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I have sprouts! Not the winter-sown seeds (grumble grumble) or anything else at home. There’s been no planting at home. But I have two plants on my desk at work: polka dot plant and a spider plant. Both have done a lot better than I was honestly expecting, considering that I have no window. And today, there are sprouts in both pots.

I’m guessing that the sprouts in the polka dot pot are shoots of one of the original plants that have decided to grow for one reason or another. The stems look like it, thick and tough for their size. The sprouts in the spider plant, however, are most likely cranberries. At least, that’s what I put in there, and that’s what the not-quite-discarded seed covers look like…though considering the weed that came out of my potting soil last year and turned out to be a tomato, I can’t be sure. But these plants have been here for months, and I’ve been watering them all this time, and the cranberry seeds went in only a couple of weeks ago, so I think that’s a reasonable guess; don’t you?

Now I have to anxiously check them every day and figure out what they really are and what I’ll do with them. I’m thrilled. Maybe tomorrow I’ll bring in an empty pot and some basil seeds.

(I ended up putting the Merveille des Quatre Saisons lettuce in the faulty winter sowing container. I saved half of the seeds for planting in the ground, plus I have other varieties of lettuce, so I won’t be heartbroken if they don’t make it. Maybe I’ll bring lettuce seeds to work too. I could grow my own salad bar.)

So today, I think, is the day to do winter sowing. It’s light out, Eric’s got homework, it’s nearly February, let’s do this thing. I get out my containers: seven apple cider jugs, two half-gallon milk jugs, a huge plastic container of organic spinach from Costco, and a two-liter soda bottle (pomegranate 7-Up, I believe). I’ve been very forward-thinking: they’re already cut open, with slits and holes in the bottom for drainage; the bag of soil is in the corner of the kitchen, out of the freezing cold; and I cleaned up the kitchen from the bread-baking of yesterday so I have room to work. 

I’m supposed to fill each container with dirt, water it well, let the water drain out, plant seeds, put the containers outside. Easy. I get an old salsa container from the Tupperware cupboard and start dishing out the dirt. 

I put four gallon containers in the sink, fill them with dirt, and spray them with water. All’s well except for one, which doesn’t drain. I spray them again. Three are fine, one is becoming muddy soup. I pick it up. Maybe the holes are too small. I get out my trusty utility knife and punch into one of the holes and twist, and water comes out. There, I think, I just needed bigger holes. I enlarge more of the holes and set it down. 

The three other containers get switched out. The three new containers drain just fine. The first one is still soup. I stick my fingers into the muddy water and probe. There are, inexplicably, small rocks in the bottom; but they can’t be covering all the holes. Out comes the utility knife. The holes widen. Water comes out. I set it down and put more water in. The water level rises and stays up. 

I push my now-wet sleeves up my now-dirty arms. I switch out the three new containers. I enlarge the holes on these before I fill them, just in case. Everything’s fine except for the first container. I go back to it. I gouge new holes, big holes. Water pours out. I add more water and the water level rises and stays there. 

“I’m done with my homework,” Eric announces from the doorway behind me. “We were going to do our budget now, right?”

“Right,” I say and go with him. I’ll figure out which of my seeds I care about least and put them in this container. Later.

I keep thinking I’ll finish the winter sowing and post about that, but no. This weekend I was gone; Monday we were talking finances; Tuesday I was on a crying jag (hormones + bad news = weepy me) and then calling my parents and my best friend to get a grip because Eric was out; yesterday we talked about Eric’s prospective placement (no money, but would allow him to finish school on time, so yay) and played World of Warcraft together. And tonight is the Joshua Bell concert, so it’s unlikely I’ll get to it tonight either.

Instead, let’s talk about The Growing Challenge. I was pointed that way by Meg and someone else I found while randomly skating the surface of the gardenblogsphere (ahem). I’m not sure whether it’s cheating to consider my expanded growing list a challenge after the fact, so I added another rule, which is: save more kinds of seed this year than last year. And more specifically: try hand-pollinating, which scares me. I’m growing two kinds of cucumbers, so I can see next year (well…in two or three, more likely, if we move next year) whether I succeeded or not.

(Here’s hoping I stick to this better than Green Thumb Sunday…the problem with that was my tiny space allowance on this account for pictures and how quickly I noticed it dwindling.)

