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Warm Up to Winter Gardening

By Erika Williams

And so we find ourselves firmly ensconced in the depths of Winter. February is a cold and dreary month here along the Jersey Shore. Spring is almost two months away. Summer seems like a distant dream. And yet, our little fingers are itching to get deep and dirty in that wonderfully magical thing called soil. Our little minds our whirring. Dreams of Summer fruit and fresh veggies abound.

What to do, what to start, what do we need to sow now?

Yes, you say it’s only February, but for those cold crops, and some warm ones, too, February is the time to begin. Days are short and soil is cold, most likely frozen, leaving just one option, indoor seeding.

Indoor seeding only requires a few, albeit important, things: light, warmth, water, a substrate and a vessel to hold it in. Ideally, we would all have a perfectly sunny, warm, South-facing window in which to place the seed trays. If you do have this, well then, count yourself lucky! But to the rest of us who don’t, our dreams are not dashed. There are options. Let’s look at what we need, or would like to have, to help those seeds grow into strong, healthy plants.

Light is key. Light is something we take for granted every day. But, plants are not happy with just any light, they may make do with it, but they aren’t going to love it, thrive in it, grow strong and be happy in it.

They NEED “good” light. A grow light will help them grow strong, and slow. It

prevents excessive legginess, which could lead to a perpetually fragile plant. An adjustable height grow light, and maybe a heat pad, will be the beginning of a beautiful relationship between you and your happy little seedlings.

As far as what to plant in, people have successfully used plastic fruit trays, cardboard egg cartons, lettuce packs ... the options are limited only by your imagination. Home centers and hardware stores abound with varieties of seed starting kits. Truth be told, some good seeds starting soil and a shallow, wide container will do the trick, or you can get a Jiffy Starter kit. It’s up to you.

Your next big hurdle is choosing what to plant. This is where you need to dig down deep, give it some thought and either buy some seed packets, or harvest seeds from organic, non-GMO veggies. Remember starting small is better than going too big, and later becoming overwhelmed with your growing batch of seedlings. Try to be realistic... I know, it’s so hard.

February planting lends itself to cold weather crops; lettuces, cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower leafy greens and a few slower growing warm weather crops like peppers. Rainbow Chard is, by far, one of the most prolific and durable performers. Another bomb-proof veggie to grow is beets! The greens are excellent. Roasted beets are a sweet, earthy addition to salads. And who can discount beet-pickled eggs? To those that are lucky enough to be Backyard Chicken Enthusiasts flush with an abundance of eggs, beautifully colored beet-pickled eggs are an absolute joy. Though a warm-weather crop, peppers started now will fruit much sooner. The ubiquitous Jersey Tomato has NEVER tasted better than when it’s home grown.

Do you need a little more help? Do you have questions about companion plants or when to start specific veggies? Online apps abound to help the home gardener figure out what to sow and when. A favorite is Seed to Spoon, a free on-line app full of incredibly helpful tips and an excellent user-friendly, interactive list, guiding your planting choices for every season.

So, get planting my fellow Gardeners. Grow those beautiful, healthy veggies and fruits and revel in the beauty of a job well done or a plant well grown ... you decide.


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