Gentle Reader. It’s cold here in Nebraska–and dark!–though it is a respectable hour in the morning (what?–5:30 is not that early) and I’ve got a big day ahead of me (what?–teaching school, making a floundering effort to paint all the set for the melodrama this week, and then directing melodrama practice tonight–that’s not so much).
Our melodrama–hubby and I direct and produce one every spring, with a boisterous and wildly creative bunch of home schooled students, most of whom we’d gladly adopt if their folks would permit it–is coming up fast, with only a handful of rehearsals left, and only one or two weekends during which we have to tie up the million-and-one loose ends that we’ve not taken care of yet.
And through it all, I’m secretly longing for garden season. The thing is, once the last of the set is torn down and the performances have been discussed ad nauseum, and the funny bits have been laughed over, and the sadness that it is all over already has been swallowed just a bit, it’ll be late March, and I’ll realize that I’m behind in the gardening business already, and honestly, I’ll never quite catch up to where I’d like to be, no matter how much I scramble.
That’s why it behooves me to make the best use of my time in February, to get even just a few tasks accomplished so I can be ready to immerse myself in the garden when the weather warms up. Literally. Well, not quite literally. Yeah. Literally.
February is the shortest month, and yet the very longest for a gardener in the northern areas–which can result in all kinds of negative mental conditions, as you may or may not know. Depression. Discouragement. The proverbial Winter Blues. Kids who would like to be outside riding bikes and running free, are arguing about such nonsensical things such as whose cat Lolo is, really.
(What’s the emoticon for a good eye-roll?)
Once the emotion of it, by the way, is not quite so raw, I’ll write about what happened last week with our adorable kitten Lolo. But not yet. It defined the events for the entire week. But that’s my hook. Come back when you see my title “Lolo” for a good–yet painful–kitty story.
But not today.
You know what I love, Gentle Reader? You. I love you, and I love sharing my life with you. I love this–that I can say “come back later to read the Lolo story,” and that you will come back. I love having somebody read what I write, and I love it that so many of you seem to value this space. There’s no accounting for taste . . . but you seem to like me, and I just love you back. *hugs*
Back to the subject at hand, though: how to stay sane until March, when the songbirds begin to return and the buds begin to swell, and occasionally we’ll smell spring on the south wind, and sanity is much easier to maintain. Or, achieve. Besides the very Jesusy encouragement to take February, like any other trial, one day at a time, here are some things you can to make February a boon–not a threat–to your mental health.
1. Get busy and plant some seeds!
There’s nothing like planting a few seeds in flats or pots inside, for cheering a gardener up in February. If you haven’t done it already, it is time to plant your early-season veg.
Remember, for example, garden broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, leeks, onions, and so forth? They can go into your garden a couple of weeks before your average last frost date, which could be mid-April here in Nebraska! That’s not so very far away, is it? For an extra-early start, sow these seeds indoors five to seven weeks before transplanting outdoors.
While you’re at it, plant a pot of lettuce, or spinach, or mesclun. It’s easy to grow at a sunny window, and you can proudly add home-grown lettuce to your salads, in February!
Also it’s a good time to plant your perennials from seed, if that is one of your plans for this year. It is so much cheaper than buying plants, and you’d be amazed at the variety of colors and varieties that are available to anybody who wants to buy the seeds! If you plant now, many varieties will even bloom the first year–check out blanket flower, coneflower, lupine, delphinium, coreopsis, black-eyed Susan, and so on. And, as you know, you only have to plant perennials once–they will grace your landscape for years to come, and even probably spread and give you lots of baby plants to move around or share, too. Cool, huh?
2. Order plants and seeds!
It’s the perfect time to place orders for berry bushes, perennial plants, onion and potato sets, and whatnot. If you wait until the last minute, you know, you may discover that your favorites are sold out. Don’t worry, they won’t come until the weather is right for them, but then you’re going to want to be outside–right?–poking around in the dirt and reacquainting your legs with daily walks, not inside, hunkered over catalogs by the light of a solitary bulb, swinging gently above you. Of course I hope by now you’ve also ordered your seeds and made your garden plan, too.
🙁 <— (This is me. I haven’t done this yet. Don’t be me.)
