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Dallying In The Dirt, Issue #250--- Crazy winter weather is producing quantities of pond compost.
February 22, 2016

Strange, seems like such an inadequate word to describe this winter’s weather. Sunny and warm one day and freezing cold the next. It was about 5 C (40 F) today and bright and sunny and that made wandering around the garden quite a pleasant activity. It allowed me to observe several strange things happening. The ponds have been free of ice and then frozen across on alternate weeks all winter. They are mostly open today and they have been for some time. All of that open water, that the sun can penetrate and warm up, combined with the excess of oxygen, that was intended to keep the fish alive, has produced an amazing amount of algae growth. We sometimes see a bit of this in the spring but such a huge quantity in the middle of the winter is strange. I worry that it may affect the fish. It’s very difficult to see them through the algae but I have found only one floater. I realize that this is also more work in the spring as I will have to remove as much of that algae as possible or it will just take over the ponds. There’s always an upside. That algae makes great compost.

The snowdrops have come and gone several times this winter and now we have that true harbinger of spring. The Witch Hazel, Hamamelis spp. is opening into full bloom. My records show it being at least three weeks earlier than any other year. Last year was so cold that the flower buds did not survive and it never did put on it’s late winter show. It was amazing to look back at the pictures and see how the little twig I planted is now a small tree about 2.5 M tall. I have had to prune it a bit to make up for my poor planning. It was too close to the path through the back garden. I have pruned it into a tall vase shape so that I can walk under it but not get stopped by lower branches blocking the path. This deep red variety that I have is “Diane” and each year I’m fascinated that it can produce those interesting flowers just as winter is thinking about leaving us. It also has some wonderful fall colour and that’s a double season reason to have one in your garden.

When I’m in the basement planting seeds, I often look behind me where several pots are sitting covered in some dry brown leaves. The Amaryllis bulbs that were brought in last fall before the frost have been quietly dormant there for these last few months. Their indomitable spirit will regularly display itself. A flower bud will start to emerge from that dry bulb and soil and in the almost complete absence of significant light. The sight of those emerging buds reminds me to take them into the laundry room and stand them in a tub full of water, in order to rehydrate the soil. After a day or so there I remember to take them upstairs into the warmth and light of the solarium and there they reward me with their magnificent blooms. This rich dark red one is called Black Pearl. If I don’t soon deal with it, it will probably make a big mess like many large Amaryllis do. It is in a 15 cm pot where the bulb now almost touches the sides. It has two bloom stalks that are at least 45 cm tall with four blooms developing on each. The top is rapidly getting much heavier than the bottom, especially if I don’t keep the soil wet and heavy. I must put it into a much larger and heavier pot or I will find it toppled over onto the floor one day.

Now it’s time to answer a few of my reader’s questions. Don’t forget to check the front page of the Website for frequent short ideas for current gardening activities.

Linda Comments! Yep! I am one of those two people who have successfully managed to get my poinsettia to re bloom. BUT, you’re right, they don't look as good as when they come from the store. I did it two years in a row with the same plant just for the satisfaction of being able to say I did it. But I also find it isn't worth the hassle. Mine still looks good so far this year, but it too will go to the compost pile when the time comes. Thanks for listening, and keep those fingers dirty.

Pat Asks? Hi - I see you plan to give a seed starting guide as you yourself plant your own. If I may make a suggestion . . . as you mention planting dates, might you keep in mind that some people don't have a heated planting bed. I don't have a heated growing table and previously have started only tomatoes and peppers indoors, moving them into a sun room during the day when it gets warm enough and back inside at night. So, I am thinking this would alter the date you'd want to plant.

Ken Answers! It’s true, that if you don’t have ideal conditions then it may take a little longer to get your transplants ready to move outdoors. The heat for the seeds is a very important step and it can be quite easy to do. Most seed catalogues sell a small heating mat that is designed for just this purpose. It’s neat and tidy and usually sells for about $30. It will be the best seed starting investment you can make.

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