Sunday, February 27, 2011

Raspberries: so simple to grow

So simple to grow
There are raspberries, and there are raspberries. Let me explain.

Traditionally, raspberry gardeners had to pay attention to their plants because they grew and fruited on a two-year cycle:

Year 1: Raspberry plants put up primocanes or suckers, which grow and put out lateral branches and then overwinter. Year 2: Canes that grew the previous year are now called floricanes, which produce flowers and fruit in June and July. The floricanes die after fruiting and then are cut out, usually in the fall or winter. These traditional raspberries, with their biennial growing cycle, are generally called summer-bearing.

Before February cutting-back
But there’s a newer type of raspberry in the garden. It’s described as primocane-bearing or everbearing. Here’s how the chapter on “Small Fruits” in the “University of Maryland Master Gardener Handbook” describes them:

“Primocane-bearing types have the ability to fruit in the early fall of their first year on their primocanes. They then fruit a second time, in June, on buds below those which fruited the previous fall. The fall crop, however, is more abundant. Therefore gardeners treat the canes as annuals, rather than biennials, by mowing the canes to the ground in the winter after the fall harvest.”

I appreciate the difference between the two types. My blackberries, also brambles, grow on the traditional two-year schedule, so each fall I have to remember to cut out the canes that fruited that year and not to cut out the new primocanes, which will fruit the next summer. My red raspberries, a variety called Heritage, are the primocane-bearing type. The put up their primocanes and fruit in the early fall, often until frost. During the winter, I cut all canes to the ground, and in the spring the cycle begins again.

Cutting back my Heritage raspberries
During that warmish spell in late February I grabbed my loppers and cut my Heritage raspberry canes back to the ground. I’ll top the bed with some compost in a few weeks and remove any winter weeds and will be waiting to pick red raspberries in the fall. It’s that easy.

My raspberry patch is small, about 7 feet by 7 feet. I bought a half dozen dormant Heritage plants through a mail-order seed catalog about five years ago. The plants now put up so many canes each spring that I have to thin them with my pruners. We pick bowl after bowl of raspberries for our morning cereal and fruit salads, and we freeze five or ten bags for wintertime treats.

Raspberries demand little care, just some water in dry summers and a little time to pick bowls of fruit.

If you have a sunny spot in your garden and are thinking about growing raspberries, do some research so your expectations will be based on fact, not fantasy. Begin with the “Small Fruits” chapter of the “University of Maryland Master Gardener Handbook”—which is available in most Maryland public libraries and contains more than three pages of information about raspberries, plus several helpful Figures and Tables.

If you want additional information or to be the neighborhood raspberry expert, visit the website of the Western Maryland Research and Education Center. In the left column of the Center’s home page, click on “Brambles,” and you’ll have access to several resources, including “The Mid-Atlantic Berry Guide for Commercial Growers.” Chapter 8, “Brambles,” includes raspberries. The Guide is a cooperative effort of Penn State and Rutgers Universities and the Universities of Delaware, West Virginia, and Maryland.

To go to the Western Maryland Research & Education Center’s website, CLICK HERE.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Proposed Federal Budget Cuts Will Scale Back Extension Programs

What impact has the
University of Maryland Extension (UME) had on your life? What would it mean to you, your family, and your community if Extension’s programs were cut?

The Situation
If the proposed federal budget reductions (passed by Congress on Feb. 19) are approved, they will cut $29 million from the U.S. Extension System - a reduction of $325,138 in federal funding for UME. This cut would result in further scaling back of Maryland’s Extension programs.

How you can help!
  • You may want to contact Maryland’s U.S. Senators and your U.S. Congress member today to let them know how you feel about the proposed cuts to Extension’s budget. Tell them how you, your family, your business and/or your community have benefited from UME programs in Agriculture, 4-H, Master Gardener, Financial Education, Entrepreneurship, IPM, Natural Resources, etc.
  • Ask them to reevaluate the Smith-Lever budget reductions in Bill HR-1. The Smith-Lever budget should not be cut, because UME’s programs are even more important in these tough economic times.
What’s the fastest way to contact them? Social Networking sites!
U.S. Senators:
U.S. Congress:
  • Many U.S. Congressmen have Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. Go to the U.S. Congress website. Enter your 5-digit zipcode to find your Representative and how you can connect to them through Social Networking.
Please click HERE for more information on this topic.
Click HERE for a printable pdf.

