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Winter in the Garden

If you're a person who loves plants, or loves to garden, or loves to be outside at all, this is the time of year where there’s likely a lot of staring out the window longingly. Luckily the twilight is lasting a little longer than it did a few weeks ago, and we’ve been doubly lucky to enjoy a few days of blissful, cold, clear sunshine.  But, let's not kid ourselves here, the rest of these January days have a real grey feeling to them.  So, what is there to do?

Especially for us gardeners, spring cannot arrive quickly enough.  While impatient for warmer days and what they bring, January is a time where it's more about the dreaming than it is about the doing. We wanted to take this week to talk a little bit about how to make the best out of the season as it is, and to dream together about what is possible when the frosts thaw and the flowers begin blooming.

This time of year, seed catalogues play a big part in the inspiration of our gardens. Available in print or (more sustainably) online, seed catalogues offer a veritable limitless supply of options in the beginnings of your gardens, whether they be filled with flowers, vegetables, shrubs, trees, or any combination of the aforementioned.  For those already familiar, you understand the joy. Now, help us share it.  For those who are charting this territory and you also like plants: be warned. These catalogues sing the siren song of a Monty Don level fantasy garden, and will have you shelling out your shekels faster than you can pronounce the name of some of the plants they offer.

For the sake of enabling, some of our favorites are Uprising Seeds. They’re a Bellingham based group of folks with a focus on local sourcing, acclimatizing seeds to our specific region, biodiversity, and open pollination.  Though more commercial, both Wayside Gardens and Eden Brothers have wide varieties of plants available too.  Though, be advised in your search; those that take the time and the care like the folks at Uprising are waaaay more worth your support– because their approach is based in passion and care, rather than merely production and capital.

It can and very much does quickly become *a lot* of information to process for the novice gardener.  January is a time for the gardener to dream, so dream. But, be advised, you’ll want to buy more than you can feasibly grow. Such is the irresistible allure of plants and caring for them.  Back to what you can do…

Spend January planning and resting.  We recommend using any art medium of your preference to map out what your garden will look like. Cut out the flowers and vegetable photos from your seed catalogs, if you get physical copies, and make a collage of what your beds will look like. Do a watercolor, if that is your thing. Even a quick sketch will do the trick! Point is: spending the time to put your dreams out on paper will help you with your plans and goals, and give you a reference point as the season progresses.  It also is a balm for the soul to do a little bit of an art project in anticipation for the one you’ll be creating outside when the time is right.  

Now, some technical stuff: keep in mind if any of your seeds require cold stratification.  This will depend on the species of plant, and whether you decide to let nature do the work, or if you want to replicate the process at your discretion.  Stratification is the process of subjecting the seeds to specific conditions that essentially act as a catalyst for germination. Often, seeds that need cold stratification undergo the process in nature, in wintertime, by being kept cold and moist under a bed of fallen leaves and debris (more on that in a minute).  You can get an overview and a quick how to about it here, though there are plenty other places to learn about how to stratify seeds all over the internet.

If you absolutely have to get outside and physically do something, we get it.  January is a good time to work on infrastructure based projects.  Prep any areas by clearing weeds (but not fallen leaves), laying down cardboard, or using stakes and string to map out any new paths, beds, etc.  If your garden has any water features in it, now is a great time to clear any debris from the inside of ponds, fountains, etc.  Also, trimming back any cattails or water perimeter plants now so they don’t fall into the water as spring comes is a good idea too. Any stuff left to decompose in the water from the previous season is an opportunity for algaes to grow as soon as there is a rise in temperature.  Keeping that algae growth to a minimum, be it in a pond or a fountain, will ensure a healthier mini ecosystem come springtime.  

Take the opportunity to fix any fences, gates, hoops, or other support structures before plants grow on them.  Clearing last year’s dead stuff off of trellises and arbors and inspecting the structures themselves will ensure you’ll have the support you need once your plants take off.  

While it may be incredibly tempting to, resist the urge to clear your beds!! Leave the leaves, the debris, and the waterlogged muck on top of the flower beds and garden beds alone, at least til March if you can help it. While unsightly and sad, that big ol’ mess is doing a whole bunch of beneficial things for your garden ecosystem.  It’s protecting seeds that need stratification! It's also protecting plenty of different kinds of beneficial insects, from ants and beetles that are doing their job in helping with decomposition, to bees of all kinds that nest in the hollow tubes and stalks of dead plants, to bee larvae that need the insulation and protection through the cold until they hatch.  Leave the leaves!

Obviously we can’t wait to get out in our gardens, and we can’t wait for y’all to get out in yours, but be patient. January is doing its best to gtfo, and for that we are grateful.  We have a few things in store that can help you anticipate and prepare for the season ahead.  We have a very select few of these delightful dibblers made by our resident woodworker Ken, which help make the perfect hole at measurable depths for your tiny seeds.  We also have soil block makers, which are a marvel in themselves.  (We’ll write more about them later in the season!)  We also have seed markers, seed envelopes, and the most beautiful seed saving boxes to help keep your collections organized.  This is also the last weekend for our in store free seed exchange, so stop by and visit our table if you’re looking for something specific, or if you want to share some of your bounty with everyone else.

It's also a great time to be on the lookout for if your favorite local farm or CSAs are taking new signups! We love Good Rain Farm and The Side Yard. :)  Get on those lists early to enjoy fresh vegetables later this year, and support local BIPOC and Indigenous farmers.

Take heart, fellow gardeners! Winter won’t last forever, and we’ll get through the rest of it together. Happy seed shopping, happy planning, and don’t hesitate to come by and chat with any of us about how beautiful all of our gardens are gonna be when the time comes. 

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