An elephant never forgets…

Milk bottle labels
Labels are very important in the garden. I also like to plant seeds in alphabetical order and take photos of the seed tray, just in case….

But I do!  I have a shocking memory.  I can barely remember what I did last week, last month or even last year.  I exaggerate – it’s not actually that bad, but sometimes I stand in a room and wonder for the life of me why I’m in there!   However, gardening requires a good memory.  To remember what happened last year, to remember what you planted where, what your favourite varieties were and importantly what you didn’t like and never want to take up space in your garden again!

Milk bottle labels
An empty crushed up milk bottle has so much potential in the garden – and its food safe and it is upcycling!

But importantly if sowing from seed, it is imperative you know what you have sown.  Brassica seeds look identical, and the seedling themselves also look very similar. And you wouldn’t want to end up with all cabbage and no broccoli!  So if you think “I’ll remember which is which” and you do during the craziness of the early growing season, then you are better than me.

Milk bottle labels
Filling the bottle with hot soapy water can sort out the icky milk on the inside and also pop out all the creases and crush damage.

One season I grew two types of sprouting broccoli, but I didn’t label and we enjoyed one but the other – not so much.  But in order to find out which was which I grew them both again with labels.  But as I took them out of the pots to plant them out I somehow got them muddled up and I ended up not knowing which was which.  Seriously I’m terrible at remembering things and can lose myself in an instant!  I gave up and to this day I still don’t know which was the best one.

Milk bottle labels
The hot water can also heat the glue and help make the label come off easily

If you grow a large variety of the same things like tomatoes or peppers, then labelling throughout the seedling stage is even more important.  You wouldn’t want to mistake burning hot chillies for mild mannered bell peppers! Or find out after months of tending that the new and exciting tomato you took great effort to decide upon, turns out to be one of the ordinary ones you had planted in bulk so you had enough for preserving for the winter months.  That would be really disappointing.

Milk bottle labels
Then I cut the bottle around the middle to get a nice wide strip.

The thing is you can label a seed cell with several seeds in it or down a wee row in a seed tray.  Easy.  But then they need transplanting – eventually into individual pots, and so will need a label for themselves.   So from possibly half a dozen seed trays with half a dozen seeds sown in them you can end up needing 36 labels for 36 plants (or more – mostly likely it will be more!).   You may only have space for half those plants in the garden – or even less, but you still need to know what each one is so when it comes time to plant them out you can choose the best looking one, and be confident that you have one of each variety you want to grow.  It also helps when you give your spares away that your friends know what they are receiving, so they can look it up and find out what it needs to grow well.

Milk bottle labels
I then trim the edges to tidy it up. You don’t need to but I like things in my greenhouse to look nice.

For me, with my 36 raised beds to fill, I sow a lot of seeds and it is great fun to watch the seedlings emerge.  I stagger my sowing across the spring to meet the needs of the plants and as a result, over the season there is always something being sown – resown due to impatience or disaster, and a lot of transplanting.  I need a lot of labels.  So I do a bit of recycling.

Milk bottle labels
Then all I do is chop it into strips wide enough to write on.

With two lads – pre-teen and early teen, we get through a lot of milk.   We buy it in 3L plastic bottles and like to send the empty bottles out for recycling each week.  Hubby the Un-Gardener crushes the bottles to make them all fit in the recycling bin and ordinarily I let this process occur without interference.

Milk bottle labels
Experience is the best way to let you know which marker pen fades and which doesn’t, however for the short time it is in the greenhouse most pens will last. Once the plant is in the garden for the season – you may need to rely on good notes somewhere safe to remind you what you have where.

But come the spring you can find me rummaging about in the rubbish to rescue the least crushed and least stinky bottles, because they are the perfect thing for making labels.   They normally last a couple of seasons before our harsh sun makes the plastic brittle so every season I find myself chopping up milk bottles.  It’s just what I do.

Milk bottle labels
The rest of the bottle can go out with the recycling as intended or you can use the bottoms for trays to catch the drips and put the lids on the top half and use it as a scoop… although I’m not sure you’ll need that many scoops.

Come again soon – it is daylight savings this weekend, so hopefully the rainy conditions will take the hint and let the real spring do it’s thing!

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

6 thoughts on “An elephant never forgets…

  1. Your soooo right! I’ve been caught out this year! Staring at my heirloom tomato seedlings and they look so the same as sweet 100, Grrr, i only need 1 sweet 100 and i always give away the others, but my heirlooms i keep them all

  2. I remember planting all different types of gourds and not labeling them.. Aaahh.. every single time someone would ask me which one is that plant,, all I could say was “some gourd” 😀 😀 😀

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