Michigan Gardening To-Do List: February

February is not exactly a flurry of activity as far as gardening is concerned, but there are definitely a few things you can do this month to prepare for spring.

1. Get Ready for Seed Starting

There are a few things you can sow indoors now if you want an early spring crop (which I’ll list below) but the bulk of our seed starting will begin in March. Either way, it’s a good idea to find all of your flats, pots, humidity domes, lights, and other seed starting equipment. In addition:
Clean flats and pots (use a tiny bit of bleach, especially if you had pest or disease issues last year)
Make sure your lights are working, and get new lights if you need them.
Buy or make some seed starting mix.
Make sure you have the seeds you need. Most nurseries and big boxes have plenty of seeds out right now.

2. Start Some Seeds!

For a spring harvest, there are a few things you can sow indoors now:

  1. Broccoli
  2. Cabbage
  3. Kale
  4. Kohlrabi
  5. Leeks

3. Do some winter sowing.

There is still plenty of time to do some winter sowing. If you don’t have the space or inclination to start seeds for perennials indoors under lights, you can sow them right now, outside. You can also sow seeds for many annual flowers, herbs, and veggies this way. More on winter sowing here.

4. Houseplant Maintenance

I’ve noticed that my houseplants have already put on a bit of new growth in response to the lengthening days. If yours are rootbound, this is a good time to repot them into a slightly larger pot and give the fresh potting soil. You can also start fertilizing with a weak solution every week or so of compost tea now.

There isn’t a whole lot to do beyond those few tasks right now. If you have veggies growing under a low tunnel or in a cold frame, keep them watered and make sure to vent the structure on any warm, sunny days we may happen to get.

Enjoy the rest now. Next month, the real seed starting begins!(Hooray!)

Time to Sow Onion Seeds

February and early March are the perfect time to sow onion seeds indoors under lights here in Michigan. Growing onions from seeds rather than from sets gives you a lot more varieties to choose from as well as saving you quite a bit of money. Just make sure you choose a long day or and intermediate day variety if you are in zones 5-6.

Long Day Onions

Red Wing, Red Hawk, Bridger, Ailsa Craig, Cortland, Pontiac

Intermediate Day Onions

Walla Walla, Valencia, New York Early, Cabernet

How to Protect Your Garden from a Spring Frost

Whether you push the gardening season or not, here in Michigan there’s always a danger that a late spring frost will wipe out your lovingly planted spring veggies. The earlier you plant, the more likely this is. The easiest way to almost guarantee that you’ll avoid a frost is to resist planting your vegetable garden (or tender annuals or herbs) until after the last spring frost date. Depending upon where you are in the state, that could be anytime between the first week of May to early July.

However, if you just can’t resist getting your garden started as soon as possible, there are still several things you can do to protect your plants if frost (or even snow) is in the forecast.

How to Protect Your Plants from Frost

If we have a prolonged period of freezing temperatures, your plants may be in trouble no matter what you do. However, if it’s just a day or two, with a bit of protection your plants should be able to come through just fine. The best thing to do is place some kind of barrier over your plants to keep cold air, wind, and frost out of them. Some ideas:

  • Plastic milk jug with the bottom cut out off it, placed over individual plants
  • Old-fashioned garden cloches
  • A cold frame placed over part of a bed
  • A low tunnel covered in plastic
  • A plastic tarp, set over stakes to lift it off of the plants
  • A floating row cover (best for when there’s just a chance of light frost)
  • A sheet or blanket (again, this is a good option for a light frost, not for snow or really frigid weather)
  • A drink cooler, overturned over a few plants. Remove it as soon as possible to ensure that your plants get enough light.
  • A cardboard box. Depending on the size this can cover several plants. Remove the box as soon as possible to let your plants get the light they need.

These ideas will help because they use items that most of us have around the house. We might not all have a cold frame, but chances are good that we can come up with a milk jug or cardboard box if we really need one. Keep these ideas in mind, and you’ll be able to save your garden from those annoying late spring frosts that are a common part of gardening in Michigan.

 

brandywine tomato

Three Types of Tomatoes, and How to Decide What You Should Grow

It’s easy to see why tomatoes have so many fans: not only are they delicious, but they are also visually stunning, with a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. But did you know that there are actually different types of tomatoes, and that some are better suited to certain types of dishes than others? The three basic types of tomatoes are slicers, paste tomatoes, and cherry-type tomatoes. Here’s what you need to know about each.

Slicers

These are the tomatoes that you eat, apple-style, right in the garden warmed from the summer sun. They are superior for slicing for sandwiches and burgers, or chopping into a salad. They tend to be juicier than paste tomatoes, and are therefore much better for fresh eating.

While people generally think of “beefsteak” type tomatoes when they think of slicers, that is only one type of slicer. Slicing tomatoes come in many different sizes and colors, not to mention flavors. Some wonderful slicers include:

Brandywine
Cherokee Purple
Kellogg’s Breakfast Tomato
Aunt Ruby’s German Green
Black Krim
Japanese Black Trifele
Pineapple
Persimmon
Uncle Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter

These tend to be indeterminate varieties, though some varieties, such as Sub-Arctic Plenty and Celebrity, are determinate, and therefore better suited to small gardens.

Paste Tomatoes

“Paste tomato” is somewhat of a misnomer, because there is so much more you can do with these types of tomatoes than make tomato paste or sauce! Besides the requisite sauces, you can make fresh salsas, ketchup, tomato juice and dried tomatoes. In general, these tomatoes are “fleshier” than slicers, with less juice and gel and thicker walls. Some of the most popular paste tomatoes are:

Roma
San Marzano
Polish Linguisa
Hungarian Italian
Italian Red Pear
Opalka
Principe Borghese

These are almost always determinate tomatoes, making it easy to harvest and sauce or can all at once.

Cherry-Type Tomatoes

One thing you can say for almost any cherry-type tomato (which includes not only cherry tomatoes, but currants, pear, and grape tomatoes)is that they are prolific. These tomatoes are excellent for eating raw in salads, or just popped into your mouth as a snack. Cherry tomatoes are usually indeterminate, and will produce lovely little snacks for you until the plants are killed by frost. Some favorite cherry-type tomatoes are:

Sungold
Chadwick Cherry
Yellow Pear
Juliet Grape
Red Currant
Super Sweet 100
Sweet Million
Tiny Tim

If you only choose one of each type of tomato, it’s safe to say you’ll be able to fill just about any tomato-related need you may have.