* Sort through onions in storage. Usually by this time of year, some may have begun to soften and/or sprout shoots. This is especially true for red onion varieties. Don’t throw these into the garbage can or onto the compost pile. Instead, place them in a wide container filled with potting soil and let the shoots continue to develop. The sprouted onion shoots can be chopped and used in soups, salads, and stir-fry dishes. Some would call this salvage operation excessive but I call it frugality.
* As with onions, sort through stored garlic bulbs and separate and pot up any cloves that are sprouting and use the shoots in cooking. Even some of the longest storing varieties of garlic will eventually soften, sprout or decay. One way to salvage a good supply of garlic is to select firm bulbs; then separate, peel and cut individual cloves into thin slices. Using a dehydrator (a very useful appliance for home food gardeners interested in food preservation), dry the garlic slices until they are crispy chips. These chips will store for a year or two in a glass jar with tight fitting lid. The chips can be crushed at any time when needed in recipes. I’ll also run some chips through a spice grinder to make garlic powder.
* Start seeds of thyme, oregano, marjoram, parsley, lavender, and other slow-to-germinate and slow-to-grow herbs. Keep in mind that herbs like bright light, so place the pots of seedlings near a sunny window sill or beneath a fixture with cool white or LED fluorescent light tubes.
* Forget the wall paper. Decorate walls with vining plants such as the heart-leaf philodendron. Okay, so the plant doesn’t grow on the wall, but if you put a pole or small trellis in a large pot with a vining plant, the plant will grow up the pole or trellis and provide a nice cover against a wall. The philodendron is a good choice because it can tolerate low light, dry conditions and neglect.
* Peruse seed catalogs and scan seed racks at garden centers for new varieties of vegetables. DO stay with the varieties that have done well for you in the past but DON’T be afraid to experiment with some new varieties. A good place to start is with the All-America Selections. These are selections that have been shown through nationwide trials to outperform similar but older varieties. All-America Selections for 2021 include: Echalion Creme Brulee, a shallot that is easy to grow from seed; Pot-a-peño, a jalapeno pepper which, as its name implies, is ideal for container growing; Squash Goldilocks, an acorn squash with high yields and disease tolerance. (Note: some mail-order seed companies shut down seed sales to home gardeners earlier this winter but are now re-opening sales.
* Renew anti-desiccant sprays, such as Wilt-Pruf, on evergreens. Spray the plants with the protective material during the next warm spell, i.e. when temperatures are at least 35 degrees F. Anti-desiccants reduce evaporation of moisture from plant leaves and help prevent damage or death to needles, leaves, and twigs.
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With the cold temperatures, snow, sleet, and rain we’ve been having lately, I’ve seen an increased use of deicing salts by folks trying to get rid of snow and ice on their walks and driveways. Rock salt is the cheapest and most commonly used deicing material but is also the most damaging to plants, and to concrete, metal, and groundwater. Other chloride type deicers, such as calcium chloride and potassium chloride, are often advertised as safe to use near plants but they too can be damaging to plants since they’re also salts. While I recognize the need for pedestrian safety, there are alternatives to rock salt. These include products containing calcium magnesium acetate or some type of gritty matter…um, such as sand. Anyone with a landscape of other than plastic plants should learn to use deicers properly. At our house, I avoid the whole issue by posting a sign for potential visitors that reads “Go away!” Sometimes it pays to be a curmudgeon.