Herbs: tasty, tasteful, or both?

Think “herbs” and you likely think of something tasty to season your food. In her “A Cook’s Garden” column in the Washington Post, Barbara Damrosch focuses on another dimension: beauty.

Yes, you’ve caught the drift. Grow herbs for both taste and beauty.

Enjoy the accompanying photo of Pink Candypops mint.

Damrosch just might be onto something here. And to think deer don’t generally browse strongly flavored or scented herbs, such as mint.

To read her column, CLICK HERE.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What I learned during the gardenning season 2010

I leave in central Maryland, somewhere between the Raven's stadium and the Redskin's stadium.

This is what I learned and/or demonstrate during the last growing season.

It's possible to ....

  • Keep parsley in the fridge for at least 2 months and counting by putting the stems in the water and covering it with a plastic bag.
  • Have 2 onion harvests ( March/April + June/July)
  • Have 3 broccoli harvests ( February + May + October )
  • Have 2 Yukon gold potatoes harvests ( June/July + October)
  • have 2 pumpkins harvest ( July + October)
  • Have 2 oilseed sunflowers harvests ( May/June + July/August)

Broccoli in February ? Yep!. Some left over from last fall who hibernate under a double cold frame. I took this picture February 19th and its ready to pick!

For the onions, took the picture on the same day, if i need green onion this weekend, I know where to find them.

And for the sunflowers, if I don't want to do Unintentional Vegetable Philanthropy with my raspberries, I need to start to feed the birds before the raspberries ripen :)

Ask not what your country can do for tomatoes...

Here's another local event that looks like fun, if you can spend next Friday in DC:

The Program on America and the Global Economy
and the United States Studies Program
of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
invite you to a conference

Reviving the American Economy—One Heirloom Tomato at a Time

The food system of the United States is currently witnessing a remarkable shift, with the revival of small farms and artisanal producers working with restaurants, institutional food services, and retail outlets to make locally-sourced, sustainably-produced food more widely available. This shift has both stimulated and is now responding to a growing demand from “locovore,” health-conscious consumers in ways that are affecting America’s economy as well as its eating habits and well-being. Join us for a day-long conference to explore this conjuncture.

Flom Auditorium, Woodrow Wilson Center
Friday, March 4, 2011, 8:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

This conference is co-sponsored by the Wilson Center and the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

This is a free public event, but please RSVP to

The Wilson Center is in located in the Ronald Reagan Building,
located at 1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington DC 20004

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Experimental Growing

I s’pose much of gardening is experimentation, though some experiments are more forthrightly whistling in the dark than others. I’ve never had a cold frame before, though I know people who religiously seed things into frames made from old windows, winter salads being a favorite. So, this year, re-infused with enthusiasm by a new greenhouse, I decided to try growing herbs in there with nothing more than a heat mat and row cover at night – eventually very mildly aided by a half-filled barrel of water.

I had also started some arugula since several of my more favorite salads call for it – roasted beets with goat cheese and toasted walnuts and balsamic dressing on arugula, for one, warm roasted butternut squash, French lentils and scallions on arugula for another. Each benefits from that the peppery bite of arugula, so different from lettuce, but finding fresh arugula in a grocery store here on the upper Eastern Shore in winter is almost impossible.

So, when I started the herbs, I also seeded some of Renee’s rustic arugula in a flat. It came up, got repotted, and survived a fair amount of neglect as I hovered over the parsley and cilantro (and lime basil that didn’t make it). But by early February, it was getting spare looking, definitely needing a way to go forward in its growth.

Last Friday, when it was 70 blessed degrees, I went out and finally put together a cheaply made plastic cold frame that had been sitting in a box in my shed for nearly two years. Turned out the box was full of marmorated stink bugs, who, I was fascinated to observe, play possum when they sense that you are killing their brethren. Then, when they think you’ve ceased and desisted, they start moving again. I watched this happen probably ten times during the course of constructing the cold frame, so it’s not my imagination. I eventually managed to get them all. I hope.

Once the frame was put together, I plopped it down on a bed on which I had spread compost last fall, and shoved in the few repotted arugula plants. I closed the lid and forgot it for a couple of days.

