I’m writing this post today for all of you out there, who like me, have hit the cold, hard wall of Winter head-first. If success is measured by achieving an intentional purpose then this has been one of the most successful winters in years. There has been snow, and lots of it. It has been cold. Very cold. The winter dull drums started to creep in under my skin about a week ago and now I’m at that can’t-take-another-minute phase. So I’ve been thinking, What can gardeners like myself do to lift ourselves out of a Winter funk and turn our eyes towards a Spring that is still so far out of reach and buried under a dirty, blackened with exhaust and dog feces snow pile?
- Reflections – The first thing I did was turn to my own book. I wrote about this very topic once. Of course, it was during the summer months when I was blissed out on sunshine and fresh produce. What did I know about winter hardship then? Huh? The first suggestion I gave was to enjoy the time away from the garden to reflect on last year’s experiences and dream about what is to come. Great idea except I’ve been riding that horse for a couple of months now. I like quiet time in a comfy chair with a warm beverage but to be honest I’m kind of over it right already. Take the snow away! Give me green!
- Visit a Greenhouse – The urge to get inside a greenhouse comes on me like clockwork at this time every year. Go on the first sunny day that comes up (if you get one). Bring a camera, or in my case four. I find that taking pictures helps me to focus on the smaller details, get wrapped up in the plants, and forget about winter. A couple of hours with living things in even the lousiest greenhouse and you’ll be a little bit more prepared to face it. Most largish cities have a public greenhouse. I’d lived in Toronto for many years before I discovered that Allan Gardens Conservatory is open to the public and free. When in doubt ask around.
- Force Winter Blooms – You need colour! Forcing colourful blooms indoors is literally as simple as cutting a few branches and sticking them in water. If you don’t have trees you can always ask around or try your local floral shop. Some stores have caught on and sell locally-supplied branches at this time of year. You can also try forcing bulbs like hyacinth and paperwhites if branches aren’t an option.
- Get Fussy with Your House Plants – Most of us probably have a house plant or two or fifty brightening up our living spaces. I’ll admit that at this time of year the general day-to-day maintenance of my indoor garden becomes a robotic routine. My time with these plants just doesn’t seem to cut it anymore. This is the perfect time to spend a couple of hours doing a big overhaul. Your indoor plants have probably been to hell and back over the course of the winter. With spring on the horizon it’s the perfect time to do a little repotting, pruning, and showering. The extra attention does wonders for the plants but always seems to give my own spirits a huge boost too.
- Focus on Seeds – To begin, look through catalogues, look online, make lists, talk to others about what they are growing this year. Wait, you’ve already done that? Yeah, me too. The next step is to get some seeds. We are fortunate in this day and age to have so many options available whether we’re seeking to purchase or trade. You can buy some online, buy some from a local garden shop, trade with friends, trade online, trade through a local community group. Find out if there is a Seedy Saturday in your area. Join a larger seed exchange organization like Seeds of Diversity, Seed Savers, or Kokopelli.
Perhaps you’ve already acquired your seeds for this year’s crop. Pull them out. Look at them. Take some out of the package — I like the beauty and variety of beans for this best. Just looking at seeds makes for a minute or two of happy thoughts.
Now grow some. Tending to tiny seedlings as they emerge from the soil is a hopeful and optimistic activity that looks to the future. Someday spring will come and those little plants will turn into bigger plants and then they will go outside and suddenly it will be spring. We’re just on the cusp of seed-starting season in my area. However, it is not too early to get started with hot peppers, especially the habaneros which require a longer season than most. If you’re in a warmer region than your choices are likely greater than mine. Filling out a seed starting chart will put your options into perspective. You can also try growing a window box of greens. I like the Micro Greens ‘Spicy Mix’ from Botanical Interests because you can start harvesting them when they are not much more than sprouts.
Many of us in the Northern Hemisphere are rapidly approaching that last straw part of winter, looking for a little sun and some springtime cheer to warm our hearts, minds and bodies. When you can’t take another minute of winter it’s time to start talking about seed-starting! When I’m looking toward spring I think about the seeds I will start indoors but I also like to focus on the earliest crops, seeds like peas, cilantro, lettuces, and spinach that can be started outside as soon as the ground thaws. If you’re on the west coast you can probably start planting peas very, very soon if not already. If you’re in Florida you were still eating fresh peas off the vine a month or two ago. If you’re in the northeast like me, you can start thinking about the peas you’re going to grow. Someday. In the future.
There’s years of information on this site and I know it can be hard to find, so I’ve put together a list of seed-starting articles and posts that will give your mind and spirit a jump start into spring.
