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Winter Deepens…

Winter Deepens…

Sunrise (and sunset!) C r e e p apart…the day lengthens

(and the cold strengthens!!)

We’re closing in on ten whole hours of daylight!!  It really is the light at the end of the tunnel…and that means seeds, garden planning and all things green are alive in our imaginations!

We had a great time with seed catalogs and seed varieties last Saturday.  Looking at the old (heirloom varieties) the new (F1 hybrids); thinking about landraces and regional selection processes…seed quality (the heavier and larger the seed in a packet, the more vital the plant that will grow from that seed – heck of a concept huh!?!?!); so many fun things to think about 😊

Here are some pointers:

If you’re just getting started with gardening (welcome!) then start your seed sowing with only a few key kinds of seeds that are most important to you.  And be prepared to buy seedlings if your first attempts don’t grow strong starts.  You’ll get better as you get experience – guaranteed!  If you pick your favorites and learn to grow them well – everything else will flow from there.

If you’ve been gardening for a while (congratulations!) then think about trying new varieties of the classics you count on. We’re all very used to the cucumbers and peppers we find in the grocery store, but veggies actually come in a huge variety of genetic variations.  Try this statistic on for size – there are over 10,000 varieties of tomatoes!!! (I’ve grown over 50 myself – but there’s SO far to go!!).  Peppers can be bells, horns, sweet, spicy, hot, blisteringly hot, large or small.  Cucumbers, corn, lettuces, squashes, eggplants, to name a few all, come in a wide variety of cultivars.  The fun is trying something new.  Our family has experimented with varieties for years and we will have some of the seeds/plants/starts that we like the best at the store this season.  

It's too early to start most seeds yet, but perennials, onions/leeks, herbs and other long season plants are all up for being sown at the beginning of February.  If you want to see seed quality issues for yourself, shake the seeds in your packet out on to a white, waxed paper plate and look at the collection under good light and a magnifying glass (if needed!).  You’ll see that some of the seeds are plumper, bigger overall, perhaps shinier.  All of those signals tell you that that seed has more energy in it than its neighbors (those characteristics are all signals of fat and protein synthesis in the mother plant).  Pull the top 6 seeds and have them start your whole seeding process.  Use a toothpick to mark the first ones to germinate in the whole batch.  Do the fat seeds match the first up??

If you’ve decided to save your seed – now is the time to really start that planning process.  Of course, you need to look at distances and cross pollination etc. but you also want to look for the first 6-10 seedlings to emerge.  Those get tagged and planted on into your best garden soil.  The first to flower gets a yellow tag (or whatever color code works for you), the first to ripen a fruit gets a red tag, the one that stays disease free in your garden conditions gets a green tag and the one to have the latest tasty fruit gets an orange tag.  You get the drift…this is how you start to evaluate what’s really happening with your plants.  You’ll often find that a single plant has more than one tag – and saving those seeds moves up the to-do list.  If you find one plant has all of your tags then you’ll know it’s essential to save those seeds and start the whole process over again in 2025.

If you find that last paragraph WAY  TOOOOOO  MUCH  LIKE  WORK!!!! – you’re not alone!  And that’s why seed companies exist.  Buy seed, buy seedlings, enjoy the work AND the harvest and let the people who are fascinated by the process proceed.  I have a good friend who feels about seed quality and selection the same way I feel about soil heath and microbial integrity – and we’re both right!!!  How often can that be said in the current world!

There will be more on seeds and seeding in the next newsletter so we’ll move on to the other big topic of the winter - Feeding the Birds!!!  Unfortunately, feeding them is more than “tuppence a bag” (if you don’t recognize the reference – think the original Mary Poppins!)  One of the wins for this year’s season is the presence of bluebirds at so many feeders in the region.  They’re looking for insects and fats.  We have both meal worms and fly larvae as well as suets of all kinds.  We also have new platform bird feeders made by our 17-year-old self-employed carpentry wiz. These are MUCH sturdier than the ones that we can get through our regular suppliers.  Keith makes a lot of our bird and bat houses as well so check them out when you visit.

If you want to learn more about back yard birds and get yourself set up for the Great Backyard Bird Count  then come and learn from Ernie LeBlanc of the Athol Bird and Nature Club.  Ernie has been studying local birds and bird behavior for over 40 years!  So many people were SO frustrated earlier in the season by the lack of birds, but there’s an easy (and totally real!) explanation. Ernies’s an absolute walking gold mine and can tell everyone WHY the feeders were empty earlier in the season, what to do to entice the birds and how to participate in the bird count.  So – join us for Marveling at Our Backyard Birds!  February 3, 2024, 1-2:30pm.  Let’s get involved and count our local birds!  Call the store to reserve your spot – 978-632-0991. $15.00 fee includes a handout of useful tips.

Quick reminder that we’re starting to carry product lines from Hydrofarm, Trifecta and Canna as well as our current lines from Espoma, North Country Organics, Neptune’s Harvest, Coast of Maine and FoxFarm.  If you have specific needs – please let us know and we’ll do our best to get what you need to perfect your gardening craft!

See you at the store!

-The Good Earth

seed packet display at The Good Earth, Gardner, MA.

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