens

Last spring, while visiting my friend Mary’s vegetable garden, I spied this group of milk jugs planted with vegetable seedlings.

Mary said she started using recycled milk jugs to start seeds when she saw another gardener doing so. We, gardeners, enjoy learning from each other!

The beauty of milk jug sprouting is once you plant seeds, moisten the soil, and tape up the sides, you can pretty much ignore the emerging seedlings until they are ready to be transplanted; no need for babysitting. The almost closed system keeps moisture in and uses the warmth of sunlight to nudge seeds from dormancy to germination. It is an efficient, green, portable, fun, easy-peasy way to start seeds.

I left Mary’s garden and headed home; I had an idea. A murder of crows had been invading my little backyard corn patch, digging up most of the seedlings as they sprouted.

By the way, the birds were after the kernel, not the green blades which they left behind. Arghhh. This bummed me out because I was nearing the end of my prized stash of Kentucky Rainbow Heirloom Dent Corn from Susana Lein’s Salamander Springs Farm in Berea, Kentucky.

Planting seeds in jugs seemed like the perfect way to grow a quick and controlled crop to replace what I had lost. I cut two jugs in half, filled them with dirt, seeds, and water, and taped them up.

Eleven days later, I opened the jugs and planted the bushy seedlings.

I covered the bed with shade cloth to keep all marauders out.

It took about one minute for a crow to pull out the first seedling when I uncovered the bed. I set up a perimeter of string and dangling, flashy CD’s.

And an owl.

The plants did well. They grew as high as an elephant’s eye.

Eventually, I harvested and cooked the delicious, earthy-tasting ears.

Why do I love this corn? It is unusually savory instead of sweet. I love to roast the ears with a little olive oil and salt and cut the kernels off the cob. YUM!
 

The story doesn’t end there. (Does it ever?)

When I was cleaning out my garden tote in mid-October, I found these moldy, sprouting ears of Kentucky dent corn. I couldn’t throw them out.

I took one and stuck it in a recycled half-gallon jug.

I expected it to rot. Instead, it took off! I was thrilled by the unexpected growth from the individual kernels of corn on the cob. Many months later, the little jug garden is still thriving.

The scientist in me had to see if the sprouted cob was a fluke or if the results could be reproducible. I planted a two-year-old cob I had saved to show students an example of incomplete pollination. It, too, took off.

Plant a Seed with a Child and Share the Thrill of Growing Food Together

Milk jug gardening can be a fun, inexpensive, educational activity to do with children. Imagine how impactful it could be for a child to bring homegrown food to the dinner table, even if it’s only a few leaves of parsley or radish sprouts.

Free seeds for growing food can be obtained from seed exchanges at public libraries across the country.

During COVID, the Nashville Public Library Seed Exchange has let residents check out seeds online and pick them up curbside at one of their branches. This is what the seed bank looks like at one of the branches.

The seeds are donated by local gardeners. Members of one local non-profit, The Herb Society of Nashville, save seeds from their home gardens and get together seasonally to package them.

How to Make  a Milk Jug Greenhouse:

Supplies:

clean, plastic milk jugs (gallon and half-gallon sizes)
scissors
store-bought seed-starter dirt or the richest dirt you can find outside
a shovel or cup to spoon dirt into jugs
wide tape
a marker
seeds
water

Instructions:

1. Using scissors, cut around the base of a clean jug about 4 inches from the bottom, leaving the plastic under the handle uncut to serve as a hinge for the greenhouse’s upper half.

2. Fill the jug with 3-4 inches of dirt. I have had good results using dirt from my garden. You could also buy bags of clean seed-starting potting soil.

3. Plant the seeds of your choice. It is fun to try seeds you may have in the house. I cut open a lemon, pulled out five seeds, and planted them, as well as a few cloves of garlic.

They all sprouted and continue to grow. I transplanted the garlic outdoors.

Months later, the lemon seedlings are still going strong!

4. Dribble water into each container until the soil is damp but not sopping wet. I do not put drainage holes in the bottom so I can bring the containers indoors.

5. Close the hinged top and tape around the cut edges of the plastic. Leave the jug spout uncovered for a little air circulation.

