Gardeners are, as is well known, eternal optimists.

Next year will always be better.  Winter is filled with luscious dreams of larger, earlier warm season vegetables, because THIS year you’ll remember to start them in February. The seeds that arrived in the mail beckon with splashes of rainbow coloured tomatoes, untried squash and obscure greens promising heavy yields of THE BEST EVER…well, the best ever whatever it is.  The garden plan has been re-drawn in a new configuration with coloured pencils, intercropping planned meticulously, and flagged with notes from last year. You’re sure you have that deer problem nailed.

Of course, you generally do a little better every year in fact as well as fantasy, barring droughts, floods, locust plagues and marauding great danes- because you’ve learned a little something.  You noticed the cucumbers like this spot rather than that one, or that you’ll remember to pick the snap peas if you plant them within reach of the walkway, rather than a row back where they don’t scream at you “Pick me!” every time you put away the hose. Your soil should get a little better every year, if you’re doing it right. You should have a bigger, better seed bank because you’re saving seed, and hopefully swapping your extras.


January is both the best and worst month in gardening, in the Northern Hemisphere.  It’s likely everything is utterly at rest, frozen or just biding it’s time.  The cold hardy vegetables are pickable, perhaps, but growing?  No. There’s little you can do, or even should do- this is the time to think about the garden and what it could be.  Like a new baby, all full of promise and without mistakes-yet.  (At least you get the chance to start fresh every year with a garden!)

So what to do when there’s nothing to do? Get that map done.  If you haven’t started a garden map, do it. Permaculture mapping is a great aid to more efficient gardening.  If you’ve never heard of it, here’s a link.

Now, when days are long and dark, you can get a clear idea of what the nadir of the season is like in terms of pooling water from rain or snowmelt, scant light from a horizon skimming winter sun, freezing water barrels, feed storage and heat for livestock if you have them.  Observation and note taking are key to making everything less work for yourself in the long run.  Get out there and take pictures of your garden once an hour from sunup to sundown and you can plan much better for next winter’s crop and any evergreen plantings.  (Yes, even in winter evergreens like rhododendrons and fir trees photosynthesize. Winter sun is important too.)

Check out the bloggers and resources.  Your local university agricultural extension is probably chock full of science based information that pertinent to your climate, but there’s probably others that are close to your conditions in temperature and precipitation, but not actually close in distance.  Finding out who is dealing with the same conditions you are can open up new worlds in horticulture- for instance, I live in Vancouver (actually Abbotsford but it’s 45 mins away) Canada, which means that the Washington and Oregon Universities in the USA have information relevant to me- but also parts of Nova Scotia, North Carolina, Serbia, the UK, Denmark, Yantai, China and Vladivostok, Russia. There’s plenty more, but you get the idea. When looking up solutions to your garden woes, information has to be relevant to your conditions.  Advice on your recommended plants or soil amendments will vary  depending on what soil and climate you have to deal with, so try to match conditions when you’re looking up how to deal with your own issues.

Where to get that special heirloom fruit tree? Who else is super into Andean root crops?  You’re going to spend time staring into the screen during winter anyway, so maybe pass on the celebrity botched nose jobs and look up links that are going to help you in the coming year.  There’s probably nurseries right under your nose on a left turn you’ve never taken.  No list of anything is ever complete- just because you’ve seen the ‘Complete Garden Center List’ in a news article or your favourite blogger does NOT mean it’s actually everything out there. Do your own looking.

Start Fresh.  It’s a new year, a new season, you get to start over if you want to.

I know I am.



Burning Pampas Grass. After it’s been below freezing for a while, it’s nice and dry, and it’s sure a hell of a lot easier than cutting by hand. Be careful though, flying bits can go everywhere so make sure it’s not windy and you’re not setting your shed on fire by accident.