I absolutely love Summit County during the winter. There is never a shortage of outdoor activities. Still the season can seem a little long for us gardening enthusiasts and I'm anxious to get my paws dirty. What sort of projects can I get into this time of year?
- Camber (Summit Cove)
From doodling landscape designs and developing a plant schedule to registering for a raised bed at one of Summit County's five community gardens; it's time for growers to get into gear. Houseplants are another instant cure for gardening withdrawals. Their flowers and foliage decorate our homes and office spaces. Container planting can be an amazing expression of creativity. In addition, I've found that growing herbs in the kitchen ensures a replenishing supply of fresh, flavorful ingredients.
The original houseplants were medicinal herbs grown in monasteries and apothecaries during the 1600s. Growing houseplants is far easier today than it was for the monks. Our homes are more hospitable and advances in breeding have led to more hardy, lush, compact and flower-prone flora.
Growing herbs indoors does much more than add an aesthetic appeal. They can fill your kitchen with inspiring aromas. Fresh basil is the key ingredient to any Italian dish and cilantro makes Mexican meals muy delicioso! I've found that the leaves will appear darker in color and taste more flavorful, when you pinch the tips and blooms off of the herb. The plant will spend less of its energy transporting water and nutrients throughout the taller branches and flower production; instead the herb can concentrate on becoming more dense and rich in essential oils. In addition to basil and cilantro, try growing chamomile, chives, mint, oregano, rosemary and thyme. My rosemary smells amazing and has been growing like a weed all winter. Containers of lettuce can also grow well indoors and like herbs, harvesting and pruning are a simple chore.
Sprouts are another indoor and edible gardening project. Seed varieties include alfalfa, beat, broccoli, chickpea, fenugreek, lentil, mung, onion, red cabbage, rocket, snow peas and wheatgrass. While garden centers and online stores do sell specific sprouting jars, you can simply recycle an old mason jar and use cheesecloth as the semipermeable lid. Step one, you put the desired amount of seeds into your jar and let them soak 8-10 hours. Next, you rinse and drain the seeds, storing them out of direct sunlight. Keep them in a dark cabinet and the sprouts will develop white, with a different flavor than those that turn green due to exposure to sunlight. Two to three times a day you need to rinse the jar with cold water and drain the seeds. By the fifth day, depending on the type of sprout, they should be ready to eat. I enjoy green sprouts, so the last day is when I will expose them to light.
Getting a head start on your outdoor season is a labor of love - one part daydreaming and the other part nerding-out (aka doing your research). Perhaps most important, select the right plants for your region/hardiness zone. Once you have a plant list, imagine your landscape in the summer. Assess your existing plants (i.e. perennials, shrubs, trees, etc.), the structures, plant groupings, color themes and bloom schedules.
For the vegetable garden, draw a map of which plants will go in first and which fast-growing crops will be replaced by succession plantings. Keep in mind, the light and water needs of each vegetable. Consider spacing and avoiding competition amongst similar species. Also, remember to incorporate crop rotation. The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan, is one of my favorite resources.
Another wonder resource is the
SummitGardenNetwork.org. The newly launched site links all five of the Summit County community gardens while providing mountain-specific resources, workshops and volunteer opportunities. The Breckenridge Community Garden, soon-to-be-built Dillon Valley Elementary Garden, Nancy's Community Garden, Silvana's Community Garden and the Living Classroom each have their own web page.
Interested plot holders can download the online community garden application starting March 1. Remember, these plots go fast! Be sure to keep an eye out for the Master Mountain Composter program in April and a host of food gardening workshop this spring.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.