6. Label the container.

7. Place greenhouses outside if warm or inside in a sunny window if cold. After I planted the corn seeds, I went out of town for a week and left them untended. The seedlings flourished in my absence.

Radishes are good to grow if you want to see quick results but know that they do not transplant well. Keep the seedlings growing in the jug and encourage children to snip the greens to put in a salad or use in a sandwich.

If you try seed starting in a jug, would you please post a photo on social media with this hashtag #seedstartingatjudyschickens . The retired pediatric nurse in me is always looking for ways to inspire and help families learn to cook and grow food. This could be a fun COVID kid project!

Sowing seeds, tending plants, and harvesting food and flowers produce feelings of great satisfaction, joy, and wonderment while nourishing the body, mind, and spirit. Milk jug gardening is a fun and portable way to get started.

Happy Gardening!

Related Stories
How to Build a 4 x 4 Raised Garden Bed
Spring Planting Guide for Your Kitchen Garden
Growing and Cooking Sweet Potatoes!
Lemon Tree Very Pretty
Family Dirt
Asteraceae: My Favorite Family of Pollinator Plants
How To Curbside Recycle

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

If you enjoyed this post, consider becoming a follower. Be sure to press “confirm” on the follow-up letter sent to your email address.

© 2014-2021 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may not be reproduced without the written consent of Judy Wright.

How To Curbside Recycle

I recently watched the holiday edition of Nashville’s How to Recycle Right webinar. Specifically, it was about what could and couldn’t go into a curbside recycling bin in Nashville. It explained a lot of the Whys and Why Nots of recycling.

These statistics caught my attention and have inspired me to become more informed and intentional about recycling:

  • 80% of all waste goes into a landfill. Landfills have no value.
  • 12% of waste gets recycled. Recycled trash gives new value.
  • 8% of waste gets composted. Composted matter gives new value.

Waste management and the concept of recycling to make new products is an extensive topic. This post addresses what can and can’t go into our curbside recycling bins and WHY. Check with your city’s waste management website for specifics for your area. For example, Nashville no longer has a buyer for dairy recyclables, so they now need to go into the landfill bin.

Recyclers all need to know this — recyclables are ultimately placed on a conveyor belt where they are inspected by humans who pull off unacceptable materials and put them into bins destined for landfills.

Here are items that get rejected and why:

Wrapping paper, ribbons, bows, anything with glitter: these items have minute particles of plastic and metal that can not be recycled by paper mills. An alternative is to save and reuse them.

Soiled pizza boxes: any cardboard that is soiled with food, cooking oil, or water can cause mold while sitting in the recycle bin. Mold weakens fibers in cardboard making it unusable by a recycling paper mill. The clean portion of a pizza box can go into the recycling bin; the soiled part needs to go into a landfill bin or your compost pile.

Plastic grocery and trash bags: these muck up the system by getting entwined around conveyor belt gears, not unlike a string that gets wrapped around the rollers of a vacuum cleaner. Thus, all plastic bags, full or empty, are pulled off the conveyor belt and put into a landfill bin, regardless of what is in them. Even a brown paper bag full of recyclables will be pulled because there is no time to open and check what is inside. Another reason to keep recyclables loose in the recycle bin.

Glass: cannot go in our recycle bins because if the glass breaks, the particles get embedded in cardboard, making it unusable by a paper mill. Also, broken glass can injure staff. Glass can be recycled separately at drop-off recycling centers, or in Nashville, by the non-profit Justice Industries. Check this organization out!

Foil and foil containers: there is very little metal in foil, so it has to go in the landfill bin. No coffee K-cups in the recycle bin, either.

Shredded paper and tissue paper: Too thin; it mucks up the machines. I put shredded paper in my compost heap.

Everything in the recycle bin should be loose and viewable by waste management staff. Whether paper or plastic, all bags of trash will be pulled and placed in the landfill bin. Tragic but true. There is no time for the staff to open and examine the contents.

Ignore the recycle symbol on the package. The numbers inside the triangle refer to the types of chemicals used to make the plastic containers. Clamshells, clear plastic produce containers, and dairy containers cannot go in the recycle bins because Nashville does not have a buyer for that type of plastic.

