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Marion's UpBeet Gardener
Newsletter has been
replaced by Marion's blog
which you can find at:
winter up North. The sun takes its sweet time getting up in the morning
and goes to bed far too early at night. On one particularly gray, snowy
afternoon a friend called from southern California.
"The lemons are so sweet right now," she taunted, "you can eat 'em like
That was a low blow. People who move North from places like Florida or
Mexico in search of clean air and wide open spaces don't understand Cabin
Fever. Until winter rolls around. Then, all bets are off. It isn't the
ice and snow, because their presence actually brightens things up, or
the wind, or even that weird feeling when your nose hairs freeze.
No, it's the lack of light and green, growing things. The trees have been
bare for weeks and the sun scrapes along at treetop level. You linger
at magazine ads showing beaches lined with palm trees and you watch reruns
of Flipper. It's the season when nothing grows but dust bunnies or whatever's
inside that odd jar in the back of the fridge.
Folks that live above the 47th parallel understand these things. You've
started ordering seeds, even though it's a little early to start them.
You've trained binoculars toward the garden spots where you planted tulips
last fall so you can catch that first, brave shoot. And you've taped clippings
from seed catalogs on your bathroom mirror to help remind you that there's
life beyond white snow and brown ground. Spring might be a short ways
off, but mid-winter can a tough season to wait out.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to bide the time and get
out of the Cabin Fever blues. The following garden-related activities
have been selected because they require little preparation and accommodate
attention spans as short as two minutes. There's something for everyone,
regardless or age or thumb color.
cures for a gardener's winter blues
1) Remember the alfalfa sprout craze of the 70's? Well, alfalfa sprouts
are back, big time. Since sprouts have recently been heralded as the ultimate
health food, theircircle of friends has expanded to include broccoli,
bean, cabbage, mustard, onion, radish and wheat sprouts. Where to find
such things? Go to your local health food store. They'll carry seeds for
sprouting, and sprouting gadgets such as handy perforated lids that fit
on canning jars. It couldn't be easier. Preparation time: 2 minutes. Edible
results in 10 to 14 days.
If garage sales haven't yielded a collection of neat, antique bottles,
line up a few empty soda or beer bottles. Fill each one with water and
plug the opening with a large garlic clove. Within a couple days, roots
will begin sprouting. They are more fun to watch than sleeping dogs. Keep
the bottles topped off with water. When the green tips reach 4 to 6 inches,
snip them off and add them to salads or soups. Preparation time: 1 minute.
Waiting time: a few days.
3) Organize a seed swap with your other Cabin Fever friends to bring over
last year's seeds. Swap away. Preparation time: It depends on how much
house cleaning and baking you need to do before they come over.
4) Before inviting anyone over for a seed swap, test your old seeds. Dampen
a square of paper towel, put 10 seeds from an old packet on one side and
fold over the other side. Keep the towel damp for a several days (the
seed packet will tell you average number of days to expect before germination).
Check daily and re-moisten the towel as needed.
It's a good idea to check germination before buying any seeds. Of note,
lettuce and onion seeds don't last long, so you should start fresh each
season; broccoli and cabbage seeds are viable for several years. When
you think that no more will sprout, count the ones that did and multiply
by 10. This is the percentage of viable seed that you can expect. Label
the packets so you don't forget the results.
5) Forget proper timing and grow a real garden anyway. Fill a flat with
potting soil and plant last year's seeds. Herbs, lettuce, broccoli, it
doesn't matter. Sow them thickly. Grow a little forest. Make little row
markers or a mini scarecrow. Make rain with a spray bottle. Add a full-spectrum
"seasonal disorder" light. As the seedlings
grow, create a neighborhood. Add houses and hotels from a Monopoly
game, popsicle stick fences, aluminum foil streets. Don't do this activity
when other adults are present.
6) Grow some herbs indoors, or if
you know someone who's already growing herbs in their house, call them
up and ask permission to sit by them for while. Rub the leaves a little
and inhale deeply to get their essence. Leave a tip at the door when you
leave, or bring cookies next time.
7) Pull on some old gardening clothes (preferably with some of last season's
dirt still rubbed into the fabric) and go about your errands. If you're
daring, show up at work in costume. If a handkerchief or trowel handle
is sticking out of a pocket, even better. Pay attention to the reactions
Here's a true story: A gardener in Denver, Colorado learned his lesson
about garden attire while running some errands after a long stint working
the the garden. He stopped for lunch at a fast-food restaurant in one
of the seedier parts of the city. When he got to counter and checked his
wallet, he found only 2 dollar bills. So he ordered a small burger and
a glass of water.
The young lady probably saw that his wallet wasn't exactly bulging, and
given his grubby clothes and several days' worth of five o'clock shadow,
concluded that he was down on my luck. When she brought his order, he
figured she'd made a mistake: the hamburger was a double, the drink was
a large cola, and there was an enormous order of fries. He started to
say something, but she pushed the tray towards him, saying, "That
was a single and a glass of water, right?" with a smile. Feeling
guilty and grateful at the same time, he managed an embarrassed "Thank
I haven't had it with winter yet. If I'm really desperate I'll go for
a walk in the woods, sit down at the base of a tree and stare, with sincere
appreciation at the very green moss. I'm just looking forward to making
it through March. By then my seed orders will have arrived and I can set
up my lights and soil-filled trays for
starting a real garden of pansies, lettuce, lobelia and poppies. Preparation
time:1 hour. Satisfaction time: endless.