First Steps (Before the Snow)

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer

The leaves are raked and mowed; the vegetable garden is cleaned off; all the pots that contained flowers, tomatoes, and peppers have been overturned in the garden so the soil can be mixed in for next year’s plantings; all the tropical plants are in the sun room; the rain barrel has been drained with containers of water in the garage and sun room; the bulbs have been planted for forcing; the hammock is in the garage; bricks have been laid for a border for the new flower bed in the front yard. Garden season is complete, right? WRONG!!!!! It has only begun.

Garden season never ends at my house. One year simply blends into the next. For all intents and purposes, 2012 gardening is pretty well wrapped up–well, sort of. Much to my great joy, the 2013 season is already under way.

The paperwhite narcissus, due to a warm and dry fall, are ahead of schedule. When I brought them into the sun room in early November, they were already a foot tall, and their flower spikes were prominent. I kept them cool in the sun room to slow their growth. About ten days ago I placed them in the west kitchen window, as they were beginning to bloom. For the first week, their fragrance was almost overpowering. Now the flowers are beginning to die, and by the end of the Thanksgiving weekend, they will be ready to be thrown out. The bulbs will not keep, they are not hardy outdoors, and they will just be a shriveled mass by next autumn.

The dwarf Dutch iris, or iris reticulata, are growing tall and strong in the sun room. Their leaf spikes are very tall this year, and we believe this is due to the abundant sunshine this fall. Once they shoot a flower stalk, they will be transferred to the kitchen as well.

The next forced bulbs in the procession will be the amaryllis. I purchased two bulbs at the Botanical Center bulb sale on November 2. The red one will go to my Mother as a Christmas present. It is planted, but I will keep it cool so it will not sprout until I deliver it to Mom. We saw a new bulb at the sale this year–Misty–and it’ll soon be brought into the warm kitchen so it’ll be fooled to thinking that spring has arrived. I was told it was pink, but Beth tells me the picture shows it is red.

Every year it is a challenge to make sure the Christmas cactus blooms at Christmas. Beth and I have done two things to help in this regard. She noticed that the buds closest to the window were larger than the buds on the other side, so she turned it 180 degrees the other day. Even though we have had temperatures near 20, I have not heated the sun room as of yet. With temperatures nearing 40 in this room, the cactus will grow slowly. If the weather remains unusually mild into December, I might supply a little supplemental heat to push the cactus buds along, and to make sure the hyacinths and tulips will know that they just can’t sit there dormant forever.

Monday the 19th was an exciting day. Hawkeye Bob began to read the first 2013 seed catalog–Gurneys–a catalog I have ordered from for years. My long list of seeds is being Brailled, and I should have an order ready in a couple of weeks. What should I plant and where should I plant it? What kind of green beans should I plant? Of course, the Blue Lake 274 are a mainstay, but what about some new cultivars such as derby and jade? Why not? And how about trying some champion radishes next spring instead of cherry bell or French breakfast? There are two kinds of habanero pepper plants listed–should I try both? My mind is full of garden maps and possibilities.

December will arrive, and so will more seed catalogs.  The Christmas cactus will bloom, the amaryllis will sprout, and perhaps some of the forced hyacinths will stick their noses up above the soil. Yes, it has only just begun.

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