Thursday, February 11, 2016

Scratching the gardening itch

It's February. Let's face it, unless you're in a southern state -- which we patently are not -- then no one in their right mind can begin gardening this early in the season. But that doesn't keep the urge from striking

Gardening companies are clever at tapping into that urge. It's no accident catalogs start arriving in mailboxes in January, when the weather is bleakest. All it takes is a brief thumb-through of the beautifully-illustrated perfect fruits and vegetables, and wham. It hits. The urge.

Coincidentally our weather has been mild this week, with temps up in the unheard-of 50s. Except for berms and piles, the snow is mostly gone.

Don and I walked through the dead brown garden a couple days ago, planning spring's activities.

We could have a cold snap anytime, so I'm not going to risk planting anything outdoors, of course...but nothing keeps me from planting inside. I decided to scratch my gardening itch by getting some seedlings started early. Specifically I wanted to get cayenne peppers and Brussels sprouts planted.

We all love Brussels sprouts in our house, but I learned (too late) they need a very long growing season. I decided to start them indoors to see if I could get them successfully started early enough to enjoy the yummy results next summer.

A year and a half ago, I planted Brussels sprouts in the garden and they never matured. However they overwintered well...

...and (since they're biennials) they produced enormous numbers of seeds. I collected a goodly number. Incidentally, no fooling, these plants are descendants of the seeds I originally ordered from Victory Seeds several years ago.

So this afternoon I took some of the seeds...

...and rubbed them out of their pods.

I planted 36 seeds in pots large enough (I hope) to handle indoor growth for the next couple of months.

Next up, cayennes. These are last summer's ripe peppers. Again, they're the product of seed saving.

Last year I planted two flats (100 plants) and by the time I harvested the plants, only 15 or so had survived my clumsy gardening attempts. But those 15 plants yielded wonderful peppers. This time I again planted two flats' worth (100 seeds) and we'll see if I can improve my odds.

Cayennes take a long time to grow to maturity, especially by northern Idaho standards, so I like getting an early start.

Also, as an experiment, I planted ginger from a root I bought at the grocery store a few months ago, which has been sitting on the little shelf above the kitchen sink, waiting for my next broccoli-beef dish.

Instead, I noticed it was actually budding.

So, what the heck, I put it in a pot and we'll see what happens. My mother (who has a splendidly green thumb) has grown ginger many times as a house plant, so maybe this will work.

I thought about getting some red bell peppers started, but reined myself in. It's a little too soon for them.

So for the time being, my gardening itch is scratched. Let's see what grows.


  1. I would (selfishly) love to hear about the mechanics of your indoor seed starting. We fail at it both regularly and spectacularly. I think it's our choice of soil combined with almost criminal neglect...

  2. Yup, I can sympathize! I've been working on figuring out my seeds orders this week. Figuring out what I want to plant, and where. Within the next couple weeks I'll be starting seeds......

  3. My husband made me the same set up as you have-the restaurant shelves with undershelf lights. It works great! Some of my jalapenos and Ace green peppers have second sets of leaves already. I started them in January. *Last year, I started soooo late!) However, I have only 10 pots planted,all the room I can give them this year. I need space for beans, cukes and tomatoes, herbs and FLOWERS! Dee/NY

  4. Most who know me would class me in your "not in their right mind" class...because I do garden year round in a northern tier state (hehe). We also had a couple highly unusual days at 50 degrees (last year at this time our high was zero and low was -35!) I opened up the winter salad garden, gave it a good watering and harvested a nice mix of speckled romaine, red and green leaf lettuce, bull's blood beet greens, endive, kale, spinach, chives and green onions! What a truly wonderful thing this time of year, with the ground covered in snow and ice! I am still smiling (hehe) Not a fancy heated greenhouse, just some black plastic water line bent into hoops/stuck in the soil and covered with 6 mil plastic sheeting on one of the beds right outside the front door. Have been doing this for about 10 years now and it works like a charm! When it gets real cold, just pile fluffy snow over it or cover it with a tarp until it gets back over zero degrees. Just love having fresh green stuff to eat this time of year, for us and the goats and chickens. About 5 years into this winter gardening adventure, discovered Eliot Coleman and his amazing "Winter Harvest Handbook" - what a wonderful book!
    And when starting seeds this time of year, always start some additional varieties of lettuces and greens to add to the outdoor bounty...just to eat now when they are a couple inches tall. This works best if you put them on a low shelf where it is cooler or in a cool room - they don't like heat.
    Dreaming about gardening this time of year is wonderful...but harvesting and enjoying is even better!!!

