Monday, 3 February 2014

February Ramblings

"The February sunshine steeps your boughs and tints the buds and swells the leaves within."
- William C. Bryant
February sometimes seems like the longest of months for many gardeners. We are all raring to go, to seed and plant and dig in the soil. Days are getting longer and brighter. Seed catalogues and magazines keep flowing in, flaunting gardens bursting with colourful flowers and veggies.... And yet, sadly, the cool, wet, rainy season is still in full swing here on the island while snow covers the ground in the rest of the country. Snow storms, blizzards, hail, ice storms, and snow, plus more snow, are not just a possibility in February, they are almost a guarantee.  

So, what's a gardener to do?
We've already talked about all the planning, journaling and designing you can do while you browse through the catalogues. Evaluating what worked last year and what didn't, what to change and what to trial this year. All that still applies, I continue to add to and subtract from my list... mostly I add ... and add.

Try to restrain yourself from starting your seeds too early.
Plan on paper, dream in journals, pin on Pinterest, but please do not start planting your warm weather seeds (like tomatoes) yet. Early seedlings will not fruit earlier but will instead be weak, spindly, stretched out plants by the time you actually go to plant them outside, sometime around May long week-end, or early June.
To know when to start seeding, look a the back of the seed package. There you will find listed how many weeks before last frost you should start those particular seeds. Here in Nanaimo our last frost date is April 28th. As the majority of seeds are started 4 to 8 weeks before last frost, that means that next month, mid to late March, is when you will be doing most of your seeding.   
To see what we all can/should be seeding now, in the month of February, see the 'what to do now' list below.

In the meantime, if you are really itching to sow seeds now and do not want to worry about messes indoors, lanky plants, pest problems, etc..  look into winter-sowing, it is both fun and fulfilling.
Here is just one link on how to do it but there are a great many out there.

For fun... Forcing Rhubarb

If you want earlier rhubarb, when you see the pink nubs beginning to poke through the ground, cover the crown with a flower pot, garbage can, or other dark container. If it has holes in it, fill those in so that no light gets through.
You will be able to harvest your rhubarb much earlier, it will be sweet and less stringy. Do not force the same plant year after year though, or it will die. Have two plants and alternate forcing them annually.
My Sweet Purple Asparagus roots
If you can get nice, big, plump roots like this
you will begin harvesting your asparagus a whole year earlier!
 Ordering perennial vegetables, seed potatoes, fruiting shrubs, etc...
- I am, of course, hoping that anyone who lives near me, comes to the the Nitty Gritty Greenhouse to pick these things up from me as I am all about the food crops ; ) Plus, I will talk your ear off about how to best plant them and care for them, too ; )
- However, I must say, mail order is a great place to get great asparagus crowns, horseradish roots, blueberry shrubs, raspberry canes, spuds, etc.. 
As long as you order from a reputable company, they ship them out as soon as they get them so they are fresh, they come as bare roots so cost less, and you have a great selection to choose from. You also get to stay nice and warm indoors, order with a cup of coffee in hand, and simply wait for them to arrive at your doorstep. Some of these companies now also provide really great how-to plant instructions, ensuring that you have great success and are happy with their service and product.   

What to do this month ....

- Check on your over-wintering bulbs, tubers, rhizomes and corms. If all looks well, mist the peat moss a bit and cover up for another few weeks. If any look mouldy, shrivelled, or rotten, remove them immediately to prevent spreading the problem to the rest of the bulbs. If you see new growth, spindly, pale green, yellow or white, you have no choice but to take that bulb and plant it up. It will not stop growing, so best thing to do is to pot it up and put it into a bright yet cool-ish location, water, and watch it grow. That pale stem will green up nicely with access to light, water and nutrients in the soil.     
- Begin fertilising your indoor plants again this month. Continue to feed every two weeks until October.
- Desperate for blooms or colour? Pick some forsythia, lilac, apple, cherry or other ornamental flowering tree or shrub branches. Place into a vase, with water, in a bright room, and you will have blooms in just a few weeks time.
- Order your summer blooming bulbs, tubers, corms now. Things like your dahlias, gladiolas, canna lilies, calla lilies, begonias, eucomis (pineapple) ... Is also a good time to order perennials through mail order companies. You get more bang for your buck when you buy them bare root, even with the added shipping costs. I have a good long order on the go ; )  

