January and a New Year of Gardening

"And ye, who have met with Adversity's blast,

   And been bow'd to the earth by its fury;

To whom the Twelve Months, that have recently pass'd

   Were as harsh as a prejudiced jury -

Still, fill to the Future! and join in our chime,

   The regrets of remembrance to cozen,

And having obtained a New Trial of Time,

   Shout in hopes of a kindlier dozen'"

Thomas Hood
Purple Flowers
A New Year - and time to contemplate both past and future. The past year, in terms of weather, at least, were certainly a trial for many of us here in Massachusetts. Harsh, indeed, was Mother Nature, with tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and October blizzards. Periods of wild, windy and wet weather, as well as days of unending heat and rainless days made this year one of the most challenging for gardeners. The weeds enjoyed it all - it was virtually impossible to keep up with them, and they ran amok wherever they could. But we have a chance - AGAIN - to make amends, and bring our gardens into compliance with our standards. At least I think we do!

I have spoken before of the benefits of growing heirloom plants, as they often are better suited to the wants and needs of small gardens and home growers. I have just read The Heirloom Life Gardener, written by the owners of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, jere and Enilee Gettle. This book is a wonderful resource for learning about heirlooms, as well as a beautifully arranged with enticing photos of luscious fruits and vegetables. In it, Jere Gettle describes his growing up with a gardening "gene" and how he gravitated to the almost lost seeds of the thousands of heirloom varieties he now carries in his store. It is a fascinating look at a young man's determination to protect and value plants from all over the world. The book contains useful information on how to grow, save seeds and use many vegetables, including lesser known ones, such as salsify, sorghum and ground cherry. If you order their catalog, it is equally beautiful, with stunning photographs and lots of recipes and tips. You can access their website at www.rareseeds.com. They have also recently acquired the Comstock Ferre Seed Co. in Wethersfield, CT, and I am planning a trip there this spring to see what they have done with the oldest continously operated seed company in the US.

For a more folksy catalog (black and white, with lots of old-fashioned drawings) try out Fedco Seeds catalog. They have quite a large selection of seeds, and also have separate catalogs for Trees and Shrubs, Bulbs and Tubers. Their prices are very reasonable, but they often sell out of some varieties (I'm trying to grow skirret for the third year and hope this time I get the seed) so you need to order early. The descriptions of the plants are generally amusing, too - they have a great sense of humor and a good writer. You can reach them at www.fedcoseeds.com.

I had planned to cut back on the number of tomato varieties I grow this year - if only to have enough space to grow other crops. But I found that I have already ordered 27 - and there are a couple more that I must have, so I may get to 30, which will end up being more than last year. I must vow to be ruthless in potting up only what I feel I can sell, I guess this will be my New Year's resolution. Since our crazy weather in late fall was really quite mild, I was able to put in a couple more beds for growing, and even fill them with the spent bedding from the chicken coop and good compost from one of the bigger piles that remains unforzen at this point. Now all I need is some snow cover to protect the perennials - is that too much to ask?

Greenhouse #3 is filled with the plants that cannot take the cold weather. Some are tropical, some are only hardy to zone 7, but they are withstanding the cold courtesy of the wood pellet stove. I planted several pots of ginger last spring, and they have given me about double the amount of root that I planted. I plan to leave a couple of pots (the foliage has died back) to see if they will re-grow and flower for me next year. I had grown turmeric last year, but it died back, too. Thinking I had lost it, I threw the shriveled roots into the bucket of waste material, and forgot about it. Sometime in late spring, I noticed white shoots coming out of the bucket. The turmeric had started to grow again, and I now have two nice pots with healthy plants. I also have severall volunteer plants of sweet pea, nasturtium and moon flower growing in transplanted geraniums. I try to re-use soil if I can iwhen seeds haven't germinated, and I guess the second time around was the charm.

Looking back over the past year, there were lots of successes, but some failures, too. The picture above is of lunaria annua, which I inadvertently seeded right outside the barn door by rubbing the seeds out of their paper "pods". The seed mustard grew well, but I didn't harvest it in time. The extra rosemary plants that I planted in the ground were able to be dug as big, two gallon plants in the fall. The wooly bear gourds were prolific, but I didn't know what to do with them (the mice have eaten them). The eggplant did not perform as well as the prior year.The Ponca butternut grew so much that I could not mow between the beds. Each year, we live and learn, and hopefully will use the experience to make the next year better.

My spreadsheet of seeds grown, potted and sold has been useful in planning for the coming year. But I also have fallen vistim to the siren call of seed catalogs, with descriptions of plants so enticing that I cannot in good faith NOT buy them. Enjoy this time of rest for gardeners, before it all begins again.

Happy New Year!
Karen