by Mark Anderson, owner, Anderson’s Seed and Garden
It’s difficult for an avid gardener to survive the winter months. Yes, there are some great outdoor activities available to Cache Valley residents during the gardening off-season like cross country and downhill skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and, for people like my father, planning next year’s garden.
One of my personal favorite winter activities is avoiding the inversion — Mexico, Hawaii and California — for at least a week during the coldest part of January and February. All that fun aside, gardeners can stay productive during the “dormant” season by growing fresh herbs and greens indoors, taking a gardening class to keep that thumb a fresh green; and starting some early vegetables for outside transplantation when the weather cooperates.
If you haven’t grown microgreens inside during the winter, you are missing a great opportunity to get your fingers dirty and taste some amazing, home-grown produce. It’s so easy to do, and you won’t believe the flavors and textures of what you can grow on a shelf in the pantry.
With a 10×20 tray, a tall greenhouse dome, a full-spectrum light, soil and a few seeds, you can grow just about anything: lettuce, spinach, basil, chard, beets, kale, thyme, radishes and many other vegetables. Imagine tiny bursts of flavor exploding out of a salad or garnishing your favorite sandwich, and you will know what microgreens can do for you.
What better way to spend the off-season of gardening but by sharpening your brain? No one likes to use a dull tool when a fine edge will do the work in half the time. Many new techniques and processes for successful gardening crop up each year: new fertilizers, new pest controls, new varieties of seeds and plants and new methods. It can overwhelm a novice gardener and could be a missed opportunity for a seasoned veteran.
Books and trade magazines share valuable information and can inspire you to new heights but aren’t always adapted to our area or climate. Local gardening classes will cover problems inherent to our unique locale, and rubbing shoulders with other gardeners seems to bring out a variety of valuable insights.
It’s surprising how many vegetables you can start indoors to transplant outdoors later. The last few years our gardening season started early, in late February or early March, and if you started slow, you missed out on a lot of plants that were snatched up before you had your soil ready to plant.
If you start your own seedlings indoors, then you don’t have to worry about not getting the varieties you want, and you will have a motivator to get them outside at the right time — make space to grow some more. Start onions, kale, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower in early February for March transplantation. With tomatoes and peppers, I like to start inside about the end of March for the mature plants to go outside in May. There really isn’t anything quite like watching your plants grow to maturity from seedling indoors to harvesting ripe crops in the summer and fall.
It’s a long, cold winter in Cache Valley, but you can use the time productively and get a head start on spring. Otherwise, “dormant” season will be filled with a lot of wishful daydreaming.