Towards the end of last winter, Dan decided that we needed indoor window ledges for window boxes so we could have a supply of fresh herbs within an arm’s reach. Our 190 year old house was sparsely and simply built and has not been converted much apart from the previous owner knocking down the wall separating the kitchen from the dining room and the one year when the community thought it needed its own post office and turned one room to serve such a purpose. Of course, being a 5 minute drive away from the next nearest post office made such a venture short-lived. So apart from having amazingly wide floorboards that no one would be able to replicate unless they bulldozed an ancient rainforest, our house is otherwise unadorned and pretty much nondescript and untouched apart from a new roof and a coat of paint, now and then.
The inside sills of our windows are so narrow, nothing deeper than a modest coffee cup might balance on them, so after salvaging some brackets and boards from our barn-that-always-provides, Dan put a callout on our community noticeboard for used 5-litre milk jugs. The call was heeded and soon we had a jungle of cilantro in our south-facing windows, and a section of our barn filled with smelly unrinsed milk jugs.
Soon, the milk jugs used as containers were abandoned because while a thin layer of plastic has the wonderful quality of holding and preserving heavy substances, as soon as you break the integrity of it (i.e. cut them in half to use as planters), they are quickly turn back into flimsy useless waste. As long as they were on the window sill in a wooden box made to measure, the plant roots could withstand the pressure of soil and the occasional jostle at watering time, but as soon as they were carried or moved, the soil would loosen and the plants within would suffer.
Now that summer has arrived, the south-facing windows are too hot for delicate cilantro, and frustration is bound to occur when we go into the barn and end up in falling into a pile of sour milk jugs.
Since we loathe in equal measure the idea of paying for new plastic pots, and destroying our well-loved plants, even if no one else is interested in them, I have decided to tackle the problem of milk jug planters once more.
My first attempt was to bring some structural integrity to the cut milk jug by nesting two bottom sections of them together. Even though fabric pots are even more flexible than plastic, and don’t have this problem, at least fabric can stretch in multiple directions around what it encases, whereas plastics can be both flimsy and inflexible. While the sides of a jug bottom will easily move in and out, it will not be stretched or compressed vertically, and it’s smoothness doesn’t help soil find purchase on its surfaces either.
Once I had done so, I realized that the plastic of the inner jug bottom distorted because they are the same size. This gap between the two jugs might be okay if the plant within had expanded its roots strongly enough to press the two layers convexly to mitigate the gap, however, a plant in such a state would probably be demanding to be removed and potted up. A smaller plant would have shifting soil around its roots if the container is flexing around it. Eventually this gap might cause the entire plant to uproot if water and debris collected between the layers. So, using a hole punch and some scrap yarn, I have decided to “crochet” the two layers together. Crochet is in quotation marks because all I seem to have retained from my childhood crochet lessons from my grandmothers is a simple chain link technique.
I soon realized as I threaded my little bit of yarn through my paper punch holes that the design of single-use nursery pots comes from the fact that even though the sides are even thinner than the sides of a milk jug, the bulk of the plastic is in the rim. Investing in making the rim as rigid as possible would do more to keep the plants from shifting and it was totally unnecessary to nest layers of jugs. I continued to finish the experiment off because if I was right about the rim, I would still be able to use the model to figure out how to reinforce the rim.
As suspected, the nested jug bottoms were not the answer. Although there was less flexing, the difference was negligible. Since I had a donated supply of bamboo skewer sticks, I threaded one along each side beneath the crocheted links, and tightened them at the corners with some yarn. This seemed to create the desired rigidity around the rim.
With this the decided solution, I began the process afresh with a single milk jug bottom and put added effort into making the whole thing look presentable. I painted the skewer sticks before threading them, but the hole-punched gaps still looked unsightly. Then, I remembered that I had a bag of discarded vintage jewellery and rummaged through it for clip-on earrings that might create some sort of complementary pattern.
While the earrings created a diversion, they swung around and could easily fall off with the rigours of use. I didn’t want to destroy the earrings, just prevent them from being easily lost. So I decided to thread some old fabric ribbon through the holes and secure each of the ribbon’s end knots with a wooden bead.
In further iterations, I preprinted and pre-cut the skewers to the needed length and worked on looping the yarn through the holes to create a more defined border. Like many projects we do around here, what started out to be a quick solution to a problem, ended up taking more time than was ideal. Although the additions and modifications meant that I spent far too much time refining the process, I’m quite pleased to have found a way to use a bit more of our waste — not only getting rid of the milk jugs, but the clutter of the broken jewellery and a few unwanted soilblocks — and I do find my little collection rather cute.