Monday, September 28, 2009

How To Garden In January Without Spending Half a Million on a Second Home in Florida or California.;-)


Here in Wisconsin, our garden season was short. There were the first chilly spring days when I would determinedly dig in the still frost hard soil. The muggy, buggy, weed filled July months when I questioned my sanity in putting in over 30 flower beds and the cool fall days when I tucked in masses of daffodils (rodent proof) and a handful of tulips (rodent treats).

Those days are gone my friends! I first came across the the never-ending garden year at the winter sowing forum on Gardenweb.com. A brilliant woman named Trudi Davidoff had been playing around with sowing seeds in the deep of winter and shared this gem of knowledge with the rest of the gardening world.

Don't go to the site now if you're at work and you're a garden fanatic because you'll be sucked into the vortex of the greatest array ever of forums on everything from plant propagation to seed saving. Your job will just seem a waste of precious time that could be spent better learning from that Minnesota gardener whose just posted pictures of her thriving azaleas and you'll be wondering if she could really be zone 4 and what might you do with Northern Lights in that shady spot by the fence... and that report will go unread at your desk for some time.

If you're not sidetracked by the geraniums forum, scroll down to winter sowing. The concept is that many seeds lie dormant through the winter to sprout in spring. You take advantage of this and the need for some seeds to experience cold temperatures, called stratification. There is now a list on the site which is nothing short of amazing of the annuals, perennials, biennials, and even vegetables that can be winter sown all the way through zone 3.

I read in the Natural Shade Garden by Ken Druse recently that if you sow seeds in shady spots, often even plants that would prefer sunnier sites, will acclimate much better than a sun-preferring nursery purchased plant plopped down into a shady area.

And this all means that at winter solstice, you can be potting up everything from red poppies to phlox divericata in milk jugs on your kitchen table as snow flies outside. Then you just set these mini-greenhouses of sorts out on your deck, porch, or yard and wait for spring.

Meanwhile, you begin to get a little high when you see a neighbor tossing four milk jugs on one trash day, just as some new seed packets arrive in the mail.

And that brings us to the next great part - the winter sowing seed exchange.

You save seed from your so prolific you're slightly sick of them Stella d'Oros or your 200 strong hosta collection. You allow these to dry, then put them in little envelopes and label. Now you're ready to post on the exchange.

Have: Stella and Hosta Seeds
Want: Astilbe and cone flower seeds

The variety of plants available for trade at the cost of a few postage stamps is breathtaking. There are some serious collectors and gardeners on this site.

An aside, some plants such as hosta won't "come true" from seed. That is, they will differ from the parent plant, but that's a lot of the fun.

And in the cold, dark days of February, when you used to be in the basement dusting off that light box guaranteed by Walgreens to fight off the winter blues, you'll find it's a veritable Christmas morning each day you check your mailbox and find yet more tiny packets. There's the carefully marked heirloom Amaranthus seeds from Dorothy in Detroit (her grandma's favorite shade of dark pink) and the most cold hardy ever pansy seeds from Betty in the Upper Peninsula.

And if you're the competitive type, you'll be checking the container count thread daily. There are people on that site who will be potting up 2000, yes 2000 containers each year. And if the thought of all those flowers and plants doesn't just make your heart sing, what does?

In the spring, you'll be dashing about with a spade in one hand and a hunk-o-seedlings in the other looking for some bare five inch spot to stuff with cleome and learn to see grass as the enemy- really the nerve of that green mat taking up so much space!

Your family will be relieved in April when all that dirt and mess is finally moved outside and they don't have to move a bag of potting soil off the stove to cook some scrambled eggs - you'll have long since given up making dinners with all those seeds needing potting up each night - and isn't it a good thing to encourage independence in children and spouses anyway?

You may find yourself tapping your toes for those gorgeous pink daffodils to go to seed because you KNOW Jean in Galveston, who is SO picky about trading, will likely now be willing to share some of those rare anemones you've long had your eye on.

Once again as fall chills the air, you'll be scouring the house for old envelopes to fill with seed for winter trades, and you'll find the garden season really needn't end.

And should your significant other question this whole winter sowing endeavor, one morning over coffee, simply take a pen and begin circling ads for one bedroom, no indoor bath, fixer-uppers in San Diego, starting around $500,000....trust me, in no time your partner will "get with the program" and start bringing home the empty plastic take out containers co-workers were about to toss and scouring the streets for plastic pop bottles....

May your life be filled with gardening, 365 days a year! Eileen

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