The crocuses are in bloom today, two purples and two yellows so far. What a happy day at my house!
It got up to 60º this afternoon, and my goal for the day was to get half my onions and radishes planted. I have a little bed just off my back door where I tried to raise onions and radishes last year, but I planted old seeds and got only one little radish. So my goal this year is to find out whether the spot isn’t sunny enough for them, or it’s okay if I use new seeds. I saved the rest to put in another spot that I know is sunny enough.
Before I got started there was some cleaning up to do. I got a trunkload of recycling ready to take to the dropoff place, and worked on my still-experimental compost system to get it ready for spring. I keep it in big plastic bins with holes drilled in them. Compost is inactive during cold weather, so I brought the bins inside the garage; they froze anyway. Now it’s warm enough to haul them back to the garden and see if I can get some usable product this year. Then I went on yard patrol.
I live just south of Chicago, where it’s really windy, and other people’s garbage is always blowing into my yard. One of my cherry trees had a plastic bag wrapped around a branch, so I untangled that, then picked up all the branches that had blown off this winter. The town hauls away tree limbs piled at the curb for free, and we had a lot of dead wood this year after an ice storm. Thus I spotted the crocuses, which have just popped. The previous owner planted just a few of them in an odd little spot that I used last year for my herb garden. In addition to the joy of the first flowers, I noticed something else: the chives have already started coming back! I knew most of my herbs were perennials, but I really didn’t expect that. The other herbs haven’t even stirred yet, but the chives are ready for a first snip and it isn’t even St. Patrick’s Day yet.
I am still getting used to the idea of planting anything this early. The highlights of my garden are always the tomatoes and peppers, and I live far enough north that I have to wait till Mother’s Day before setting them out. I don’t have a basement grow-lamp system yet for starting them early, so I wait until all danger of frost is past before setting out seedlings. Tomatoes are my favorite food and I’d be sick at heart if I planted them too early and lost them to a freeze.
A few years ago my friend Peter in Amsterdam sent me bunches of real Dutch tulip bulbs, which are much more varied than the ones for sale in the U.S. I have tulips that have the coloring of parrots and others that mimic roses, as well as the conventional kind. I noticed a few days ago that the tulips are 4-6 inches tall already, so most of them have survived another winter.
Soon the grocery store will start getting in the first cool weather annuals, and I will set out some pansies in the planter boxes on my front porch. Once it gets hot out and the pansies start to fade, I’ll pull them out and stick begonias or petunias out there. I tried saving some of my begonias from last year by bringing them indoors and keeping them in the basement; I’ve done a fairly good job of watering them this winter and they’ve all survived, so I’ll have free flowers to greet my visitors. At $2.50 a plant, begonias are fairly expensive. Now that I know I can save them over the winter, I may not have to buy many in the future, which means I’ll have money enough to buy other things.
One thing about gardening is that there’s an enormous amount to learn, and you can get only so much info online or in books. Success or failure is as dependent on soil type, drainage and location (sun or shade) as on the quality of the stock that you buy. Put healthy plants in the wrong space and it’s wasted money and effort—as I discovered when I tried growing a few of Peter’s tulips in my concrete planters on the front porch. They got too cold and wet over the winter and rotted out—expensive Dutch bulbs! It would be better to ruin cheap domestic varieties instead. So every gardener lives and learns.
Given the Great Recession we’re going through, I hear that more people will be growing their own fruits and vegetables this year. That might explain why my onion and radish seeds were up 50-80% in price this year. Growing your own is still cheaper but not by that much unless you know what you’re doing. Still, nothing compares to the delight of picking produce from your own garden and eating it for supper—if you make it back to the house, that is.
Everyone around here knows the ideal way to eat a homegrown tomato: out in the garden with the garden hose and a salt shaker. You’re not a real Hoosier till the juice runs down your chin. And if a thief comes along and steals your First Tomato, you’re entirely within your rights to shoot ’em dead. No jury will convict you, so the prosecutor doesn’t even file charges. Survivors might call the sheriff, but he’ll just give ’em a talking-to, and the body will have to be cremated, because even an undertaker won’t bother picking it up, it’s bad for bidness.++