As the weather warms up here in the Northeast, we are all anxious to get outside and start planting. Even with a short growing season you can start seeds outdoors several weeks before your last frost date. In this article I’m going to explain how you can start seeds with toddlers this spring using an inexpensive DIY season extender.
Using Plastic Jugs as Season Extenders
If you want to start seeds before their recommended planting date you can plant them outside with protection. The back of a seed packet will state the recommended planting date. Devices such as plastic jugs can be used as season extenders. Season extenders provide a warm place for your seeds to grow even if you are still getting a frost outside.
Sowing Seeds in the Early Spring
Most people who start seeds in 1 gallon plastic containers do so in the winter using the winter sowing method. To learn more about winter sowing visit this website which has a wealth of information on that method.
For this activity, my toddler and I are going to plant the seeds in the containers in early spring instead of the winter. Since we have temperatures above freezing during the day, I am expecting the seeds to germinate about a week after planting. This is a perfect activity for toddlers because they can help with the planting, watering, and monitoring of the seedlings.
This year we are starting all of our cool season crops directly outside in season extenders. Since cool season crops can take some frost and require cooler temperatures, I decided to go with those types of seeds. We selected a variety of spinach (Americana) and a variety of dill (Bouquet). You can also try frost tender annuals using this method since the container can be closed at night.
Getting You and Your Little One Outside
When you start seeds with toddlers, being outside happens naturally. Since the planting happens outside, it is a great way to get you and your little ones outdoors. Unlike starting seeds indoors using grow lights, these plastic jugs will be kept outside during the entire process.
In the Northeast, weather can be pretty sporadic in the spring. You and your little one will want to open and close the lid of the jug depending on the weather outside. The task of opening and closing the lid, gets you and your little one outdoors each day.
When to Open and Close the Lid
Our plan is to leave the lid hinged open during the day if it is warm and sunny. Then we will close the lid and tape them shut at night. Since we planted frost hardy varieties, it is okay that the tape is not wrapped all the way around the container.
I am also planning on leaving the actual cover that comes with the gallon jug off. This will let rain enter the jug to help with the watering. Soil can dry out quickly on a warm sunny day!
How to Turn Plastic Jugs into Season Extenders
What is great about using plastic jugs is they are easy to find in your own home or by asking around. Giving plastic containers a new life is a form of recycling. When you are done using them as season extenders, they can be recycled or saved for next year.
Even if you purchased them for seed starting, they are much more affordable than other season extenders on the market. I am all for re-purposing supplies and using cost effective methods when gardening.
Don’t worry if you want to do this activity, but don’t have these specific gallon jugs on hand. Cleaned out 2 liter bottles or rectangular lettuce containers can also work as season extenders.
|Clear 1 Gallon Jug(s)||Razor Blade|
|Soil (garden dirt)||Water|
Prepping the Container
Since a razor blade or very sharp scissors are required to cut the plastic, I would do this step for your toddler. I prepared two 1 gallon water jugs while my toddler watched.
- If it was used for something other than water, clean out the container
- Remove the label
- Make a hinged opening
- At the same level as the bottom of the handle, cut around the container, leaving about 1 – 2 inches connected under the handle
- Using a razor blade or sharp object poke or cut a few drain holes in the bottom
- I added 3 holes in each of the four sections on the bottom
- Using the razor blade I cut the holes into an X shape
How to Start Seeds with Toddlers- Planting Seeds
One thing I love about toddlers, is their desire to get involved in what you are doing. Once he saw me digging into the garden bed he instantly wanted to do it himself.
In the past I have used potting mix or seed starting mix from the store. However, I didn’t have any on hand and still wanted to plant the seeds when we had a warm sunny day. I felt confident enough that they can still grow in regular old garden soil from my in ground garden bed. I made sure to remove any large leaves, sticks, or rocks after he added the dirt.
Filling with Soil
One tip is to leave about an inch gap between the top of the soil and the lid of the container. The plastic on the sides helps protect the seedlings when they are young from wind and splashing water. We did pat down the soil before dropping the seeds onto it’s surface.
Adding the Seeds
The great thing about using a 1 gallon container is that there is a large planting surface. Little ones can struggle to place only one or two seeds into a small cell. By having a large planting surface, toddlers are able to plant the seeds by dropping them on the soil.
I wouldn’t stress about the exact number of seeds. Unless you and your toddler want to practice counting together! I simply poured a small amount into my toddler’s hand and let him sprinkle them on the soil.
I did help him move around a few seeds that fell on top of one anther. Offering encouragement and praise can help make a toddler feel needed and valued. I made sure to be very positive throughout the entire experience so that he will be interested in helping me in the future.
Cover the Seeds
Scoop some more dirt and cover the seeds according to the directions on the seed packet. Without being asked, my little one patted down the soil to cover the seeds. Proud Mama moment. I love sharing my love for gardening with my toddler.
Watering Them In
Since we dug up soil from our garden bed to add into the containers, I saved watering them in until the end. If you are using potting mix or seed starting mix, I would add some water to the soil before planting the seeds. The goal is to get the soil damp enough that the seeds will not dry out before sprouting.
CLosing the Lid with Tape
Last step is to place your plastic container in a sunny location. If it is cold outside close the lid and seal it shut using a piece of wide tape. However, if it is warm and sunny, you can leave the lid open during the day. Where we live, temperatures still dip near or below freezing at night. Our plan is to close the lids each evening.
Come along with me as I show you how to create and plant a 1 gallon season extender in the video below:
Interested in using other DIY season extenders to start seeds? Check out the additional blog posts and videos below.
- Blog Post: DIY Plastic Bin Season Extender
- Video: DIY Plastic Panel/Roofing Season Extender
- Video: DIY Raised Bed Hoop House