On or near the beginning of each month I will present a gardening calendar. I find that it saves time and worry if I have a ready-made plan for activities in the garden. January is one of the least busy months of the year for gardeners, but we have a few things that need to be or can be done:
Plan your garden for the year. Read seed and nursery catalogs and pick out what you would like to grow. It is a good idea to plant greater numbers of the vegetables and fruits your family uses on a regular basis. Minimize or eliminate the things you do not. Figure out how much space you have and how much seed you need, then order. If you are just beginning or reconfiguring your garden, January is a great time to undertake design projects. January is also an excellent time to repair equipment, such as garden tools, plant supports and cold frames.
If you have a supply of fresh manure you can make a hotbed in which to grow early vegetables and flowers. Though perhaps unpleasant to deal with, a hotbed provides a little microclimate that is much warmer and more humid than the out of doors. Hotbeds will extend your growing and harvest seasons. They are a real help in climates with short seasons and cool nights. Squash, melons, peppers and eggplant enjoy the warm nights a hotbed will provide, thereby significantly increasing production. In the nineteenth century most winter vegetables, such as cauliflower, were grown in hotbeds.
Carefully tend your cold frames in January, covering them with insulating materials on cold nights and admitting air during the day if it is not too cold. Now is the time to clean debris and dead leaves out of winter lettuces and other greens in cold frames or cold greenhouses.
Early cabbage can be sown indoors, as well as parsley, cauliflower and eggplant. Flowers to sow inside to transplant out later include: geraniums, impatiens, lobelia, petunias, pansies, snapdragons and violas. Primroses, auriculas, delphinium and many other perennials can be sown now indoors.
Manure can be spread over vegetable beds and perennial borders. Pruning can begin of fruit trees and raspberries. If you live in a mild climate or have a large cold frame or cold greenhouse, you can harvest any of the following: leeks, spinach, kale, carrots, lettuce, corn salad, onions, parsnips and chard. In a cold climate carrots and parsnips outside can be covered with straw to protect them, so you just have to push away the snow and straw to dig them. In a cold (unheated) greenhouse greens can be grown and harvested all winter, especially if an inner layer of floating row cover is placed over the crops to protect them. Stakes or hoops will prevent the fabric from touching the leaves of the plants.