If you’re pinched for time to accomplish all those other things that are important to you — you know, the real nourishing ones like painting, drawing, sewing, hiking, kite flying, gardening and tidepooling — then take a good hard look at how you are spending your time. Oh, and forget about multitasking. Brain researchers say we can’t multitask very well; and if you think you can, you’re deluding yourself. More on that later.

Meanwhile, you can start recovering hours of your life immediately by turning the TV off. At 9 p.m., nearly two-fifths of Americans are in front of the television. The American Time Use Survey keeps track of such things.

Now take a look at this: According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American watches more than four hours of TV each day, which means in a 65-year life, that person will have spent nine years glued to the tube. Nine years, folks.

The myth of multitasking

So you think, well, I’ll just answer e-mails while the TV’s on in the background. Or schedule appointments while driving and listening to the radio. Forget it. What was once considered an attractive skill to put on your resume, researchers say we are addicted to multitasking and suffering from “infomania.” 

NPR ran a story about multitasking a couple years ago.

“People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves,” said neuroscientist Earl Miller. And, he said, “The brain is very good at deluding itself.”

Miller, a professor of neuroscience at MIT, said that for the most part, we simply can’t focus on more than one thing at a time.

What we can do, he said, is shift our focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed, though “Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not,” Miller said. “That’s because of what’s called interference between the two tasks.” 

Researchers say they can actually see the brain struggling.

So if you don’t think you have time to garden, turn off the television. And if  you can’t seem to focus long enough to order seeds from a catalog then turn off the radio and fill out your order in a quiet room.

And if you need a little guidance as to when to sow certain seeds, pull out a calendar and follow along …

A seed-starting table

To get a jump-start on the gardening season, it helps to start seedlings indoors. Keep in mind that some plants prefer to be directly sown outside. These include carrots, peas, some beans, radishes, spinach, rutabagas, potatoes and other root crops We’ll cover that in a future column.

Exactly when you sow your seeds depends on when you want to transplant them outside. As I’ve mentioned in past columns, you can plant outside much earlier than the traditional Memorial Day weekend so long as you protect your plants with a row cover or plastic.

For the sake of simplicity though, let’s use May 30 as the day for transplanting outside. Now look up the time it takes for plants to reach a healthy size, usually spelled out on the back of seed packets. Then use that time to count backwards from the transplant date of May 30.

For example, kale takes 4 to 6 weeks from the time you sow the seed to when you transplant it outside. Using May 30 as the set-out date, you would start your kale seeds in mid-April. Other plants, like pansies, celery and lobelia, are slow growers and require more time. The following timetable lists the average number of weeks that are needed to grow transplants to the proper sizes before transplanting them outside.

Vegetables

10 to 12 weeks: celery, leeks

8 to 12 weeks: onion (bulb), green onion

6 to 8 weeks: Swiss chard, salad greens, lettuce, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, kale, mustard spinach, Asian greens, cucumbers (greenhouse only)

4 to 6 weeks: zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, tomatoes—all need to grow in a greenhouse)

Herbs

12 to 14 weeks: chives, oregano, mint, yarrow, parsley

8 to 12 weeks: thyme, chamomile (German), feverfew, valerian, catnip

6 to 8 weeks: dill, chervil, coriander (cilantro), lemon balm, sage, arugula

Flowers

20 weeks: fuchsia, sweet peas

12 to 14 weeks: pansies, lobelia, coleus, impatiens

8 to 12 weeks: snapdragons, alyssum

6 to 8 weeks: calendula, daisy, nemesia, sweet alyssum, petunia, ageratum

4 to 6 weeks: African daisy, marigolds, godetia, nasturtium, bachelor button, dahlia, canary bird vine

Want more time in your life? Turn off the TV. Want to accomplish more meaningful goals? Do one thing at a time.

In one of the many letters he wrote to his son in the 1740s, Lord Chesterfield offered the following advice: “There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.”

To Chesterfield, concentrating on one thing at a time was not merely a practical way to structure one’s time; it was a mark of intelligence, for all successful people, from businessmen to saints, are masters of focusing their mind. “This steady and undissipated attention to one object, is a sure mark of a superior genius; as hurry, bustle, and agitation, are the never-failing symptoms of a weak and frivolous mind.”

A five-week organic gardening class starts in April at Kodiak College. Register online: www.koc.alaska.edu.

Marion Owen can be reached at mygarden@alaska.net.

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