In the Garden:
Cool-season flowers like these salpiglossis seedlings get the heat start they need beneath milk carton cloches.
The guys at the recycling center look the other way when I take milk cartons out of the bin instead of putting them in. My yellow milk cartons are pretty useless, but other people's opaque ones make great cloches ? mini-greenhouses for the seedlings I've been growing indoors for the last six weeks. Under cloches, the seedlings are shielded from wind, pounding rain, and maybe a late snow. Once I'm through using them to protect cool-season flowers, I put them to work creating ideal growing conditions for tomatoes, peppers, and other warm-season vegetables.
After carving up hundreds of milk cartons over the years, I've figured out the best way to do it. Whether you're using a gallon or half-gallon jug, begin by using a sharp knife to make a V-shaped cut in the top of the handle, just inside the outside edge. Through this hole you will poke a long, slender stick that will anchor the cloche in place. The stick is essential to keep the cloche from blowing away.
Next, remove the bottom of the milk carton. I use a knife to cut a 2-inch slit, and then switch to stout scissors to finish the cut. Some folks keep the caps, but I throw them away. One of the great things about milk carton cloches is that the open tops do such a great job of venting away excess heat.
As soon as I set out a seedling, I water it well and pop on a milk carton cloche. I push the cloche down an inch or so into the soil, and then push the stick down as far as it will go. Most of the time the cloche is sufficient to protect plants from cold. But if temperatures drop into the hard freeze range (below 26 degrees), I might throw an old blanket over the cloches for additional protection.
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