Anything smaller than two inches cannot go in the recycle bin. This includes plastic and metal bottle caps. However, it is okay to empty a plastic drink bottle and then replace the plastic cap. The same goes for emptied and rinsed laundry jugs and plastic food jars– replace the caps.

I have put some other No-No’s items in the recycle bin in the past, thinking I was responsible: broken plastic toys, metal chicken wire, empty paint cans, random pieces of wood. When in doubt, throw trash in the landfill bin, say the experts.

Here is what can go in a recycling bin in Nashville.

Aluminum or Steel Cans:

  • Drink and food cans ONLY. Please empty and rinse food containers.

No scrap or construction metal. No chains, coat hangers, wires, aerosol cans, pots, and pans, or electronics.

Plastic Bottles, Jugs, and Jars: Keep it simple and remember these are the only plastic items that can go in our recycling bins.

  • Empty drink bottles with lids attached.
  • Empty milk and juice jugs, rinsed with lids attached.
  • Empty plastic food jars, rinsed with lids attached.
  • Empty plastic laundry jugs, rinsed with lids attached.

No prescription medicine bottles, styrofoam, bubble wrap.

Cardboard:

  • Clean and dry cardboard, corrugated cardboard, and cereal boxes.
  • Recycle companies prefer flattened boxes. Tape and labels can remain.

Paper and Cartons:

  • Empty food and drink cartons, rinsed, and dry. Even though cartons for things like broth containers appear waxed, they are not and are okay.
  • Junk mail, newspapers, magazines, paperbacks (not hardcover) are all okay. Envelope windows and staples do not need to be removed.

No padded mailers, even if they have a recycle symbol on them.

Glass:

  • Glass bottles and jars can not go in the recycle bins but can be brought to recycling drop off centers. Labels can remain attached.

Remove all caps, lids, and corks and put them in landfill bins—no windows or mirrors either.

I’m grateful to Waste Reduction Program Manager Jenn Harrman for answering my many questions. I asked her what to do with hard to clean containers, like an empty jug of olive oil. Her response: “You might let it sit upside down for a while into a drip jar or on a pan you plan to use, which will get quite a bit of those remaining drips out, then give it a good rinse, and let it dry. Do the best you can and do put the cap back on.”

She continued, “If you are doing your best without driving yourself crazy over it, you are doing it right. The biggest issues we have comes from bagged recycling, plastic bags, bulky items, scrap metal, construction debris, materials covered in food, and excessive moisture from containers that haven’t been emptied/rinsed at all. The cleaner and drier your recycling is, the better, but don’t sweat it if a few bits of moisture make it into your bin.”

If we all filled our recycling bins with what is recyclable, we could move the dial on increasing the percentage of trash that stays out of the landfill. That has been my goal for the last month since watching this webinar. Should you be inclined, Jenn provided a link to the webinar. Here is the passcode: 1xg3V#2w.

Happy New Year! 

Related Stories:
Seed Starting in Recycled Milk Jugs @JudysChickens
Last Ditch before You Pitch Rotisserie Chicken Soup
How to Make Cork Bulletin Boards
How to Make Gorgeous Birdhouse Gourds
How to Cook a Pumpkin: Roasted and Puréed

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

If you enjoyed this post, consider becoming a follower. Be sure to press “confirm” on the follow-up letter sent to your email address.

© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may not be reproduced without the written consent of Judy Wright.

How to Spatchcock a Turkey

Different times call for different measures.

This year we do not need this 18-pound centerpiece for the table.

In fact, being #saferathome means my husband and I will be on our own for the Thanksgiving meal. And I am okay with that. If the pandemic has taught me one thing, it is how to manage my expectations.

Meanwhile, we still need 8-quarts of poultry stock and 7 pounds of turkey meat to make our twenty-quart pot of Bruce’s Turkey and Sausage GumboMy adult children and their families look forward to getting their Thanksgiving gumbo in to-go containers every year and it is my pleasure and honor to do this for them. It is my family I am most thankful for in my life.

Since it is 2020 and we have been trying all sorts of new things in every aspect of our lives, I decided it was as good a time as ever for my husband and me to try our hand at spatchcocking a turkey. He was game!

What does spatchcock mean and why do we do it? Spatchcock is a butchering technique where you remove the backbone of poultry. This allows you to open and flatten the chest cavity for faster and more even roasting.

