It’s February! What Should I do in My Garden?

Is it too soon to start?

NH Zone MapIt’s about this time of year when people in cold snowy areas begin to start to yearn for warmer winds of spring. Depending upon what zone you live in you could still have inches of snow and ice on the ground like we do here in central New Hampshire, Zone 5b. The weather here has been sort of wacky, this morning we sat out on our deck with the gas fire on since it was 42 degrees up here, whereas the other morning, here at 1500 ft where we live on the side of a mountain is 24 degrees but down in town apparently its much colder prompting a wintry mix precipitation according to Accuweather. They just sent me an alarm telling me is 4 degrees. Not according to my weather station which is mounted on our garden fence. An atmospheric inversion or temperature inversion is when there is a reversal of normal behavior of temperature in the troposphere. That’s the region of the atmosphere closest to the earth’s surface. So, when there is an inversion the cool air closer to the earth’s surface is trapped by a layer of warmer air. Usually the air temp decreases with height. One night in the fall we were invited to our neighbor’s house for dinner. We drove over in our John Deere gator since their house is only a mile away and it was a nice evening. Upon leaving we could feel the chilly night air which got much colder upon speeding our way home in the windshield-less gator. However, once we began to ascend our very steep driveway, we were hit with a wall of warm air – at least 10 degrees difference. It was a similar sensation to when you enter a building in the city with hot air blowers blasting towards the door after coming in from the cold.

Revamp Your Garden
The groundhog has been out and told us the news of 6 more weeks of winter though – dashing some hopes of an early spring.  The occasional thaws are welcomed teases. I’ve noticed the bird activity outside has picked up- hoping that is also a sign that we are getting closer. The daylight is lasting longer which always helps brighten anyone’s day. But right now, as I still stare out my kitchen window at my garden, there is still snow piled up a foot deep in most areas. This week’s promised warm temperatures should melt most if not all of the snow. 

Thank god for John Deere
stone wall and bricks removed

Our garden this year is brand new for us. We spent a good portion of last year taking out the previous owner’s garden since the beds were made from rotting out birch logs that must have looked beautiful the first years but were crumbling and inviting unwanted pests. I decided to start from scratch – rip out everything and begin with a blank slate.  The old garden had old brick paths that were uneven and crumbling, so we took those out. Thank goodness for our John Deere tractor which made some of the heavier work possible without breaking anyone’s back. We had to take out small rock walls here and there that had to come out for a number of reasons, one of which was they were constructed incorrectly and had plywood for the backsides. Don’t ask. I was shocked to discover this as anyone.

bricks and old beds removed

So it’s mid-February and you are yearning to get started with your garden. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere that’s not snow covered then it’s time to get outside and clean up old beds – or take them apart like I did this time last year.  Look around – do any of your raised garden beds need any repair work? Is there any bowing? Late winter/early spring is a great time to do this work since weeds haven’t popped up and you really get to see the bare bones of things during this time of year.  Plus you don’t sweat as much since it’s cooler out.


If you are thinking about starting a new garden – walk around the area you are thinking about – take measurements. Remember to consider the sunlight when picking an area for your garden. This is very important when planning a vegetable garden. You need an area that gets at least 6 to 8 hours of full, unobstructed sunlight to grow successful tomatoes or peppers. Take advantage of warmer days that come your way by getting outside – cleaning up and organizing the garden shed. Winter’s leaves have a way of sneaking their way into nooks and crannies in and around the shed or garden beds. Get the rake or blower out and start tidying up – add the leaves to your compost pile.

Seeds
February is the time to order the seeds you may need. Don’t wait to order your seed potatoes

Seed tape and packets

or strawberries as well as a few other popular veggies, as these have a way of selling out. I have been guilty of waiting and then not getting my first choice.  If you have never grown potatoes, I highly recommend it! Once you have grown your own potatoes, buying a grocery store potato is just not the same. I like to get my seeds from Territorial Seed Company and Park Seed Company. Park Seed is known for having a great germination rate!


Seed Viability
February is also a good time to look at your seeds you may have collected from previous years. Seeds are alive, so they don’t last forever.  Luckily there is an easy way to test your seeds to see if they will germinate our not. It’s simple and easy to do, just follow these steps.

Step 1: Dampen a paper towel. Soggy but not dripping wet.
Step 2: Take seeds you want to test [10 of each] and arrange separately on the damp paper towel.
Step 3: Label your seeds with a Sharpie marker so you don’t mix up your different varieties.
Step 4: Roll up the towel or place a second paper towel on top of the seeds to create a damp environment around the seed.
Step 5: Put the towel with the seeds in a plastic bag, seal and set aside in a warm place.

Germination depends on the seed variety you are testing and can range from 2 to 14 days. You should spritz the paper towel with water for seeds that take longer, keeping it damp. Drying out will stop the germination process.

Step 6: When the seeds sprout count how many sprouted from each seed variety. Compare this number to the number of seeds that did not sprout and you have the germination rate.

1 seed sprouts = 10% germination rate
5 seeds sprout = 50% germination rate
10 seeds sprout = 100% germination rate

The higher the germination rate, the better!

Once your seeds have sprouted you can either plant them in a small container to transplant later when the time is right or if it is the right time of the season to directly seed into the ground – go for it! Or you can always compost them.  Seeds when properly stored can be kept viable for years. So try to always keep them in a cool, dry place.

Seed starting

February is a great time to start some of your seeds indoors. Back in our old home I used to have a room I could set up with a couple of grow lights and have trays and trays and trays of seeds started. The new house isn’t set up for me to do that but I can still start a few seeds on the south facing windowsill. I love seeing a seed go through the process of growth from sprout to strong fruit bearing plant that yields delicious treats such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. It amazes me each and every time.


Spring will be here sooner than you think when it comes to your garden. One day it’s February, the next it’s Mother’s Day and then it’s June and the kids are out of school. I remember what it was like when the kids were younger; they are all grown adults now, so life is much different now. Now I have more time to focus on my garden; then, I was running around from practice to practice, appointment to appointment. Life revolved around them. They were in high school when we turned our backyard into a vegetable growing oasis, gone were the swing set and lacrosse nets and backboards. Soon we had over 300 sq feet of growing area and used every raised bed that Homegrown Harvest sells. We wanted to be able to say we had tested everything for ourselves. Mark and I have not only installed dozens of raised garden beds over the last 5 years but cared and maintained scores of them and other gardens. So we know what can and will go wrong in a garden over time. 

Involving the kids in gardening is not only helpful for you but teaches them a valuable skill that they can develop as they grow and have their own families.  It can be time well spent away from the electronics that children and adults find suck up most of their time. I’m thankful for the time I spent outside with my kids in the garden. I am happy that they had a chance to learn about growing your own food and all the wonderful delicious vegetables there are in this world that can be grown right out your own back door. Lord knows how fast and precious time is spent with our children.

Enjoy your garden and remember:

A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.”  A. A. Milne
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