It has been an unusually pleasant January up here in Cascadia – fairly dry and mild – and I’ve been out in the yard more, tidying and futzing and making a few changes to the layout of the garden. I am very eager to get going on this year’s garden.
You know how some years you have the passion as soon as the seed catalogs start arriving and some years it takes the warmer days of spring to pull your inner-gardener forth? This year, oh it’s on, baby! I’m having to physically restrain myself from doing something stupid like starting eggplants inside right now, just to get to play in the dirt.
Soon…soon we can get going.
Plan & Purchase
The most important gardening task in January is planning. Enjoy seed catalogs, sketch out dream gardens, or figure out where to put that next raised bed or pot. (Read More: Be A Very Lazy Garden Planner.) I recently partnered with the super-ethical High Mowing Organic Seeds and, if you don’t already receive it, I highly recommend requesting their free catalog.
Take an inventory of your existing seeds, toss any that no longer germinate with verve or those varieties that you don’t actually enjoy. Order the seeds you will want for this season. Try a new variety or several but try not to go crazy just because everything in the catalog sounds good. None of us has unlimited space or time. (Read More: How To Pick Your Seeds Without Going Crazy.)
Tip: DIY Kitchen Sink Mesclun Blends
I take old seed packets that have languished for a few years – usually because I wasn’t that impressed with the single varietal – and make “kitchen sink” blends. Anything leafy – a random few sad old seeds of lettuce or spinach or beets or chard gets mixed together into a “mesclun mix.” I’ll add any brassicas to this as well – kale, cabbage, cauli, radishes, etc. – those baby seedlings are all perfectly good eatin’ when little.
The nice thing about doing this is I have a guilt-free broadcast blend and if one of the varieties doesn’t germinate at all, I’m not out anything. I just sow pretty thickly and whatever pops up is good by me.
January and February are good months to place online orders for any bare-root fruit trees, bushes, canes or vines you might be adding to your garden this year. A good nursery will ship your plants to you at the right time to be planted in your area, before they begin breaking dormancy.
Onion starts and potato seed can also be pre-ordered from general seed houses and specialty growers for delivery based on your region. Even though you might not get these things delivered for a few months yet, the availability of favorite varieties is great now. If you wait, you might be out of luck.
Place Your Orders For:
- Spring & Summer Vegetable Seeds
- Bare Root Fruit and Nut Trees and Shrubs (pre-order)
- Bare Root Cane Fruit & Vines (pre-order)
- Onion Plants (pre-order)
- Potato Seed (pre-order)
Prepare and Prune
It’s not too early to start thinking about soil. If you live someplace where the ground isn’t frozen or waterlogged, you can amend your beds with lime, slow-release organic fertilizer, compost and whatnot in preparation for the spring planting. If you aren’t sure what your garden needs, get a soil test. And don’t go plopping anything fast acting like blood meal on your soil right now – you’ll just be wasting nitrogen (and money!)
By mid-month, spray peach trees that are prone to peach leaf curl with copper or lime sulfur. You’ll need to do three sprays total. (That’s kinda a lot of work – good reason to look at leaf-curl resistant varieties, if you ask me.)
Tackle dormant season pruning. Prune fruit trees for size, to remove crossing limbs, and to give the trees good air circulation and sun penetration.
Spray fruit trees with dormant oil to control mites, scale and overwintering buggies. You can use a specialty horticultural oil, or make your own.
Tip: DIY All Natural Dormant Oil Spray For Fruit Trees
I use this formula, based off the Cornell University dormant oil spray recipe. Mix all the ingredients together and spray on dormant fruit trees to smother overwintering pests. Use right away after mixing, fully cover tree surfaces, and shake mix as needed to keep the oil in suspension.
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (soy is best for its insecticidal properties)
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- 4 drops natural, biodegradable liquid dish soap (like Seventh Generation)
- 1 gallon of water
Mid-January is about as early as you can get seeds going under light in the Northwest. That’s still plenty early for hardy vegetables and long-season crops and if you start too early you risk some types of crops bolting before they grow big enough to harvest. So, anytime from mid-month to the end of January, start these under lights:
- Artichokes – My artichokes generally come through the winter, but when I need to replace them I sow seeds in 4″ pots in mid-January.
- Onions and Summer Leeks – Use fresh seed, allium seed does not keep well.
- Salad Greens – From the end of January until mid-October, I’ll sow salad greens (lettuce, endive, mache, spinach, arugula etc. depending on the season) about every month or so. If you start lettuce under lights towards the end of January, you’ll be able to transplant out under a cloche at the beginning of March. If you didn’t get a bed prepared and cloched, keep those lettuces growing under lights and harvest them small right from the seed tray.
- Peas & Favas – most people sow peas and favas directly in the ground sometime between late February and April. If you want to get a jump on peas, you can start them indoors under lights as early as late January. I sow them in a section of plastic gutter. (Read more: Sowing Peas in Guttering)
- Brussels Sprouts
- Overwintering Cabbage
- Carrots & Parsnips
- Kale & Collards
- Turnips & Rutabagas
- Greenhouse Lettuce
- Jerusalem Artichokes
- Sprouting Broccoli
- Stored Potatoes
- Stored Winter Squash
Are you doing anything in your garden now, or is it still too early?1