Suggestions for containers for a kids Wintersowing workshop?

Wakefield, MA

I am probably going to be leading a workshop on Winter Sowing for kids (my daughter's homeschooling group). I think the toughest thing about the winter sowing I did was punching the holes into the containers. I really didn't like using a knife and it felt very dangerous to me. Plus the cut plastic wasn't always pleasant to work with. Using an electric drill would be safer, but in a workshop everyone would have to wait for the drill to become available...unless the containers were pre-drilled.

Does anyone have any ideas of the best containers to use in a situation like this? The kids would range in age from 5 to 15. I could do one kind of container (maybe with pre-drilled holes) for the little kids, and a different kind of container for the bigger kids.

I read a post about using cardboard ice cream containers and cutting out the center of the lid. Would the cardboard last through the snow here in Zone 5/6 until spring? The cardboard sounds like fewer sharp edges for kids to get scratched on, which made that idea sound more appealing to me.

Has anyone out there led a workshop on this?

Port Norris, NJ(Zone 7b)

Hello to Wakefield, MA! Grew up in Saugus :)

Just a thought but how about using wide mouthed
yogurt containers, a few pebbles (or glass marbles from
Christmas Tree shop) on the bottom then have the seeds
planted in peat pods set on top of the pebbles?
This elimates the safety concerns yet it would provide the
drainage you need. The drawback would be it doesn't
provide a lot of surface space for seeds.

Stay warm,

Richland, WA(Zone 7b)

I use a woodburner- works great-

Wakefield, MA

How nice to hear from a fellow New Englander! That's quite an ingenious idea to allow for drainage with the pebbles.

Richland, WA(Zone 7b)

The problem with marbles or pebbles is that overwatering will still build up and eventually saturate the soil, also will turn sour over time. You really should have holes of some sort.

Lucketts, VA(Zone 7a)

For ease of aquisition and preparation I go to a local restaurant supply and purchase deli containers. A sleeve of 50 quart containers and a sleeve of 50 lids runs about $11 total. I put a 1/8 inch bit in my electric drill, invert the stack of containers and drill about 8 or 10 holes in the bottom. By drilling the stack I perforate about 8 cups at a crack in just a few seconds, and no trips to the ER. Likewise with the lids. Not as large as using milk jugs, but a whole lot easier

Ashdown, AR(Zone 8a)

Styrofoam cups...easy to poke holes in w/ pencil or pen. Info can be written on them,at planting time,cut off bottom inch or two,then plant the rest leaving a couple inches above the ground to keep cutworms from getting to stems. Since the cups are planted,you don't have to worry about it blowing away.

If you don't like the idea of styrofoam in the garden,save paper towel and TP cores. Cut down to size needed place in flat bottom container ,fill with soil,sow seeds...Tah-Da!


Garner, NC(Zone 7b)

Good and safe idea, red:) Also there have been some successes using the ziploc baggie method. I haven't done it, but I know there have been some threads on it somewhere.

Columbus, OH

Maybe newspaper pots? Nothing more dangerous than a stapler and scissors, they're free if you know someone who takes the paper, and you plant the whole thing.

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

I'm still sold on one-gallon milk jugs for WSing vessels. Ya'll can collect them from your local Starbuck's or other coffee shops.

Then, have the parents supervise their children in drilling, cutting, slicing, poking, burning the holes top and bottom in the jugs, at home, and then bring their pre-fabbed jugs to your workshop. This will facilitate a time-consuming part of your workshop.

There will still be plenty left to do besides getting holes done...


P.S. I alternate between two Phillip screwdrivers heated on the stove to burn the holes in my jugs. Goes really, really fast, and no cuts! Of course, you have to remember NOT to breathe in when a puff of smoke wafts up, but, hey, you learn, right?


Thumbnail by Gymgirl
Columbus, OH

I use a soldering iron to melt holes in mine, but that'd be a little dangerous for kiddos, I'd think.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)


I love the sound of 50 quarts with clear lids for 22 cents each! I've been cleaning and saving yougurt and cottage cheese tubs forever.

