The gardens I have started in January for well over the last 50 years have always been my very favorites.
January gardens do best when there’s about of foot of snow on the ground, the temperature is around zero and the wind is howling at over 20 mph. You don’t have to fire up the tiller, sharpen the hoe or even worry about where you put the seed basket to have a successful January vegetable garden, but you do need at least half a dozen seed catalogues from places like Parks and Burpee’s if you want to do it right.
Most of these seed places now publish their catalogues online, but there is no substitute for the oldfashioned catalogues that are replete with hundreds of colorful photographs of the vegetables and flowers you need. For whatever reason, they simply don’t do nearly as well on a computer monitor as they do on paper that you can take to bed and aggravate your spouse by rustling pages into the wee hours.
A muttering spouse is, to a January garden, sort of like a rain shower is to the one you plant in April. Both of them can interrupt your efforts but both are necessary aggravations in the overall scheme of things you have to put up with.
There was a time, well before the turn of the century, when the kids and I put many hours of effort and had great fun every January into getting readers of this column on the mailing lists of several dozen catalogues.
We started out doing just garden seeds but wound up including other stuff, like beauty products, kitchen supplies and even risqué underwear.
Then, after the kids got too old to be so easily amused, I commenced feeling guilty about all the trees our hobby was killing, not to mention all the envelope stuffing I had to perform without eager assistance, so I narrowed the catalogue requests down to around a dozen or so, just for myself, because they were absolutely essential to my January garden. Loretta still wonders, to this day, what Fredrick’s of Hollywood had to do with growing lettuce and kohlrabi and I still have not come up with an easy answer other than I’m looking for something to keep the blackbirds out of the sweet corn.
Anyway, the January garden to this day still looks a lot like it did in the 1980s. It consists of a drawn-to-scale layout of the late-spring garden printed out on an 8.5 X 11 sheet of copy paper on which I can draw planting furrows and label them with whatever veggie or blossom I intend to grow there. I write down the precise variety of each one and make note of the seed catalogue and page number where I found it along with target dates for when the seeds should go into the ground.
I keep the garden layout on one clipboard and a stack of photocopied order blanks from each of the several catalogues on another so that I can fill them out as I “plant” the January garden. Unfortunately, by the time I’m finished “planting”, the order blanks total out at way more in cash requirements than I could scrape up without taking a second mortgage on our house. And I can kinda understand how the clipboards banging around might keep Loretta from sleeping as soundly as she would like to.
Needless to say, by the time the weather outside is warm enough to work the soil, I have to scale the garden back to a pittance of its original intent and the spring garden rarely looks anywhere near as good as it did in the January snow.