6 Late Winter Garden Hacks
Six Things to Do in Your Garden Right Now in Connecticut
About 11 weeks out from our last frost date in Sterling, Connecticut, these are the tasks I am performing in my garden. Act now to ensure your best growing season yet. What are you doing in your garden these days?
Hang Up Birdhouses
Planning a garden? Don’t forget the birdhouses. In late winter, the sun rises earlier each day, and in the morning, the birds are singing. Birds are singing to stake out their territory for nesting season. As the birds are establishing and defending their territory, it is important to hang up houses for cavity nesting birds. While we rightly associate birds building nests with the springtime, the process of finding a place to make a nest begins much earlier than we might think. Hang up birdhouses now to ensure the birds have plenty of time to find them and claim them before nesting season starts in earnest. A late winter bird house hanging session also gets this task out of the way for the gardener before the planting season begins in earnest. On a sunny day in late winter, the shadows are long and the sun is piercingly bright as it reflects off of the snow. The moon is visible for much of the day. Take a few moments to observe this beauty as you breath in the sharp, cool air and hang up some houses for your bird friends.
Many species of birds feed insects to their babies as a protein and energy-rich snack. A nest of birds has many hungry mouths to feed, and the parents will pick your garden clean of insects in their efforts to feed their babies. Hanging birdhouses in the late winter is a simple garden hack you can use to attract some free labor to your garden. I know the less time that I spend picking bugs off of my plants, the more time I have to pursue enjoyable and profitable tasks in the garden, such as planting and harvesting. If you are looking for a great birdhouse that birds love, consider the gourd birdhouses that I grow and craft on my farm. I grow the gourds organically, then dry them, cut holes in them, hollow them, and insert a wire for hanging them. No trees are cut down in the process of creating these birdhouses. They are painted with a clear exterior primer, and are ready to either hang as is, or paint for a fun craft project. Gourd birdhouses from my farm can be purchased here.
Hanging up a gourd birdhouse in late winter at Sterling Organic Farm in Oneco, CT.
Put up a cold frame or low tunnel
A cold frame is a small and simple structure that acts like a mini greenhouse, trapping in the heat of the sun. There are thousands of variations of cold frames out there. A cold frame can be as simple as a few old windows propped up against a few bales of hay. Another variation on the cold frame idea is to put up a low tunnel. A low tunnel consists of clear plastic sheeting draped over wire or PVC hoops in the ground.
Late winter is a great time to set up a hoop house or low tunnel. Winds and storms can be destructive to your cold frame or low tunnel, and in late winter, the worst of the storms are usually past. During the late winter and early spring, the sun stays low to the horizon, and traverses the southern sky. Because the sun is to the south, you will want the clear side of your cold frame facing south, and you will want your low tunnels to run from east to west so that the long side faces south. Setting up your low tunnel or cold frame now means that there will be time for the ground underneath to melt and soften, preparing it for planting.
Spinach, carrots, lettuce, and peas are all great crops to grow in your low tunnel. The seeds can be planted directly in the ground below your low tunnel as soon as the soil can be worked. A low tunnel is also a great place to transplant your cool flower seedlings, and you’ll be glad you put up the cold frame at around the same time you started the seedlings (see hack below about starting early spring flowers).
Start lettuce transplants
Lettuce loves cool weather. My number three garden hack is to start your first batch of lettuce transplants at 11 weeks before the last frost. Because lettuce seedlings that have been properly hardened off can withstand temperatures as low as 20 F, you can plant the lettuce seedlings out at five weeks before your last frost. Some grow lights or a sunny, south-facing window, some seedling trays and some lettuce seeds are all you need to get a super early start on your lettuce harvest. After you start your first batch of seedlings, you can start some more lettuce transplants every two weeks for a continuous supply of lettuce.
Stock up on supplies
When the flea beetles come, you won’t want to be caught without row cover to protect your plants. Nor will you want to be without some compost or fertilizer to put in your planting holes when transplanting. Garden centers are already fully stocked in late winter, making this time of year a great time to start preparing for spring. Your future self will be thanking you for putting in the time now to obtain what you need for the growing season ahead. While the growing season may seem a long ways off, most gardening supplies do not go bad, and there is more time now to purchase these items than during the frenzy of the planting season.
Check on your garlic
Late winter usually brings a few warm sunny or rainy days during which the ground thaws out. If you planted garlic in the autumn, take this opportunity to check on your garlic. In part of your garlic bed, move aside the mulch and look for signs of sprouting. If you see little green garlic sprouts, then remove half the thickness of the mulch from the entire bed. If no sprouts are visible, don’t despair. Garlic knows the correct time to sprout, and will grow in its season. Replace all of the mulch on the area you disturbed, then check back during the next thaw out.
Start Early Spring Flowers
Eight two ten weeks before your last frost is the ideal time to start seedlings for early spring flowers that love cool weather. Some of early spring favorites include bachelor buttons, bells of Ireland, yarrow, sweet william, calendula, stock and more. While it may seem ridiculous to start flower seeds indoors while there is still snow on the ground, these early spring beauties can take a light frost, and can be planted out up to five weeks before your last spring frost. Offering them some kind of protection while planting out, such as a low tunnel or cold frame, can help them to bloom even earlier. You definitely do not want to wait too late into the year to start early spring flowers. As the name implies, these plants need to be established and ready to bloom in the early spring. They will wilt and fizzle out under the intense heat of summer.
About Sterling Organic Farm
Sterling Organic Farm is a USDA certified organic farm in Oneco, CT. We grow and arrange flowers for weddings, events and for everyday bouquets. Check out our flower CSA for the best deals on a weekly flower subscription. We grow a wide variety of organic vegetables available through our vegetable subscription CSA. Click here to learn more about our wedding flowers, and click here to learn more about our CSA shares.