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February Is Hard On Gardeners
by John Harmon
February 22, 1998

This is the toughest time of the year for the avid Gardener. It's too early to plant most things but with the gain in daylight hours and the warm sunny days it's tough. Here in the north we are gaining five minutes a day and the daytime temperatures are into positive numbers. The snow cover is however a truer indication of the time of the year . This weather is very uncharacteristic of mid-February in the Yukon.

This gives us an opportunity to try out all kinds of new gizmos. For instance I am trying a new Computer Program from IBM for writing this column. This is the first one I have dictated directly into my Computer with Simply Speaking Gold. This is a program that allows me to speak into a headset and the Computer types the words on the screen. This is one of the few gizmos I've tried that works. Now all I need is a program that would allow me to talk and the Computer would weed the garden.

This is a good time of the a year to get busy planning what you will be planting in the spring and get your seed orders in but beware the gizmos offered along with the seeds. I made the mistake many years ago of buying a gizmo called a planting board. This thing looks like a game board and is cross hatched every quarter inch in grids to allow you to space out your garden. it came with bunches of cute little squares of paper that represented garden crops. Each little square of paper representing a vegetable was a different size. The idea was you placed the various crop squares in rows to show you how much you could plant in a given area . It looked great in the store and I think we used it once. It took so much time to arrange the little squares however that it might be a great project for February if you're really stuck for something gardening related to keep you busy.

The best way to determine what you will need is by keeping a journal. It can be as simple as a few sheets of paper but if you're like me you will lose those sheets before the next gardening season. Small hard cover books of empty lined paper are available in stationary stores and are harder to lose. You can list the vegetables you planted, the variety, and at the end of the season note the yield. This will tell you if you planted enough of each vegetable for your family's needs. It will also give you a good idea of what grew best and what varieties you may not want to try again. Be sure to include information on weather conditions in your journal. That information will give you a better idea about the performance of a particular variety. The last summer here in Whitehorse was not a typical summer. Things that grew great last summer may not grow so good in a typical growing season. Over the winter remember to note the date on which you ran out of a particular vegetable. This will give you an idea of how much of that vegetable to plant the next season. I know for instance that I planted too much cabbage three years ago because I still have cabbages in the freezer and cases of jars of sauerkraut in the pantry and I gave as much away as I could.

Another source of good information is your neighbors. You will get information on which varieties do best in your area and get a chance to meet the people who live around you. Even if your garden doesn't do well you will have made some new friends. If you are lucky enough to have a neighbor that saves seeds you will not only get good advice but a start on your seeds as well. You will also have a source of information on all those garden gizmos before you spend money on them.

If you're a new gardener and don't have any idea of how much of any vegetable to plant for your family's needs, there is information available from the Yukon Agriculture Branch or the Agriculture Branch in your area. Another good source for information is the Ball Blue Book. This book is published by the Ball people and is called The Guide To Home Canning And Freezing. It contains a garden Planning Guide. The book contains a table listing vegetables by groups and the average amount of each vegetable to be grown and preserved for a family of six persons. You can modify the amounts to suit the size of your family. Keep in mind the fact that these tables were designed to reflect yields in typical midwest US gardens. You can expect much smaller yields in our cold northern soils but it will give you a starting point.

With a little help from a friendly neighbor or your local Agriculture Branch and the right seed varieties even the beginning Gardener can have success and avoid wasting money on gizmos or the wrong varieties while you keep busy waiting for spring.

John Harmon owns and operates Tropicals North. Write to John at The Real Dirt, c\o 211 Wood St., Whitehorse, YT., Y1A 2E4 or e-mail tropnorth@polarcom.com. this is the end

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