Monday, March 18, 2013

searching for a cure (to cabin fever)

light starved seedlings- just recently moved to the south-facing window

So the St. Louis winter in St. Paul is less cold, but is clearly still a real winter.  The couple of inches of snow I cleared off the sidewalk this morning is now blowing back onto the sidewalk in a 30 to 40 mile per hour wind.  I walked to the bus stop after shoveling, slipping on the thin layer of powdery snow on top of a layer of glare ice every few steps.  I almost fell on my butt, and a car slowed down as if to ask if I needed help, but I looked away, not wanting to let go of the little bit of pride I still had.  I do know how to walk in snow, thanks.

The spring equinox is only a few days away- teasing me and everyone else in Minnesota with the promise of warmth and green.  But winter clearly isn't leaving any time soon and it's starting to make me nuts.

I started a bunch of seedlings March 8th.  It may be too early, but I don't care.   If we have an early spring again (which is seeming increasingly unlikely) then I can plant them outside.  If not, I'll have to be creative.  Maybe I'll build a temporary hoop house, or repot them and put them under a fluorescent light.

Starting the seedlings was more of an emotional decision than a rational one anyway.  I really want to see something growing and green, and the ultimate outcome of the seed starts will be dealt with when the time comes.   I'm tired of looking out the window and seeing nothing but shades of white, gray and blue.

some of the rose cuttings are starting to take off
Fortunately our hose has an old-fashioned hot water heating system, and that means that we have big, old radiators with a flat space on top that fits two or three flats of seedlings, or a bunch of plant pots.  And windows right nearby.  Our dining room has pretty limited light, with some east-facing windows and a neighbor's house blocking some of the morning sun, but the radiator space is huge, and I put our flats of seedlings there to start.  I covered them up with the little plastic terrarium top that came with the kit, and the combined heat and humidity had most of the seeds up in a few days.

This created a bit of a problem- I started the seeds too early, and now they're coming up ahead of time.  How do I slow this process down now that it's started?

I might just put them outside for a while if it gets above freezing soon.  With the terrarium covers, they'd be fine most likely.  And I could trim back some that already have multiple leaves- like the peas.  Pea greens are good eating, so those could go in a salad and we'd have zero waste from the process.  Actually, I ought to start some more peas- I could really go for some fresh greens right now.

no luck yet with the tropicals
Not doing so well are the tropical tubers and corms I'm trying to force by potting them up and keeping them watered and at room temperature.  In mid-February I went to Dragon Star- possibly the best Asian supermarket- or any supermarket for that matter- in the Upper Midwest.  The place has everything: live lobsters, ceramic Mexican wrestler figurines, fresh galanga root and super-heavy Chinese blankets.  It's the size of a SuperValu, but way, way more interesting to shop in.  I'm kind of fascinated by the place.

So I went there and bought some taro root (the plant is typically known as 'Colocasia' in the snottier parts of the nursery trade, and can cost a bunch of money there, but is the exact same plant that people eat all over the tropical world).  Taro, sometimes called 'Yuca' in Latin America, is a tasty root vegetable, and people also eat the leaves (but only when cooked) in Nepal.  And it looks pretty cool when it's growing.  I bought three taro corms the size of coconuts for just under six dollars and potted them up and waited for them to grow.  I also bought sixty cents worth of ginger root and turmeric root and gave them their own pots too.

I've been waiting over a month now, and nothing yet.  I'm not sure if it's too cool in the house, or maybe just not moist enough- or what?  I'm hoping that the folks at Dragon Star didn't spray them with growth retardants like some conventional supermarkets do.  I often assume that Asian markets won't take the chemical shortcuts that the American markets do- but that may not always be the case.  I'll give the roots some more time just in case- but I'm starting to think that I wasn't quite as clever as I had originally thought.

The rose cuttings that I wrote about a couple of posts ago are starting to green up.  A few already have sent out shoots and have leaves.  This is my first year rooting roses, so I have no idea what to expect.  The dry winter air has pinched off some of the early, blanched  shoots that shot up while they were still wrapped in wet newspaper.  I didn't think those would make it, but misted them with a sprayer every morning anyway.  I potted up some Bali cherry cuttings as well,  and those seem to be rooting- though it's hard to tell from the top growth.

One thing I haven't tried rooting yet this year- currants.  I love the currants we have growing in our yard so far and want to propagate some of the red and white ones and plant them in our derelict perennial bed- the last prime planting spot in the yard that doesn't have much of anything in it that was put there intentionally.

I was going to put raspberries there- but they don't cooperate when you try to keep them out of the beds next door- so I think it'll be more currants.  Not as good eating off the bush- but productive- and they make really good jelly and syrup.  Last year we made a batch of currant syrup  as well as some stir-fry from the quart or so of red and  white currants- and it was delicious.  We ate the syrup on pancakes.  It didn't last long.  The kids preferred it even to maple syrup and that's saying a lot.

I'm curious to hear what others are doing to cure cabin fever right now.  If you've started plants indoors too early- or, better yet, are taking a vacation in a place where tropical plants are actually growing, let me know.  I always enjoy reading your comments, so feel free to leave them. 




