Ah, winter. It can be a welcome break from all of the hustle and bustle of the growing season…until the holidays wear off and plain old winter, sans glitter and glam, settles in. The seeds catalogs start to arrive, and occupy our bedside tables and our dreams, as we plan and scheme and imagine all of the things we can’t wait to do, just as soon as springtime arrives.
But the catalogs only take us so far. Once the pages are dog-eared and torn, and the highlighters have run dry, what’s a gardener to do in the dark days of winter? Never despair, there is always something for an industrious planner to do!
I always have great plans for orderly, clearly labeled plants. And every year I end up with barely labeled planting beds, having to make educated guesses on which varieties are which. If you leave the planning too late, making cute and well-organized plant markers will be the last thing you do. The onslaught of spring brings on a host of much more important tasks—starting the seeds, hardening off the seedlings, and getting everything in the ground and well-cared for before it’s too late.
Now is the time to think ahead and make plant markers. This year, I’ll finally get around to properly doing my paint stick plant markers by painting them a cheery red with spray paint, and writing the plant names on them with a white paint pen. You could also make similar markers with wooden spoons, or repurpose used canning lids or lids from canned goods. If you’re the type of person who likes to have the seed packet handy in the garden, you can always turn clear plastic jewel cases from CDs into a weather-proof sleeve—just tuck the seed packet inside and place it at the end of the garden bed.
If you’ve got some indoor workspace—like a garage or basement, or even just a corner of the living room with a tarp thrown down—winter is the perfect time to build small projects for the garden. Make a window box or wooden planters. Create your own square foot gardening planting template. Or build a tool crate for toting your hand tools and supplies around. Craft a harvest trug from wood pieces and hardware cloth. If you have the space, you can even build (or repurpose an Ikea bookshelf) your own seed starting shelf—with some hooks, florescent lights and seed starting trays, you’ll be ready to start all of your seeds for spring in no time.
Seed tapes are great for planting tiny seeds. They’re also really useful for minimizing waste from thinning plants—ensuring you get the most bang for your buck and your time spent in the garden. All you need are a thin paper, a flour and water paste and your seeds. Some paper options you can use are newspaper, toilet paper, paper towels, tissue paper or crepe paper streamers. I’m partial to newspaper, since it’s a great way to recycle it after you’ve read it. The flour paste is easy: Just take about a 1/4 cup of flour and mix in enough water to form a paste (it should be about the thickness of glue). Simply dab the paste onto the strips according to the spacing directions of the seeds you’re working with, and drop one or two seeds onto each paste dot. Let the strips dry thoroughly overnight, then gently roll up the strips and store them in Mason jars until planting time. Don’t forget to label your strips—unless you like surprises in the garden!
One of my favorite tricks for getting supplies on the cheap is to buy after the season when everything goes on clearance. The best time for gardening supplies is generally late October through November, but you can still find some deals this time of year too. Most stores start to stock their garden centers around Valentine’s Day, and prices start to climb. So if you need start starting trays, potting soil or tools. Try to get them now at a good price so you don’t have to pay full price later.
Also think about the things you can make yourself—a dollar saved can be better than a dollar earned. Large metal cans are great for gardening. With a coat of spray paint they make a great little pot for herbs or flowers. Just use a nail to poke some drainage holes in the bottom, and paint the outside your color of choice. If you buy a lot of milk in gallon jugs, now is the time to start saving them. They’re great cloches for protecting plants and getting a jump start on the season. Just cut the bottom out and you can place it right over your plant.
Speaking of cloches, you can get a head start on spring by using season extenders to grow cool weather crops even earlier. Kale, cabbage, peas, broccoli and lettuce are all great choices. If you don’t have milk jugs on hand, think about other things that can be repurposed. The classic option is to build a cold frame from an old window or door. If you don’t have any of your own, check out architectural salvage or second-hand home improvement stores. Fish tanks can also be a great ready-to-go option, and these are readily available at thrift stores. Smaller scale cloches can be fashioned from glass cake domes, fish bowls, terrariums, or glass cracker jars. Keep your eyes peeled at second-hand shops—they are loaded with glassware, so finding a collection of unique cloches at a good price should just take a single shopping trip.
So even if there’s snow on the ground and temperatures don’t climb very far above freezing, there’s still plenty of work to do in the garden. And besides, planting season isn’t too far off—in about six weeks we’ll all start thinking about getting the tomato and pepper seeds started so they’re ready to go when the ground finally warms up!
Amanda is passionate about cooking, gardening and crafting. To read more, please check out Apartment Farm.