Magical Earth: What winter? It's time to start the garden!

0

The freezing rain, sleet and snow may still be threatening, but it’s early March and time to start this year’s garden.

I think that’s just great! Heaven knows we need a reprieve from this winter weather, and what better way to get a break than by starting the garden for the year.

Visions of fresh, bright red tomatoes, tender summer squash and luscious sweet corn can make the cold days we have, and will have through March or April, seem so much easier.

At my house, the compost pile has been fed regularly as I’ve trudged outside to deposit kitchen vegetable scraps, which will make for a good beginning to whatever gardens I plant this year.

My annual seed inspection shows that I have almost enough to plant the 2018 vegetable garden — except for lots and lots of lettuce — and my plans for fertilizing the garden are coming together with the help of a nearby neighbor.

Most seeds, if not all, can be used for a couple of years. To check out their viability, place a few between two sheets of wet paper towels and wait a few days. Chances are, they will start to sprout and you’ll know they are suitable to plant in the garden.

Advertisement

Perhaps March is the best part of the growing season, for we can dream. We can visualize all the fresh, tender vegetables that will grace our tables starting in late July and extending until October.

Whether that actually happens, of course, depends so much on the weather and growing season.

Some years, it’s far too dry to grow anything, even when I try to water as much as possible. Other years, too much rain has molded many crops. And sometimes, the voracious insects eat far more of that fresh produce than we ever could.

But each new gardening year starts with optimism. The raccoons and crows won’t devastate the sweet corn. Cucumber beetles won’t devour cucumber and squash plants. Deer won’t jump the garden fence to feast on whatever may be growing. We’ll receive just the right amount of rain. And a blight won’t hit the tomatoes. We hope!

Gardeners are nothing if not optimistic.

Despite all the predators and diseases, something you’ve planted always makes it. There are two crops that virtually always produce abundant crops: potatoes and green beans. So I must plant those two crops each year. In fact, I still have a couple of meals’ worth of homegrown potatoes remaining from last year that I will prepare in a very special way.

I’ve hauled the seed-starting rack down from its hanger in the garage and is now awaiting placement of the many soil-and-seed-filled peat pots that will line its shelves. My garden tools have been inspected. And my box of seeds, leftover from last year, have been studied to determine the varieties I must buy this year. A seed order will likely be sent within the next few weeks.

Each year, along with my usual varieties, I always try something new. And each year, something pops up that I never expected. One year, tomatillos appeared when I never planted them (knowingly). Another year, in my flower garden, several beautiful blue spiked plants appeared.

My husband is in charge of the garlic. That was planted in its own special garden in October and will likely be ready for harvesting in July.

I am so spoiled by growing and eating my own vegetables that I have a tough time buying “factory”-grown vegetables during the rest of the year.

I even prefer my own canned vegetables. A local farmers market also has many varieties available for purchase during several months starting in June and going through October.

Gardening is one way, I believe, to be in contact with nature and with the food we eat. If we grow it, we know where it came from, what was used to feed it and what, if any, pesticides were used on it.

For those who want to start a few plants inside, I recommend tomatoes. Simply place two or three tomato seeds in a peat pot, cover lightly with potting or garden soil, and place in a sunny window. Don’t forget to turn the pot a couple of times each day so that the plants will grow straight.

I have not had good luck starting squash and pumpkins indoors. I’ve found that they grow just as fast when the seeds are planted directly in garden soil. However, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc. can be started inside anytime before the end of April, the earlier, the better. Most other vegetables can be direct seeded in the garden in late May or early June.

To do right now:

* Set up a rack or some kind of structure in a sunny window for placing soil-filled peat pots. Place these pots on a hard surface since water leaks through them. I use old cookie sheets.

* Dig out a piece of graph paper, then plan where each crop will be planted in the garden. Allow for ample space between rows, or better yet, plant in beds.

* Inspect garden tools. If they need cleaning, do that as soon as possible. If others are needed, plan a trip to a local hardware store or garden supply store to purchase them.

* Study up on new varieties you may be thinking of planting. Sometimes they need more lead time or special conditions or treatment than expected.

* Pore over the seed catalogs that may have been mailed to you. For me, and for many others I suspect, these catalogs not only provide a seemingly endless supply of seeds of all kinds, but many also give directions for planting and caring for the seeds.

* Don’t go overboard! Studying seed catalogs can prompt the purchase of far more seeds than you’ll ever use! Although most seeds will be OK for planting during the next year, it’s best to begin with seeds produced for the year we will plant them.

And finally, but not least, dream! Gardening is for optimists as well as for those who want their own produce. Dream of corn stalks laden with sweet, crunchy ears, or cucumbers in vinegar, or bright red TASTY tomatoes sprinkled with salt.

Growing your own will produce the tastiest vegetables ever!

Eileen M. Adams has been gardening for years. She begins each year with high hopes and sore muscles from early-season planting and hoeing.

It’s time to bring the seed-starting rack inside the house. (Eileen M. Adams photo)

Although more seeds have still to be ordered, many seeds are already acquired and await planting. (Eileen M. Adams photo)

Tools in the garden shed are ready and waiting for action. (Eileen M. Adams photo)

The garden in late February shows little hint of the potential it holds. (Eileen M. Adams photo)

Advertisement