January is not exactly the zenith of the gardening season, but that doesn’t mean a gardener should let their guard down, relax, or reduce their efforts.
By Chris Cohan
January is not exactly the zenith of the gardening season, but that doesn’t mean a gardener should let their guard down, relax, or reduce their efforts. I say transplant the Boy Scout’s motto, “Be Prepared” to the gardener’s world.
There is always something to do in or out of the garden to keep up with Mother Nature’s non-stop movement. While we continue to massacre the environment, She keeps getting up off the terrestrial mat and punching back. Who else but a mother would take such a pummeling and come back for more? Talk about spoiled and petulant children in adult clothing, we stewards of the blue planet should be ashamed of ourselves. In grade school we were taught to share and play well with others. What the heck happened along the way?
In these cold gray moments of winter, let’s take stock of where we are and make resolutions. More important, let’s keep them. Start by making resolutions to do something good for the environment. It could be as simple as setting up a compost pile — keeping all organic waste on your property will produce a rich loam. You can add this nutrient-rich soil amendment to your gardens while reducing landfill demand and your taxes.
To ensure a healthier environment for your family and pets, stop using chemicals. Birds and insects will appreciate your efforts. Also, by not buying chemicals you will save some green for something greener.
Grow vegetables and herbs. Keep it simple. If you are short on space, try a whiskey barrel. Place it close to the kitchen for easy access.
You will be amazed how much you can harvest from that modest circle. Start in early spring, sow lettuces or other greens; add a variety of your favorite herbs around the perimeter for all-season picking. Once the last threat of frost is gone, add a determinate grape or cherry tomato plant with cage to the center for a long season of delicious tomatoes. Include two short marigolds for color; they naturally defend the tomatoes from many insects.
The smaller fruits of cherry and grape tomatoes not only ripen early, but they’re prolific and less prone to disease and rot. Determinate plants reach a certain height and stop growing. This attribute makes them more manageable and tidy in a limited space.
Feeling lucky? Don’t stop there. Add a few more barrels and feed the family well.
Plant common milkweed/Asclepias syriaca, a native plant that was once ubiquitous across the country. Did you know that industrial agriculture and development have devastated the North American milkweed population? Without a robust source of milkweed, the future of monarch butterflies is in jeopardy.
Monarchs make their annual trip from the far reaches of upstate New York all the way to Michoacán Mexico each year. The caterpillar stage is solely dependent on this host plant for food and to lay eggs. Without these rest and refueling stations along the way, the butterflies cannot make it. They need our help.
Milkweed has pretty flowers that multiply quickly, and, once established, it’s carefree. What could be better than looking out on your garden, seeing monarchs fluttering around, and knowing you helped in their survival.
Indoors, resolve to turn the thermostat down a few degrees in winter, and up a few degrees in summer to reduce your carbon footprint. Encourage your children to walk or ride a bike to school — they’ll be in better shape and more awake in class. Better conditioning translates into healthier kids who get sick less often. Being more awake in class should improve their grades, which certainly can’t hurt their college chances and beyond.
Teach your children well so they will ‘Be Prepared’ do a better job than us as stewards of our big blue planet. That is a resolution worth sticking with.