One of the best parts about spring and summer is the chance to grow our own fruits and vegetables again. Nothing beats a vine-ripened tomato picked straight from your own garden or the pots on your apartment balcony.
Ideally, we get to eat the fruits of our labor all summer, however in reality, especially for those of us who live in cooler climates, it can be July, August, or even September before they’re ready to be picked. Wouldn’t it be great to have a greenhouse, so you could start your vegetables earlier and enjoy them sooner?
Thankfully, with a little bit of resourcefulness and creativity, there is a way to have your own “greenhouse” at home, even if you live in a tiny apartment.
Plastic Container Greenhouses
What do you usually do with your rotisserie chicken or strawberry containers once they are empty? Probably rinse them and toss them in the recycling, right?
With a little bit of know-how, those very containers you are throwing away can make the perfect mini-greenhouses to give your seedlings a head start. Think about it:
- They have holes in the bottom to drain water
- They have a clear lid that can be sealed and also let sunlight in
- They’re tall enough to allow for some growing room
Essentially, they create that warm, humid environment that seeds and young plants need to thrive. If you follow these simple steps, you can repurpose those containers and be munching away on your garden’s produce one or even two months earlier.
What to Plant
Now, not all plants are going to do well in your mini-greenhouses. There are plenty that will, however, such as:
All of these, with the exception of the tomatoes, you want to start indoors one month earlier than you would have planted them outside. Tomatoes should be started three months early.
What Containers to Choose
You aren’t limited to strawberry or chicken containers. Like I said earlier, as long as your container has a clear plastic lid, is somewhat tall, and has holes in the bottom for drainage, you are golden.
Other container types that will work are:
- Grap containers
- Some take-out containers
- Salad containers
- Plastic bottles, cut in half
- Yogurt parfait cups
- Frappuccino cups
Clean them out and you’re ready to go.
8 Steps to Growing Vegetables in Plastic Container Greenhouses
Follow these simple steps to be a mini-greenhouse pro.
- Get proper soil.
Choose soil specifically for sprouting seeds, organic if possible. Ask at your local garden shop if you are unsure.
- Fill your containers.
Fill your clean, dry containers about two-thirds of the way with your soil, as well as any growth-aids and fertilizers your garden shop may have recommended.
- Plant your seeds.
Follow the directions on the seed packets for the specifics for each type of vegetable. It is usually best to plant two seeds per spot in case one of the seeds doesn’t sprout. Lightly pack enough soil on top of your seeds so they won’t float to the top when you water them.
- Water your seeds.
This step must be done very carefully. If you water them too strongly and too much, you risk unearthing your seeds. It’s usually best to mist them first with a spray bottle to dampen the soil, then water them gently. The first mist will prevent the water from bubbling up.
- Secure your lid.
It doesn’t have to be sealed, just secure enough so that it will create that greenhouse effect. Once the lid is secured, place the container in a sunny area so they will be toasty-warm enough to sprout.
- Maintenance phase.
As you wait for your seeds to grow, monitor the soil. Only water it when it appears dry. They’ll probably need a gentle watering every few days.
Once the seeds sprout and have grown enough to touch the top of the lid, remove the lid so they don’t get too warm. If they are too hot, they will die. This, of course, depends on the height of your lid. It usually takes one or two weeks before it’s time to take it off, but always be checking your sprouts for signs of difficulty. Just because they haven’t reached the top doesn’t mean it’s not time to remove the lid.
- Acclimate your plants.
When your plants have started to develop and they have grown a bit larger, you can start putting them outside in the shade for a few hours each day. Make sure that they are protected from the wind and that it is at least 15 degrees out. Always bring them in overnight. Do this every day for about a week.
Next, start acclimating them to the sun by putting them outside in the sunshine for a few hours each day. You may wish to drape or tent them with a thin white cloth to prevent the strong rays from burning their leaves. Do this every day for another week.
- Permanently plant them outdoors.
By now your plants are ready to be planted permanently outside. Before planting them in your garden or porch pots, make sure they are dry and wait to water them after you’ve planted them. Once you’ve planted them securely in their new home, water them gently again. From this point forward, you can take care of them just as you would have before.
Other Container Options
If plastic containers aren’t something you typically have around the house, there are other things you can use. For example:
- Egg cartons
- Paper cups
- Toilet paper rolls
- Juice and milk cartons
The great part about using something that is biodegradable, like toilet paper rolls or egg cartons, is that you can plant them right into the ground with the plants. You can also use these inside the plastic containers.
Whichever route you take, not only will you get to eat your veggies faster, but it is also a great way to reuse plastic containers.
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