Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tomatoes In Milk Jugs? Seriously?

I hate paying the retail prices for plants I can grow myself don't you?  What was that you say?  You don't know how to grow plants so you always buy your tomatoes?  Well I hope this post will change your mind.  You don't need a greenhouse, you don't need lights or heating mats or other costly stuff to grow your own tomatoes.  If you have empty plastic milk jugs, some duct tape and some potting soil...oh and the seeds of course, you can grow tomatoes at yourself.

First the seeds....here are my tomato varieties this year...Gardeners Delight Cherry Tomatoes, Ananas Noire, Cuore Di Bue and Japanese Black Trifele...oh and Pineapple ground cherries.  I am total a sucker for yummy sounding descriptions and beautiful rich colored photos I have a hard time settling on varieties because they always come out with new ones.  I hope this works...now where are those milk jugs.  Oh and if something goes wrong and this doesn't you'll get the advantage of learning from my experience without any of the pain.

Seed packets at the ready.

Backstory:  When I first heard about this method of growing tomatoes from my good friends Barb and Don who live across the Columbia River and at a higher elevation from us I was very curious and actually sort of skeptical.  They've done this for years and told me it produces the stalkiest, hardiest plants they have ever had.  I was like the rest of us who have been used to traditional greenhouse grown tomatoes or those grown in the kitchen window with the lanky spindly stems and was a little suspicious but last year gave it a try for the first time.  It didn't make much sense to me until I remembered what I had read in "Four Season's Harvest" by Eliott Coleman about how they grew peppers and remembered what I had seen in the greenhouses while working for a plant grower.

A pepper plant that does not have some breeze blowing across its will have a weak stem.  Wow...just like our muscles need exercise!  That was so cool!  The cooler weather keeps the plant from growing too quickly too and makes the cells in the plant tougher and less like the skin of a baby which is exactly what those plants grown in green houses are and why they need to be hardened off.  They are a bunch of greenhouse coddled babies.

I am not one who enjoys coddling my garden so I was seriously hooked into trying this method out.  Last year I did it for the first time with great success.  Even the cooler than normal summer didn't stop my super duper tomatoes and they all grew very well.  Those stems were really buff!  I'd never seen stems that strong.

Buff Baby!  Lookin' good!

Instructions:  Grab those milk jugs and follow along.

I use a good sharp serrated knife instead of a hot knife...no fumes.

Cut triangular holes in each of the three shoulders of the jug and then cut 4 of the same in the bottom for drainage.
The next step is to cut around the middle so you have a way to get those plants out...OOPS!  What have a done!?!
OOPSIE!   I cut it all the way off.

Well...thank God for duct tape is all I can say.

A note to self...Do not cut!

That's more like it.

After cutting them all I filled the bottoms of each with regular potting soil leaving about 1" space to the top so there was enough room for a top coat of seedling mix that will go over the seeds.

Seedling mix is not as heavy as potting soil and easier for seeds to sprout through.

Seeds sown, containers marked and watered in.

I put a plant tag in each container with the variety name on it and then mark on the outside of each container what is inside so I don't have to open them up to see which is which.  Be sure to use a UV stable marker when you do this.

Now its time to close the sides with duct tape.  (The next time I buy a roll of this stuff I'll get it in colors I think...we have enough gray around this time of year.)

Love that duct tape!

So I repaired my boo boo on the one container with duct tape, taped the top and bottoms closed and set them on a large jellyroll pan up on the freezer where the warmth will help germinate the seeds more quickly.

Warm and cozy, now to wait.

Once they start to germinate they get to go outside on the front porch in the sunshine.  The only other thing I'm going to need is one of those clear plastic tubs but that part comes later on. Stay tuned!

Oh and while you are waiting head on over to "Thanks for Today" where they are once again doing the "Gardener's Sustainable Living Project" and enter to win one of several prizes. Gardener's Sustainable Living Project 2011


  1. Hi Patty, thank you for adding this post to my sustainable living project. It's a super idea, and I hope you have great success with it! In order to be eligible for prizes, you need to mention the project by adding a link to it on your blog post. It's just part of the directions and to be fair to everyone else who has entered, I need to request the same thing from everyone;-) Thanks and good luck;-)

  2. that is GREAT! Thanks Patty for a wonderful, informative post. i just had someone asking about starting seeds in milkjugs, and will link to this on fb @ nettie's gardens page :)

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  4. That is fascinating! Never heard of this before and I can't wait to see how it turns out!