WHEN MIMI AND I have this much time at home, all we can talk about is spring gardening. We talk about our landscape project, which is ongoing throughout our entire back yard. Currently, we are at a standstill, because every time the ground begins to dry out, the rain comes and steals another four or five days. I guess a standstill could be called a standoff, because we can’t decide where our pea gravel cart ways will start and how they will end. The paths will be wide enough for a golf cart with a dump bed on it to eliminate having to haul all our materials around on foot, which will save us a lot of time and energy. By the way, Mimi’s Christmas present this year was a sound system for her golf cart, so we can whistle while we work wherever we are in the yard. I have speakers throughout the yard, but most of the wires have been cut while getting to this point of our project. I expected that to happen, so the speakers on the cart will allow us to rock on while we do our thing. Sometimes we like to garden in silence, and sometimes we like to drown out our thoughts with jamming music.
UNTIL WE MAKE decisions on where that project is going, we will have to turn our attention to issues that we can do something about. Lately, it seems the vegetable garden is in our focus. We have 8 raised beds that are 2 1/2 feet tall by 4 feet wide and 10 feet long. One box is filled with carrots that are still small sprouts. I don’t expect to harvest them until spring. We sowed four types of carrot seeds back in October… orange ones, red ones, short ones and long ones. I love fresh carrots, and I use them to sweeten my smoothies in the morning. Right now we have four varieties of harvestable kale. Some of them are blue with thick, puckered leaves, and some are more tender, but they are all good for cooking, and kale is my favorite part of our smoothies. This year we used kales and bok choy in our black-eyed peas instead of turnip greens as our New Year’s good luck talisman. I hope it works.
We have four kinds of lettuces that range from spicy red leaves to sweet green leaves so they can be mixed. We even have a lettuce called Spotted Trout, which is speckled all over, and the leaf is even shaped like the fish. We have one bed that is nothing but arugula, because we love its slightly nutty flavor. Even when they bolt in April, the flowers are very tasty on a salad or as a garnishment. One of our beds is divided between baby bok choy and Chinese or Napa cabbage. We cut the baby bok choy in half like a fennel heart and throw them on the grill at the last minute when we grill any meat. We brush them with sesame oil, fresh ginger, soy and sriracha sauce and grill them for two minutes on each side to soften them up and to give them a smoky flavor, which works great with some sautéed onions. The Chinese cabbage is a beautiful, elongated cabbage with wide mid ribs that are very crunchy when chopped into Mimi‘s famous Napa salad. She adds some sesame seeds, almonds and pan fried Ramen noodles for a nutty crunch. When she wants to send a salad to someone, this is her go to. It’s always well received, and we send the recipe with it, because we know that will be the next question.
ONE PLANTER BOX has nothing but winter hardy herbs that we like to use. We have lemon thyme, rosemary, oregano, English thyme, cilantro and parsley, and for now our lemon grass is still hanging on. The lemon grass will eventually get bitten if it ever gets seriously cold. We covered it for those two nights below 29° that we’ve had so far. I remind myself that we have January, February and, quite possibly, March, with some sure enough prolonged cold temperatures, perhaps with ice. I don’t even like to think about icy events around here. The boxes are full and producing beautifully, but the thoughts of our summer garden are still prevailing. I imagine most people have a seed drawer or a seed box something like ours…a jumbled up mess of half empty packets of past endeavors…some, never to be tried again, and some that we had good luck with… but a jumbled up mess of seed packets, nevertheless. I go back through the seeds and reminisce as I question the viability of old seeds. I don’t want to give them the time of day if they aren’t going to sprout. They lose their viability for lots of reasons. They can be stored where it is too cold or too hot or sometimes just for too long. Sometimes I can just look at them and tell that they are no good anymore, when they feel light and brittle. Some look just the same as the viable ones, but I don’t want to risk sowing seeds that aren’t going to mostly germinate. One easy method to test your seeds is to perform a high school science project. Moisten a paper towel. Put 20 seeds on the paper, fold the towel in half and then half again. Put the folded up towel in a plastic bag and put it in a warm place. The top of an appliance, like the refrigerator or ice maker works great. If you have a heating pad, this works, but turn it down very low. I check for germination daily, even though the seed packs state the number of days to germination as a guideline. Then count the sprouted seeds and calculate percentage viability. For instance, 15 out of 20 seeds would be 75%. I would plant a seed packet that has 75% viability and make up the extra by sowing more seeds than I would normally sow.
AFTER SO MANY years of just throwing the seed packets that I wasn’t sure about back into the jumbled box, I have finally decided to get this right once and for all. I am using a photo album that is kind of small for this but will work until I can find a bigger one. Each page has enough room for two individual seed packets. I started my seed organizing project by sorting all our garden seed packets into specific category piles… cool season crops, warm season crops, herbs and flowers. Those of you who love buying seeds know it can be kind of addicting and know it’s easy to wind up with multiple packs of the same thing. I started with cool season crops. When I had more than one pack of a certain kind of seed, they all went into that pocket together.
WE HAVE SOME notes about when the seeds were planted, how they did, where they were planted and, most importantly, how we liked using them. These notes, along with garden sketches, go into the end of the photo album. That information is golden, and we often refer back to it. I know, for sure, that we will buy more seeds this spring, especially heirloom seeds with photos of irresistible looking produce. The seed catalogs are very good at tempting seed buyers with their gorgeous photography. In their defense, it is hard to take a bad photo of fresh produce. My friends probably get weary of the photos I send every time I get in the garden…but they don’t get weary of my sharing the bags full of produce in those photos. Half the fun of a vegetable and flower garden is the ability to share its bounty with my friends. I often payed back with a beautiful dish prepared using some of the produce. I am a fan of bartering like that, because we often wind up with recipes that are new to us.
IT LOOKS LIKE it’s going to be another good year to keep yourself busy and to keep your refrigerator full of healthy choices, since this pandemic is going to hang around for a while. It caught us by surprise last spring. This year we can see what’s coming, and we’ve been given plenty time to prepare our garden spaces and get our seeds ordered and organized. It’s a fun and worthwhile project that can help us stay mentally and physically well. Show the kids how it’s done. You may be surprised how much kids love to garden. It is one of the most important lessons you can give them. Keeping your crisper full is great and giving produce to your friends is a very fulfilling act that is good for everyone.