This year the Italian Gardener will look at gardening month by month. Let’s start with January. The peaceful month, curled up by a fire with a seed catalog dreaming about all the new varieties of vegetables and flowers available before sorting through the bags, boxes, jars and margarine tubs filed with seeds saved from zia Rosa, cuigini Luigi or paisan Giuseppe. Questions that keep popping up are: Where did I put those San Marzano tomato seeds? Did cousin Emma’s butternut squash dry properly? Did we save enough basilico seed so I can start some now and again this summer?
Once in my greenhouse or plant room I am in another one of my winter comfort zones. I sit by a small trickling fountain, the room filled with sunshine or brightly lit by grow lamps, sip tea and solve the daily crossword puzzle. I check my winter stored geraniums, snip a few stray leaves or blooms and check their moisture levels. I try to keep their growth in check by keeping the temperatures on the cool side (50 F, 10 C) and the soil quite dry watering from the bottom to keep fungus gnats at a minimum. Last year’s plants will be replanted in all my ceramic pots next spring while the new cuttings will be sold at our garden club’s spring sale. Our fuchsia plants are treated similarly and are held over in the darker corners of the greenhouse or plant room.
I check my lettuce and micro green plantings and start a new batch every couple of weeks. This keeps me a good supply for a daily fresh salad. If no fresh greens are available I check my pantry for a jar of preserved melanzane or pepperoni. Lettuce, spinach, and choi all like the cool temperatures. Micro greens are quickly grown with the help of a heating mat under the seed trays.
This year I am trying my first hold over of last summer’s pimento pepper plants. In the fall I drastically cut back all the foliage, dug up plants and washed and root pruned them. I potted them in one gallon pots and placed them under my green house lower shelf with very little water. It wasn’t long before they began to send out new leaves. Occasionally a flower appears, which I try to remove so the plant is forced to continue growing. For several years, I have been successfully using this procedure with my sweet potato vines. The added bonus with yams is that I get to eat the yams that I dug up with the roots, before restarting the roots growing.
Continued enjoyment is found outside where I keep paths and benches cleared of snow in the front, side and back gardens. Ceramic planters are filled with fir, spruce, pine and cedar trimmings draped with small twinkly lights. Each planter has a central porcupine or hedgehog figurine hiding in the foliage. In the snow they are a pleasure to walk through or see from the house. The woody stems of the evergreens gives the soil some expansion room so the planters are somewhat protected from frost damage. Our garden gives us great pleasure in all seasons. This year, our return to our Kelowna winter garden, after our trying and eventful Christmas break, will be looked at with even more thankful eyes.
Life-long Gardener Don Rampone shares his tips and advice for gardening