Snow fell– four inches or so – on Monday night and when I went out to check the fairly flimsy cold frame, I expected to find it collapsed and the arugula frozen to death. But lo and behold, it had held. I scraped off the snow, but found the plants looking decidedly peaky. I figured they wouldn’t make it, though I left them. just in case. Today, two days later, they had recouped. Definitely. The ground, as determined by the finger test, seemed warm enough, so I planted them. Then for good measure and another experiment, I seeded a little row of arugula in beside them. We’ll see. Despite the snow and cold, the bowed heads of the dafs in the shelter of my back step are once again standing up. The cardinals and robins are larking in the trees, and the lilac buds are starting to swell. Perhaps I’ll even have arugula salad before too long. And if not, maybe I’ll have learned something.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Eat your greens, from surprising sources

Still choosing the plants for your garden this year?  Keeping nutrition in mind as you do?  We all know that greens are good for you, but most of the greens we're used to eating grow best in the cool spring weather, and then when it's summer, there's so much more we like to grow that we may not want to spare the space for the few leafy plants that like the heat.

But how about if some of your garden plants did double duty?  You can actually eat the leaves of a number of plants better known for their fruits, pods, roots or other parts.  Some of these need to be cooked to be healthy and palatable, so always check reliable sources for instructions.

Hyacinth bean, Lablab purpureus
I started thinking about this when I ordered cowpea seeds for this year's garden and saw in the description that the leaves are edible along with the more usually eaten seeds.  Many other legumes have edible leaves, including peas, common beans, winged beans, and hyacinth beans.

You can eat carrot leaves - and radish leaves as well.  We all know about kale, collards, and cabbage, but when you grow other brassica family plants known for other parts, such as broccoli and kohlrabi, eat the leaves too - they're just as good.  (Also, if your collard plants bolt and go to flower, eat the flower buds - they taste like broccoli.)

The young leaves of squash can be eaten, though watch out for the prickles on older leaves.  Edible gourd plants also frequently have edible leaves:  luffa is one example.

Luffa, fruit and leaves
Salsify and scorzonera, known for their roots, also produce grass-like foliage that can be eaten.  Taro, Colocasia esculenta, often grown as an ornamental, has edible leaves and roots.  Then there's my very favorite, sweet potato!  Delicious, nutritious tubers under the ground; attractive, nutritious leaves spreading out above.  And a number of mallow family plants including okra and some kinds of hibiscus apparently have edible leaves, though I can't say I've tried them.

Now, there are plenty of garden plants whose leaves you really don't want to eat, so don't go sampling randomly without checking first.  Rhubarb is probably the best known of these - don't eat rhubarb leaves!

According to this list, you can eat the leaves of some plants in the nightshade family, but please be very careful and do lots of research if you do.  Tomato leaves are less poisonous than many people think - you'd need to eat about a pound to get seriously sick from the toxic alkaloid - but I can't imagine wanting to swallow even one, though apparently some chefs like to use them for seasoning according to this New York Times article.

Which unexpected leaves do you eat from your garden?  And which healthy greens are you planning to grow this year?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Time to start some vegetable seedlings

Well, it's that time of year when you turn on your florescent light fixtures and start some vegetable seedlings for transplant into the garden. But before you start planting seeds, you should check your fixtures for cleanliness and replace florescent tubes that have seen over 1500 hours of use. The intensity of the light (lumens) from the florescent tubes drops off with use. For my setup, I replace my tubes every year, since most of my fixtures see both spring and fall usage.

All of my fixtures are salvaged fixtures, some with new ballast and use two four foot 40 watt bulbs, one warm white and one cool white bulb. Use of these two types of bulbs provide a broader light spectrum and grow healthy vegetable transplants.My light box has four shelves, the top three for seedlings and the lower shelf for starting tall plants like dahlias. The light box is enclosed in half inch foam board to trap heat given off by my florescent fixtures. The top shelf is used to start most seedlings and that is where my two heat mats are located.

To start seeds, I just plant them at the recommended depth In commercial seed starting mix and put a clear plastic dome on top of them. Depending on the type of seeds being started, they emerge in three to five days at which time the clear dome comes off and the seedlings are raised to within an inch of the light. Its very important to keep the plants close to the lights since the intensity of the light (lux) drops off precipitously as the distance from the source increases. Seedlings get watered as needed and moved out of the light box onto a sheet of plywood over which I have other florescent fixtures mounted.

