Pat Kenschaft: Tips for Winter Gardening

BY  |  Friday, Dec 30, 2011 12:30pm  |  COMMENTS (3)

Happy New Year!  As we start 2012, the active gardener need not stay idle, or even just pour lustily over the gardening catalogs, an inspiring and informative winter activity in itself.

This morning I dropped a shovel on a bare spot of the garden and the garden bounced it back.  The eternal optimist, I then thrust the shovel down nearby and it went right into the soil!  So I then filled a large lasagne pan with soil from around the second spot and put it into the oven, now empty from Christmas baking.  The compost was harder to dig, but I put another large pan of compost in the oven.  Someday in the not-too-distant future when we go out to a dinner or a party, I will set the oven at 200 or 250, depending on how long I plan to be away.  Then I will be able to make potting soil for early plants inside.

The most imminent is a second crop of indoor basil.  Last year I raised basil for delicious winter salads in my greenhouse window (still available in the 2011 Burpees catalog), but its life expectancy ended before I ended my desire for indoor basil.  This year I followed Helen’s advice to sprout new plants from cuttings from the old, and the first sprout looks like it is outgrowing its junior bed.  Soon it and some younger siblings will deserve a 6″ pot, which seems to be plenty for large basil plants.

We have also had ample indoor lettuce this month and lots of sprouts from seeds.  Can anyone tell me where in or near Montclair I can buy more sprouting seeds?  The health food store on Bloomfield Aveue, alas, closed recently.  Our salads have been ample this month, and I want that to continue until the outdoor lettuce takes off in early spring.

A visitor to the September garden tour suggested we eat carrot tops. When we nibbled, they were delicious!  I didn’t want to disturb the growth of the roots by eating the tops then, but recently I doubt that the roots are growing, so the tops have been a delicious addition to our winter salads.  The larger tops tend to be sweeter than the runts of the litter.

Yesterday I put plastic bags of leaves on the parsnips to keep them warm for winter, but I hesitated when I surveyed the carrots.  I MUST harvest the leaves before covering them.  Usually they collapse about this time of year, but they still stand invitingly this week, awaiting some of my outdoor time, which has been limited recently.

Dr. Jim Conway says I may begin pruning my fruit trees, and I did one session.  This usually takes a session a day in February, but last year the high snow made it impossible in both January and February, so I thought I would get a head start while we don’t have high snow.  Dr. Jim says the trees are ready.  He recommends telling them an hour ahead to pull their energies into the truck and informing them when you end that they can now put their energy back throughout the tree.  He has a doctorate in plant pathology from Purdue, and this is easy advice to follow.  He saved one dying dogwood tree in my life by talking to it years ago.  It is still flourishing, so I respect his abilities, although somewhat doubtful of my own just beginning attempts to communicate with trees.  I’m better since reading his new book, “The Tree Whisperer.”

Now is the time to keep your eyes out for once-live Christmas trees that people put out on their curbs.  They have served well as the only fertilizer for my acid-loving plants.  In particular, my blueberries have thrived for three decades fed only by cut-up Christmas tree branches. They are also good for azalia, etc.  Cutting up Christmas trees can keep a gardener happy in January. (Editor’s Note: Montclair Township is reminding residents that Christmas trees will be picked up curbside during the month of January. For more, click here.)

 

Photo by giveawayboy (flickr)

3 Comments

  1. POSTED BY PAZ  |  December 30, 2011 @ 4:19 pm

    It is the saddest of sights as I drive the streets.

  2. POSTED BY Tudlow  |  December 30, 2011 @ 11:40 pm

    Tree whispering? Oy. Plants are beyond cool and amazing–they split water for God’s sake! But telling a tree where to pull its energy and expecting it to “listen?” Sigh. Great way to sell books, though.

  3. POSTED BY walleroo  |  December 31, 2011 @ 10:52 am

    We toss our tree to the curb every new year’s day. What a cleansing ritual. The sight of all those trees tweaks my conscience, though. I swear I can hear them crying, “why hast thou forsaken me?” But eventually merciful death comes–the sanitation engineers or Pat Kenschaft grinds these sinners up into mulch–and their souls rise to heaven, where they live beside the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, world without end, amen. Let us pray.

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And we can get this project completed in time for Montclair's sesquicentennial when we can stick a fork into historic preservation as a public policy.

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