>> 1/8 inch bit in my electric drill, invert the stack of containers and drill about 8 or 10 holes in the bottom
>> 8 cups at a crack

If I drill several at once, some kinds of plastic make my regular drill bit clog up with melted plastic, stop biting, resist, wander and tend to split the plastic.

The best bit I found for drilling many layers of plastic was a 1/4" "spade bit" for drilling wood. That bites right through very cleanly without wandering and leaves clean edges. Spiral threads of plastic are thrown clear. SVOOOPPPPPPPP and done.

The holes are a little big, but no one makes a 1/8th" or 3/16" spade bit.

>> two Phillip screwdrivers heated on the stove to burn the holes

Have you managed to make that work with an electric stove? I never could, but I got burnt plastic on my "Calrod units". Gas stove: perfect.

P.S. Goodwill and Salvation Army are even better than tag sales for old, old tools.


SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

I only have an electric stove...thanks for the tool tip!

Port Norris, NJ(Zone 7b)

Didn't think about the water build up - good point.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

The Container Gardening forum has some very long and very technical threads about "perched water" in containers.

It turns out that water may not drain out of a layer if the next layer below it is too different in texture and composition. They suggested using a "wick" to draw water out of the lowest few inches of a pot, like cotton cloth or new super-absorbent mop material.

Maybe put the pebbles into the big tub, a wick in the bottom of the milk jugs so it stocks out a slit in the bottom, then sit the jugs and wicks on top of the pebbles. Then let it pour!

The Container Gardening forum people were big fans of very "chunky" soil mixes to get good, permanent drainage and aeration in containers. Chunks as big as "coco puffs", mixed with as little as 15-30% fine stuff. Maybe for WS seed starting, that is too coarse, or needs too-frequent watering.

Peat holds a lot of water and doesn't really encourage air penetration.

I think WS does not need to worry about "permanent" soil structure, just enough drainage that things don't drown and air can penetrate to the bottom of the jugs.


SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

Go with the milk jugs and you can avoid all of that...☺

Wakefield, MA

Thanks for the ideas, guys! I really like the idea of the styrofoam cups because the kids can easily punch holes in them with a pencil. That sounds just right to me. I am hoping to find some with plastic lids. I think I will predrill the lids in a stack like some of you suggested. Wow I guess I'm ready to go! Any tips on how to lead a class like this would also be appreciated!

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>. I am hoping to find some with plastic lids.

Clear lids, hopefully, since styrofoam won't let much light in. I wonder if they could be "propped" at a tilt, so they face south and a little down, to catch more sun.

How about sandwich baggies and rubber bands? Vent holes in the baggies, maybe with a paper punch. Maybe cut the tops of the cups at a slant, to face south, to let more sun in.


Columbus, OH

If you can find a restaurant that sells drinks in styro cups with lids, perhaps you could ask them to buy a few?

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Someone said:

"... go to a local restaurant supply and purchase deli containers.
A sleeve of 50 quart containers and a sleeve of 50 lids runs about $11 total."

Especially for a reusable quart container, 22 CENTS EACH seems hard to beat.


Bordentown, NJ(Zone 7a)

About using pencil points to punch holes... I would be concerned the lead point of a sharpened pencil might chip off and hit someone in the eye. (Or am I being overly cautious?)

I use ballpoint pens to poke holes in the bottom of styrofoam containers. Then you can use the same pens to write seed info on the styrofoam. Even if the ink fades, as long as you press down somewhat firmly when you write the impression the ball point makes in the styrofoam stays and makes later ID possible. Also, WS forum posters have said it's a good idea to write info on the bottom of the container, where the sun can't fade it.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Pencil puts a sharp, dark mark on mini-blind slat plastic.

maybe lay down a bit off window screening under the styro cups, if the holes are only on the bottom. The rim aorund the bottom might seal to a smooth surface, and water be un able to escape. Or put some of the holes low down on the side.