Currently, I've started a flats of broccoli (Packman), cauliflower (Snow Crown), leeks (Tandorna), kale, bok choi, lettuce (Red Sails and Butter Crunch), spinach and kohlrabi. These flats will be ready to move into my cold frames about the last week of March. They'll remain in the cold frames for about a week and then be transplanted into the garden under row cover.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Seed starting mix

Soilless mixes for seed starting are a huge topic that I couldn't even, um, dampen the surface of in one post.  The important thing to remember is that, due to bacterial and fungal issues, seeds should not be started in a bunch of garden soil you go outside and dig up, assuming you can actually dig into your soil at this time of year.  (If you can, and you do have really nice fluffy soil to work with, it is possible to sterilize the soil in the oven and use it, but this seems to me like one case where spending a little money saves a lot of effort and uncertainty.)

Most commercially available mixes are made of peat moss, perlite and/or vermiculite, plus fertilizer.  Peat comes out of bogs; the environmental issues surrounding peat are complicated and not one-sided, but many people are now trying to avoid its use.  Perlite is a volcanic glass; vermiculite is also a mineral that is altered by heating.  Both help guard against soil compaction and water loss.  Neither is sustainable in the long run; both take energy to turn into usable forms; both can make dust that affects the lungs.

I still use these mixes sometimes, but last year I started using instead a home-made mixture of coir fiber (from coconut husks), rice hulls, and worm castings.  As I said, the environmental factors aren't one-sided, since both agricultural products often have to be transported a long way (and I had the worm castings mailed to me, although if I had a vermicomposter they'd be created on site).  The question for me is: does this mixture work?  Based on last year's results, I'd say it does, and I'm planning to do a comparison of different mixes a bit later in the season.

Here's the process:

Coir brick (about 8"x4"x1.5") is placed in 1.5 gallons of water and left to soak.  I neglected to take a picture of the finished product, but it does give you more than 1.5 gallons of fluffy fibrous stuff.

The final mixture is about 70% coir, 20% rice hulls, and 10% worm castings (sorry, will be more scientifically precise next time).  Here are the other ingredients:

One reason I chose this mix is how pleasant these materials are to work with.  Rice hulls in particular make a nice sound and feel good between the fingers.  They have no nutrient value, hence the worm castings: a little fertilizer for when the seedlings exhaust their own resources.  (I'll use a diluted liquid organic fertilizer later on, after transplanting to larger pots.)

Finished product looks like this:

I started a bunch of seeds with this mix today using my egg carton method, mostly flowers for my own garden, as well as leeks.  More to come soon!

By the way, if you want to see what I'm talking about when I say I have a lot of seeds hanging around, I took a picture of the current stash:

About half are mine and half belong to the demo garden.  Can you say seed addiction?  I can.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Fresh Herbs in Winter

Although I adore flowers and shrubs and trees, ultimately, I started gardening 35 years ago because I love to eat. And while I'm always hugely relieved when I finish canning the last tomato and freezing the last raspberry sometime in November, I start missing my own fresh stuff almost immediately thereafter.

So, on the first of December last year, I sowed some herbs in my (fabulous new!) 8X12 foot greenhouse: cilantro, parsley, and lime basil, (an absolute must for zucchini fritters). But instead of paying Delmarva Power to heat the whole greenhouse for a few flats of herbs, I decided to experiment and to rely only on a heat mat. On sunny days, even when the temps are in the 20's the greenhouse can reach 80 degrees, but it drops precipitously at night. To retain as much heat around the flats as possible overnight, I made a very makeshift little seedling tent out of some copper tubing, some rolled solder and a bit of torn row cover that I tuck over the frame. By the end of December, cilantro and parsley (whose seed I'd soaked overnight to help germination), were up and thriving, The basil, which is quite tender, was struggling. After six weeks, the basil bit the dust, but the other two were doing really well. I repotted the seedlings, which means that there was more soil to keep warm, another dilemma. Then I remembered the cast-off 55-gallon food drum my husband had dragged home (he and I are appalling pack rats). I hauled it out of the barn, spray-painted it black on one of the few days we've had that wasn't frigid, half-filled it with water and shoved it into a corner of the greenhouse to absorb heat in the daytime and mitigate temps at night. It's sorta working, though the pail of water sports a thick crust of ice most mornings.

