Well, the time off from the garden has ended. We finished last year’s in early November, and with the arrival of the seed packets recently, the game is again afoot. The seed trays and potting soil have been sterilized and set out for this year’s garden.
It is early in the season yet, being winter and all. However with row covers, it won’t be long at all before we can sow lettuces, peas and more outside. Meantime, the “spare bedroom” has become the seed nursery again.
In a review of the seed collection we have, it seems that this year will be a year for cabbage. Our stock seed was getting a little too old (germination rate drops the older it gets), so it’s time to plant the old and place the new into stock.
Today we planted four trays of cabbage; two green species and a red.
I”ve mentioned my intention to re-invent the herb garden, and that process begins with two trays of chive seeds and half a tray of dill seed.
Soon I’ll plant parsley, yarrow and stevia outside in the new perennial garden location.
But not yet. Not quite yet.
Once the ground temperature reaches 40 degrees though, the rules of the game change. I can harvest the winter carrots, the horseradish, the winter garlic. I can start dividing and transplanting the herbs that need moved – Lemon balm, thyme, oregano, lavender.
But for now, we have to keep our planting reined in – don’t want to get too far ahead. Cabbage, chives and dill…
That’s a good start.
Within the seed packets that arrive in the mail, so sprout the dreams for this year’s garden.
Of course, we ordered the staples, heirloom tomatoes, sweet peas, half runner beans. The spaghetti squash were such a hit last year, we’re trying them again this year. Pumpkins, peppers, leaf lettuce — all things we’ve done before.
But this year, I’m also hoping to grow more supplemental feed for the chickens. Amaranth, sorghum, lots of sunflowers. I’m even trying peanuts, but I’m not so sure they’ll be for the chickens.
I’m revamping the herb garden this year as well. It didn’t take long for the oregano, thyme and chocolate mint to over grow the original herb garden, and now with so many chickens, rabbits and deer, the herb garden really needs moved inside the main garden fencing.
I’ve spent a small part of the winter researching ways to combine gardening and sewing, two of my favorite creative outlets. I’m planning much of the herb garden for some new aromatic projects from the sewing machine.
Most of the herbs I have established were planted for medicinal purposes – and they’ve matured enough to start some serious dividing and harvesting this year. I have thought about making tinctures, but I think mostly I will work with dried at first. This will definitely be the year to harvest Echinacea, comfrey, horseradish. I also hope to get new starts of lavender, and will attempt to start some from seed. More chives, more parsley – which I put in darn-near everything I cook now.
As for the veggies, I don’t see us trying much new. Some different beans, maybe. What we’re learning now is how much to plant for our canning purposes, and how best to grow it. We need to improve our method for corn, and would like to trellis the cucumbers somehow. More, more, more peas — not quite so many potatoes. Try eggplant – again. Perhaps three times will be the charm.
The one new thing we’re starting this year is Asparagus – to be planted and not harvested for several years to come. I never liked asparagus – until I tried fresh picked, cooked right. It was superb. Who knows what will happen? But if we don’t plant it, we’ll never have our own.
Dreams, plans – some which can’t be harvested for years. All arriving in small packets to the mail box.
Here’s a preview of my most recent installment of Reading Between Two Lanes coming to The Hur Herald:
Pardon the Plants
Since we started sprouting our own plants for our garden and don’t have a greenhouse, our home goes through a period in late winter / early spring when it is overcome by plant trays. Any flat surface near a window is likely to be covered in flat black trays of soil. Counters, shelves, tables – even the spare bed is blanketed with a heavy plastic tablecloth before being covered end to end in plastic trays of dirt.
Every morning, the trays need to be misted and watered, rotated around the light sources, and coddled. When the process first begins, this is a fairly easy process. But once we get close to 20 trays in four different locations, it becomes a rather time-consuming concept.
By the end of March, the days get warm enough to set the trays outside for some real sunlight and some exposure to outdoor elements. This extends the time consumed by these early sprouts and seeds. In addition to watering and coddling, each tray gets moved outside into the warmth in late morning, and moved back inside in early evening – one by one. In this phase, the trays consume space inside the porch door as well, moved that far inside the house, in assembly line fashion, at the end of each day.
Seed sprouts, even in such controlled conditions, are not guaranteed to survive. Dampening is a common problem, where the sprouts look healthy and fine one day, and fall over dying the next. Dampening is even more of a problem if you recycle seed trays and soil, as we do. But I learned this year that watering newly-planted seeds with strong, tepid Chamomile tea will help prevent it from happening.
In addition, without air movement to strengthen the new little stems, the sprouts can grow weak, and fall over. A fan blowing on them, and the daily rotation to face the light source a different way helps keep the stems sturdy and strong. Low levels of light will cause them to stretch high and lanky, desperate for light, which also makes them top heavy and tall also making them prone to fall over.
Some weak sprouts don’t survive the introduction to outside elements. Too much sun exposure right off the bat can shock them; too much chill can shock them as well. The little seedlings are delicate, fragile new shoots of life, and they have to be eased into the world.