Maybe use an old hacksaw blade to "saw" thin slices or "kerf" out of the bottom rim, both bottom and side. Then the kids don't have to handle anything pointed at all, and the slits are uniform in size and won't leak soil.. If necessary, tape some paper around half the saw blade to make a smooth handle.


SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

Like I suggested before. Predrill the one-gallon milk jugs your presentatIon time to teach about the seeds, the plants they will become, and what they will need To grow.

And, no injury worries, except if you burn yourself, which I doubt yoU will do.

Port Norris, NJ(Zone 7b)

As far as leading the class.
Have everything ready for the children to use.
Keep them Busy or you'll be scraping mudpies
off your walls. (I was a Girl Scout leader for a
number of years I know how antsy kids can get.)
Have a plan for clean-up afterwards.
If giving a lecture have lots of visual materials.
(i.e. how the seed are going to look when they
sprout. or the different
types, germination rates and needs of seeds)
Hope this helps

Wakefield, MA

Thanks so much for the links, Cris316! That's going to save me a lot of time when I put together my info for the presentation. I definitely agree about having all the material laid out in advance. Of course we'll see on the day of if it happens...=)

Duxbury, MA(Zone 7a)

Since no one else mentioned this, although it's not really a solution for kids, I've always made holes in my seed starting containers by hammering a nail. I put the container on a block of wood, put the nail inside, pound a couple times, pull the nail out, move to next location. It works best for tin cans, but also for the plastic milk jugs. Just make sure you do it from the inside, if you flip it over and pound from the bottom, you get a small lip around the hole inside the can and that can prevent the water from draining.

Takoma Park, MD

I know this wasn't what you were asking about; my brother teaches 6th grade in NYC. He did a short lesson about immigrants in the past, and how they often wanted garden space to grow the things they loved from home, flowers and fruit. So they learned about how often a family only had enough space for a garden of small cans. the children ended up growing seeds, (easy ones I think,) and bringing home their container garden. He said his children really liked it.

St. Louis County, MO(Zone 5a)

I used 16 ounce clear (almost clear) plastic drinking cups when I worked with my kids. I used a fingernail scissors to snip the bottom edge of the cup. we covered them with sandwich bags and rubber bands.

Good luck, and don't be surprised if you are asked to come again for other groups.

Wakefield, MA

Thanks for all the messages and goodwill, guys. I was really stressed out putting together the workshop with two little kids at home, but it was all worth it. We had a total of 5 kids and they had a great time, and so did I! I read a book called the Curious Gardener, which the kids loved because of the cute pictures and they thought it was really funny. It was about a young boy would tends a garden in the middle of a very industrialized city and finds that his garden grows and spreads and literally takes over the city. I had an age range of 4 to 11 and the activities worked for all the ages. I gave them each a different "mystery seed" and had them draw it and then describe it to everyone else. Then they had to draw what they thought it would become and the stages it would take to get there. At the end I gave them a picture from the seed catalog of what each seed would really become. They also made a painting collage of where they would plant their wintersown seedlings or buildings in their neighborhood they might beautify with some plantings, following the theme of the Curious Gardener book.

I ended up purchasing a stack of styrofoam ice cream cups that came with clear domed lids! They were actually very easy to use for the workshop. The kids punched holes in the bottom with a pen. I made the holes in the plastic lids in advance. I hope the lids hold up through the winter--they were pretty fragile. The ice cream cup was the perfect size and height (about 4" high without the domed lid) and sit fairly well on the ground. I also showed some examples of recycled containers to show that wintersowing can be environmentally friendly that way too. I couldn't believe how well the workshop was going. We had some great kids, though. Thanks for all your responses, guys!! You're the best!

Duluth, GA(Zone 7b)

Ilovedahlias, I'm glad that your workshop for the kids went well. You're teaching them to live green at an early age. Hope they pass it on to their parents and that we have more people winter sowing next year. It's been an amazing experience !!!

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