3. Prune and haul. Get some sunshine, baby!
There’s an old adage about the timing of pruning fruit trees: an old orchard keeper was asked what the best time to prune was. “Whenever the knife is sharp,” he said. If you left your fruit trees a raggedy mess last fall (guilty!) then a mild day in February is not a bad time to do this, and it will get you outside for an hour or two, and that’s great for your health and your mental prowess. And your tired cramped-up leg muscles, too.
Oh! And here’s an easy dormant oil spray that you can mix up at home: 2 Tb vegetable oil, 1 Tb. baking soda, l gallon water, 4 drops dish soap. Mix up and spray immediately on all surfaces of dormant fruit trees to smother overwintering pests.
Here are a few basic tips for dormant fruit tree pruning: prune fruit trees for size, to remove crossing limbs, and to give the trees good air circulation and sun penetration. Haul the prunings to your brush pile, or to your chicken yard. Put on some peppy music on your MP3 player, or a great audio book, and just enjoy the process. Or listen for songbirds, or geese flying overhead, and just enjoy the quiet. If you’re an introvert, don’t invite anybody to help. 🙂
And here’s your bonus: when you come back inside, flushed and invigorated, from an afternoon of pruning and hauling, by some miraculous transformation, your housemates won’t be nearly as irritating as they were before. They have changed, as if by magic, in just a few hours, and you will feel more patient and kindly toward them. You will feel like making chicken pot pie for dinner and sipping tea and gazing at them with fondness. This is a good investment of your time, Gentle Reader.
In February. Especially.
As far as pruning other types of trees, it’s a bit early for that. Postpone pruning dogwoods, maples, and birches until early summer, because these particular trees will bleed sap profusely if pruned in early spring. Here’s a very nice and thorough article on pruning (complete with an infographic for you visual types!) on what to prune when, and there are lots of photos of pretty flora and fauna, too. Bonus.
Another type of pruning which is satisfying in February is the cleaning out of messy flower beds. Do you customarily clean up your flower beds in the fall, or the spring? I go both ways on this, depending on how long the preceding fall is, and what else is going on in my life.
It’s pretty sweet, after all, to prune dead wood out of bushes, and cut dried flowers to the ground, and so forth in the fall. Everything looks so clean and neat, all winter long. But then, I know that the birds will eat the seeds, if I leave everything a mess in the fall, and will enjoy the bushes and brambles more. Plus, dried sedum flower heads and black-eyed Susan seed pods look really awesome in the snow.
So, for the birds and for winter snowy visual treats, I tend to leave my flower beds a lovely jumble in the fall, which gives me plenty of excuses to spend time outside in the late winter and early spring. 🙂
“Amalia, would you clean up the lunch mess today? It’s sunny outside and I need to get that one flower bed cleaned up—“ (works like a charm).
AND ALSO you can then haul all this delightful dried detritus to your chicken yard, giving the deep litter in the yard a needed boost.
4. Treat your garden to a soil test.
Admit it. It’ll feel great to stomp out to the frozen garden and grab a handful of dirt. Smell it. And then send in a bit for a soil test. You’ll be prepared in the spring that way to amend the soil however it needs to be amended: more organic matter? Manure? Lime? Do your homework now, and you’ll get the rewards from it this summer, with healthier plants and better pest resistance.
5. Fix your eyes on your garden tools.
You can tell my most-used garden tools by their handles. They’ve been unintentionally (oiy!) left out in the rain a time or two, and get daily use through most of the growing season. They deserve a bit of pampering, don’t you think, before another busy garden season begins? When I asked my dad, who is excellent at tool maintenance, how he keeps his tools looking so nice, he reached over to the little table that sits next to his favorite chair, and picked up a worn scrap of sandpaper.
I think Dad was telling me, in essence, to put on a good movie and pass out the sandpaper, some evening this week, and get the kids–that is, the “I left your favorite hoe out in the rain again, Mom-ones” to help me sand and smooth the handles of my favorite tools. In a manner of speaking. And then smear something on them to keep them from getting damaged from the weather this year–linseed oil, I think he said.
That’s it for today, Gentle Readers. I hope your February is going swimmingly--and I hope this list is helpful to you and your gardening dreams and more importantly, your mental health. After all, it’s the hardest month of the year for some of us.
It’s February, after all, and we need gardeners and outdoorsy types need to stick together.
p.s. Do you have any outdoorsy, garden-geeky types who might enjoy this post? Would you do me the enormous favor of sharing it with them? Thank you, chickie!
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