Just when I think I can’t take another gray windy day, hope arrives in my mailbox. I am instantly warmed by the site of sunlight splashes on the glossy cover of my favorite seed catalogs.
“A Stunning Exhibition of Color!” and “Packed with both Flavor and Extra Nutrition!” are shouted at me over a brilliant display of reds, yellows, and greens. I am instantly drawn in to the promises of crisp greens, juicy tomatoes, spicy peppers, and towering pole beans. So taken am I that I can already feel the loamy soil squished up between my bare toes, the ting of my sunburned shoulders, my aching lower back. The smell of chlorophyll layers with the musky tomato vine stains on my fingers, and my taste buds are alive with anticipation of berry juice.
It is window shopping at it’s best – this time when the snow still covers the leaves that didn’t get raked, while the noxious pests are still tucked snug in their winter beds, and the nocturnal weeds are a distant memory. I look out my window to a crisp white canvas, just waiting for the first stroke of sunlight.
There is a practical side to this garden dream state however. I am not much of a garden journal keeper, though I know many gardeners who are. I have found that photos are a great way for me to chronicle the growing season and provide a starting point for the following year. This is a perfect time to pull out journals and photos from year’s past and view with a critical planner’s eye for the coming season. Is there a lag in bloom at certain weeks? Perhaps some long blooming annuals would fill in the gap. Was it a bad squash year? Those row covers put on early in the season may prevent vine borers. Cold wet spring? Maybe some season extenders or a small greenhouse would protect the baby tomatoes and give them a better start.
Even looking out the window tells me what needs to go on the “sunny day” list. It is a great time of year to prune leafy or fall blooming shrubs because you can see the lines clearly before they leaf out. Do not prune spring bloomers though because you will cut off the spring show.
I draw up a rotation plan so that my vegetables aren’t in the same spot as last year – this keeps the soil from being depleted by the same crop needs and tricks some pests and diseases. Nightshades such as tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers get moved to where the pole beans grew last year since that will be a nitrogen rich spot, and the beans and corn move to replenish the potato and tomato beds.
Greens and peas can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked and can withstand a little frost, so I order those seeds early. Some years I plant only an organic mesclun mix for baby greens salad, but lately I have added kale, chard, and spicy arugula to my repertoire. I love a healthy green smoothie (I’ll share my recipe in another blog), and kale is perfect for those. Arugula makes a perfect “L” for a BLT, and chard is delicious stewed with pine nuts and cranberries.
I have some root vegetables that I let winter over in the ground – carrots and beets under a bed of straw are super sweet when dug up in early March, and a special treat after months of tasteless grocery store produce from a million miles away.
My herb garden will soon begin to wake, and the greenhouse will be calling me to start seeds. I can’t wait to be rewarded with daffodil and hyacinth bouquets from my fall plantings.
But for now, I’ll have to be satisfied with garden dreams… just me and my seed catalogs!