This is what I’m growing this year (or trying to) that I didn’t last year:

Broccoli*
Cauliflower*
Kale
Brussels sprouts
Quinoa
Fava beans
Corn
Parsnips
Watermelon
Tomatillo
Turnips

*I planted these last year, but I can’t say I grew them. In the spring the broccoli plants grew and grew and never produced actual broccoli, and I pulled them up so that I could plant other things. In the fall the cauliflower got choked out by the monster zucchini and the broccoli didn’t get very big before winter hit.

Admittedly, it’s easier for me to do such a challenge since I haven’t grown very much at all yet. In later years I can see this challenge getting harder, and consequently more fun. I do foresee this as a way of finding more good garden blogs, and I’ll enjoy that–it’s nice to see what other people are doing and thinking and trying, and the stories are almost always good. It’s an interesting combination, the occupation of gardening with its solitude and isolation and the follow-up occupation of blogging with its community and cross-pollination.

(Incidentally, I got an e-mail yesterday from a mail-order nursery asking if I would publish an “article” of theirs–an advertisement–on my blog for $75. I’m going to decline, of course, but I was flattered to get such an offer. Eric’s first response–as it always is when I mention anything about this blog–was “But nobody reads it!” and while I was getting over the urge to smack him he followed up with, “Well, I guess somebody must or she’d never have found it.” It does make me wonder whether this company knows to give a different “article” to each blogger who accepts, since we read each others’. Also, whether they would offer more money to big-name bloggers.)

I am back from a weekend in Troy, MI, where it was 14 degrees most of the time. Luckily I was in a hotel most of the time (at a science fiction convention). Now I like winter even less.

Regardless, we had a lot of fun at the convention. We were invited to our friends’ in Ann Arbor for dinner, and on the way we stopped at IKEA for a desk for Eric. We found what we were looking for and boggled at the rest of the store (I’ve been to an IKEA before but it’s been years, and this was Eric’s first time). Including pots, of course. And houseplants at $1.50 each. Only the conviction that any plant I bought would die of cold before I could get the car warmed up stopped me from coming out with an armload.

Well, that and the conviction that we have no money for nonessentials, as Eric has just lost his job. If I’d known then what I know now–that we didn’t get our last credit card bill and have inadvertently been racking up finance charges–we wouldn’t have gotten that desk, either. I’m calling the credit card company today to beg for mercy, and we’re lowering our thermostat and cutting out all unnecessary spending. Good thing I ordered my seeds early. (Though I argued that having the garden will cut down on our grocery bill in the summer, and Eric concurred–but my grow lights are in danger, not because of the price of the lights themselves so much as the electricity to run them. It’s possible I can put my greenhouse close to the window and turn the seedlings every day and do okay. If all else fails I’ll put my houseplants elsewhere for a few months and grow things on the windowsills. I did it last year; I just won’t have room for extras.)

It’s been a bad several days. The only thing that’s really made me happy lately is that it’s now basically light by the time I leave in the mornings. The solstice is past, the light is returning…someday the ground will thaw, the trees will leaf out, and I will plant broccoli and peas.

I have been delighted with my new hobby and its side effects–better food and blogging–for not quite a year now, and am eagerly looking forward to continuing to receive those benefits. But now I am experiencing a severe downside. Which is: I am impatient with winter.

This has not happened to me before. I like winter; I like fall best, but I like winter. I enjoy the snow, the quiet, the holidays and then the respite from the holidays. I’ve never been very fond of spring (because I have a lot of spring allergies) so I’ve never felt any particular need to hurry winter along.

But now I’m sowing seeds in the winter, buying spring seeds and grow lights, planning out my planting schedule from February until August, wondering how my strawberry plants are faring, and above all, longing for gentle weather so that I can grow things again. I blame garden bloggers. That’s right: if I were not entertained by reading garden blogs in the middle of winter, I wouldn’t be thinking about gardening all the time. I would have turned to one of my other hobbies (and I have many) and be patiently biding my time until spring. As it is, I can’t wait for winter to be over…and it’s only January. It’s going to be a long, long winter.

The rest of my seeds are here–all except the Walla Walla onions. I guess that’s what I get for trying to import a taste of home. (They’re on backorder, so my doleful tone is pretty fake really. Though it does make me wonder how seed companies work. It’s not like they can send in an order to have X more onion seeds manufactured in the factory. Are they waiting for more to be packaged? Do they contact more seed growers?)

