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Monday, January 14, 2008

DIY Container Watering System: No Need to Water Plants for Weeks!

Last month, I went on a 3 week vacation. I have never left my plants alone for that long so I was a little worried they would die while I was gone. I transferred a bulk of my seedlings to a friend's backyard, and saved a few to test out a homemade greenhouse & drip system combo I had in mind. My experiment worked out beautifully! I returned to find all of my plants visibly taller, fuller and happy.

Ironically, a majority of the seedlings I had transferred to my friend's backyard died. The area I planted the seedlings in flooded, and the poor things were submerged under 3-inches of rainfall. Fortunately, the roma tomato, red bell pepper, bush bean and habanero I planted in her organic garden survived.

This system worked so well, I plan on using this system year-round. It is very simple to make, virtually free to create, and best of all I can literally go weeks without watering my garden!

DIY Container Watering System
  • Materials:
    • Large Plastic Ziploc Bag or Other Plastic Bag
    • Empty Water Bottle with Cap
    • Thumbtack (or some object that can puncture a water bottle)
    • Pen
    • Duct Tape or Rubber Bands*
    • Bamboo Stakes*

  • Directions:
    1. Allow yourself at least one to two days prior to departure to setup and adjust your watering system.
    2. Water your plant(s) thoroughly.
    3. Take the thumbtack and stick it through the bottom of the empty water bottle to create a small hole. You can alternatively puncture the flimsier side wall, but make the hole near the bottom of the bottle. See Fig 2.

    4. Fig 1

      Fig 2
    5. Fill up the water bottle with water. At this point, you will see the water freely spilling out of the hole. See Fig 5. Replace the water bottle cap, and tighten the cap until the water is just slowly dripping out of the hole. See Fig 6.
    6. Place the water bottle right next to your plant. Mark the water level with a pen. See Fig 3.

    7. Red Bell Pepper Seedling

      Fig 3

    8. Create a tent over plant with the plastic bag. Make sure the plant leaves are not touching the plastic bag. If you are leaving your plants alone for a long time, make sure there is enough room at top to accommodate new plant growth. See Fig 4.

      Fig 4
    9. Check and Adjust your System. Check on the plants the next day to see how much water was released. You will probably find that some bottles released water at faster rates than others. I tinkered with my system so that no more than an 1/8 of the water was absorbed a day. Adjust the release of water to your liking. You can loosen the cap to increase the water flow. Or you can tighten the cap to decrease water flow. The make-shift greenhouse (i.e., the plastic tent) will help conserve the moisture. See Photo.

Fig 5

Fig 6

(*) You can use bamboo stakes, duct tape or rubber bands to help create the tent. If you have a standard 6" terracotta pot and a small plant, then just use the large ziploc bags. The bag is stiff, sturdy, and fits snuggly over the lid of the pot.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Gardening in Winter

Free Seeds from

Who says you have to wait until spring to start gardening? You can successfully germinate seeds throughout the winter both indoors and outdoors.
  • Indoors - You can easily start seedlings indoors if you have a sunny windowsill in your apartment. See Blog Post Dixie Cup Seedling Starter for more information on inexpensive seedling starters.
Visit for more information about sowing in the winter. Trudi Davidoff has an informative essay on selecting seeds for winter sowing and recycling materials into seed flats.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Homemade Greenhouse: Germinate Seeds Easily Outdoors

Sowing seeds directly outdoors may be necessary if there is insufficient lighting in the apartment or if the apartment gardener only has a limited amount of space to work with. I'm beginning to start more seedlings outdoors because I am running out of my room in my apartment.

I did not have much luck at first. The soil would dry out too quickly preventing some of my seeds to germinate and the seeds that did sprout would shrivel up from lack of water. I lost some of my bulbs to the neighborhood squirrels. And sometimes slugs would attack my seedlings and eat all of the plant's tender shoots! I was able to solve all of these problems by creating a miniature greenhouse out of materials you probably already have in your home. Continue reading to learn how to make your own mini-greenhouse.

Homemade Greenhouse
  • Advantages:
    • Conserves water
    • Prevents birds, squirrels and other animals from eating your seeds
    • Protects your seedlings from slugs and other insects
    • Uses recycled materials
    • Requires less maintenance than sowing indoors
    • Reduces clutter in your home
    • Easier to adapt seedlings to outdoor environment
  • Disadvantages:
    • Seeds sowed outdoors germinated a bit more slowly than the ones I sowed indoors probably because of the differences in temperature.

Germinating Oregano Seeds Using a Homemade Greenhouse (left);
Oregano Seedlings (right)
  • Materials:
    • Container with draining holes
    • Old Ziploc bags or other clear bags
    • Seeds
    • Water
    • Optional:
      • Bamboo Stakes
      • Duct Tape or Large Rubber Bands
      • Plant Identification Marker
  • Directions:
    1. Fill your container with soil, leaving about 1/2" of space from the top of the soil to the rim of the container.
    2. Sow seeds according to the directions on your seed packet.
    3. Thoroughly water the soil (i.e., until water begins to drip from the bottom of the container).
    4. Place the ziploc bag or clear bag over the rim of your pot. You want the bag to stand somewhat erect. If the bag is saggy, just place a bamboo stake in the center of the pot to keep the bag from collapsing. It is not necessary for the bag to form an airtight capsule, but you do want the bag to fit snuggly over the pot to help trap moisture and to prevent the seeds or seedlings from drying out. If the lip of your bag is too wide, you can (a) gather some of the plastic around the rim of the pot until the bag forms a snug fit over the rim of the container and secure with a rubber band or duct tape, or (b) place a large rubber band over the bag and around the base of your pot.
      • Tip: The large ziploc bags are sturdy, and fits snuggly over a standard 6" terracotta pot. If you keep your pot outside and are expecting rain make sure you place a bamboo stake in the middle to keep the bag from collapsing.
    5. Place the container in a sunny location. As the sun warms up the soil, the water will rise, hit the plastic ceiling, and drip back down to the plant. Not only does this cut down on your maintenance time, but this also conserves water. You can go weeks without watering, but it is still a good idea to check in on your plant at least once a week.
    6. Leave the protective bagging on the plant after your seeds have sprouted. The plastic bag will deter slugs, insects, birds and other pests. Just make sure the plant leaves do not touch the walls of the plastic bag. If they do it is time to remove the bag. If you would like to continue to use the greenhouse method at this point, just upgrade to a larger bag.