Winter is here! No this is not a wink to all you Game of Thrones fans, rather the reality of the situation here in upstate New York. We had snow on the ground from Thanksgiving right up to before Christmas, then it warmed just enough to melt the beautiful holiday carpet and reveal all the dead brown grass, dirt, and dormant stuff just to remind us how dismal that season can be here. Personally, I think its a conspiracy enacted to show the neighbors how lazy I am, by exposing all the leaves I didn’t rake up. Either way, there will be no meaningful outdoor activity here until at least the beginning of April. One hundred days of “what to do now”?.
So what can I do? In order to not remain a tortured green soul, pacing endlessly while looking at the weather, trying to determine if this will be an early spring, cursing with each scoop of the snow shovel….you get the picture. I have to do something all winter. As it turns out, there is always a lot to do. And we as people who appreciate the time we spend outdoors, can spend this time wisely to help ensure next seasons success. So with all the time on my hands, here is what I am planning to do with all this winter down time.
Plan, Plan, Plan
Now is the time to be deliberate, while I have the luxury of easily changing my mind. So rather than rip something out and start over in the limited time we have in our growing season, I intend to plan very deliberately. Measure twice, cut once if you know what I mean. Planning stuff now will help keep me focused and ensure all the little projects I want to do don’t become huge time and money wasting boondoggles. Not every little thing mind you, just the bigger stuff. Usually the expensive or meaningful stuff.
First and foremost, I need to map out what I want to accomplish next year. Last year I intended to do way too much, and as a result I accomplished very little. My vegetable gardening efforts sucked up a lot of free time which meant other stuff didn’t get done. Also, the front of the house needs some help in the landscaping department. We bought this house in the summer of 2016. It was sound, but neglected in many ways. The landscaping being one of them. So I ripped out everything in front of the house except a Japanese Maple and a mature Blue Star Juniper. I installed a foundation planting of some variegated red-twig dogwoods, but it still needs a lot more. I also removed a very large Burning Bush Euonymus right next to the driveway because it blocked the view and was right where i need to push snow. Nice plant and very large, but bad location. So I have another empty bed. So right now at a minimum:
- map out a lower-maintenance vegetable garden in my existing beds
- design the beds in the front of the house, keeping the dogwoods and using the Japanese maple and juniper as specimen plants
- design the bed by the driveway
That’s enough to keep my brain going for a while.
I get to buy stuff!
Mid winter is when I do my seed shopping. Last year my wife was distressed at the amount of packages that showed up from Greenhouse Mega-store and Johnny’s Selected Seeds. I set up a growing area in the basement, hung grow lights, and germinated a ton of plants for the garden. This year, I just needs some seeds and some more seed starter mix. My vegetable garden plan will tell me what I need to buy. How much planning can a veggie garden take? Tons if you want continuous crops. This year I plan to scale it back a lot, but I still want to keep harvesting stuff as the season goes.
I have a pretty good stash of seeds leftover from last year. I also discovered a local company, Fruition Seeds, that sells regionally adapted cultivars of some pretty interesting stuff. northern hardy peanuts….need I say more. So I may be picking a few choice selections from them as well. I try to grow at least a few exotic items each year. So after planning will come shopping.
Indoor Growing Area
Last winter, I set up a space in my basement to germinate seedlings for transfer into the garden in May. I had a few accordion-style door panels laying around and some sawhorses. Combine that with a trip to Home Depot for light fixtures and grow bulbs, and an online order for trays and cells and I was off and running. I had corn, beans, peppers, tomatoes, chard, zucchini and a host of others ready by the time May rolled around. But that was it. Everything sat idle after that.
Until the Great Romaine Recall of 2018. After weeks of jonesing for a proper salad ( I prefer romaine over iceberg), an idea struck. Why am I not growing my own?
So two weeks ago I dusted everything off and today I have little romaine seedlings. Emboldened by my success, I now intend to turn my temporary setup into something a little more permanent, organized and productive. I need some shelving, heat mats, a new timer and a proper potting bench instead of the cabinet that was left in the basement when we bought the house. That will be the subject of another post I think.
My friend Herb
I love to cook. But I am forever buying fresh herbs during the winter. I intend to start a few inside so I will have the more frequently used ones around when I need them Plus, herbs are generally attractive looking houseplants. Currently I am attempting to root some Italian parsley. I will add basil, oregano, cilantro, dill and rosemary and that should keep me busy for a while.
I still intend to grow more outside, such as: lemon thyme, mint, and sage. I like to keep mine in pots when possible because herbs can really run away from you and take over an area if you don’t keep on them.
Winter is the best time to learn. I will spend a lot of time reading blogs, magazines, books, and watching YouTube videos. There is so much more material available now with the internet, that even a novice gardener or landscaper can really get an education just with online resources. And if a class here or there at the extension service pops up, I may just do that too. Just like plants never really stop growing, you never really stop learning.
All this learning helps not only kill time and improve my craft, but it helps foster new ideas. New design ideas, plant combinations, growing tips, technical knowledge, you name it I will try and stuff it in the old brain and see what comes out the other side.
Well, It think that’s enough for now. That should keep me sane in the coming months. I am starting to get catalogs in the mail already, and some raised eyebrow looks from the wife. Keep yourselves busy and the winter will fly by. If you are one of those people fortunate enough to have year round growing conditions, well….I am just jealous.
Green dreams to all.