On average, we manage about an 85% success rate with our seeds. It’s my fault really. After having trays all over the house and under foot for several weeks, I’m anxious to push the seedlings outside. I’ve wiped out entire trays with this one mistake. We cannot rush the growth of new life any more than we can rush the coming of spring.
Let’s hope I have the patience this year to let both happen in their own sweet time.
The Stink Plants
Spring is full of surprises. I am still watching each day for crocus and daffodil to surprise me with their upshoots, but inside the house, we did have quite a surprise.
Last summer, Don and Willalea Kelley invited me to their home to view and do a story on what Don calls his ‘stinking plant.’ The plant is commonly called ‘The Sacred Lily of India,’ but is also known as ‘Rattlesnake Plant,’ ‘Devil’s Tongue,’ ‘VooDoo Lily’ or ‘Stink Plant.’ The scientific name is ‘Amorphophallus rivieri.’
I visited the Kelley’s home to view a five-foot tall, burgundy waxy funnel with a large stamen in the middle. It was outside, in the yard, and I could smell a slight odor, which seemed of little consequence to me. I thought the name ‘Sacred Lily of India’ was most poetic, and in my mind, assigned that name to the plant.
Early last fall, Don asked me if I would like to have a few of these amazing plants. ‘Yes!’ I said, and arrived at his house the same day. To say he had several to give away would be a huge understatement. For me, he had a whole box of them, with tubers ranging from an inch in diameter to nearly six inches.
Immediately, an excellent idea came to mind.
At Christmas, I am prone to give gift baskets. I fill them with home-canned jellies, relishes, etc., and then toss in some candy canes, or other things to personalize the basket. As a gift, the plant was unique and special! Something uncommon and long-lasting! So, this past year, all those I know who garden got a tissue paper wrapped Amorphophallus rivieri tuber in their basket, with a label card saying, ï¿½put in a cool, dry place until spring.ï¿½
I put mine under my kitchen sink.
At February’s town council meeting, Don Kelley asked me about my plants. I told him how I had shared them with others, still tickled at my resourcefulness–with the special gifts I shared. On the way home, I thought, ‘Why did Don ask me that’ I won’t really be even thinking about those plants until late March or early April.
At least that’s what I thought.
My neighbor Becky was the first to call.
‘You know that plant-thing you gave me?’
‘Well, we put it in the closet at Christmas, and, well, it’s growing.’
I assumed then that Becky’s closet simply wasn’t cool and dry enough. Then, I came home one day, and Frank was working under the kitchen sink.
‘You might want to do something with these things,’ he said.
I guess my sink cabinet isn’t cool and dry enough either. Five lilies had begun growing. One grew up to the bottom of the sink bowl, then turned at a right angle to the wall, then straight up along the wall. Another had grown sideways, through the handle-hole of the box I had them in. Another was cockeyed, and had grown among the plumbing.
I smelled them. Nothing.
So I put them in pots in the corner of a basement room where thereï¿½s a constant draft. They continued to grow–inches a day.
Then Judy called at work.
‘Okay, so here’s the thing,’ she said (she often starts her calls that way). ‘That plant-thing you gave me is growing.’
I advised she do what I had done. Put it in a pot–with or without dirt–in a cool place, and wait until spring.
That night, I came home from work and Frank was cleaning out one of the refrigerators. We have three.
‘Something in here is rotten,’ he said. Knowing our refrigerators, I assumed he was right.
When he was finished cleaning all three refrigerators, the smell was still there . . . And the little light bulb above my head came on.
‘Hey, I bet it’s those plants,’ I said, heading to the corner to sniff. I got about halfway across the room when the putrid scent hit me like a ball bat–and they weren’t even yet in full bloom.
‘Oh! Ugh! Oh!’
‘Put them outside!’ Frank said.
‘I can’t! It’s too cold!’
Gagging all the while, I moved them one by one into the laundry room–the least used room in the house. A room that is, by no means, cool or dry. Thus, the flowers flourished, and bloomed. Within a day, their aroma reached the neighboring bathroom.
Frank tried reason again, ‘Lisa, those plants! You can’t leave them in there. They have to go outside. How about in the out building?’
‘I can’t. They’ll turn to mush,’ I said. ‘Spring’s coming, I’ll spray some Lysol.’ I made a mental note to contact those who I’d given plants, but couldn’t specifically recall them all.
Yesterday, the smell reached the kitchen, and Frank resorted to wandering around shaking his head and muttering four-letter words under his breath. I was thinking of my friends, searching their homes for the source of a putrid smell.
I said aloud, ‘Don said if you cut the middle stamen out, they won’t stink so bad,’ finally admitting what had to be done–even though I didn’t want to mark the visual beauty of the bloom.
Frank had a knife in his hands within seconds.
That vicious act helped a little, but it has been too cold outside to air out the front room, bathroom and laundry room, so a scent still lingers.
This morning we had company. A long-standing, coffee-drinking friend, Kenny’s visits are often spent in the kitchen.
‘Somethin’ die in here?’ he asked.
Yes, Amorphophallus rivieri is known by many names, and this morning, Frank came up with a new one.
But it can’t be printed here.