gardening in February

I like to start my peppers in mid-February. Peppers have a long germination time, so it’s essential to get them going.
I like to start the always wonderful Green Bell Peppers, which turn into Red Bell Peppers if you let them ripen. I also start some Big Chile Peppers which are a mild heat, and some Jalapenos for a good salsa.
Buy dirt. Start with a good potting soil mix. I plant 2 seeds in a small container, and plant as many containers as I will want for my garden. If both seeds germinate then remove the weaker plant when the secondary leaves appear. Don’t be tempted to leave them both in the same container–it will compromise growth later on.
Peppers like a consistent temperature. I used to set my starts on my TV set for the constant warmth that it put out–even when not in use. Last year we purchased a HDTV, and it ruined my good veggie starting place–I also can’t raise bread dough there anymore. Oh well, moving on…
Keep the soil gently moist in the first crucial days of sprouting. It’s like babysitting, but not as intense. Once they sprout cheer them on–talk to them, and move them in a sunny place. February and March can be sketchy for sun in northern Michigan, but I’ve never had to resort to a grow light.
Once you see a sprout, you get the feeling that you can grow everything! This is when I start planting flower starts, and crazy things that I’ve never grown before. Try to keep it sane. Plants will need a lot of attention until they reach the garden.
I’ve planted an Early Girl Tomato at this time too. For those w/ a competitive spirit–“Yes, We’re eating fresh tomatoes from our own garden and it’s only JUNE.”–you may want to try this. This tomato plant will end up being a potted patio plant. I’ve never fully succeeded planting this monster in the garden once the last frost is over. Start them the same way you start the peppers, and don’t forget to label them! Remember to keep notes in your garden notebook.
Next month we’ll get into serious tomato starts.

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Gardening Year Round in Cadillac

My husband came in and yelled, “Seven!”.

“Seven what?” I asked.

“Seven seed catalogs–the mailman hates you–I could hardly get them out of the box!”

It’s that time of year when the seed catalogs arrive and display veggies and flowers like they were crown jewels.  Well actually they are.  If you’ve ever gardened, you would be as proud of your produce as any valuable bauble. This is the time when you peruse the beautiful array in the arriving catalogs and make your plan.  What’s better than a cup of hot tea by a warm fire dreaming of your next summer’s fresh crop–I’m already getting the recipes lined up.

Gardening starts in January.  My family would call me a serious gardener, but my goals for the garden are to keep it simple, effective, and economical.  I enjoy spending time outdoors, and I enjoy fresh produce, but not at the expense of all my free time.  Everything I do is for maximum effectiveness–weeding, watering, debugging, harvesting, etc., and my plan starts in January.

First you go through the seed catalogs and you decide what you just can’t live without.  I’m big on veggies.  They grow fast and you get to eat them.  I like the early veggies–radish, lettuces, greens, spinach, and peas.  Rhubarb and asparagus are great too, but once you have them established they’ll come up on their own year after year.  Then the mid-season veggies–beans, early varieties of potatoes, squash, corn, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers .  Then there is the late-season veggies–onions, winter squash, potatoes, carrots.  I judge these by when I harvest the bulk of their produce, but I still get some carrots out of the ground early and usually have a late pepper etc.

I like some of the easier flowers too.  I choose flowers that grow fast and don’t need a lot of attention.  My favorites are zinnias, love-in-a-mist, bells of Ireland, bachelor buttons, and more.  I usually try something unique–just for fun.  One year I tried cotton.  One year I tried peanuts.

The garden size is next.  How will you make it all fit!  This is always a puzzle, but I get some graph paper and figure it out.  This is a big help if you’ve never gardened before.  If you’re unsure of plant size and spacing needed between rows, then find a gardening friend or head to the library for more info.  The seed packages have size info too.  If you’re not sure how big your garden area should be, then go out and stomp out a reasonable plot in the snow.  Measure and then graph.  If your neighbor looks at you strange, just yell, “New project!” and carry on.  Each square on the graph paper is equal to one square foot.  My garden size is 15’x30′.  I leave just enough space between rows of ‘grown plants’ to walk–this doesn’t always work as planned.  I don’t leave a lot of extra space because weeds love these open spaces, and I don’t like weeds.

Is it starting to seem like a lot of work?  Are you saying, “Hey!  I thought this was going to be pleasant!”  Well don’t fret.  Gardening is not an exact science–there are a lot of variables.   One year the tomatoes will behave and the next they’ll grow like it’s the new rainforest.  So just go for it–and keep a garden notebook.

The garden notebook will help you recall what went well and what didn’t.  Keep track of all your successes and failures.  I learn new things every year.  We live in Zone 4 here in Cadillac.  Keep this in mind when ordering plants or seeds.   My favorite seed catalogs include:  Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Pinetree Garden Seeds, Gurneys, and Stokes to start with.  Some of my favorite gardening books include:  “Crockett’s Victory Garden”, (and other “Victory Garden” books) “Organic Gardening”, “Frugal Gardener”, and “Gardening When It Counts”.  There’s a lot more good reading out there, and now is the time to do it.  You can gather or make materials that will make starting a garden easier.  Remember, my goal is to keep it simple, effective and economical.  Let me know what you think!  Send me a comment or question.    Juli