But the herbs are now pickable -- well, at least the cilantro is. With a smug satisfaction I'm sure my friends find incredibly irritating, I clipped some yesterday evening to put into the vegetable burritos. Yum Yum Yum. Ain't gardening great?

Unplugging Traditional Dinner Parties

Tired of the same old, same old dinner parties with all their uncertainties?

In her “A Cook’s Garden” column in the Washington Post, Barbara Damrosch takes a look at the traditional dinner party and joyfully pulls the plug. She replaces it with “a spontaneous convergence, based on the appearance of a special food, usually from the garden.”

Go, Barbara! Great idea!

I think you will love her idea too. As she says, when you plan around fresh garden produce, people who accept the invitation come because they want to: “No one clears their calendar for zucchini.”

I think you’ll enjoy reading the seven paragraphs of her “Picks of the social season.” To read her article, CLICK HERE.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Veggie, Flower, Herb Seeds Have Arrived!

Who could be happier on a gray, 33°F February day than a gardener standing before just-assembled Burpee seed racks at a local store? Forget Pauxatauny Phil and his shadow. Burpee seeds are here—ready for you to buy! Spring is coming to a garden near you soon!

Yes, seed racks for 2011 are ready for your perusal in many local stores. The snow crust on your lawn may encourage you to stay close to the glowing embers in your fireplace, but don’t linger too long. If you wait until April or May to buy, you may be disappointed at the selection remaining. I’ve been there, done that.

I was pleasantly surprised at the size of the new Burpee display when I stopped by Wal-Mart this morning. I did a rough estimate: more than 400 pockets of seed packets; 60% veggies, about half organic; 25% flowers, both annual and perennial; 15% herbs, both annual and perennial.

Being a tomato fanatic, I usually rate seed racks by the number of tomato varieties offered. The Burpee racks at this store offer: Baxter’s Bush Cherry, Beefsteak and Super Beefsteak, pink and red Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Delicious, Lunch Mate, Polish Linguisa, Red Lightning, Roma, Snack Attack, Summer Salsa, Super Sweet 100, Yellow Pear, and two mixes—Best of Show and Rainbow Heirlooms. That’s nearly double the varieties offered last year.

Price: about half the packets are $1.00 each, the other half $1.50, including most of the organic selections.

What did I buy?

Brandywine red tomato (organic), $1.50; Goldtender summer squash ($1.00); Short ‘n Sweet carrot, $1.50; Cylindra beet, $1.00; Detroit Dark Red beet (organic), $1.50; and Silver Princess Shasta daisy (perennial), $1.00, a short “pretty” that the deer won’t eat.

That’s all? Well, yes, that’s all I bought at Wal-Mart. The section was excellent for a big-box store but didn’t have all that I’m looking for. Within the next day or two I’ll finalize my online order from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and I’ll be pretty much set for seeds for Garden Year 2011.

Is there a difference between a packet of veggie seeds bought from the Burpee catalog and a packet bought from a Burpee rack at a local store?

Yes, an obvious difference is price. A packet of Detroit Dark Red beet seeds in the Burpee catalog (and online) costs $3.25, while the packet from the Burpee rack at Wal-Mart costs $1.50. Burpee prices seem to vary from store to store.

Surprise: 469!
I’ve always suspected another difference is the amount of seeds in the packets. The number of seeds in the Burpee catalog beet packet is 350. The Burpee packet at Wal-Mart says 5g, with no number of seeds indicated. Frugal Bob opened and counted each seed, expecting the number to be significantly less than 350. The number: 469. I admit that I was surprised, pleasantly surprised. I had always assumed there were fewer seeds in the lower-priced packet.

Not totally convinced, I went to Burpee online and priced a packet of red Brandywine tomato seeds (organic): $3.95 for 50 seeds. I opened and counted the packet I bought at Wal-Mart, which indicated 150mg. The count: 66 seeds.

