Garden Dreams at Ten Below

The seed “book” arrived before Christmas but languished under a stack of active sportswear catalogs that grew at an alarming rate during December. After recycling my way to the bottom of the pile, I retrieved my favorite seed purveyor’s pub and spent a few hours paging through it on a frigid January afternoon.

Perusing Johnny’s Seed catalog by a toasty wood stove induces a delightful state of hypnagogia. Every plant becomes a must-have and gardening possibilities are limitless. Add a dose of winter sun pouring in the windows and it’s hard not to succumb to this winter delirium and place a gigantic seed order. Old-timey order forms were filled out by hand; halfway through that tedious process a sense of reason would take over. Bankruptcy-by-gardening is just a hundred clicks away with IPad and cup of coffee (or wine) at hand.

Half the fun of gardening is reveling in ridiculous, out-sized garden dreams. Some too-fruitful harvests and noteworthy failures have goaded me to set boundaries for responsible seed acquisition. Mapping out the gardens before placing the seed order is a good reminder that garden space is actually finite. A consult with my garden guy (whose spousal toil is worth many more cold beers than can be safely consumed) keeps the hyper-enthusiasm in check, especially when 9 foot pole beans are under consideration.

A look back to last year’s successes and problems helps me set goals for 2016:
o Ferment and pickle more stuff
o Plant successive crops of greens; no slacking, heed calendar reminders
o Replace lanky indeterminate with compact determinate tomatoes
o More medicinal herbs; more lavender
o Expand bee flowers in garden margins

The garden beds are mapped on graph paper (1 square = 1 square foot), plotting out what and where we’ll grow each crop. From that I’ll know how much of each seed we need (good catalogues provide a seed count/pack plus how many feet a quantity of seed will plant.) I also compare the new map with 2015’s so that plants from the same family are not grown in the same location (less disease, better for soil.)

I buy hardy seeds adapted for growth zones 3-4. And this year I promise to be purposeful about sharing/trading seeds with friends so I’m stuck with fewer homeless transplants due to lack of garden space. Long-term planning for 2017’s gardens also dictates what varieties of seeds we buy in 2016. Seed from open-pollinated 2016 plants can be saved or traded for 2017 gardens; ditto for heirloom varieties (but watch for diseases!) Hybrid seeds produce wonderful disease-resistant plants, but those plants’ seeds won’t breed true for 2017 garden planting.

The County Extension Service (St. Louis & Carlton Co.s) and Duluth Community Garden Program are wonderful resources of information on growing and preserving food – my go-to tools for cultivating garden dreams – within reason.

By Susie Darley-Hill, Environmental Program Coordinator