In the garden
- Deadhead your pansies, pinching them back if they are leggy. The spring flowering bulbs are beginning to poke their heads through the ground, so pinching back your pansies now will have them blooming at the same time as your bulbs.
- Prune your fruit trees.
- Spray fruit trees, fruiting shrubs, roses, cotoneaster hedges, etc.. with a Dormant Spray (horticultural oil/lime sulfer mix) to kill over-wintering pests and diseases. The oil smothers eggs and pests while the sulfer is a natural fungicide. Spray before bud break! and follow directions on the package.  
- Cover any garden beds that you want to plant up early with plastic or cloches, to warm the soil.
- Sow radishes and spinach out in the garden, cover with frost blankets, cold frames, or hoops.
- When your peas and sweet peas start to come up this month, cover with frost blankets or branches, etc.. to protect the tender, fresh, new, green growth from the birds and rabbits. They really enjoy the taste of those tasty new seedlings, trust me ;)

In the greenhouse, sunroom, porch, cold frame ...
- Bring your potted up strawberries into a warmer and brighter location so that they start to fruit earlier.
- Bring your spring planters in for earlier blooms.
- Plant up your rhubarb in a pot and bring in to enjoy several weeks earlier.
- Towards the end of the month, plant your dahlias, canna lilies, calla lilies, begonias, pots for earlier blooms. Transplant into the garden in May.

What to start now...
- Start your cruciferous crops indoors, things like collards, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower.
- Start Brussels sprouts, onion seeds, leeks, artichokes, and kale.
- Salad greens and spinach. Stick to greens that are cold hardy for planting in Feb and March.   
- Herbs to start now are chives, parsley, lavender, coriander, nepeta (catnip), and mint.
- Flowers from seed .... petunias, geraniums, verbena, pansies and violas, lobelia, snapdragons, sweet peas...

In all actuality, the flowers that you can start now, from seed, are too numerous to mention. Check the back of your packages. Please remember though, that unless you have a great light source, you will not have saved any money by starting them yourself. Tall, stretched-out, spindly, weak seedlings will not look good, nor will they thrive. A south facing window is not enough, you will need to use grow lights set just a few inches above your seedlings.... or then, winter sow!

Tulips and heuchera coming to life in early February

On a more personal note...
Here are some pics to show how things are coming along at the new location of the Nitty Gritty Greenhouse and Potager. Please don't be frightened, lol, all will be well.  

The greenhouse is up, but not quite running. Just a few more days should have it fully functioning again so that I can clean it up and begin to set it up with tables, seeding tables, potting bench.... All the bits and bobs that make it ready to roll, my second home.

The yard is a muddy mess as we are in our rainy winter season.
However, considering that when we moved here, just 5 months ago, half of the back yard was one big, massive, open pit... (almost the entire area in this picture), I would say that we have come a long way ; )
Said pit has been completely filled in, requiring 50 truck loads of fill to do so. Then, just recently, Digger Dave took advantage of our dry weather and levelled the entire back yard... so is now ready to be seeded, sodded, covered with mulch, gravel, etc...   

The far corner (from the gate to the corner and up to the greenhouse) is where the raised bed potager is going to be. It will be in full sight and access of the greenhouse. Whew, the pressure will be on for me to keep things looking sharp all year long, esp in spring as you all visit the greenhouse ; )

The garlic is coming up nicely.
I had to create a temporary barrier around this garden bed, as little miss Ruby Tuesday seems to really enjoy dancing in it.

  Ruby Tuesday and Kalinda
Here are my two garden and greenhouse helpers, hard at work sweeping up the sand....

Heather in full bloom, growing at our new location.
Yes, that truly is a sea of black plastic all around it.

In loving memory of my dad, Reino Virtanen
December 8th, 1942 - January 7th, 2014
Miss you so very much, every single day.
Love you, dad.


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