KODIAK — Welcome to January. Folks that live Up North understand things like slipping on cleats to go for a walk, passing up tired, grocery store salad greens and pouring over seed catalogs. It’s too early for spring bulbs to sprout, though you’ve considered placing binoculars on the window ledge, ready to glimpse the first crocus leaf.
Ah, winter. Its darkness can pull us down if we let it. Ever the optimist, romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley once said, “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”
That’s the spirit! There are many things we can adopt to chase away the Winter Blues. I put together a list of seven activities that’s sure to lift the spirits of gardeners and non-gardeners.
Mark your calendar. A seed swap event is in the works for Saturday, February 2. Stay tuned for details. Preparation time: 30 to 60 minutes, allotted for gathering seed packets, gardening books and cookbooks to trade. And, don’t forget to make cookies or a fruit plate to bring.
Remember the alfalfa sprout craze of the 70s? Sprouts are one of the ultimate health foods and we’re not just talking alfalfa sprouts. In the same seed catalogs you can find larger packets of seeds for sprouting: Broccoli, peas, lentils, bean, cabbage, mustard, onion, radish and wheat sprouts. Get a fancy sprouter or build your own from a Mason jar and mesh stretched over the top.
TEST YOUR SEEDS
Did you save seeds from last year? Do you have seed packets that date back to the 90s? If in doubt, conduct a seed germination test. Here’s what you do: Dampen a square of paper towel, put ten seeds on one side and fold over the other side. Slip it into a Ziploc bag. 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 remoisten the towel as needed.
After they’ve germinated — and you think 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.
A couple weeks ago, I shared a list for how long seeds remain viable. In general, annual flower seeds are good for one to three years; perennials for two to four years, but veggies vary greatly. Remember, keep your seeds dry and cool.
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi — 3 to 5 years
Collard, kale — 3 to 5 years
Carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes — 3 years
Leeks — 2 to 3 years
Onions, parsnips — 1 season
Oriental greens, lettuce — 3 years
Parsley, peas, peppers — 2 years
Radishes, turnips, rutabagas — 4 years
Squashes — 3 to 4 years
Swiss chard, beets, spinach — 2 years
GROW AN INDOOR HERB GARDEN
Sow some herb seeds (basil, parsley, oregano, thyme, mint). Set on a bright windowsill or under lights. (The specialty hydroponic gardens will produce a mini herb garden, but at great expense and I’m told the units are somewhat short-lived and error-prone). Got a friend who needs a pick-me-up? Grow some herbs for their windowsill.
FORCE THE ISSUE
Paper whites are the original “just add water” plant. Not only do they smell wonderful, they’re easy to grow indoors. Find a container that’s 3 to 4 inches deep and add an inch of pebbles. Place your paper white bulbs, pointing end up, on top of the stone layer. Nestle them in, add more stones and add water so the level reaches the base of the bulbs. Make it a party. Buy a bunch of paper white bulbs and invite friends to BYOC (Bring Your Own Container). As host, you can supply rocks and water.
TAKE A FOREST WALK
I could be wrong, but I’d say that Fort Abercrombie is Kodiak’s favorite go-to place to hike. Rain or shine. A dose of exercise every day, keeps the doctor away. Speaking of exercise and walking, here’s a factoid I came across in the new book, It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear, by Gregg Easterbrook. “American city dwellers walk more than rural Americans, who go everywhere in cars or trucks. And walking,” he adds, “is associated with longer life.”
SPICE UP YOUR LIFE
Did you know that fragrances such as ginger, vanilla and cinnamon can make you feel cozier and warmer? Share the coziness with the whole house. Make a big pot of spiced apple cider. Putting a gallon of cider in a crockpot or on the wood stove on a gray, drizzly day fills your house with sweet smells. Comfort food for the nose. In a hurry? Shake powdered cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg into a mug of cider and microwave it for 60 seconds. Serve with a smile.
Poet, and husband to Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, Percy Bysshe Shelley was regarded by many as one of the finest lyric and epic poets in the English language. Here’s a verse from his poem, The Sensitive Plant, that promises spring. Percy was not going to allow winter’s darkness to pull him down:
And the Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast
Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.
Marion Owen has over 30 years of experience as a teacher and columnist. She’s on a mission to help busy people enhance their daily lives. To contact Marion or to sign up for her “Goodness from Kodiak” newsletter, go to her blog at MarionOwenAlaska.com.