Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A New Year

After a couple months off, I figure it's time to dust off the blog, even if I have nothing really important to say. The madness of the world goes on, but my attention has been on more personal matters. It's mid January, the days are getting longer, so my thoughts turn to gardening. What seeds do I need, and where will I get them? What preparation is needed in the garden, and what can I do now?

Fortunately the winter has been moderate in terms of rain and snow, just a little on the cold side, so the soil is not a mudpit. Theoretically I could probably even plant peas right now, but I think I'll wait until March. Besides, the likely designated pea beds have not been dug.

I did get some prep done late in the fall. I rough-dug a thirteen foot diameter circular bed for a three sisters garden (based on the Native American practice of interplanting corn, beans, and squash). Those sisters will have a few cousins, as I included some dry seed heads of the pigweed, lamb's quarters, and epazote that reseed themselves with great enthusiasm every year. As long as I don't let them take over, these deep-rooted tall annuals should help the less aggressive crop plants access deep water and nutrients, as well as providing tasty wild greens. The epazote should help repel squash bugs and bean beetles. Maybe some marigolds, basil, dill, etc., to attract pollintors and repel pests. There might be room to poke in a few pepper plants, which actually benefit from a little light shade in the Mid-Atlantic.

I also constructed a quick-and-dirty cold frame out of three strawbales and a large (24"x36") pane of aquarium glass. Placed around some red Russian kale seedlings in late November, it has kept them perky and slowly growing through some unusual cold snaps (low teens in central MD in December is a bit unusual). Same kale out in the open is wilted and withered, though I think it might recover as the weather warms.

Sometime before this past season, some bird or animal or postal worker planted a big old burdock plant in one of my fallow beds. As it is a biennial, it only grew a giant rosette of leaves this year. I decided to let it grow and flower this coming season, and I'll harvest some of the seeds to grow roots in 2012. Yes, I think we'll still be around through 2012, but we're in for some interesting times.

And then there is my first and most consistent overwinter gardening enterprise: the garlic. Every year since we bought the house I've planted garlic in the fall for harvest in the early summer. Some years it's planted in mid October, one year as late as December 11. Some of the cloves I planted this November are direct descendents of that first garlic patch.

So far this year, the time I would spend reading the news and blogs, getting p-o'd, and periodically blurting out a post of my own, time otherwise known as work--have I mentioned that my temp job pays little but affords me time to wait around for things genuinely work-like to happen? Anyway, for the last few weeks, instead of blogging or doing much of anything that would inspire me to blog, I've been shopping for seeds online. So far just window shopping, but it's been time well-spent in my opinion.

I've pretty much decided that most of my seed purchases will be from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I like their selection which emphasizes heirloom varieties adapted to the Mid-Atlantic region. They are based in the Charlottesville, VA area, and most of their offerings are grown and tested in their own fields. Another promising source is Happy Cat Organics, with some interesting heirlooms from the Amish and Mennonite farmers and gardeners of Pennsylvania. I figure a little from the South, a little from the North, and I might have my bases covered whatever crazy weather comes our way!


  1. Haven't tried epazote, had only heard of it as Mexican Tea. Sounds good, though. Will give it a spin this year. I'm having to cut back on some gardening to accomodate some schedule changes, so I need more stuff that's low maintenance/heat hardy. Thanx!

  2. Yeah, it's very low maintenance to grow and reseed, but requires a little diligence to be rid of if you don't want it anymore. But it's an annual in our climate, so as long as you cut it off or pull it out before it goes to seed it is gone.

    In the name of full disclosure, here are other possible cons to epazote: not a very attractive plant (and I think pigweed is attractive, at least it stands up straight!), and it smells like kerosene, at least to my nose.

    That said it is supposed to be good for preventing gas when cooked with beans.

  3. BTW, I never intentionally planted epazote. It may have come in with some horse manure. I may have a strain that is especially high in the kerosene-smelling chemical. After all, Baltimore used to be a center for cultivation of wormseed (another name for this plant) and production of wormseed oil, an old medicine whose name is self-explanatory...