January Gardening Calendar


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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.

Enjoy January!



Some Heirloom Cucumbers


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This season I grew several heirloom cucumbers.  All of them are open pollinated so seed can be saved and planted next year.  The first of my cucumbers to ripen was ‘Boothby’s Blond’ (top photo) a variety handed down over generations by the Boothby family in Maine.  The date is unknown, but I would guess nineteenth century.  It is a lemon-type, rather small, but quite mild and delicious.  The plants produced well and began early.  One failing is that the plants developed powdery mildew earlier than other varieties, and this eventually weakened the plants causing them to slow production.  My garden is in shade for the first half of the day and that is part of the problem.  I garden organically and use a soap spray to control mildew.  It slows down the spread of mildew, but does not kill it.  Anyway, I would recommend growing ‘Boothby’s Blond’ cucumber.  It is great tasting, early (50-60 days) and productive.  Just try to give it as much sun and air as possible to prevent disease.

Another good heirloom cucumber I grew this year is ‘Parisian Pickle’ from 1880 (middle photo).  This variety is listed to mature in 50 days.  Now that is true if you pick the cucumbers small, which you might want to do because the fruits grow large quickly.  We used this variety for slicing and were about to make pickles when rats appeared and ate all the cucumbers in the garden.  I suppose they are traveling all over town trying everyone’s cucumbers.   ‘Parisian Pickle’ is very productive and fast-growing, but the leaves also developed powdery mildew a couple weeks after ‘Boothby’s Blond’.

In the bottom photo is a cucumber grown since the era of the Oregon Trail, 1830-1869.  It is ‘Long Green Improved’ from 1842.  It is listed as maturing in 70 days, but I found it to be ten days earlier.  (This could be due to weather; we had the hottest summer on record here in Oregon).  The skin of the fruit of ‘Long Green Improved’ cucumber has few spines so is smoother-skinned than the previously mentioned varieties.  It is an excellent slicer with mild flavor that can be used for pickling when picked small.  Best of all, my six plants of this variety still show absolutely no mildew on October 5.  That means this variety will tolerate slightly shadier or more close conditions than the other two.  The fruits will grow to 12 inches or more if allowed.  This is a great variety that should be saved from extinction.   Why not try it next season?