Embrace February: It really is the best time of year

On Mondays John and I go on a “dump date.” We load the pickup (and for the two of us there certainly isn’t very much going out of here), each get a coffee, split a cookie and head to the dump. Now here comes the best part: We take the long way home. Up Diamond Ridge, over Skyline, down East Hill or some configuration of that. We often head out East to ski at McNeil. Once we even made it to Hope for breakfast. It keeps me in touch with what’s going on at different elevations. I am really comfortable here at 396 feet and need a reminder of what you are experiencing.

Something that has caught my attention are the For Sale signs on steep slope lots. VIEW PROPERTY! My favorite one is behind the hospital, hard by a substantial retaining wall. I gave pause when I spotted that one. A long pause.

The spruce that are holding up these slopes are severely compromised. Although they are alive, at least on the edges, how much longer can they hold on? Are you thinking about alternate species to do some replacement planting? That’s what swept through here with the spruce bark beetle epidemic of almost 25 years ago. Lots of lodge pole pine. Lots. Be thinking about what you are going to do, if anything. I’m thinking you should be developing an interest in alder and elder. Keep a look out at the nurseries and see what they have to offer, what ideas they have come up with.

Now that winter is really and truly here, let’s honor it. Let’s hold it close, let what remains of the dark and cold wrap us in peace and positive contemplation. This is the best time of year. We can get a seat at our favorite coffee shop/restaurant. We know almost everyone at the movie theater. We can make a left (most of the time) on Pioneer. Sort through your bookshelves and donate those cookbooks that you haven’t opened since the first rush of interest passed. Or else use them. This really is dinner party month.

Which, somehow, brings me to leeks. I usually plant Sir Lancelot from seed and have excellent luck. But I was browsing a seed catalog that opened my eyes to the different developmental properties of leeks, i.e. those best suited for summer/fall/late fall/ winter. I have often wondered why the leeks that grow in Bellingham gardens (where our daughter and her family live) look so lovely in their version of winter. They plant late leeks. Well now. Methinks I’ll try some different kinds of leeks and see what they do. I planted Bolero carrots last summer. They are a storing carrot and they really and truly did store beautifully and are delcious.

But this opens the door to seed starting. Something that I really think you should pass on. I know, for a fact, that you can buy leek seedlings here in Homer. And onions.

Oh, but there are those of us who just NEED to start seeds: Right. About. NOW! or in the next couple of weeks, depending on what you want going on. Tomatoes, leeks, onions (I like Copra and Red Wing), shallots (yes, from seed not starts), artichokes. All of these need a running start on our short season. Give them a fighting chance and you will be rewarded.

But — you need lights. Grow lights so the seedlings get all they need. A dirty window won’t do. No, no, not at all. Leave the lights on 24/7. Water gently, don’t saturate. A tip I got from Fine Gardening that has proven useful: Fill your container with regular potting soil and top it off with seed starting medium. The seed gets what it needs to get going and then, while it sits there waiting for spring to come which may be later rather than sooner, it has nutrients from the potting soil.

I don’t use compost for seed starting. If you do, and are successful, congratulations. I need to be secure in the knowledge that the seedlings really and truly will germinate and then thrive. That has not always been my experience with compost.

Do you know that celery really thrives here? How often do you see it in someone’s garden? Not very. Not mine. But it loves it here. Give that one some thought. And cantaloup is a snap in a little greenhouse. Minnesota Midget is just the right size for one or two people. Horseradish is another winner. I’ll be looking for that at the Farmers Market because I won’t grow it here. Like mint it has a mind of its own and you can find yourself with a horseradish farm. Aha! Yet another cash crop, move over peonies.

Take what’s left of this magnificent month to garner your forces; to read good books (I’m half way through “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow); to listen to lovely music; to listen to your (or someone’s) children, no matter their age; to volunteer somewhere in this little town that has more nonprofits than anywhere else in the state; to learn what’s going on with our state government and how you can be a positive influence.

Get involved, now, before summer comes and we can’t make a left on Pioneer.

Rosemary fitzpatrick has been writing Kachemak Gardener since 1990.