February. The days are certainly noticeably longer. The weather certainly noticeably strange. Winter started three weeks ago. Does this mean that it will last until the end of July?
What to do?
Pull out your begonias, fuchsias and geraniums and get on with it. Now.
These stored plants will need a good soak and a sunny, clean window. Thankfully I washed said window when the temps were in the 40s.
The only stored plants I have are begonia tubers. They are indispensable for my one and only window box. I love them dearly. Throw in a few lobelia and pansies and there you have a lovely, albeit predictable, combination for the north side of the house. Out of the wind, not much direct sunlight, just the perfect conditions for these plants. They thrive. They bloom their hearts out. They bring joy to all who walk down the path to the entry and have the wit to look at them. Bravo for begonias.
The next step on a gray February afternoon is to take out some nice sterile potting medium and get your tomatoes started. There you go, feeling better already, aren’t you? Feeling like there just might be a light at the end of tunnel. Like you really will have a garden come spring, whenever that may be.
Keep in mind that tomatoes are weeds. They will grow no matter what travesty you bestow upon them. They will make it. They will produce. Honest.
They do have a few requirements: If you do not have a greenhouse a sunny window will do. But forget the ones that are touted as thriving outdoors. They might grow but the tomatoes they produce are shadows of what you can grow in a greenhouse. Their flavor is dismal.
I start four different kinds each year. It used to be three but each year I trial a new one and lo, I fell in love with Black Japanese Trefele (despite the name it is of Russian origin). We can never ever be without Brandywine. I strongly encourage you to put one of these in. A potato leaf variety that has been building successful BLTs forever, you won’t regret its presence in your greenhouse. Then comes a cherry. There simply must be one of these to appease the grandchildren (henceforth known as “the grands”). I use Gold Nugget for this most important of purposes. So that covers the three stalwarts.
Now for the fun part: Always try something new. This year I have Purple Bumble Bee, and the only reason is its name. I’ll let you know.
I always start cucumbers too early. You would think I would take note of that, but no, there they are, doomed to failure. But maybe, just maybe, not. It’s a chance I take, maybe this year they will succeed and get a nice head start. If so, I win. If not, I restart and still grow enough to give away. A joy indeed.
These were all planted in individual pots, about three-inch squares. Deeply watered, covered with clear plastic (I like to reuse produce bags) to retain moisture until they germinate. Too wet, too dry — both are the enemy of seedlings. Keep things evenly moist. It isn’t rocket science. Common sense rules.
Then I got somewhat carried away. Why not? The counter was a mess so I kept on.
I usually wait until March to start the leeks and shallots but not today. In they go. But a different format. I broadcast the seed into containers that are about four-by-six inches. There is no technique here, no mystery. Sprinkle the seed on the surface of the dampened medium and lightly cover with more, then water lightly again. These plants will be potted up (moved to a larger container) as the season progresses.
If you have yet to grow your own leeks and shallots, may this be your year. They are wondrous. Do give them a go.
Then there are the pansies. What is a garden without pansies? Hot bread minus butter. It takes forever to get pansies going so — get going.
All of these plants are under lights in the guest room, somewhat cool, the air circulation could be better but the whole setup has been working for years so there it is.
Keep in mind that starting your seedlings can be risky and maybe a little daunting. If you are overwhelmed keep in mind that Homer is graced with a load of lovely commercial nurseries that will provision your garden with strong healthy seedlings.
Who knows what kind of summer we have in store for us. I won’t even hazard a guess. What I do know is that I wasted a great deal of energy last year being riven with angst over the loss of my established garden. The whole garden.
This year I am tempered. There are no expectations on my part. What happens happens.
Here in the Far North weather is the challenge. Cold soil, cold wind, colder nights. If you have yet to establish your garden plot, be giving this thought. Where you want it to go. Where it will get the most sun and least wind. How far you will have to carry water. Think with a practical eye. Use common sense.
Is this your first garden? Please, keep it small. Even those of us who have been gardening forever should think in terms of size. Small is not a bad thing. It is a manageable thing. It will keep you gardening. And harvesting. And cutting flowers.
Believe it or not — the gardening season has begun. Have courage.
Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener.