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In the Garden

You already know this but it might be worth a reminder: it is not time to plant! No matter what the weather outside may be screaming to you at the moment, this is January, not March. Or April. But oh, isn’t it tempting? In an area where it’s not uncommon to hunt for Easter eggs in the snow, these balmy days are practically begging a person to garden.

And if it doesn’t bother you to lose your plants when winter finally makes an appearance—you probably could go ahead and get a little gardening in. I know more than one person with a greenhouse, a cold frame, or even with sturdy row covers that has already put some hardy, cold-loving spinach or lettuce into the ground.

Still, I find myself picturing winter (the one that hasn’t gotten here yet this year) as Clint Eastwood, looking through squinted eyes and saying, “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”

If you’re like me and rarely feel ‘lucky,’ then put down the hoe and pick up the gardening catalogs and settle in for some traditional, January garden activities... planning the garden you’re going to have when spring arrives not just in the yard, but also close to its place on the calendar.

My friend Kathy Osborne, one of the Queens at the Ponderay Co-op and my go-to person for... well, for just about any information, but definitely about gardening information, asked me what I would do different with my garden this year. My answer? More. I would do more.

Gardeners can exaggerate better than fishermen do, and they are prime candidates for a process my dad used to call “letting your eyes overload your belly.” Nonetheless, I have decided I need at least 65 tomato plants this coming gardening year, heavy on the Romas but with a couple dozen slicing tomatoes and at least a half dozen of the never-can-eat-enough Sun Gold cherry tomatoes too. I also want to try a couple more grape tomato plants even though I had no luck with them whatsoever last year. 

I’m not going to say how much of everything else I want to plant because, after the tomatoes, it looks somewhat excessive when I write it down. But regardless of types and amounts, if you plan to plant some of your own food this spring, the time to plan is now.

As you consider planting, you might want to give some thought to planting heirloom seeds for at least some portion of your garden. 

Heirloom seeds are simply the seeds of those plants that haven’t been used for large-scale agriculture. Most seeds you can find in garden catalogs are not heirloom seeds; instead, they are what’s called F1 hybrid seeds. These seeds are generally developed to create a plant with greater perceived benefits to the gardener: to be honest, I’m not sure that the home gardener could grow corn to maturity in our generally short growing season without resorting to a hybrid seed. A hybrid seed, however, is generally sterile. No matter how great the tomato on a hybrid plant, you won’t be able to save the seeds from the tomato and plant them next year, and grow the same kind of tomato plant.

Other seeds that are not heirloom are genetically altered seeds - franken-seeds, some like to call them. While I understand the appeal of altered seeds (some, for example, might include a gene to repel a certain pest, or be more resistant to cold),  a tomato seed with an inserted fish gene is not going to grow a tomato. It’s going to grow something, but what that something is is yet to be determined. Personally, I think if you’re going to grow genetically altered seeds, you might as well buy your fruit and veggies at the grocery store: because this food does not have to be labeled, a lot of what you buy there is likely to have been genetically altered in some way.

Heirloom seeds, on the other hand, grow real food that contains real seeds that can be planted next year to grow the same type of real food.

The biggest resource for heirloom seeds is the Seed Savers Exchange but probably the best resource is your local seed and plant sellers, and your neighborhood gardeners. These people are experts in their field, and most are willing to take the time to help you understand which seeds you should purchase to successfully grow your garden.

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Author info

Landon Otis

Tagged as:

gardening, Trish Gannon, Kathy Osborne, In the Garden, January garden, asparagus, saving seeds, Co-Op Country Store, heirloom seeds, tomatoes, frankenseeds, garden planning

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