    1. What an encouragement you are! Have often, often thought about putting in a winter garden but have not followed through. Thanks for the book suggestion, too! Maybe this year . . .

    2. Thank you! I try to encourage everyone to grow as much food as possible. Hard times are here with worse on the near horizon and every bite of food you can grow is one less you have to buy. And it is far better than anything you can buy anywhere - and so much safer.
      You will never regret growing a winter garden - it is the most awesome thing to put on a snowmobile suit, pak boots, elmer fudd hat and heavy gloves and go out in the snow and pick a fresh salad! And salad stuff grown in late fall/winter/early spring is a whole different thing...sweet, succulent and simply amazing. Nothing like summer lettuce.
      Here in the north, I start the lettuces/greens in July to mid-August for the winter salad garden. You want them to reach harvestable size before the weather gets too cold and daylight drops below 10 hours daily. The greens don't really "grow" much during the winter, until the daylight hours start to lengthen in February.
      Try it this year - you will be so happy you did when you pick your first winter salad!

  5. Ooo, Patrice, you beat me to it! Just yesterday I was looking at my seed-starting shelves and thinking of bringing them up to put by the window. May the Lord of all living things bless your efforts!

  6. Great timing with this post. A friend at my community garden just sowed radish seed in her bed. She has had greens all winter with the help of a cover. I'm ready and will try planting when this latest rain storm ends. Watching her success makes me want to try and grow winter greens next year as well. SJ/Vancouver BC

  7. I have vigorously attacked the early sprouting weeds in my north Idaho garden, as the temps in the 50's set them to growing. It was very therapeutic. I started my tomatoes way too early last year and had to repot them 3 times before the snow was off Baldy Mountain (a landmark a local told me to use). Bell peppers and tomatoes are soon going into pots, and since you brought up the sprouts, I think I'll get some seed and plant that as well.
    I grew enough ginger in a pot last year to have for the winter, but have none left to plant. I hope to get a piece of the organic stuff in CDA soon and have another go at it. Mine suffered from too much watering, I think.
    The spuds I saved back in a cool room are keeping well enough I have a bit of hope for growing potatoes again.
    These unusually balmy days are a beautiful temptation, and I don't think I will wait too long before I plant some cool tolerant plants, just to see if I can get away with it this year. PlantLady has me dreaming of fresh greens...

  8. Patrice,
    Do you have any concerns about toxicity from the tires? MotherEarth says short term OK but long term the rubber starts leaching its long list of compounds. Was just reading about this subject as I would like to do potato tower with tires. Anyone have success with this method?

    1. I have no concerns whatever about the supposed "toxicity" of tires. Please see this post for more info:

      - Patrice

    2. I tried potatoes in tires a couple years ago. Not bad, though not as prolific as I'd hoped. But, it was my first time growing potatoes too, so its hard to tell if the lesser crop was my fault, the variety of potatoes I picked, or the tires.

    3. So the latest evidence about crumb rubber isn't raising any new concerns about the chemicals which are slowly leaching from the tires?

  9. The garden itch was getting pretty bad, here in S.Central Washington, then the past three days have been all fog. Then you began to think, its only the middle of Feb. and you come back to real life again.
    Do not start as many seeds as you. Seems like too many irons in the fire to watch over them correctly.
    Being able to garden is such a blessing, from above. About 2500 sq. ft. give us, our son & daughter in law, the grown grand kids and friends plenty to enjoy.
    May the Man above watch over everybody gardens this year.
    Thanks for your hard work in sharing so much.

    Jack. Yakima Valley

  10. I found myself standing in front of the seed rack today while out shopping. Won't be long!

  11. Any research on the rubber possibly leeching into the food being grown? TY

  12. Oh I have the gardening itch bad too! I am in northern Illinois. It has been bitter cold that last few days and the snow is flying today. I need to get some seeds started in the basement. I hope your ginger grows!

  13. Oh yes! I set up the indoor "greenhouse" two weeks ago, and started cabbage, kohlrabi, and broccoli. They are up and going, but I cannot plant anything else for another week (too soon is as bad as too late). The hoop house isn't heated, so nothing can go in there till mid-March. I'm so impatient, every year I try to sneak in a week early, and ever year that results in me replanting... lol. Someday I'll learn. Not.