Some fun winter activities

By Tom Seymour | Feb 02, 2017
Photo by: Tom Seymour Yogurt cups turn flower pots, and a garden calendar for 2017.

Gardening, landscaping and outdoor-related activities are on hold now until warm weather returns. But there are some things we can attend to that will put us in good standing once the new season begins in earnest.

Reading gardening books and looking for topics, about the most exciting thing I found was advice to clean and sharpen garden tools. Can you say "boring"?

But there are some interesting and useful activities that we can perform now in the dead of winter. And make no mistake, no matter what the groundhog says, we should consider ourselves extremely fortunate if in fact we only have eight more weeks of winter.

Before getting on with things to do, I will note one thing that we absolutely should not do now, and that is to start seedlings for the coming season. Most of us at one time or another have given in to temptation and started our seeds way too early. This results in long, skinny, weak plants that have much catching up to do once they get transplanted outside.

The way to tell when it’s time to dig out the pots, trays and plant lights is to look at the instructions on the seed package. Let’s look at tomatoes. Most tomato seeds germinate in between one and two weeks. And since they are frost-sensitive, we must not plant out until all danger of frost has passed. In most cases the last frost hits some time in mid-May. But we can have late frosts through the month, which explains why people typically wait until Memorial Day weekend to set out tomato seedlings.

This means that by starting seeds now, we’ll have small seedlings by mid-March. That leaves us about nine weeks to hold our seedlings over, way too long for comfort.

The same holds true for other plants. It’s better to wait until the time is right rather than jumping into it right now.

Small pots

But for those who can’t rid themselves of the gardening itch, here’s a project we can jump on immediately. Some seedlings, tomatoes for example, will need transplanting to larger containers as they grow. The need for various sized, especially small, pots or containers cries out for action now.

To that end, we can begin saving containers. But instead of just saving them, we need to wash containers thoroughly in a solution of water and bleach and then we need to drill drainage holes in the bottom. One of my friends eats one small serving of yogurt each day and she saves these containers for me. The plastic in these is high-quality and the containers should last for many years.

Being a frugal gardener, I save what I can for reuse. But since plastic outgases, a process that turns it fragile and prime for shattering, it is always necessary to acquire new containers. Just remember, a serious gardener never has too many pots and containers.

Instant protection

Sometimes, despite our best intentions, a late frost will threaten our crops. There are several ways to circumvent this. Some are expensive and some (surrounding with hay bales) take up far too much garden space. But one quick fix is cheap and easy.

Just remove the bottom of a two-liter clear plastic soda bottle and place the bottle over your plant when frost threatens. Just be sure to remove the bottle the next morning, or the sun will heat the plant to the point of being dangerously wilted.

Save out the bottoms of the soda bottles. If you get a bunch of bottles ready now for future use, you can use the bottoms as saucers for seedlings growing in those recycled yogurt containers. It’s all quite efficient and loads of fun.

Wood ashes

Folks with wood-burning stoves often have a problem in getting rid of stove ashes. Instead of putting ashes out with the trash, try spreading them on the garden. This accomplishes several things. First, by sprinkling evenly, the black ashes help to draw and hold heat from the sun, causing the garden to melt sooner than surrounding areas. These warmer garden beds can be planted earlier than others. Just make sure to plant early-season crops, such as peas.

Also, wood ashes contain potash, which is good for the soil. If your soil is alkaline, go easy on the ashes, but for those with acid soil, have at it.

Garden calendars

Calendars are the gardener’s friend. But instead of using your regular wall calendar, set aside a calendar specifically earmarked for gardening. Use this calendar to note times for different garden chores, such as transplanting seedlings, digging out stored dahlia tubers for planting outside and many more.

I often note first and last frost dates, when I planted certain crops and also, the date of first harvest. By saving these calendars it’s easy to find averages and to plan accordingly.

Try electroculture

This next project sounds like something from the tinfoil-hat crowd, and it kind of is. But it seems like fun and should at least be worth a try. The curious can go online to learn more about electroculture and the maze of detailed information, schematics and plans that would dazzle an engineer. But still, the concept is reasonable enough.

Consider how things almost magically turn dark green just after a thunderstorm. Electrical storms charge the atmosphere, causing nitrogen and oxygen in the air to combine, producing nitrates. And we all know that nitrogen makes things green up fast. It is possible to create a similar situation in our gardens. This doesn’t call for antennae, towers, generators or anything of the sort. Instead, the “static electricity” method calls for copper wire, metal, rather than wire, trellises and old soup or vegetable cans. These metal objects can draw static electricity and this, in turn, helps boost plant growth.

If you want to implement this in your garden, try setting a metal rod (grounding rods for houses would work well, as would rebar) at each end of a row and stringing a length of copper wire from one end to the other. Keep the wire just above the tallest plants. After that, you can hang light metal objects, such as shiny metal pie plates and so on. These will help draw static electricity and may even help deter birds, deer and other garden pests.

Also, try setting old cans, minus tops and bottoms, partway in the ground all around your garden. These may increase static electricity in the immediate area.

And if you have a surplus of metal rods, try using them to stake tomatoes. The static electricity should give your plants a good boost.

Tom’s tips

One of my past columns dealt with saving money when ordering seeds by mail. Just recently, to my delight, a new catalog arrived unexpectedly in my mailbox. The Pinetree Garden Seeds & Accessories Catalog is chockfull of great plants, and the price is more than right.

For instance, packets of bean seeds run between $1.75 and $1.95, which is about a dollar cheaper than other catalogs. And shipping for orders less than $9.99 is $2.95, and for orders less than $19.99, shipping is only $3.95. This is a great way to save on quality seeds.

For more information call 926-3400 or go online to superseeds.com.

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