This includes the cotton seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. They came in two fat little envelopes, and of course I had to open one to see. These seeds are huge! No wonder they don’t sell very many to the packet. And they’re covered in cotton lint, so what I got was two envelopes full of what looked like green or brown fuzzy bugs.  I also got an information sheet on Nankeen cotton and a story attached to it. I can’t wait to try these out.

Until I can, I’m preparing my winter sowing containers. How convenient that we recently bought two jugs of apple cider in gallon containers.  I think I need a drink…

I went to the farmer’s market on Saturday. It’s very tiny at this time of year, in an enclosed building of course (except for the Poultry House, which is a separate building the size of a bathroom that sells chicken and eggs), but I was very pleased. First I bumped into Nick and Abigail from the gaming group I go to sometimes; we discussed keeping apples and Nick’s addiction to crowder peas, which I looked up later and discovered are the same as cowpeas or Southern peas. Then I bought a half-bushel of apples, a gallon of apple cider, a bundle of Red Oak lettuce, a hydroponic tomato (they also had greenhouse-grown local oranges), a loaf of poppy-sesame-flaxseed bread, canned organic chicken, organic egg noodles, and a bag of young turnips. Total expenditure, $27.

Last night’s dinner was sauteed vegetables over couscous–sadly not using the turnips since Eric says he’s not a fan. I used broccoli and peppers that we needed to get rid of, and some garden carrots (still going strong in the fridge in a plastic bag), and I added some parsley and some of the tomatoes I cut up last summer and froze. I popped a frozen piece in my mouth, and the instant it melted and the sweet-sour taste, faintly perfumed, hit my tongue, I was back in time: pushing through overgrown vines to get the ripe fruits, getting my hands juicy and red from tomatoes I had picked in the heat of summer. Eric said the meal was too bland, but I didn’t notice; I was in a completely different season. I had figured that this year I’ll be doing more canning and less freezing to preserve my tomatoes…but I see I’ll have to freeze at least a few, to capture that raw taste of summer for next January.

Seeds are here! I love Seeds of Change already. I think I like their plastic envelopes. I can definitely see reusing those. And they included Elephant Head amaranth (from last year) as a free packet, which is neat. I liked my Hopi Red Dye amaranth; we’ll see if I like these as well.

My friend Carol is winter-sowing, Eric says. (He games with her husband on Tuesdays.) I really need to buy some potting soil this weekend so I can do the same. Also I need to put these seeds away instead of clutching them to me and whispering, “Preciousss.” I think it’s scaring my husband.

I took advantage of the freakishly warm weather yesterday to spread the bags of “soil conditioner” that have been sitting patiently by the new garden. I didn’t have enough, but I used what I had, and it was nice to get a little dirty in the yard again. I suppose my mother-in-law would have preferred that I spend the time clipping the dead shrubs out front…but with all the dead leaves in our overgrown yard and the stacked-up retaining stones from where the driveway people tossed them out of the way, who would notice?

Putting the shovel away, I noted that Eric’s left rear tire was sagging. I notified him and we spent the next hour retrieving his mom’s air compressor, determining that the tire does in fact have a hole, changing the tire, and figuring out when he’s going to go get the tire changed. (“I can use your spare tire to go up to Ann Arbor tomorrow,” he said. “No, you can’t,” I said.) I was so glad it was warm out.

The seeds are ordered…at least, I think they are. Last night was an extremely frustrating night on several counts (all minor, but they added up), so when I tried to send in my fifteen-item online order to Pinetree and it told me I was ordering $0 of merchandise and that would cost me $3.50 shipping, and then I went to the Seeds of Change website and got told I couldn’t make an account because of an “invalid offer expiration date,” I threw a couple of safety pins (the closest small things handy) at the wall and went to bed.

This morning, I ordered from Seeds of Change without the account, got my request off to Southern Exposure without difficulty, and decided to try submitting the Pinetree order anyway. It told me that my order of $0 had been confirmed, and the message in my e-mail inbox said the same, so I wrote telling them their online ordering system appears to be screwed up and pasted in the list of what I had asked for, requesting that they fulfill the order that way if they can. They were perfectly nice to work with last year and I know they’re highly recommended by other people, so I’m not too worried, but if a random $3.50 charge shows up on my account I admit I’ll be displeased.

However, it’s done, and short other developments I should be seeing my seeds come to my mailbox in the next few weeks…it’s just a waiting game now.

Flowers and even fruit are only the beginning. In the seed lies the life and the future.

Marion Zimmer Bradley

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