When the bird is turned over, it looks like this.

I cooked this turkey in a 400º oven for 1 hour and 45 minutes. The meat was super moist and the skin was crisp.

The bird weighed 16.5 pounds to start. Once I removed the innards, the wingtips, and the backbone, it weighed 13.5 pounds. After it was roasted and my sweet husband took all the meat off the bones, we had 7 pounds of meat. Each breast provided us with two pounds. The bones all went into the poultry stock that had been simmering all day. I started the stock with frozen rotisserie chicken carcasses from the freezer. Read about that here.

How to spatchcock a turkey.

A Mennonite farmer once told us any job is possible if you have the proper tool. The proper tool for this job is a pair of poultry shears. This is crazy, but we had a pair of these shears in our house and I never knew what they were for. In fact, I almost got rid of them because they were not good at cutting paper when I couldn’t find the scissors I wanted!

Poultry shears have sharp, curved blades helpful for getting into hard to reach places when deboning meat. They remind me of pruning shears – the handles help you get a good grip so you can squeeze down hard as you cut. Plain scissors will work, but there will be a little more huffing and puffing involved.

How to Spatchcock a Turkey

Defrost the bird. Remove the neck and gizzards from inside the two cavities, one on each end of the turkey. Wash the bird inside and out. Pat dry.

Lay the bird breast-side down. The wings should be on top.

Remove the backbone with poultry shears. First, one side of the spine

and then the other. CRUNCH! CRUNCH! CRUNCH!

Save the backbone for the turkey stock.

Flip the bird over and press down on the sternum, aka the breastbone, located between the breasts, as if to do CPR. Repeat, moving your hands down along the sternum, until you no longer hear crunching as you press.

We practiced spatchcocking two different sized turkeys during the week. The smaller one splayed out flatly with just the chest compressions. The larger one needed a little more help to flatten it. My husband turned the breast over and used a meat cleaver to cut into the sternum to split the chest open a little more.

 

.

How to Cook the Bird 

We cooked one in the oven and the other on the grill. I’ll show you the oven method first.

Preheat oven to 400º.

Arrange the bird on a roasting pan. Rub olive oil all over it, top and bottom, and season with a generous amount of salt and garlic pepper. I use McCormick’s Garlic Pepper.

The hottest part of an oven is the two back corners. Place the roasting pan in the oven, so the thick breasts are in the back.

I cooked the bird for an hour and fifteen minutes and then started checking the meat’s temperature every ten minutes. I checked the temperature in many spots — the thickest part of the breast, the thickest part of the thigh, etc. As long as every section registers at least 165º the turkey is safely cooked. I shoot for 160º because, after many years of cooking, I understand the concept of “carryover” heat and know that as the turkey rests, the internal temperature will climb to 165º. The concept is well described in this post.

I let the turkey rest on the counter for about 30 minutes and then poured off and saved the drippings for my poultry stock.

Before I added the drippings to the stock, I poured them into a fat separator to remove the fat.

When my husband and I spatchcocked the other turkey earlier in the week, we cooked it on a grill using indirect heat.

Don’t ask me what got into me; all that frilly seasoning was unnecessary! The flavor profile was a FAIL; too sagey and lemony.

Having said that, it sure was fun to decorate!

And it sounded lovely in all of its crackly glory as it roasted in the grill.

 

That turkey was 13.5 pounds before I opened the sack. It was done in 75 minutes. It was as moist as the oven-roasted turkey.

So, that is the end of my spatchcocking saga. I’ve got my eight quarts of gelatinous poultry stock and seven pounds of turkey meat.

Later this week, I will gather all the ingredients for Bruce’s gumbo and get busy chopping. For now, I’ll rest on my laurels

knowing this is in my future.

The recipe that is trending on my blog this morning is Karen’s Foolproof Make-Ahead GravyIt is delicious!

Happy Thanksgiving, friends! I am grateful to all the folks who read my blog, make the recipes, and write to share their experiences. Thank you. You give me joy!

If you need last-minute instructions on how to cook a few traditional sides and desserts for Thanksgiving, check out Thanksgiving Week on the Menu.

