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 Build a 4 x 4 Raised Garden Bed

In the beginning, the naive among us, and that was a lot of us, thought COVID would be a passing thing. I would never have believed I would be unable to visit, hold, and smother my grandchildren with kisses for so many months. In June, when the number of new COVID cases dipped, my husband and I got in the car and drove south, first to Hartwell, Georgia to visit and hug one son and then on to Orlando to see another.

While we drove (and listened to cookbook author Ruth Reichel’s delightful novel, Delicious!), I got to thinking about a way I could stay connected to my grands that was symbolic of times we shared when they lived down the road from us. I thought about this photo that I keep on my kitchen windowsill. You’ve gotta love a two-year-old superhero who wears a diaper.

The photo became my inspiration for a COVID project I hoped would provide outdoor fun for my grandchildren. I wanted to build them a vegetable garden so they could experience the anticipation and joy that comes with watching a seed unfurl its leaves as it pokes out of the ground. That you get to eat the food you grow is secondary to the miracles and discoveries that happen every day in a garden.

Meanwhile, my husband, the builder in the family, was like yeah, yeah … But what is your plan, Judy? Plan? I had no plan. I am more of a make-it-up-as-you-go kind of person. I drew up something for him on a napkin that he translated into a plan.

My Plan:

His:

We went to Home Depot to get supplies.

Here is what we built in one afternoon.

Here is how it looked two months later.

How We Built the Garden

First things first — before you get started building a space for a garden, look for a sunny spot with easy access to water. Next, write up a list of plants you want to grow.

And we’re off…

We bought two eight-foot cedar boards that were 8″ in height. Do not use pressure-treated lumber as the chemicals that keep the wood from rotting will leach into the soil over time.

By all means, let a staff person cut the boards into 4-foot lengths for you. Also, look around for a big piece of cardboard to line the bottom of your garden.

You will need a box of three-inch screws. And, if you are going to divide your garden into squares, you’ll need string and thumbtacks. I would not recommend the twine shown here. It disintegrated within two months.

Next, head to the garden center to purchase soil. To keep costs down, we bought inexpensive topsoil and composted manure for the bottom layers and saved the richer raised-bed soil for the top. You will also need to buy a bag of all-natural “sandbox” sand to help with soil drainage.

The formula for calculating how many cubic feet of soil to buy is as follows. Volume = length x width x height. All the numbers need to be in the same type of units- in this case, feet. Thus, 4 x 4 x .67 (8 inches = 8/12 =.67) equals 11 cubic feet. We bought 12 CF because once you water the soil, it gets compacted, and you need a little more volume to fill it. Soil bags come in cubic feet.

 

If you don’t have a drill, it’s going to be harder to put your raised bed together. You could simplify the process by buying lumber and specialized cement blocks or use a raised-bed kit.

Instructions in Pictures

Planting the Seeds

Stopping to Smell the Flowers

Watering the Garden

One of the discoveries – snake beans that germinated in three days!

Two Months Later

Last week, we planted a few cool-weather seeds.

One day, while the children were on a walk with their parents, they passed this patch of pineapple plants. The homeowner gave them a pineapple and told them to cut off the top and stick it in the dirt to grow their own. I never thought about how pineapples grew.

I think my son and DIL have gotten the “growing edibles” bug because, in addition to planting the pineapple, they have added three fruit trees to their backyard: guava, mango, and fig, and planted seeds to grow cosmos which attract bees and butterflies and my granddaughter. She loves to pick flowers!

Nothing could make me happier than to pass on my passion for growing food to my family. Now, when I FaceTime with my grands, they often take the phone outside to show me their garden. It keeps us all happy and connected when we can’t be together for hugs. My friend, the Reverand Susan Masters, put this notice on her Facebook page. She, like me, is a hugger!

Related Posts:
Edible Landscaping with Nashville Foodscapes
Family Dirt
Fall Planting Guide for Your Kitchen Garden
Putting Your Garden to Bed with a Blanket of Cover Crops

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Always check my blog for the latest version of a recipe.

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© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

DIY Ant Remover

In the beginning of #SaferAtHome, my husband, a doer if ever there was one, became obsessed with our cordless vacuum cleaner. There was nary a dog hair or toast crumb to be found in our home; that vacuum cleaner was always either running or recharging. His reward for his labor was a full dust canister to empty into the trash. I am grateful that obsession has passed, and that he has found other problems to solve in our home …

When it rains a lot, as it has in Nashville lately, ants get flushed out of their outdoor nests and look for dry, higher ground. Kitchens are an ideal place to go because they provide a food source and shelter.

One of the things I love about my husband is the way he quietly observes a problem and then gets laser-focused on solving it. This past Saturday the problem was ants all over the kitchen. Searching the Internet, he found a recipe for a DIY ant remover solution that used supplies we had in the house.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons of Borax
⅓ cup of sugar
1 cup warm water

Supplies
condiment lids or bottle caps to serve as trays for the solution
cotton balls
a lidded jar for storing the solution
a spoon or bulb syringe for moistening the cotton balls

Directions
Mix Borax and sugar in warm water in a glass jar with a lid. Dip cotton balls into the mixture and place them onto small lids that serve as a tray. We made three of these trays and placed them close to the wall on the countertop. Do not place them on the floor where a child or pet could get to them.

The ants were gone in three days. Ants are attracted to the sugar, and the borax gets ingested and taken back to the nest. He adds more solution as needed to keep the cotton balls moist.

Related How-to Posts

Readers who have been around for a few years may remember when my husband created the Nifty, Thrifty Thaw Detector for our freezer so we could tell if we had a power outage while we were out of town. If we had, the penny would be at the bottom of the container when we got home. This is another use for condiment holders if you buy a bag of them.

Check out the How-To page on the menu for other household tips.

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

Always check my blog for the latest version of a recipe.

If you enjoyed this post, please comment, share, or become a follower. Be sure to press “confirm” on the follow-up letter that will be sent to your email address when you subscribe.

© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.