Helen Chesnut’s Garden Notes: Pick up supplies now for gardening season

For gardeners, the winter solstice on Monday has special significance. It starts us on the pathway to spring.

The word solstice means “the sun is stopped, or stationary.” On this turning point in the year, the sun halts its downward path in the sky. Daylight hours will be the fewest and the period of nighttime darkness the longest.

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Since ancient times, people have sought to inject light, and hope, into the bleak midwinter with fire and light. Evergreen boughs were brought into dwellings as reminders that life continues, and would return to the Earth again as the sun began a rising trajectory toward spring. Berried boughs had particular importance. They bore the seeds of life.

We continue these traditions today. They are especially welcome this winter, as the darkness outdoors is overlaid with uncertainty and stress. Still, we defy it all. Coloured lights have been put up early. Trees can be seen lit up in the windows of houses we pass by.

Across the street from my house, my neighbour Bob has created a gorgeous light show. It cheers the nights, and is the last thing I look out to see before I tuck myself into bed for the night.

Bringing evergreens into the house is also oddly cheering. My huge sweet bay tree yields masses of sweet-scented greenery that I fashion into simple swags tied with raffia for friends and neighbours. The stems bear the bay leaves used in cooking. Small sprigs of the fragrant greens festoon windowsills and are tucked behind pictures on the walls. Evergreens symbolize triumph of life over death, of light over dark, hope over despair.

Next week, the sun will start a long, slow climb. As it rises a little each day and days gradually lengthen, we will know we’re on our way to spring, new growth, and a fresh start.

Seeds and supplies. No one knows exactly what 2021 will be like, but we can probably expect more of 2020 in the sense of restrictions, caution and some shortages as supply lines change or are significantly limited.

Socializing this Christmas season will certainly be limited, for everyone’s immediate safety and as an investment in the future common good. It will be a far quieter time than usual. It may also be more intimate, and restful. Free time may even emerge, perhaps for dreaming of and planning for improvements in the new year.

I used some free time recently to make a rough sketch of the food garden plots and begin pencilling in the placement of major vegetable groups — the roots, tomatoes, squash, beans and so on. And I’ve made an inventory of leftover seeds, along with a list of seeds needed for next year.

Home gardeners will have noticed, and remembered, how seeds flew off local racks in the spring, and some mail-order seed sources were so inundated that they had to shut down temporarily to catch up on filling orders. I’m anticipating the same happening this year. It’s advisable to purchase and order as early as possible.

West Coast Seeds have their seed racks filled at most of their retail sites now. Check the website’s Store Locator for racks near you.

Salt Spring Seeds has its 2021 catalogue up online. Other local companies with online catalogues: Full Circle Seeds, Brother Nature Seeds, Eagle Ridge Seeds.

The timing for full availability of 2021 seeds will vary with the company. It depends on when all the seeds produced and gathered last year have been cleaned and packaged, or when all (or most of) the seeds ordered from wholesalers are in stock.

Other companies I’ve ordered from for many years: William Dam Seeds, T&T Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Stokes Seeds, Lindenberg Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, J.L. Hudson, Chiltern Seeds.

Because some of the ingredients I use in seeding and potting mixes were nowhere to be found in the spring, I’m stocking up now as I can find them.

As I find them, I’m also slowly purchasing bags of soil amendments that work well in my garden. Those include coconut fibre (coir) for soil moisture retention. And I’m acquiring bottles of liquid fish fertilizer and seaweed fertilizer. I use them, combined, for transplanting. Their availability was sporadic this year.

Consider starting to look now for gardening supplies you found elusive early in the growing season.


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