January - What's in Steve's Garden?


In My Garden (Zone 9-10)

Steve Asbell
Steve Asbell is an illustrator, the author of Plant by Numbers and blogger of The Rainforest Garden.

There’s no place like home for the holidays, especially since I’ve been too busy to do much outdoors lately and have been cooped up inside my house. Still, it’s going to be a great year. The vegetable garden is off to a great start, we haven’t had any frosts in over a month, I’ve been cooking up lots of meals with fresh vegetables, I get to share the bounty with my family and to top it all off, my halls were decked out in garden style for the holidays. What more could I ask for?

The big story for me right now is that my little vegetable garden is in full sprout and they’re almost ready for thinning out. It’s especially important to remove any excess carrots, beets or radishes so that they don’t become crowded and stunted, but I wanted to wait until they were large enough to pull up and use in the kitchen. There’s also something to be said for a fuller look when you have a patch of exposed dirt in your front yard, even if it is surrounded by a hedge of dwarf yaupon holly (a great native boxwood substitute for Florida gardens) and a bed of alyssum and violas. I’ve been keeping up on watering my young vegetables since it hasn’t rained much in December, but I have admittedly neglected to fertilize yet. For shame! Luckily they seem to have gotten by on nothing more than the composted manure and mushroom compost so far.

There are still other vegetables that I’d like to plant, but the only spots I have for them at the moment are a spot between the veggie patch and my house where the soil still needs to be prepared, and in the side yard where we’re still in the process of painting the house. I might just have to hold out for another couple of months when I’ll plant my warm-season plantings. In the meantime I can smother out the weeds.

I may have been too busy to do much in the garden this holiday season, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had time to decorate and cook! Of course it’s nice to have a little help from the garden and plants in general. For our holiday mantelpiece display I simply made a garland out of the free scraps of pine branches at the Christmas tree lot and added an assortment of starfish and pinecones. It seems like an odd combination but it works since we have a beach-themed living room and Christmas tree. I also made a simple display by bringing in a few Tillandsia air plants and placing them in a carved wood bowl. The okra that I had let go to seed have been added to a vase on their stems and allowed to age over the month from fuzzy green okra to woody white and brown seedpods. The only thing missing for a Southern winter vignette are bolls of white cotton.

It’s funny how growing vegetables can get you so excited about eating them. My own garden hasn’t been providing much food yet this season, but just knowing that I’ll have my own veggies from the garden before long has made me impatient. Luckily there has been a lot of fresh locally grown produce at the grocery store and I’ve been in the mood to cook. Roasted carrots, potato and leek soup, roasted beet salad, Bavarian-style red cabbage and german potato salad are just some of the things I’ve been making this month, and it’s all because gardening has given me a new appreciation of my food.

Meanwhile, out in the garden, I have managed to get some work done making the back yard look more like a gardener lives there. The left side used to look a lot worse considering there used to be a massive rotting doghouse the previous owner left behind, but even then it was little more than a newly planted hedge of Simpson stopper and whatever vegetables I felt like planting there. Once the summer plantings of roselle and okra have died back, however, it was looking downright sparse. So I dug up the lemongrass, elephant ears (Alocasia)and plumbago from elsewhere in the garden to give that area a full and cohesive look while I wait for the hedge to fill in. They had all died back after the hard freezes, so are more-or-less dormant anyways. Closer to the patio I’ve also planted a lady palm, cast iron plants, dwarf mondo grass, cardamom ginger and ‘Evergold’ carex.

In keeping with the tropical take on an Asian theme, I’ll be filling the gaps between those plantings with mizuna greens, pak choi and ‘Tokyo Long White’ bunching onions. I’ll also make an informal trellis from bamboo poles and twine to serve as a support for the lacy-leaved ‘Masterpiece’ peas. This pea in particular is especially useful for me because its sparse foliage lets in extra light for veggies in its shade. When the temperatures warm up in spring I’ll replace these cool-season veggies with the tropical Asian edibles that I overwinter as rhizomes, such as arrowroot, turmeric, galangal and ginger. Which reminds me… I need to order some Thai hot peppers!

Come to think of it, maybe I did get a lot done in the garden this month. I also helped a monarch butterfly emerge from its chrysalis in my house to be released to my alyssum plants the next day, and I made two matching container combinations for my front door. I did a lot in my first year as a homeowner too, turning a bunch of overgrown weeds and garbage into a place I can actually enjoy. I wonder what my garden will look like for next January’s blog post?




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Gardening Tip of the Day

  • "We all await the prognostication from Punxsutawney Phil tomorrow.
    The earliest American reference to Groundhog Day can be found at the Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore Center at Franklin and Marshall College:

    February 4, 1841 - from Morgantown, Berks County (Pennsylvania) storekeeper James Morris' diary..."Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks' nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate."

    Old World Sayings:

    If Candlemas be fair and bright,
    Winter has another flight.
    If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
    Winter will not come again.
    For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
    So far will the snow swirl until May.
    For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day,
    So far will the sun shine before May."