The peace of the holidays is upon us. With the days of sharing gifts now mostly behind us, the frantic search and associated anxiety for finding that perfect present is now behind us as well.
Also, somewhat unexpected from long-range predictions, the temperatures are feeling very much like winter. All told, this is a great week to hibernate at home, to enjoy some peace and perhaps do some planning for the New Year.
Dec. 21 saw the beginning of winter and for gardeners, this translates into the joy of watching the daylight hours lengthen. Of course, it will be unnoticeable at first, but gardeners still sense the hope of the spring to come.
As evidenced by recent displays at several garden centers and box stores, this sentiment has not been lost on the retail trade either. Promotions for seeds and accessories are already appearing. This past year saw an incredible growth in home gardening, particularly vegetables. Although shelves remain well-stocked at local supermarkets, I suspect the interest in growing vegetable will not wane in the year to come.
To that end, it is not too early to shop for vegetable seeds and any accessories that may be of need to get started. If you are looking for seed catalogues to start your gardening efforts, go to FS1163: Mail Order Vegetable Seed Sources for the New Jersey Gardener (Rutgers NJAES) for a list of reputable seed sources. One key challenge with starting vegetables that you have yet to grow is determining how many plants to actually seed out. The biggest mistake is usually growing too many seedlings.
Another challenge is what plants are appropriate to start indoors versus directly sown in the ground. For great advice consider reviewing FS129: Planning a Vegetable Garden (Rutgers NJAES). It provides hints on what plants can be grown as transplants or directly sown, as well as how much a 10’ row of plants will yield, based upon the specified spacing.
If you do not have open land to grow vegetables, not to worry. Many vegetables can be easily grown in a container and they can also provide great interest to your deck, patio or window box. Plants such as lettuce and spinach can be started indoors and then moved outside in early to mid-April. They look great mixed with pansies and violas and will provide ample salads starting in early to mid-May. Eggplants can also look highly ornamental for summer, as can tomatoes so don’t give up hope simply for the lack of land!
Vegetables are a great way to sustain a healthy diet and are of definite need during the Holidays when we are tempted with far too many treats. Compound these treats with winters’ chill, preempting us from getting much needed outdoor exercise and it is clear to see how we can easily “put-on” a few extra pounds. For insight on proper diet tips, join Chris Zellers by going to go.rutgers.edu/iu0jbj5w for information on Eat for the Health of it…Healthy Eating Plan. The program will be held on Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. Chris will discuss the truth about fad diets, how to identify healthful choices and healthy eating patterns.
Watching what we eat is only half the battle of course. Exercise is also important, but it need not involve a membership to a local gym or sacrificing your lunch hour for a workout. Join Alexandra DelCollo on Jan. 6 at 2 p.m. to learn more about the NEAT Way to exercise. Go to go.rutgers.edu/gnt13z1p to sign up for this webinar on how to fit more physical activity and movement into your daily routine with seemingly insignificant amounts of movement. You will also learn strategies on building small habits that can make a huge difference over time.
As we enter into the very heart of winter, there are still chores that should be completed outdoors as weather permits. Plus it is good exercise. If your garden has tightly pruned hedges or shrubs, make it a habit where possible to sweep the snow from the tops of the plants soon after a storm. The tightly clipped nature of the shrubs prevents the snow from filtering through and the weight can result in the breakage of branches. Snow load can also harm Cutleaf Japanese Maples, since many of last year’s leaves collect on top of the plant and hold the snow. Removing those leaves not only makes the plant look neater, it may also save the plant from split limbs.
For more horticultural insights, consider attending the Home Gardeners School. It will be held virtually this year on Feb. 20, running from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. For more information, go to cpe.rutgers.edu/courses/current/ah0224wa.html to see what offerings are of interest to you. Attendance is limited! In the meantime, enjoy the peace of the season and have a happy, safe and healthy New Year. There promises to be much to learn and enjoy in the year to come.
Bruce Crawford is the program leader in home and public horticulture at Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station Cooperative Extension of Somerset County. Email him at [email protected]