Monday, January 6, 2014

In the Bleak Midwinter, I try to get excited about the Garden

I'm a southerner by birth, now trapped in the frigid Upper Midwest.  Thankfully I'm not as "upper" as I could be, but still this winter is a doozy.  Snow has been sitting petulantly on the ground since early December and they are calling for a high of -5 to -10 today sans wind chill. 

I usually cope with this by complaining, A LOT, and dreaming about the garden.  The most exciting moment is the arrival of the seed catalogs and they have come in a huge wave in the last couple weeks.  Unfortunately, I have to say I am really struggling with getting revved up this year.  I am usually like a kid in a candy shop - poring through the catalogs and making my plans and sorting through my seed starting paraphernalia in preparation. To be frank, however, my garden has been fun but pretty much a complete failure for three years straight now.  The conditions in my yard are abysmal and there is nothing I can do about it besides moving or leading a stealth commando mission against my neighbors trees. Also, I really want to spend as little money as possible which means no seed buying frenzies. No buying of blueberry bushes (although actually I will have to buy at least one because blueberries need to cross pollinate with different varieties and...ahem...back to the topic). Poo.
A small selection of the seed catalogs that have winged their way here to tempt me.

I do have some preliminary plans/vague thoughts about the upcoming year and by putting my gardening resolutions down I hope to rev up my excitement.

1) Hybrids:  I have been a devotee of heirloom vegetables and I still am really attracted to them BUT they can, on average, be less productive than hybrids.  I don't think that's true of all varieties and I've had good luck with a couple but my space already has enough disadvantages without growing less productive varieties.  So, until I get a better space I will incorporate more hybrids.  One that I am already committed to are the Juliet variety of roma tomatoes.  That link takes you to the varieties page, but you can also read them being talked up on A Way To Garden. As one commenter said, they are not the best tasting tomato in the world but they are fine and super prolific.  Sounds like just what I need.  Maybe I can even grow enough to can my own tomatoes?  The last couple years, I've bought tomatoes, corn and strawberries from local farmers to preserve and store and it's super tasty and organic but not terribly cost-effective.  Last year I got 16 pints of diced tomatoes from $35 worth of tomatoes.  I'm not a math whiz but that's over $2 per pint which is more expensive than most canned tomatoes in the store.  sigh....

2) Cut back...again:  Last year I cut back on the number of types of veggies I was trying to grow with the idea of trying to grow a bunch of a few things rather than very few of a bunch. Capiche?  I didn't cut back enough though sadly. My list will be based on what produced well last year:

Green Beans (likely Empress)
Garlic (Music variety - already planted)
Greens: Definitely lettuce and maybe some kale
Peppers:  I saved some seeds from my tomato-shaped pimento and maybe some Tolli's sweet or equivalent hybrid
Tomatoes: My stand by yellow pear (Beam's pear) and the Juliet variety mentioned above
Green Onions:  Fukagawa!
Annual Herbs: Parsley and Basil

And that is it.  No carrots or beets or cucumbers, potatoes.  Only a couple varieties of peppers and tomatoes.  Keep it simple.

3) Blueberries:  I fell in love with blueberries this year and bought a couple of bushes that were north hardy and able to grow in pots.  As I started to babble about above I do need at least one more plant of a different variety to produce fruit.  So dependent on whether my two bushes make it through this insane winter we are having, I will buy a couple of those.

4)  Herb Garden: Last year I re-planted my perennial herb garden in a different location and it thrived well and looked great.  I do still have some plants though that I couldn't get my hands on last year.  I'll fill in these gaps and replace any plants that don't make it through this aforementioned crazy ass winter.  My missing plants are: Mustard, Flax, Elecampane, Betony, St. John's Wort, Angelica, Calendula and Sweet Cicely.  Currently in the Herb Beds:  Rose (which did better than expected last year - hope they survive the winter), Dill, Oregano, Thyme, Tarragon, Chives, Sage, Mint, Lemon Balm, Bee Balm (Monarda), Chamomile, Lavender, Butterfly Milkweed, Echinacea, Hyssop, Yarrow.

5) Seed Starting:  Last year, I accidentally grew HUMONGOUS tomato starts, I think primarily because I used random salvaged planting containers that were a bit bigger than usual.  This gave me the idea, because I always have trouble getting peppers to mature before the frost, that I should perhaps try this purposely with peppers this year.  The idea is to get them as mature as possible before even putting them outside. 

So that's my starting point for this year's planting.  It's actually a little more significant than where I thought I was at and I do feel some excitement creeping in and driving away the winter gloom.  Spring is right around the corner after all....


  1. All your garden ideas sound awesome, but I am in LOVE with the idea of your herb garden!! I can't wait to see what it all looks like when it comes to fruition ;)

  2. My dream is to someday have a place with the room and the conditions to have a large cottage/knot hybrid herb garden with an area for medicinal, an area for culinary etc.... Someday....