Buyable containers?

KafeiJanuary 17, 2013

We don't eat anything that comes in a hard plastic container, so I'm at a loss for what I'm supposed to use for flats. Is there something inexpensive I could purchase?

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I put newspaper pots in the clear plastic shoe boxes and under-the-bed type containers with clear lids as well as milk jugs and whatever else I can find that's deep enough. I've also put nursery pots in clear plastic storage bags with zippers. Those can be hard to move around unless you put the pots on nursery flats.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 1:27PM
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I like the idea of plastic shoebox and storage containers, especially if they can be reused, but I am confused about the lid. The method I've heard for winter sowing involves cutting holes in the lid and slowly expanding them to harden off the seedlings. Wouldn't that make the box unusable again?

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 1:46PM
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kqcrna(z6 SW Oh)

Not at all. Just drill holes in both the lid and the bottom. After they sprout, you can usually remove lid. Where do you live?


    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 2:31PM
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You can buy sleeves of the 16 oz clear plastic drinking glasses. Places like BJs also sells the lids. Or else plastic sandwich bags can go over the top. The baggies are not reusable, but the cups are.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 2:34PM
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Go to Starbucks and ask them to save the milk jugs for you. I get a lot from them.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 2:43PM
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Thanks, kqcrna. I live in Tennessee, in the Chattanooga area, among hills and small mountains. It would be cool if I could get a big, deep storage container with a lid and sow vegetables in it directly for growing, like, say, carrots, spinach and lettuce. So, I could just take the lid off? Would I need to do it gradually, like a few hours a day until they get used to it? (I am almost completely new to gardening but I have been reading non-stop about it for a week it now, and am so excited!)

Thank you guys for the other ideas! They are very helpful!

This post was edited by Kafei on Thu, Jan 17, 13 at 15:07

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 3:05PM
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kqcrna(z6 SW Oh)

Oh, you're in a nice warm climate, you should be able to uncover them early. They might need recovered for cool overnight periods, particularly any plants that are frost tender.

I'm not much of a veggie grower , but some things, like carrots, do very well if direct sown. Just sprinkle seeds into the garden bed. Worked for me


    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 5:04PM
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kimka(Zone 6B)

1) lasanga or catering trays with 11-ounce plastic (red solo) cups. I cover each cup with press and seal and a rubber band. Then I poke a couple of small wholes in the press and seal for venting. I use a drill and put two holes in the bottom of the cups a stack at a time. I cut a slit on each side about 2 inches up on the trays so that extra water drains out. i reuse both the cups and trays for about 3 years each.

2) Translucent kitty litter containers cut in half and with a couple of holes drilled in the bottom. Know anybody with cats?

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 5:18PM
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I used the zipper bags that blankets come in with solo cups inside.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 7:03PM
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terrene(5b MA)

I have never bought containers per se, but use an assortment of recycled containers such as 1 and 2 LTR bottles (seltzer water), salad boxes, yogurt containers, Cup o noodles cups, and solo-type cups.

If you don't purchase these types of products, you could easily buy styrofoam or plastic cups or maybe even small nursery pots. Also do you have a recycling center anywhere nearby? Nice things about recycled containers - they are free, and if you want to try new containers, just throw the old ones back in the recycle bin.

Is there a reason why you would want to grow your veggies in a big container instead of the ground? It is much easier to grow in the ground with a healthy dose of compost for fertilizer. Dealing with large containers of potting mix is laborious and expensive, and you also need to fertilize regularly.

The pic below is from 2010. These are my annuals and veggies, mostly sowed in styrofoam and plastic cups lined up in old refrigerator drawers. There are holes in the cups, but no holes in the refrigerator drawers, because I usually water the cups from the bottom.

I've been reusing the same cups and containers for years! One of my priorities is not having to prep containers every year.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 9:16PM
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caryltoo Z7/SE PA

I have, at times, resorted to cruising the neighborhood the night before or early in the morning on trash day and grabbing gallon jugs and 2-liter bottles from recycling bins. :) If you have a neighbor with kids, chances are they go through a few gallon jugs a week of milk, so you could just ask them to save them for you, too.


