February in the Vegetable Garden

Our winter weather continues to alternate between full sun and rain, with very mild temperatures. Daffodils and lenten roses are blooming, and the forsythia will burst with yellow flowers soon. Even my purple verbena is flowering, sun-warmed by the limestone rocks in the "boulder garden." I've done gardening tasks never before attempted during the winter, due to this unusual weather. Here are the details:

TRANSPLANTING - This is one task commonly unheard of in winter, but I've successfully thinned the bed of cilantro I planted in the fall, replanted the little plants, and they have new growth. I transplanted a couple of rows of beets from a patch which had reseeded itself. I've also discovered that once you grow garlic, expect volunteers to appear long after you think you harvested everything. Those little stragglers are now moved into the garlic patch and are growing well too.

DIRECT PLANTING SEEDS - In late January I planted a bed of snap pea seeds, more than a month earlier than I normally would. Peas are very resistant to cold, although they will grow slowly. I figured the worst I had to lose was $1.25 worth of seeds. I've just begun to see green growth emerge from the soil, so my head start should be successful. I've also direct seeded corn mache (a salad green), romaine lettuce, and kale, but no signs of growth yet.

RAKING - My latest gardening reading is a book called Good Bug, Bad Bug and I recommend it to other organic gardeners. It prompted me to rake the leaves out of the low walkways in my garden, once I learned that many damaging insects will over-winter in matted leaves. I'll be revealing more tips from this book as the gardening season gets underway, like planting certain crops near others to deter bad insects or to attract good ones.

Please help me identify this weed, growing everywhere!
WEEDING - I've been weeding, which is usually unheard of this time of year. The warm wet weather has spurred on the growth of weeds which usually don't germinate in winter. Can any one tell me what the weed I've photographed is? I added my fingertip as a size reference. This plant is everywhere, and it is flowering now so more seeds will follow soon. There is so much of it, I'd love to learn that it's edible! Meanwhile, at the very least, I am trying to eliminate it from the veggie garden. Other weeds I've been pulling are mostly grasses.

HARVESTING - As I keep saying, I love those collards! My next recipe experiment will be using the leaves to make Stuffed Cabbage, since they are big and flat and not apt to break like cabbage leaves do. The few times the temps have dipped below 20, I've still been covering my collard bed, since I don't want to risk damage. The brussels sprouts continue to produce, so I keep harvesting from the same plants. Even the ones I started from seed last fall have been growing, so I might get a spring harvest out of those plants. Also continuing to pick spinach, beet greens, curly parsley (more cold tolerant than flat leaved, which crocked last month), lettuce, cilantro, mint, kale, onion tops and garlic greens.

PRUNING - It's time to prune my two Concord grape vines. The trick with grapes is to prune WAY MORE than you think you need to. Look online for lots of instructions, and your vines will reward you with much more to harvest. Unfortunately the birds or some other culprit beat me to the harvest last season, so I may need to cover the ripening grapes with netting this year.

INDOOR SEED STARTING - As I would normally do in late January, I've started a couple varieties of blight-resistant tomatoes, and sweet peppers in my south-facing window, as well as some lime basil and stevia - all in peat pellets. The store shelves are packed with seed-starting trays and pots, but I have those from previous years, so I just buy the replacement pellets. Once the roots start poking out of the bottom of the peat pellet, I transplant the seedlings to individual 3" square plastic pots I save and reuse year to year. This year, I struggled to find ingredients for my potting mix for the seedlings. In the past, I've been able to buy shredded sphagnum peat moss, and mixed it with vermiculite and organic potting soil. This year I can't find the fine peat moss for sale. Also, since I grow organically, I don't want to buy any soil starting mixes with chemical fertilizers added, as with the MiracleGro mixtures. I never thought I'd be reading ingredients labels on soil mixtures! With some searching around the garden center shelves, I've found some premixed seed starting which are organic and close to that which I mixed myself, one made by Jiffy (at WalMart) and one from NK Farm (at Lowes).

I am always looking for ways to recycle, and many plastic discards become part of my garden supplies. Plastic clam-shells from grocery store lettuce mixes and strawberries provide mini-greenhouses for seeds started in peat pellets. The air holes are already there, allowing drainage at the bottom, circulation of air at the top, and heat escape. You can open the lids when the temperature is warm too. Berry baskets are good for holding peat pellets too. I use 32 oz. yogurt containers to cut I.D. tags (I label everything - too easy to forget what each plant is!), and I also poke holes in the bottoms to use them as pots, both in the 6 oz and 32 oz sizes. Little grated cheese containers make ideal drain cups under the yogurt-container pots.

Next month will be a busier gardening month, so I am enjoying my non-gardening time with my other passion, painting. See what I've been working on lately in my Art Blog.