February 18, 2012

Vegetable Oil Bottle Greenhouse

I love mini greenhouses because they make life as a gardener so much easier.  The plants germinate and grow much faster and I have to worry about remembering to water them much less often.  However, greenhouses are expensive, and well out of my $5 budget.  So, I've turned to our recycle bin more and more often for free materials to start the seeds off well.

A vegetable oil bottle, in this case Crisco, is perfectly shaped to be a greenhouse because the bottom 2/3 of the bottle is a uniform and wide shape, while the top 1/3 comes in at the neck and then expands again.  Here's how I made mine.

You'll need something to cut with (scissors, a box cutter, a knife if you're careful), a vegetable oil bottle, and some dish soap. If you never quite got the hang of cutting neatly in kindergarten (as I did not), then a sharpie will come in handy.  Of course, you'll also need dirt and seeds.

Step 1:  Wash the bottle with dish detergent.  The grease fighting power they advertise is great for getting the remaining oil out of there.  THe easiest way to do this is to simply put a few drops of dish soap in the bottle, add water until it's about 1/3 to 1/2 full, put the lid back on and shake it.  Then rinse.

Step 2:  cut the bottle about 2/3 of the way up just before it starts to curve inward.  Now you have two pieces, a long bottom section that is uniformly wide with equally spaced ridges, and a shorter top piece that comes in at the neck and has the lid. attached at the top.

Step 3:  Cut about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch of the bottom of the top piece so that the circumference of it is slightly smaller than that of the bottom piece.  The key here is "slightly."  Notice how in the image to the right, the cutting line is drawn right where the neck begins to curve inward.  This is where you want to cut so that the top will fit snugly onto the bottom.

Step 4:  Put small stone, eggshells (or whatever else you want to use to keep the bottom from getting waterlogged) in the bottom of the bottle.  Add soil until the bottom part is about 2/3 full.

Step 5:  Plant your seeds, then place the top section back on the bottle.  Push the top down so that it "clicks" into the first or second ridge of the bottom (see picture to the left of the connection between the top and bottom).  You'll be able to raise the top up a click as your plant grows.

Step 6:  Put the plant in a sunny window, and water very rarely through the hole where you once poured out the oil.  You will almost never have to water this for two reasons.  First, it's basically a closed system, and the water evaporates only to fall back on the soil and your plant.  Second, because the plant can only survive for about a month on the carbon dioxide that's trapped in the bottle.

Step 7:   The seed should germinate and grow within one to two weeks.  Once it has grown a few inches, unscrew the lid from the bottle so that the plant can get the carbon dioxide it needs to continue to grow.  Wait until the soil is dry to water, and keep an eye the soil near the roots to ensure that it doesn't become water logged.  Once the plant has outgrown its bottle, transplant it and reuse the bottle to start other seeds or take off the top half to turn the greenhouse into a pot.

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