Be ready for ‘what ifs,’ but start gardening

The very best aspect of procreation are the ensuing grandchildren. Cecilia, our 9-year-old granddaughter, has recently moved from Hidden Hills to part way up East Hill. She has been studying the lay of the land at their new house. Plotting a vegetable garden. Thinking about hanging baskets and containers on the deck. Scrutinizing the existing perennials. Asking questions. Ah yes, the questions. I could listen to them all day. 

At the moment she is concerned that with this warm weather “her” plants should be farther along. She wants to know when to get the annuals started. Apparently there is a pond and she knows she wants irises and marsh marigolds to tuck around its perimeter. Wants to know what else will love the wet.  As the oldest of the five grands she is showing promise of love of gardening. Wouldn’t it be something if they all do? What a world. But for now I’m satisfied with one.  

I am going to launch into telling you all about the seedlings that I started two days ago. But let me caution you — starting your own seeds is not all that good of an idea. If you are a novice gardener, please by all means, use the excellent nurseries that abound in this tiny town. They will provide you with lovely, strong, suitable-to-our-climate (whatever that might be) seedlings that will most likely survive whatever our growing conditions throw at them. Have faith. 

Read on and think about which of these plants you might want to have in your garden. If you insist on starting from seed, use lights. There isn’t enough natural light, certainly not any reflected light, to help your seedlings thrive. If you think you want to put them on your window sill at the very least wash the window, it certainly is warm enough.

But without additional light, you will end up with weak, spindly plants that will be a sorry sight and most likely will disappoint you. You are gardening for success, start strong. 

I am starting my seedlings 10 days earlier than usual. These include tomato, artichoke, cucumber, pansy, delphinium, leek, onion, shallot and lettuce. They are under lights in the guest room. I am always hopeful that no one needs the room from now until April when the greenhouse will be heated and they (the plants, not the guests) can move out there. 

I leave the lights on 24/7. No timer, just on. This can dry out the surface faster than you would think so I check them at least once a day to make sure they are moist. The lights are very, very very close to the surface. They are on chains and I move them up incrementally as the plant grows. 

Getting an early start can backfire. Preparation for disaster is the only way to go. I have oodles of containers in various sizes so the seedlings can move up, allowing their root systems enough room in case they have to spend more time inside. This has worked in the past. 

There are all the “what ifs.” What if March leaves like a lion with single-digit temperatures? If that is the case, I can’t keep the greenhouse warm enough to withstand the onslaught. So the tomatoes will need to stay in the house, in larger pots, until the weather evens out a bit. Be ready for this, you never know. 

Each year I like to try a new tomato. Always I have Brandywine. These are big, gorgeous, and most important, delicious. I cannot be without them, ever. Next comes Japanese Black Triflele. This tomato fits nicely in my hand, which isn’t very big. It has an intense tomato flavor, slices nice and is dense. 

Now comes the dilemma. I have been a proponent of Sungold for years, but they disappointed me three seasons in a row. And you know what they say about three times … and you’re out. Then I tried Gold Nugget. Not enough flavor and grands didn’t really clean them out, and I plant the cherries for them. There have been other flirtations to no avail. 

So that leaves me with what cherry tomato to try this year. A challenge. I have decided to try Tomatoberry and Blueberry. I’ll let you know. 

Last year was the first time I started onions from seed. It was wildly successful. A longtime market gardener suggested that I do this and I am very thankful I followed suit. If you haven’t, this is your year. But they are under lights at this very moment. They need a good head start. Same with the shallots. From seed these make outrageous, gorgeous double bulbs that I get great pleasure in giving to friends for their birthdays. 

The leeks benefit from an early start. Believe me, you will have more leeks than you ever thought possible. They hold in the garden through a couple of frosts and then I put them in a bucket with a little water, on the porch. From there they get chopped and put in the freezer, just shake out what you need. 

The onions, leeks and shallots are broadcast (scattered) over the sterile moist potting medium and then I sprinkle more medium over that and moisten the whole container again before it goes under the light. It works, so I don’t argue with success. Once they are in the greenhouse in April I will pot them up individually. When they hit the great outdoors in mid-May (or whenever …) they are looking hale and hardy. 

The tomatoes, cucumbers, artichoke and lettuce go into largish four packs, and I keep potting them up as they need it. 

I’m also considering watering a couple of the beds in the greenhouse and planting from seed: spinach, lettuce and radish. Why not? I will cover them with floating row cover and see what happens.  If this weather holds I just may be eating out of the greenhouse earlier than ever. It’s worth a try.

I’m wearing a path in the very green lawn looking at the perennials. The crocus are up and other bulbs that I can’t remember what they are. We covered the beds with spruce boughs and you never know, it might have been worth the effort. We’ll see. The Dropmore honeysuckle was in bloom in January. …

There is nothing to say about this weather that hasn’t been said. 

So fellow gardeners, that’s what I’ve been up to.

Rosemary Fitzpatrick is a longtime Homer gardener. She has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.