The stillness of January is for imagining next summers’ garden, catalog cruising, seed ordering, and gearing up for spring craziness in the garden. This picture shows the January vegetable garden. The raised beds have been weeded, forked deeply, and covered with the last of the fall grass clippings and shredded leaves. Lavender, a few snapdragons, a row of sorrel, and a dewberry plant are dormant but still visible, enjoying their winter rest.
The October planted garlic bed made early progress and, even through its cover of leaf mulch (and off and on snow), green leaves are obvious. The bed in the picture includes a row of perennial leeks and seven varieties of garlic. The garlic developed roots in the fall and will continue to grow whenever the ground is not frozen. The tops will push growth whenever the air temperature is 40° or above. The plants, with their developed root systems, are hardy to -30°.
The plant markers are paint sticks, (I bought a box of them at our local hardware store), spray painted red and labeled with the planting date and variety name painted on with a toothpick dipped in a bit of white paint. I know that sounds tedious but it actually goes quickly. I have been frustrated for years by over-wintered markers becoming illegible by spring. The paint sticks, hopefully, are a simple solution to this perennial problem.
I dug part of a row of late seeded Yaya carrots this week and, even though they were never thinned, they are fairly good-sized. They are sweet and crunchy and a tasty winter treat.
I store my cleaned carrots in the refrigerator drawer in a recycled wax paper bag from breakfast cereal and they stay crisp and sweet. Home grown carrots are not always uniform like “store carrots” but when they are dug in the winter the sugar content is higher and the taste is awesome – who cares if they are crooked and not perfect.
Meanwhile, back at the house, my 2013 garden is being born. I have a sweet potato from storage rooting in a glass of water. Yea, yea, you’re right – it’s that old school project – sweet potato, toothpicks, and glass of water. I use a home grown sweet potato to start my slips because store bought sweet potatoes are often treated to keep them from sprouting. Store bought sweet potatoes may sprout - after a long wait – or they may not sprout at all – or they might just rot. I either suspend a homegrown sweet potato over a glass of water or slice a homegrown sweet potato in half lengthwise and push both halves into a flat of soil mix. Both methods have been successful for me. I chose the water method this year because this particular sweet potato sprouted in storage and gave me a head start.
Follow the picture left to right. You can see new sprouts growing on the potato in the water. The 5-6 inch slip (sweet potato cuttings are called “slips”) resting on top of the glass has been snapped off the potato. This slip will stand in the glass of water until it develops a root system. The slips on the table have been in the glass of water for about a week to ten days and are just beginning to make roots. When the slips develop a good root system I pot them in 3-4 inch pots and treat them like houseplants until they go in to the garden in late May. I keep the pots in a west or south window and keep them warm. If the plants grow well I will transplant them into larger pots so their growth is not stunted while they wait for transplanting into the garden.
I have also seeded this years’ storage onions ‘Copra’ and ’Redwing’ and Tango celery seeds. I use recycled grocery store mushroom boxes with holes in the bottom to start many of my seeds. I always use a sterile, soilless planting medium. The sterile medium protects against damp-off – a problem that can easily kill your seedlings soon after they germinate. Because soilless medium is peat based it absorbs water with difficulty. I add hot tap water to a bowl of soilless mix and mix it all up like dough. Hot water is absorbed into the soilless medium easily where cold water is very slowly absorbed. I fill the mushroom boxes with the warm, dampened soilless mix and tap the box on the counter to settle the medium and eliminate air pockets. I broadcast the onion or celery seeds across the surface and spread a bit of the soilless mix on top of the seeds. I use a spray bottle to spritz the surface and settle the seeds into the medium. I label each container with the date and variety of seed and put them into a bottom heat unit.
My bottom heat unit is a specially made styrofoam box with a 15 watt bulb in the bottom – you can see the light in the middle bottom of the box bottom. The plant tray is suspended over the light bulb and the soil medium warms up and aides germination. Missing in the picture is the clear plastic dome that sits on top to keep the warmth and moisture in. The onions and celery were seeded on January 14. Yesterday morning – January 16 – I found a few Red Wing onion seeds showing germination! Garden 2013 is born!
Hey from the farm,
Fran The Country Garden