I posted this recipe a year ago but it is buried in a larger post and I decided it would be better-accessed if it had its own place. Making your own mix is SUPER easy and worth the small effort if you are growing a lot of seedlings.
These are the ratios I prefer. If you don’t need a huge batch you can use this as a basis for choosing a store-bought seed-starting mix. Always read the label and look for an ingredients list. Most popular brands have chemical fertilizers added that are unnecessary and will defeat the purpose of growing organically.
Instead, buy a basic mix and add in your own organic materials. I suggest adding a touch of vermicompost and watering your plants with a diluted sea-kelp mix. To be clear, seeds do not require any fertilizers until they produce their first set of “true leaves“. In basic terms this means the second set of leaves you will see. The first leaves that appear are called “seed leaves” and feed the seedling until the first “true leaves”appear.
- 1 part peat or coir (Coir is a sustainable peat substitute made from coconut husks. Peat is mined from marshland, destroying natural habitats. When you can, use coir.)
- 1 part perlite (popped volcanic ash that creates good drainage.)
- 1 part vermiculite (water absorbing material made from the mineral mica)
Photo by Davin Risk
Sigh. This view of my roof garden from the door feels a million miles away today.
Remember summer? Yeah, me neither. If not for photographic evidence I would have to assume these so-called memories are in fact only beautiful delusions. I know many of you in the Southern Hemisphere are in the midst of it so you will have to excuse my mid-winter pity party. Over the last few days the temperature has plummeted to an unbearable, and therefore unacceptable bone-chilling cold. Unbearable I tell you!! I held out for two full days hunkering down indoors without stepping foot outside until today when I had no choice but to suck it up, put on as many layers as possible and face it. Even worse, our Taste of Summer life-sustaining preserves are rapidly depleting: the red pepper katsup is no more (good-bye delicious sauce!) and I just opened the final jar of Blackened Salsa Ranchera.
Not to be dramatic, but people are dying over here!
See you in 5 months July, wherein you can expect to find me complaining about the heat.
So I was gonna hold off on this one until it hit new stands but it looks like Organic Gardening Magazine let the cat out of the bag early and has published an article I wrote for the Feb 2008 issue (“Grow Where You Are Planted”) on their website.
I really enjoyed writing this article. When they approached me about writing a piece the timing was good — I had been itching to write about the topics covered and needed the impetus to get off my butt and do it. It’s a short piece briefly outlining my overall experiences as an urban gardener. The article also addresses outsider feelings I have struggled with since entering the world of garden writing and publishing as a career: Where and how do I fit in to this world of gorgeous, expansive gardens, expensive hardscaping, and quaint early-life garden experiences? Since writing the first book, several interviewers have asked about my childhood and early experiences with gardening. I have stammered and fallen over myself every single time. There is no easy answer to this question. There certainly are informative early experiences but my feeling has often been that the answer they are looking for is not one I can provide. And as far as how do I fit into this world, well it seems that in every category possible I stick out like a sore thumb. I did not have quaint early childhood gardening experiences, there were no early-life mentors, I live in a small apartment, I have only lived in a house with an actual backyard for 3 brief moments through the course of my entire life, I still consider myself to be lower to barely lower-middle class, I have never owned land, I don’t drive a car, I do not have a degree in horticulture (I studied Fine Arts), I have a terrible potty mouth… shall I continue? When attending garden shows and giving presentations I have rarely felt comfortable with the other “Gardening World Celebrities” and have always felt a bit like an impostor accidentally admitted to the Country Club. It’s not a feeling of inferiority or insecurity so much as a feeling of strangeness and difference. And a feeling that sooner or later that membership is going to be revoked.
It has taken some time but I’ve finally hit on an answer to this issue that I bring up in the course of the article. The answer is in the tagline I’ve been using for this site over the last few years, “Gardening for the People.” I’ve been living out the answer all along. I just needed to get there in my own head, for myself, in a new way. Gardening is not just a homogeneous experience in which rich white people with big floppy hats and sparkling teeth increase their social standing and property value through proper plant and rock placement. Gardening is for all of us. Gardening is for anyone who loves plants, or wants to grow food, or thinks flowers are pretty. Gardening is for anyone who is scared to try but who wants to give it a go. We all come to this from different places, different backgrounds, different experiences (and experience levels), and different interests. My life is complicated. Your life is complicated. I’d wager a solid bet that the seemingly quaint life of every single “Gardening World Celebrity” is also complicated.
In the end I don’t care how different we are. The only thing we need to have in common is the love. And even that isn’t a prerequisite.
Check out the article here or see it in the February 2008 issue of Organic Gardening magazine.