Garden Log 1/25/22

The seed packets have arrived, hooray, although I was a little startled to find them arriving in a BOX — just how many seeds did I order, anyway, in the depths of our second COVID winter? A lot of seeds, my friends, a lot.

Last night I couldn’t sleep, so I ended up at 1 a.m. organizing my seed packets. The way I usually do this is laying them out in a row, checking the back of the packets for what they recommend in terms of planting time, making little piles that I’ll label with a post-it and rubber-band, to hopefully plant at the appropriate time, assuming I don’t get a big rush at work or otherwise derailed. In theory, from now until sometime in May, I’ll be starting seeds indoor every two weeks or so.

My current list looks something like this:

– 8-12 weeks before last frost
– 8-10 weeks before last frost
– 6-8 weeks before last frost
– 4-8 weeks before last frost
– 2-4 weeks before last frost
– 1-2 weeks before last frost
– as soon as soil can be worked (which is probably earlier in this schedule by quite a bit)
– immediately after last frost

– once soil has warmed to 55 degrees

I could wish seed companies were more consistent about this, as some use slightly different language (60 degrees instead of 55, for example). And some are really imprecise, and some come with no instructions at all (I’m looking at you, letitgrowflowers on Etsy, even if your online flower photos are swoon-worthy and your selection of flowers unusual).

But gardening isn’t really an exact science, I guess. This is my third year, I think, of starting seeds, and I’m hopeful that I can get most of these to germinate AND nurture them well AND transplant them in a timely manner AND actually get them into the ground (that last point was where I completely failed last year, sigh). We’ll see.

Almanac.com says the last frost date for our area is April 18th. So, calculating backwards, that means yesterday, January 24th, was 12 weeks ahead. Which means that NOW is basically the right time to start the earliest batch of seeds — I have 7 peppers, 2 artichokes, a pansy / viola, and a leek.

I’m honestly not sure when is the right time for the leek — it says “sow indoors in late winter, set outdoors 6-8 weeks before last frost of spring.” I think that means now should work, right?

I’m similarly slightly confused about the artichokes — it says “sow indoors 2-3 months before average last frost” (which seems like now) and “transplant to rich, deep, well-drained soil — seedlings require chill period (nights below 45F but above freezing) to produce ‘chokes”. This seems complicated, but I think means sometime in mid-April after last frost, I should get them in the ground quickly.

The pansy is definitely going in a little early; it says “start seeds indoors in very early spring” (see, vague!), and it’s definitely still winter here. But pansies are pretty cold-hardy, and I like having them out as early as possible, so I’m trying at least one batch from seed this year. (“Bunny Ears Viola Pansy”) We’ll see if it survives!

As a side note, I tend to push planting times; I often plant flowers outside a solid month before it’s ‘safe’ to do so. That carries a risk, of course, and about one year out of ten, a hard enough late frost hits that I lose some plants. If your budget is very tight, or if you feel the loss of plants keenly, that might be more than you can bear.

But the trade-off is that most years, I get a month of extra flowers, and I’m a pretty Darwinian gardener — only the strong survive. 🙂

Keep in mind as well that a lot of the conventional wisdom about when to plant out various tender plants “not ’til Mother’s Day” or even “not ’til Memorial Day” come from a time before climate change. Here in Oak Park, we’ve changed an entire half-zone — we used to be zone 5b, and now we’re 6a. So your great-grandmother’s gardening wisdom may need to be tweaked for the current circumstances.

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