Gardeners often get frustrated during the winter. Right now it is 4 degrees F, with gusty winds that make it feel even colder. The gardens are covered not only with snow, but with an icy crust. Tattered seed catalogs form a stack by a favored chair, on the off chance we think of some variety we might have forgotten to order, but the reality is that the budget is already spent, and there will be enough seeds arriving to plant a garden many times larger than the actual space available. We are itching to get started on the upcoming season, but what to do? What to do? Well, here are some ideas!
1. Clean those used flats, domes, pots and labels, soaking in a weak bleach solution to kill diseases, insect eggs, and other horrors. Seeding time will be here soon!
2. Clean garden tools, if you didn’t get to it last fall. Oil to prevent rust on metal parts and rub linseed oil into handles to extend their lifetime
3. Organize seeds that have arrived by planting dates, and if you haven’t worked that out yet, better get started! The photo is of my “indoor” seed box. There is another for “direct” seeding outdoors. Having two boxes makes it easier to grab and go. The cardboard dividers have the date for seeding in the upper right hand corner, and a list of the crops that need to be seeded then. That makes it easy when seeds arrive to drop them into the correct slot, or after first seedings are made, to move leftover seeds into the proper spot for the next sowing.
4. Review your harvest journal to see when first pickings occurred. Can you bump up the planting time a few days to get an earlier harvest? Did successive plantings come off as planned, or could you squeeze in just one more late planting, especially if there were protection from early frosts?
5. And speaking of protection, why not make a cold frame or get supplies in now for a poly tunnel. As soon as the ground thaws, the poles can go in, covers can go on, and an early crop can be sown of spinach, arugula, corn salad, etc.
6. Check the seeding rack to see if light bulbs need to be replaced. I picked up an extra timer during the after Christmas sales so I can divide the shelving unit into two sections with varied light as required this year. And seeing this photo reminds that I need to fix that sagging shelf!
7. As soon as the ground thaws, take a walkabout to check for plants that may have heaved out of the ground, and push them back in. Throw a bit of mulch on top to prevent it happening again. Sadly, winter is not over…..
8. Spend a lovely time looking at the photos you took of various garden areas last season. If there are bare spots, check the date taken and look for plants that bloom at that time that can be added.
9. Planning on growing vertical? Make an obelisk and paint it a lively color. Or, make those durable tomato cages out of cattle panels that you’ve always wanted. The “L” design works best, because they can be taken apart and stacked easily in a relatively small space in the off season.
10. Get your garden journal organized for the coming season. I prefer a 3-ring notebook with separate dividers for bulbs, indoor seeding, direct seeding, companion planting (I always forget who likes what!) and graph paper maps of planting areas so I know what will go where. I keep seed lists there, photos of bulbs planted so I can recognize them and record when they begin and end blooming beside the pictures, recipes for fertilizer mixes and insect sprays, etc.
11. Take a quick inventory of pantry and freezer. Do you need to can more diced tomatoes? I do. And, I’m nearly out of dried parsley and thyme, frozen sliced peppers (too many diced though) broccoli raab and broccoli. And I need fewer shallots and garlic, but more storage onions this year.
12. I want something pretty to hang on the potager’s front gate. A sign maybe, or a spring wreath? Or a half bucket planted in pansies? Now is a good time to give this some thought and make a plan to actually make something or look through catalogs for that perfect item.
13. If there’s a mild day, the wicker furniture in the gazebo needs a good cleaning, and some pieces need a coat of paint. Spring is too hectic with planting, mulching, etc. for such a time-consuming task. Even if I don’t get it painted, I’ll get the paint on hand so when that perfect weatherwise bit of time finally arrives, it won’t be spent running to town for supplies!
That’s a few of the things on my list to get accomplished during the “down time” of winter. It’s a bit bigger than usual because of my back problems last fall. Your list may be different, longer or shorter. Even if only one item is accomplished, you will feel better for having achieved it, and your upcoming season will be better for having done it.