Old Janus has packed his bags and will leave our scene in a few days. Janus, the mythological Roman god and namesake of January, has two faces, one looking backward, the other forward. He controlled, or thought he did, beginnings and endings, time, doorways, duality and on ad infinitum.
After taking his leave at midnight as Friday turns into Saturday, things are thought to improve generally, notwithstanding pessimists’ talk. Well, where was he and global warming on Feb. 2, 1951, a few days after he had allegedly left, when the temperature dropped here to an all-time record of 21.5 degrees below zero. You read it right. We were the coldest place in what was the United States on that date, when Alaska was not on our map. Even if it had been, we might have still been the coldest.
After all, just last Nov. 13, we dropped to 12 degrees above zero, and were colder than Anchorage, Alaska. Take that, you nasty old god.
Once Janus crawls back into his den, presumably at the North (or South) Pole, at least we can wish for something better the rest of this year than the floods, drought and tornadoes we experienced last year. Speaking of hope, however, my late great friend Jim Cox cautioned that if you hope in one hand and do something else (I won’t say what) in the other, see which one fills up first. Anyhow, let’s get geared up and be ready for the last frost, yet some weeks away.
But don’t jump the gun. If you will be growing things from seed, don’t get into too big a hurry to plant them, even if you have the proverbial “sunny window sill.” It might seem sunny to you, but a young seedling requires more light than even the sun can provide until days lengthen considerably. An ideal setup for home growers without a heated greenhouse (without artificial heat, it is simply a coldframe), are fluorescent lights over a table where seedlings can be acclimated as they lengthen. The tips of the seedlings should be almost at the light source, which, of course, must be raised mechanically as the seedlings grow.
Then the seedlings will grow stockily, not skinny, and with enough chlorophyll to keep them a healthy green. Once they outgrow the artificial conditions, they can be gradually exposed to cooler temperatures via a spell in a coldframe. Any late freeze necessitates moving them back inside temporarily.
This day and time, in fact, it is almost as frugal to buy started plants, after some big commercial grower has gone through all the trouble just described. The big growers have the seed starting so mechanized they can produce the plants economically.
Nearly every gardener has put off a lot of things that could, and should, have been done way back in the fall when conditions were right for them, but no, we (note the we) are burdened now with those kinds of leftovers.
Ground work, for instance, is better done in the fall, so that the soil can freeze and thaw over winter, which conditions it better than any tool can. Then there is the top dressing that should have been done before now on established beds and borders.
I will say I did get around to top dressing my hungriest things with aged chicken manure around the end of last year.
It has already been leached into the root zone, and I hope (there’s that word again) said roses will leap into new and productive growth as soon as warm temperatures arrive.
JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162.