Forcing bulbs and dreaming through winter

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer

With the wind howling and the snow falling, with the daylight being the shortest of the year, who is thinking of gardening? All gardeners are.

Our outdoor plants may be dormant or dead, but our minds indoors are churning. Regardless of the time of year, I garden, and use a variety of alternative techniques which involve very little effort, and good results.

It really begins earlier–as early as last autumn as a matter of fact. Bulbs bulbsarrive from a variety of mail order suppliers, and it is time to sort and label. I have a reader every Monday night who assists me in this task. The roll of Dymo tape comes out, I write Braille labels with my Dymo tape slate and stylus or with the Dymo  tape labeler,  and cut each one off separately. I match each appropriate bag of bulbs with a pot, tear off the Dymo tape backing, and place on the side of the pot. I don’t always label. For example, I only forced one pot of daffodils, one pot of paper white narcissus, and one pot of crocus. The hyacinths and tulips are another matter, and labeling is essential due to the variety of bulbs I force in these two genii.

With the arrival of colder weather, my sunroom serves a variety of functions. But in January, it is primarily monitoring time. The plants, except for the forced bulbs, are in survival mode. I have moved a variety of tropical plants into this room in the autumn, and right now growth is not my priority. I control the forced pots of bulbs the same way florists do–with light and temperature regulation. It is generally true that most plants remain quite stagnant when the temperature does not exceed 50 degrees. It is also true that forced bulbs are early spring bloomers, and will respond better to cooler temperatures.

Light monitoring is easy. Let the light shine in. The tropical plants need it, and the forced bulbs respond to it. There are no curtains in this room, and unless we are expecting extreme cold, 30 degrees below zero or so, no curtains for insulation are needed.

The temperature is another matter–but again, easily monitored and controlled. A large wall heater does this trick. Although it has a dial, the dial is smooth. The same dots that came into play with my gas stove come to my rescue again. Through experience, when I turn the knob to the first dot, the heat remains at about 45 degrees, just where I want it. In the northeast corner of the room, the coldest part, sits a talking thermometer. One simple push of the main button and I hear: “The indoor temperature is ….”  This small but reliable instrument is operated by a 9-volt battery which seems to last forever.

They arrive in December, but I really don ‘t begin to read seed catalogs until January. Again, my reader goes through the index, I Braille catalog numbers, names and prices. This ends with a telephone order, but as I have become more computer savvy, and online services from the catalog providers increase, my JAWS comes into play. Companies frequently offer online and email specials not listed in their catalogs, and these are sometimes advantageous for me. I still prefer ordering by telephone over the internet, but this could be changing in the future.

By the time you read this my packets of seeds will have arrived. Plants will be shipped in the spring. Again, my reader reads me each seed packet, and I write Braille on the packet with my slate and stylus. I then sort by planting time, or by vegetable or flower. For example, the carrots and lettuce will be in one rubber banded set, with cucumbers and squash going into a separate band. Larkspur and marigolds will be in a third band. These are placed in a warm and dry place with minimal light or supplemental heat until planting time. As spring approaches, I will be making labels for the plants as well.

Forcing spring bulbs is truly a job I love. And as in life, results are everything. I forced a pot of King Alfred daffodils for Beth, my wife, whose birthday is on January 25. To hurry them along, I placed them in a west-facing kitchen window, and sure enough, there were 5 bright yellow cheerful flowers for her. A hard present to hide, but one worth the effort and worth several days of enjoyment for Beth. Hyacinths will follow soon.

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