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

If you enjoyed this post, consider becoming a follower. Be sure to press “confirm” on the follow-up letter sent to your email address.

© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may not be reproduced without the written consent of Judy Wright.

Asteraceae: My Favorite Family of Pollinator Plants

Warning: Reading this may lead to a fondness for dandelions.

What do these flowers have in common?

Zinnias

Sunflowers

Cosmos

Marigolds

Asters

Goldenrod

Dandelions

Artichokes

Artichokes?

I’ll give you a hint, the artichoke is a bud! If left to mature on the plant, it will produce hundreds of purple, narrow-tubed flowers cradled in one base.

These flowering plants are all part of the Asteraceae Family.

Plants are placed in families based on characteristics they share. These flower heads are all round and have a flat central disc. While each flower appears to be a single flower, all Asteraceae flowers are actually a composite of many small flowers, each with their own reproductive parts, packed densely into one receptacle.

The flowers in the center disc are called disc florets and those surrounding it are ray florets.

As beautiful as flowers are to us humans, flowers are trying to impress insects and birds. Pollination is the primary objective of a flower. Once pollination happens, the flower withers and dies. Pollination activates the fertilization of seeds, ensuring reproduction of the plant. Both ray and disc florets have all the necessary reproductive parts.

Another feature of plants in the Asteraceae family is their sepal-like leaves, called bracts, on the flower head’s underside. Bracts surround and protect the base of the plant where the seeds mature. They are arranged in either an overlapping or a linear pattern.
 

 

I took a few bracts off to see the seeds beneath — they are packed in there!

Rings of new disc florets emerge gradually in an orderly fashion from the disc’s outside perimeter to the center. A cone-shaped arrangement forms as the underlying seeds grow larger and require more space. This was a marvelous insight for me; one of the traits we love about zinnias is how long the flowers last. They last that long to ensure that every ovule (pre-seed) gets fertilized.

If you dissect a flower head, you can see the many seeds at various stages of maturation.

A good visual of a composite flower head is the sunflower.

Sunflowers are a bee magnet. We hear a lot about the benefits of growing “pollinator” plants in a garden. You need look no further than plants in the Asteraceae family for colorful flowers that attract insects.

The end result is hundreds of sunflower seeds to eat and ensure reproduction.

Not all Asteraceae plants have both ray and disc florets. A few species have one or the other. Dandelions, for example, are comprised of ray florets only. With my new appreciation of flowering plants, I don’t think I will be as quick to pull dandelions out of my vegetable garden anymore. After all, my Sicilian immigrant grandmothers picked dandelion leaves to eat. The leaves are a good source for vitamin C. During early times, the cool-weather plants were grown in kitchen gardens for settlers to eat to prevent scurvy.

Artichokes are comprised of all disc florets. The bristles that make up the choke are actually hundreds of very immature flowers.

Knowing this, I forevermore will say a prayer of gratitude when I remove those less edible filaments from a stuffed artichoke. For without the choke, we would not get seeds for more artichokes! THAT would be a travesty.

Studying and photographing the unfolding reproductive cycle of flowers in my garden has been a source of joy, a saving grace, and a silver lining of diversion while living through this crazy pandemic. I am grateful to my mother for instilling in me a love of gardening and to Mother Nature for providing everything I need to grow food in my backyard. I hope to inspire others, most especially children, to experience the peace and thrill of planting a seed, watching it grow, and being a witness to the beauty of the natural world.

A moth imbibing in nectar.

If there are cool-weather plants such as asters, cosmos, chickory, or chrysanthemums in your yard, maybe cut one open and see for yourself!

I am grateful to my fellow naturalist and Instagram friend, Rose Marie Trapani, for sending me a flowering artichoke in the MAIL so I could dissect it. That’s a whole ‘nother story! You can follow Rose Marie @oursiciliantable on Instagram.

Related Posts
How to Build a 4 x 4 Raised Garden Bed
Winter Floral Arrangements Using Greenery from the Yard
Lemon Tree Very Pretty
Family Dirt
Edible Landscaping with Nashville Foodscapes

© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may not be reproduced without the written consent of Judy Wright.

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

If you enjoyed this post, consider becoming a follower. Be sure to press “confirm” on the follow-up letter sent to your email address.