Okay, what in the world is wrong with GF? It’s the middle of December, the temperature at 6 AM as I write this is about -3 degrees, and by Sunday night we’re supposed to have another 18 inches of snow, and I’m talking about gardening? Ridiculous.
But no, it’s not ridiculous really. This actually is the time when you should be starting, even if you’re here in the Great White North in Northeastern Wisconsin. This is when the planning and preparation for spring really begins, or should. And that’s what we’ve been doing – thinking, planning, looking for deals, etc.
Starting in late fall I begin keeping an eye out for bargains in stores when I’m shopping. A lot of department stores have bargain bin areas where they put heavily discounted items they’re trying to dump to make room for new stock, and you can pick up all kind of goodies, often at steep discounts.
Beginning in late fall and early winter we keep an eye out for deep discounts on things like canning supplies in the bargain bin areas of department stores. Once the prime canning season is over in the fall, a lot of department stores are eager to clear out their stock so they don’t have it taking up storage space and you can find some good deals. Things like pressure canners, waterbath canners, etc. take up a lot of storage space, aren’t hot sellers to begin with, so some places try to clear them out in late fall or early winter. Same with other home canning and processing equipment; funnels, strainers, cheesecloth, etc. We’re pretty well set up with equipment, but we still keep an eye out for good deals.
After the spring rush, you can get huge discounts on seeds, often cents on the dollar in some cases. There’s nothing wrong with picking up left over seeds at the garden center or department store if you get them cheaply enough. Yes, there is a chance there may poorer germination rate with older seeds, but most seed will survive for years if stored properly. When we cleaned out my mother’s house we found packets of seed that must have been 20 – 40 years old and while some didn’t sprout and there was a poor rate of sprouting, well, it was free seed and a lot of it did come up. It’s going to depend on the plant and how well they were stored. Some seeds require specific conditions for storage. Google can be your friend in cases like that. Most seeds will keep quite nicely in a relatively cool, dark place if kept dry, but some may have specific requirements for proper storage. Doesn’t hurt to look.
Anyone who does home canning can tell you that canning jars can get expensive. But if you buy at the end of the canning season in late fall or early winter, you can find some excellent deals there as well. We also tend to watch thrift shops like St. Vinnie’s and those kinds of places. But if you buy used jars, be careful. Check them carefully for nicks, chips, etc. Especially around the neck and mouth of the jar. If there is any damage at all to the neck and mouth of a jar, throw it away. And when buying used jars I stick with brand names like Kerr and Ball. The tomato crop was so good this past year that we ended up using almost every jar we had except for the tiny jelly jars. The ones we seem to use the most are pint jars. They’re ideal for things like soup, chili sauce, etc. I’d picked up a couple of cases on a sale about four years ago that we still had on the shelf and we even used up all of those this year. So I’m looking for pint jars now.
(And do I really need to tell you to never, never use peanut butter, mayonnaise, or other jars that came from commercial products you picked up in the grocery store? Even if you can find lids that fit them, those jars were made as cheaply as possible, were intended for a single use only, and there is no guarantee they will survive use in a home canner. Do you really want to risk your health and safety to save a few bucks on canning jars? I don’t.)
This is also the time we do some planning. I sit down with a notepad and think about the season that just ended. What plants worked well? What plants worked poorly? Was there anything you especially liked or didn’t like? Write everything down. (Keeping a notebook just for the garden is a good idea.)
Our eggplant was absolutely spectacular this past season, for example. They were ridiculously prolific. But we quickly found out we don’t like eggplant all that much, and by the end of the season, we were so sick of the stuff we couldn’t even look at them. So no eggplant. Using that space for more tomato plants is a better idea.
Speaking of tomatoes, we had about a dozen plants in the garden at the end of the garage and they didn’t do very well at all. They were spindly, produced badly, died off early. We hauled a ton of compost in there at the end of the season and that should help, but we aren’t going to be putting tomatoes in there. We know from past experience that leafy greens do pretty well there, so we’ll probably use some of that area for various lettuce in addition to the small stump(1) garden.
The herb garden — I’m not sure what we’re going to do with that to be honest. It’s in a corner where the new addition is attached to the main house, facing south-west. It’s an ideal spot, gets lots of sun, very well sheltered, and has, alas, some of the poorest soil I’ve ever seen. We have a well established area of chives that I don’t want to disturb. We also have an Italian parsley clump that’s ridiculously prolific in there, and we don’t want to mess with that either. But the majority of the area…
We made the mistake of putting oregano in there, and it immediately went absolutely nuts, taking over everything. It even jumped out into the surrounding lawn. And while it makes mowing the lawn back there smell amazing, we would much rather have the oregano go away. One year we dug the entire thing up, down to a depth of six inches, hauling the dreaded oregano down to the compost pile, filled it up with compost and put in strawberries. And within two years, the damned oregano was back… Sigh. My wife put in cone flowers at one end, and those managed to do pretty good against the oregano. But I’d rather be using the space for something edible.
Planning what to put where needs some careful planning. And sometimes you have to admit that something just isn’t working, dig it all up and try again. We did that with the front of the house. We’d inherited some utterly miserable bushes and horrible lawn from the previous owner. The bushes were invasive, required constant trimming and weren’t all that good looking. The only good thing was a ridiculously prolific and beautifully scented rose, which we loved. But the rest of it was just nasty. We left it for a long time because we loved that rose, but finally we gave up. We pulled everything out, went in with a 6 foot rotary tiller and a tractor and ground everything that was left into dust, and started from scratch. We got rid of the grass completely and turned the whole area into a hosta garden and we’re rather pleased with that. So sometimes you just have to bite the bullet, plow everything up and start over.
I think that’s what we’re going to eventually do with the herb garden. I don’t want to give up the parsley or chives, but they’re a fairly small percentage of the whole area and the rest is horrible.
I was going to try an experiment this year. I picked up a couple of really nice yellow roses that I put in containers in the front of the house over the summer and they did beautifully, even though they were in shade most of the day. I was going to try bringing them in and putting them in the living room and seeing if I could keep them going during the winter. If it worked, good. If not I was only out a few bucks for a couple of plants.
Alas, Mrs GF decided enough was enough. The living room already looks more like a greenhouse than a living room, she declared. And I have to admit she has a point. From where I’m sitting now in the kitchen I can see about fifteen different plants in various planters and groupings in the living room, including a bloody great evergreen tree of some kind that we have to keep cutting back every couple of years because it’s decided it likes the living room just fine, thank you. I made a rolling frame for it a few years ago so we could move it around because trying to shift a four foot wide, five foot tall tree is a pain in the neck. During the summer it lives out on the deck and in the fall we roll it back in. It doesn’t care where it is, just keeps growing…
Anyway, enough was enough, she said, so the roses went to live in the basement where, she says, they’ll go dormant and come back in the spring.
- Ah, the stump garden… When we bought this place about 20 years ago there was a big old tree stump back there. We didn’t want to go to the expense of having someone grind it off, didn’t want to go through the work of trying to dig the thing out, so we built a retaining wall around it, filled it with dirt and compost and planted strawberries over the top. The stump completely disintegrated within four or five years, and we got a lot of tasty strawberries out of it. We kept it, occasionally planting flowers, but also using it for onions and lettuce which seem to do pretty well there.