I don't know about you guys, but the long, dark months from November to March find me searching for garden related activities that are gardening related while I wait for my spring garden to kick off. It feels good to be doing things that I know will benefit my garden next year. I have put together the activities I have been doing or have done this winter. Hopefully, some of these can help you get your gardening fix while we all patiently (or impatiently!) await Spring.
Start A Worm Bin
You don’t need to invest in an expensive worm bin. You can make your own. There are tons of tutorials on the internet on how to make your own worm bin from various materials. I made mine following the tutorial on www.thespruce.com. It is a simple 3 bucket system with a lid. Within 3-6 months you will have useable worm castings to amend your garden soil. Make sure to keep the bin in a basement or garage during the cold winter, and alternately keep it from getting too hot during the summer. See my post on my experience with starting a worm bin. (I love it!)
Read a gardening book. I have been reading garden books that were recommended to me by other gardeners. I recently read, “The One Straw Revolution,” by Masunoba Fukuoka and I am waiting for my turn at the library to read “Gaia’s Garden” by Toby Hemenway which is about permaculture. I also just read "The Cut Flower Garden" by Floret Farm which is awesome.
One on One Seed Swap
Make a list of all the seeds of which you have enough, and are willing to share. Also make a list of seeds you would like to receive. Reach out to another gardening account on Instagram about doing a one-on-one seed swap. I recently had someone reach out to me asking to do this and she had her lists ready to go. I quickly jotted down some things I could think of off the top of my head, but I have since sat down and made a thoughtful list of new varieties I would like to try and also what I have available to share. You can even make your own seed packets from old paper grocery bags like I did here, or you can find lots of free printable seed packets online. If you prefer you can order seed packets online.
A great place to keep track of new varieties you would like to grow is in Instagram. Start a saved folder in your Instagram for plants you would like to grow, and start saving posts of gardeners who are growing plants that you want to try. Simply click the bookmark icon to the bottom right of a post's picture and then click on the blue pop up text which reads, "Save to Collection." You can create a new folder by clicking the plus sign in the right side of the pop up "Save to" window. Now you have a folder dedicated to varieties you would like to try growing.
Saved Seed Germination Tests
Test seed germination from seeds you have saved. This could save you time and disappointment come spring. This can be as easy as placing a few seeds in a slightly wet paper towel, then in a ziplock bag and placing somewhere warm like the top of your fridge.I have been testing germination in my seed starting station in my garage. Different seeds need different conditions and time for proper germination so you can just google how to test your specific type of seed.
Set Up A Seed Starting Station
Get a seed starting station set up and ready for starting seeds indoors in the January-March timeframe. You can set this up in your garage, basement, laundry room, bonus room, really anywhere! Here again, you don’t need to invest in fancy expensive equipment. $18 shop lights from a home improvement store, some light bulbs, a metal and some seed starting mix. I have a metal shelf unit that is great for hanging the lights from chains and then I can easily raise and lower the lights as needed.
Check the seed packets to find out how many weeks before your average last frost you should start them indoors. Google your area’s average last frost date to know the date to start them. Our average last frost is April 15th which is easy to remember as it's tax day. For example, my average last frost (ALF) day is April 15th, and if the seed should be started 8 weeks before the ALF, so I will start them on February 18th.
Make your own Seed Pots
I have been making seed starting pots from newspaper (these cause the soil to dry out faster than plastic so just be aware). I have an Instagram video on how to fold them. You can use lots of household items for seed starting such as egg cartons, plastic fruit clamshells and other plastic containers. Just remember to punch holes for drainage in the bottoms.
Start a Compost Pile
I started my current compost pile this fall after finally doing the proper research to make sure I did it right this time. Many years ago, I had an enclosed stationary compost bin that was impossible to turn, and I also didn't know about the proper mix of browns and greens. (for more information on this see my blog post on Hot Compost)
In many places it's not too late to shred some dry leaves and get a pile going. You can also use Chip Drop to get a load of free wood chips delivered to your house. I am currently moving a truckload of wood chips to my backyard for compost piles.
Grow Avocado Pits
Try and grow avocado trees from grocery store pits. This was all the rage back in the early days of quarantine and you can find a ridiculous number of tutorials on this on the internet. I have found it is fastest to let the avocado pit dry on my counter until I can remove the papery outer layer easily. After peeling the outer layer off, I simply wrap the pit in a damp paper towel and put in a ziploc bag for two weeks. By the end of two weeks the pit should have a small root coming out the bottom. After the root sprouts, I move it to a window with the pit suspended over water but the root in the water. You can use a jar with toothpicks in the side of the pit to keep it suspended, or a plant propagation stand similar to what I have here.
The Avocado tree on the right was started from a grocery store pit 3-4 years ago.
Set Up a Rain Barrel System
Set up a rain barrel system for your garden/yard. This can be small or large scale. I have a blog post on our experience with rain barrels, and using the collected water to water my garden and also our yard.
Indoor Smart Gardens
There are lots of indoor, counter-type grow systems that will help give you your fix of growing green through the winter. I have a Click n Grow system that I was gifted for Christmas several years ago. I currently have lavendar in mine, and I want to do basil next. I have mine next to my coffee maker in a darker area of our kitchen, and it makes me happy every time I see it. The great thing about these self contained units is that you don't have to remember to turn the light on and off or water it. It takes care of timing the light appropriately, and when you fill the reservoir with water, it self-waters for several weeks. It even has an app to track what you are growing with interesting plant information.
Hopefully some of these ideas help you get through the cold, dark winter months with visions of spring and summer gardens on the horizon.
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