    Bookmark   January 18, 2013 at 6:37AM
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caryltoo, I am at that point. My enthusiastic coworkers lost their steam in their milk jug donations. I need quite a bit more so last night on the way home from work I hit up a neighborhood I drive by. I felt weird, but hey, it really is just another form of recycling

    Bookmark   January 18, 2013 at 9:29AM
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growsy(8b GA)

Kafei, I went to our local recycling center & they let us pick out as many milk jugs, etc. as we wanted from the plastics bin. Most had been nicely rinsed already, though I gave them another rinse when I got them home. We got whatever containers looked useable, but mostly gallon milk & water jugs. I prepared them the way Donn did in this post:
I found that the Hefty gallon size baggies fit perfectly over the top of the jugs. I am planning on reusing my containers as much as possible. As I live in a warm zone, I have my jugs in bright shade, which will help keep them from deteriorating too quickly. I don't see any reason, so far, that I won't be able to reuse the baggies as well. I like being able to pick up & carry the jugs by the handle. I used nail polish to mark numbers above the windows on each jug, & then I keep a key to what I've sown in a notebook. Good luck!!

Here is a link that might be useful: how do you prepare your containers

This post was edited by growsy on Fri, Jan 18, 13 at 13:17

    Bookmark   January 18, 2013 at 9:45AM
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Sams Club also often sells many of the plastic containers in large sizes, so you can pick up clear plastic deli containers there sometimes. Though I prefer the idea of reusing if possible, so I second the suggestions to talk to a friend, neighbor or coworker who might eat or drink out of recyclable plastic containers. Large yogurt containers work well too.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2013 at 9:53AM
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So many good ideas!

I found a couple of deep foil lasagna trays (with *lids*!) tucked away in a dark corner of the tupperware cupboard. You wouldn't believe how happy I was. (Or maybe you would... lol) Not enough for what I need, but it's a start.

Terrene, those look beautiful. And I imagine the drawers keep the wind from blowing them away. Do you put plastic wrap or bags over the drawers?

There are persistent toxins and carcinogens in our soil, which is why I need a container for vegetables. After a lot of reading, I've decided against totes or storage boxes, because it sounds like they aren't durable. Not worth it to spend that much money and just put more plastic in a landfill. I'm going to try earning some extra money before spring to build my own raised table-style beds.

I really like the recycling center idea! And Starbucks, too. I'm not brave enough to creep around other people's bins, but kudos to anyone that is! Lol.

Growsy, that's a very helpful thread you've linked to, and the nail polish thing is genius.

Really, all of you have been so helpful.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2013 at 8:38PM
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growsy(8b GA)

Kafei - if you're worried about planting in your soil you might want to look into straw bale gardening. I haven't done it myself, but we got 2 bales free from our grocery store after they'd used it for a display & I want to try it. I'd actually try more than that if we could get straw bales inexpensively around here, but I haven't found a source yet.

Here is a link that might be useful: straw bale gardens

    Bookmark   January 19, 2013 at 9:30AM
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moonsheller(z8b SC)

I winter sow in the containers that deli roasted whole chickens come in. The clear lid has vent holes and I put a few into the bottom with a hot ice pick. It works quite well for winter sowing here in SC. In fact, my husband now calls late fall roasted chicken season. these containers last for several years in our climate.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2013 at 1:42PM
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Here is my version ...2 covers attached via hole punches and plastic bread ties !!!! The bottoms are too shallow I feel for soil !!

    Bookmark   January 19, 2013 at 7:50PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Do you have a local freecycle? Ask for containers there. I had several people saving milk jugs for me one year. I actually had even more people respond to my request, but I chose a few who lived close enough to make it easy for me.


    Bookmark   January 19, 2013 at 10:42PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Terrene, those look beautiful. And I imagine the drawers keep the wind from blowing them away. Do you put plastic wrap or bags over the drawers?

Hi Kafei, beautiful is not a word I would describe for old refrigerator drawers and cup o noodles cups! But, thank you.

I spring-sow all my heat-lovers like this - most annuals, some veggies (tomatoes), herbs, and vines like morning glory. I sow them in the cups, line them up in the boxes or flats, and put them against the south side of the foundation of the house. This is one of the sunnier spots, as well as warmest, that is feasible to place the containers. It's warmer there because the house foundation holds heat thru the night.

I don't cover these cups because of the warmth. I can have a hard frost on my other WS seedlings out in the landscape, but these are not touched by the frost. However, once the leaves come on the trees, that spot is not so sunny! Btw, wind is not a problem in these locations, as the prevailing winds come from the other side of the house.