Ok, I surrender. The lower-priced Burpee packets at Wal-Mart contain just as many seeds, if not more, than their more expensive catalog counterparts. Could Burpee be using inferior seed in the lower-priced packets? Burpee’s name is both famous and trusted in the world of gardeners, so it would be business suicide, it seems to me, for the company to sell seeds of lesser quality in a packet labeled Burpee.

There is another difference I’ve noticed between seed varieties on the racks and those in the catalog. The varieties on the racks seem to be older, better known varieties. The catalog lists many of them too but often features the newest and latest varieties, which may—or may not—be better in some ways than older varieties.

I’ll mention one risk in buying all your Burpee seeds at a neighborhood store. You may eventually be dropped from the Burpee catalog mailing list, though I suspect the trend for most seed companies is to wean their buyers from print to Internet catalogs to help keep down costs.

Now I’ve got to finalize my order for Johnny’s.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

School/youth gardening events

Here are some upcoming events of interest to anyone who wants to garden with kids.  These take place at Brookside Gardens in Montgomery County.  (Again, please share events in other counties - my perspective is local but this blog is for the whole state!)

This Saturday, February 12, noon to 4 p.m., please join us for Building Intergenerational Community: Working with Young People in the Garden.  Details are at Montgomery Victory Gardens.  This program features Woody Woodroof, Pertula George, and Chrissa Carlson.  Chrissa is also the star of Grow It Eat It's Start a School Garden video.

Then on Friday, April 29, from 10-11:30 am, edible landscaping guru Rosalind Creasy will be at Brookside for a lecture on Gardening with Children.  She will also talk on Edible Landscaping - The New American Garden the previous evening at 6:30.  Information and registration for both events can be found at Brookside Xperience.

More soon on new vegetable gardening programs in Montgomery County Public Schools!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

To start or not to start?

The photo is not meant to alarm!  No, you are not behind; these are last year's seedlings from late March or early April.

This post is about not starting seedlings.  That's right.  Like a lot of the rest of you out there, I am having one of those but I WANT to moments that I need to talk myself out of.  I have all my seeds and all my seed-starting mix and containers, and it's cold and nasty out so I want to think about spring - why can't I get going?

Well, I probably will, just a little bit.  I've put in seeds for artichokes and cardoons, which need a long start on the growing season; I've got some seeds in the fridge having a cooling period; and I may start heliotrope and Monarda citriodora this weekend.  But leeks - yes, even leeks I will wait on another week, and the rest even longer.

Starting seeds too early is one of the mistakes I made as a newbie gardener, and continued to make when I knew better, and I know other people do it too.  For some reason (probably imagining those delicious orbs bursting with flavor in your mouth in July) tomatoes are the biggest temptation for premature planting.  We aren't all as patient as Bob, starting tomatoes indoors in April, but... please don't put those seeds in now.  Wait until mid-March.  You will thank yourself when you don't have enormous tomato plants scorching themselves on your light stand with no more room to grow, or leggy seedlings falling off your windowsills, when it's still 40 degrees outside at night.  Once you plant them outdoors in warm soil, they will catch up fast.

If you are serious about starting your own seeds, especially if you have ambitions to start perennials or other tricky plants, one of the best presents you can give yourself (besides a light stand) is a reference book with information on the requirements of many species.  I use Eileen Powell's From Seed to Bloom.  Other recommendations:  buy from seed companies that have detailed, non-generic information on seed packets and on their website; search the web for reliable data from experienced growers; ask HGIC!

Most seed packets for plants that need to be started indoors (and of course many of them don't) will tell you to start the seeds a certain number of weeks before your average last frost.  So, if your last frost is May 1, and the packet says 6-8 weeks, you should start the seeds between March 6 and 20.  You also want to pay attention to soil temperature recommendations; soil too cold means slower germination.

At this time of year I go through all the seeds I want to start indoors and file them by month.  If you are more organized than that, you could do it by the week.  That way you don't come across that packet of hollyhock seed you really wanted to get in at the same time as the broccoli, three weeks too late to get them started in time to have flowers in summer.  Other tasks to occupy your hands and mind so you can resist the temptation to plant tomatoes in February:  building that light stand, inventing a formula for seed-starting mix and buying the ingredients (or just buying the mix), making sure you have all the trays and pots and whatever you're going to use; washing last year's pots with a bleach solution; clearing all the junk off the seed-starting table; mapping the garden.  And counting down the days...