Sunday, February 2, 2014

Gardeners' Holidays 2014: Festival of Seeds

Throughout the whole month of January, the weather here in New Jersey was absolutely frigid. For weeks, I barely ventured outdoors except to shovel snow, and planning my garden was the farthest thing from my mind. A couple of days ago, however, the thermometer finally crept above the freezing point, and right now it's actually a balmy 55 degrees. So even though Punxsutawney Phil claims the respite is only temporary, it still feels like an appropriate day to celebrate this year's Festival of Seeds by getting cracking on my garden layout for 2014.

I placed my seed order with Fedco about a month ago, and my seeds arrived in mid-January—or at least most of them did. Three of the new varieties I'd ordered were listed on the receipt as backordered and still haven't arrived. I wasn't too upset about the New Zealand spinach, which was really just an experiment anyway (it's reputed to make a good ground cover, so we're going to try some in our weed-ridden side yard), and I can manage without my Calypso pickling cucumbers (I'll just plant more of the trusty old Marketmore variety). I was quite annoyed, though, about not receiving the highly rated Klari Baby Cheese sweet pepper, which I'd been hoping would turn out to be the reliable, productive pepper plant we've been searching for all these years. For now, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the seeds will eventually arrive, but I'm hedging my bets by keeping my garden plans general. So the plot below shows only general plant types (tomato, pepper, etc.) and not which variety will go in which spot. I'll fill in the details once I start the actual planting, based on which seedlings actually thrive. (The crops that are filled in above the boxes are trellis crops that don't take up too much room on the ground, so I think they can safely share space with the zucchini plants.)

So that's the first stage of my Festival of Seeds celebration. The second part will be the planting of my first seedlings for 2014, the parsley. As usual, I'm a bit late getting these started: according to my schedule, the seeds should actually have gone into their pots in late January, since they take so long to germinate. But parsley's a pretty tough crop, so I'm not too worried about it; somehow it always manages to thrive no matter how cavalier we are about getting them into the ground on time. In fact, I think there's actually some of last year's parsley out in the garden at this point. I'm not sure it's actually still alive out there, since it's been buried under ten inches of snow for several weeks and subjected to single-digit temperatures at night, but if I scraped off the snow and found a couple of green shoots still clinging to life, it wouldn't actually surprise me. I think I might go so far as to try seeding some parsley directly in the garden—frozen ground and all—and see whether it actually comes up. It might not germinate, but then, getting parsley to come up even in a nice warm box under grow lights is like pulling teeth, so what have we got to lose? We've got more seeds than we'll be able to use anyway.

This year, there's also a third stage to this celebration, one that involves not seeds but actual plants. Now that we've finally (we think) managed to root out the giant zombie grapevine that used to take over our back fence each summer, we've decided that this is the year to plant some hardy kiwi vines in its place, which should provide us with some fruit we'll actually get a chance to eat. We're also planning to buy a few more asparagus crowns, since the ten plants we currently have in our side yard haven't been producing more than about a dozen stalks all season, which obviously isn't enough for anyone. We figure the new ones can share the long bed in front of our garden with the rhubarb plants; we were originally planning to add more rhubarb to the bed, but it turns out the four plants we have now are producing all we can handle as it is. (Of course, it would make more sense to have all the asparagus in the big bed and all the rhubarb in the smaller one in the side yard, but moving all the plants around isn't really practical, and we don't want to risk killing off healthy plants just for the sake of a neater-looking garden.)

So I need to figure out, before the snow melts, just where to order those plants from. It's complicated by the fact that we also want to put some new plants on the north side of our yard on that big slope, and the two plants we have in mind—shrubby cinquefoil and bearberry cotoneaster—will probably need to be special ordered as well. So obviously it would be preferable to order all four of these plants from a single nursery in order to minimize the shipping fee, but I'm having trouble finding a single source that sells all four. So far the best I've been able to do is Hirt's Gardens in Ohio, which has three of the four, but I've seen quite a few reviews of this nursery from disgruntled customers, so I'd rather not place my order with them if there's any chance of finding an alternative.

Fortunately, if Phil is to be believed, I should have six more weeks of winter to figure it out.
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