Here's an example of what my other WS containers look like. These are placed on the east side of the house, under some shrubbery, and generally consist of perennials, more hardy annuals, and trees and shrubs. These ARE all covered. I've got some solo cups here too, and experimented with using sandwich bags as covers. The sandwich bags are a pain to remove and put back on, I prefer the round plastic covers.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2013 at 9:56AM
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I had the same dilemma--learned about winter sowing too late to save up containers. I bought 20 oz. plastic cups at Sam's Club, along with lids. Fifteen cups fit nicely into half size foil steam table pans, also from Sam's. For less than $100 (cups, lids, pans, seeds, and soil), I planted 400 containers, mainly perennials. Even if only 70% germinate and grow, I'll finally have enough plants to fill my enormous flower border.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2013 at 7:55PM
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I go to my local landfill/recycling and get milk jugs for $0 and the cost is only for the soil and seed that I normally spend. No lights or heat mats !!!

    Bookmark   January 21, 2013 at 9:11PM
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terrene(5b MA)

EssieG, please feel welcome to post your impressive 400 containers to the WS count! :)

Yes I get a special delight in not spending any (direct) $$ on the containers. But it's costs me $5 or 6 for the salad boxes, with the salad mix in them!

I used to use a lot of the salad boxes for WSing, until I discovered they worked even better for raising butterfly caterpillars.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2013 at 10:29PM
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I went trolling recycling bins in the neighborhood last night and this morning. I was able to get lots of gallon and half gallon jugs. I even found two big kitty litter jugs that will be really nice! I made a note of that house so I can go back. I wonder how much litter they go through? LOL

I did feel a little weird this morning driving slowly and jumping out here and there. At one point I spied two lovely jugs on the top of a recycling bin. There were about eight kids waiting for the bus near by and a parent walking up with two more kids. I took a deep breath, got the jugs and explained to the parent eyeing me warily, "I'm doing a project with my kids and we need a lot of milk jugs". His face brightened immediately and he pointed me to his house, proud that he had SEVEN jugs to contribute to "our" cause! LOL!

I confess I did also buy some containers at Costco. It was an eight pack of rectangular clear tubs, equivalent of four gallons each tub I would say. Mostly I did it for my husband who would like to see me plant in all nice, neat, uniform containers. But I have to use the soldering iron to make the holes otherwise the plastic just cracks. Yuck, burning plastic fumes are awful! In the future I'll stick to the jugs.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2013 at 11:03AM
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I have accumulated enough jugs and salad boxes over the years, and save them to use the next season without a problem. But when I was first starting out, I would purchase a few sets of these tinfoil really deep lasanga pans they sell at Walmart that have tall dome tops. While they dod not hold up as well as the plastic jugs and salad boxes, I was satisfied that I got at least 2-3 seasons for my "$1" a set (top and bottom) and they offer a LOT of surface area. I still use some to grow seeds where I know many will germinate and need the room.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2013 at 12:21AM
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Kafei - too bad you don't live near me! We're a 6 gallons of milk/week family. :) That said, I'd also look into asking at your local elementary school, sandwich shop, small grocery store, etc. to see if they have reusable containers that they'd otherwise toss.

At our recycling center, if you know that you want something, you can ask and they'll put things aside for you. You do have to show up frequently to collect your goodies but I've gotten a very nice French door turned into a cold frame, bamboo turned into staking, etc. They might very well be willing to set aside larger containers for you.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2013 at 1:18AM
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Just a warning : there are really few things more revolting than the smell of a milk jug someone has saved for you without rinsing out with soap and hot water first!

Also, be clear you do NOT need the caps on the jugs. You'll be tossing them anyway and sometimes just having the cap off reminds people to rinse and air dry before giving to you!

    Bookmark   January 27, 2013 at 3:52PM
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Berry containers and salad green containers from the supermarket are the best. I also go through people's recycling stashes on Fridays if I need containers. I can't see the point in spending money when so much ends up in our landfills. I know people who use ziploc bags.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 12:38PM
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terrene(5b MA)

I agree Diva, there is so much "waste" that is re-usable. We even have technology to turn plastic back into oil! I don't know if it's cost-effective though.

I saved some of the smaller salad mix boxes this past year and have WS'd trees and shrubs in them this winter. I've used those cheap little plastic baggies, however with plastic bags you have to purchase them, and they don't work that well as container anyway (IMO) because they're floppy. Besides, I wash my Ziplocs out and re-use them until they're kinda cruddy, then I usually use them for messy hardware or something like that.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 2:02PM
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caryltoo Z7/SE PA

So glad I'm not the only one to re-use ziploc bags. :)

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 4:29PM
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I favor 1 lb. margarine/sour cream/etc. size containers, so save as many as I can, although that's not nearly enough for all the WSing I do. I buy clear ones in 50 count stacks (lids sold separately, also in groups of 50) at a restaurant supply store. I re-use them for a few years. See if there is one near you; similar containers are also available on the net.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 10:59PM
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