It’s a pitiful sight, the garden in January. After the final harvest each year, we’re too tired of the whole thing to bother with clean-up: weeding, pulling up spent plants, removing row covers, and so on. I might be sorry when spring comes and the task can be delayed no more. But I don’t feel guilty.
Want to know why? Because an undisturbed garden is full of great places for bees and non-migrating butterflies to hunker down for a long winter’s nap. Because predatory insects also have a place to hang out and they’ll be on patrol as soon as the first pests emerge. Because birds love a winter garden and we love the birds because, among other things, they’re plucking hangers-on from dead stems and branches. Just saw a couple of crows out there doing a little housecleaning for me today. Way to go, crows! (I learned all this, as I’ve learned so much about gardening, from my favorite gardening site, savvygardening.com. These gardening gurus truly are savvy; if you’re a gardener, or want to be, I encourage you to check it out.)
There’s still garden work to do in the depths of winter, though. If you’re not a gardener, you may not know that seed catalogs are filling up your gardening friends’ mailboxes as we speak. In fact, they’ve been coming in since at least mid-December.
There’s nothing quite like thumbing through a colorful seed catalog on a cold January night to warm the cockles of one’s heart. It’s one of life’s great pleasures for someone who digs in the soil. Some make you drool with their slick pages and vibrant, full color photographs of juicy red tomatoes and bell peppers in every color of the rainbow.
The wish lists fill up with old favorites (for me Christmas limas, Super Sugar snap peas, Painted Mountain corn, Long Pie pumpkin, Bright Lights chard, and Who Gets Kissed corn. (Who could resist something with a name like that?) Exotic new varieties capture one’s attention, too. I’ve found pumpkin-on-a-stick, strawberry spinach, Love Lies Bleeding amaranth with its burgundy dreadlock-like flowers, and cucamelon—that cute little one-inch cucumber shaped and striped like a miniature watermelon—utterly irresistible. Indigo kumquat, anyone?
Suddenly I have a list longer than both my arms, and when I add up the cost of that long list, I risk cardiac arrest. Not to mention that I’ve completely ignored the physical limits of our gardening space. Time to stop dreaming and begin the ruthless process of cutting my list to something realistic.
Winter nights may be for wishing and dreaming, but winter days are filled with diagramming garden plans: what to plant, how much space to devote to each variety of vegetable and fruit, where to plant them. Rotating plants for pest control and soil quality is an important management tool.
Before I know it, it’s time to actually order those seeds, especially if I plan to give them a head start in indoor seed trays under grow lights. For a few plants—even in our short-summer climate—that process can sometimes start as early as February.
So you see, there’s no time to waste.