  1. No suggestions for cabin fever, I've been chilling out on the Net. The daffodils just started to poke through a couple weeks ago, usually they start in February, so I haven't tried to start anything. As to the tropicals, I know my ginger doesn't like to sprout until the temperatures are well into the 60s and 70s.

    1. That's good to know about ginger not sprouting til it hits the warmer temps. We keep the house at 68 when we're at home, 58F at night, and lower when we're at work and kids are at school. So that may be signaling the ginger to stay in the ground. If I get a cold frame together this year, I'll have to put those in there.

  2. Not just Minnesota, we're cold and snowy and wishing for spring over in WI too :) I have had seeds started since February so I know how you feel!

    I'd suggest setting up lights for your seedlings, we just use shop-light florescents stolen from the basement (so they are useful the rest of the year). Makes for much sturdier sets. Doesn't have to be elaborate they just need to be fairly close to the plants.

    I also put them out in a cold frame as soon as the weather cooperates, real sun seems to be even better. A cold frame isn't a bad project to help with cabin fever this time of year ;)

    1. Hi s- I'm a southeastern Wisconsinite by birth- so I remember the winters there. A tiny bit milder, but not by much. I have some old storm windows for a cold frame, but just haven't gotten around to making them yet. Maybe I need to make that a priority.

  3. This years weather is weird in the sense that it is very unpredictable. If this is the sign of global warming i believe it. These gloomy days making me sad and frown so i don't have energy to start indoor gardening.

    1. Hang in there! Spring has to come at some point.

  4. Here in the PNW it's been mainly wet and in the 40's. In fact it just started to rain and is supposed to be very wet and windy tomorrow. I have kale and chard that overwintered and just planted peas and lettuces. This winter has been pretty mild so the bugs should be plentiful this summer. My allergies are starting in too.

    1. Honestly, that sounds wonderful. I'm actually looking forward to mud season here. The allergies don't sound wonderful- but I could go for a shot of wet Pacific Northwest weather right now. Anything other than cold and snow.

  5. John in Saint PaulMarch 19, 2013 at 5:58 PM

    The sprouts are an inspiration.
    We discussed getting the seeds going this past weekend but the snow kind of made us reconsider. Have you tried ground cherries or strawberries? I don't know if your perrenial garden spot is particularly sunny but I am looking for suggestions myself.
    (I am here in Saint Paul and have been looking for another fruit.) The plan is for rhubarb and strawberries in a kind of shady (but available) piece of the yard. My "intentional" raspberries have not been a success but we did get many from the volunteer plants in back.
    And the first gallon of maple sap we got 10 days ago has been a block of ice since then - but I am a bit optimistic about this coming weekend.
    Spring tomorrow.

    1. Hi John,
      I have strawberries- and this year will be the magical 'third season' where we can start picking as many as we like with impunity. They're in partial shade- I'd say shade for over half a day- at least in spots, and they do fine. I had ground cherries as a kid and didn't like them, so I've never tried those.

      As for varieties of Strawberries- I have Seascape- an everbearer, and Sparkle- a Junebearer. Sparkle is delicious- Seascape so-so. If I had to choose one, I'd go for Sparkle. The Fedco catalog carries both.

      Currants do really well even in fairly deep shade. I have some red currants directly under a mature cottonwood and a large spruce, and we still get a lot of fruit.

      Also- good luck with the maple syruping! We tried it two years ago, but not since then. Made the whole house steamy and sticky, but it sure tasted good.

  6. Hey Jeff - You already know some of the stuff I got going, but for some of the others out there - plenty of seeds have been started - onions, leeks, brassicas, herbs, tomatos, peppers, currant, gooseberry, elderberry, and aronia cuttings, hybrid chestnuts, and the figs are waking up!! Lots of scions collected for grafting in a few weeks, and building a bunch of bee hive equipment. I am so done with the snow too!!!

    1. Hi Andy- I brought the figs you gave me upstairs yesterday after I wrote the post. They're looking greener already. I can't wait for the snow to melt so I can get them outside. Seems like everyone is waiting for the snow to melt right now. Even the skiers are sick of it from what I hear.

  7. In St. Louis, we are in the middle of the biggest snowstorm of the winter; supposed to get something like 8 to 10 inches before the storm winds down sometime tomorrow (Monday). I heard thunder during heavy snow this morning. Late season snowstorms can bring us the most snow. But by next Saturday we should be closer to normal highs around 60F.

    I have some cabin fever too since highs most of the past week were in the 30-40F range and it was windy, colder than I want to prune in. Hence I stayed in most of it and caught up with writing and reading. I still have fruit tree pruning to finish up. In a less-cold spring I would be planting peas and onion seedlings, but not this year since I have yet to prepare the beds. I do have several flats of seedlings on the south-facing glassed-in porch including a flat of the ones preferring warm conditions on a heat mat. You might want to look into one of those for getting your tropicals started. Different sizes can be found. They do suck up a lot of electricity, but I would not start pepper seeds without one (and I run it just long enough to get the seedlings to the first true leaf; the seedlings can grow on at lower temperatures than the seeds require to germinate).