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A bit of earth Changing directions for winter

  • Published Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at 7:30 a.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at 7:32 a.m.

We’ve now had our first rude drop to the cellar of temperatures. It’s funny how the memory does not prepare you for a wind chill of 9 degrees. Especially when you thought you could get away without wearing socks one more day.

Most of the flowers that were still blooming last weekend have now wilted, along with less-hardy foliage. Another layer of garden yank-outs must be done, along with some re-ordering of the garden furniture to rebalance things and make the yard not look so empty.

Since next week’s lows are forecast to be in the 30s, I’m prepared to wave the white flag to winter and surrender.

If you have spring-flowering bulbs yet to plant, this may not be the winter to wait for New Year’s to get your tulips in the ground. Before Thanksgiving is a better timetable.

For the first time in my life, I remembered to buy some nice seed garlic in October. But then I didn’t have time to plant it. So this week I asked extension agent Rebecca McMahon what I could do with it. Eat it? It would be expensive, but I do love, and feel deprived of, good garlic.

She gave me a couple of ideas.

First, yes, seed garlic is edible. But there’s an indoor-growing, more gourmet option: Plant the cloves near the surface of a 6- to 8-inch-wide pot and put the pot in a sunny window. When the top growth reaches 10 inches, it can be used as fresh green garlic. The fleshy roots taste like garlic and can be pulled and washed thoroughly to be used as a garnish, McMahon said.

She also said I could still try planting the cloves outside. This is really what I want to do; we’ll see if I get it done.

McMahon had another piece of advice: Let your tomatoes go. She said she’d heard from a couple of people who still wanted to cover their plants and perhaps tuck a heat lamp in around them at night. I have a friend who is wheeling a pot of tomatoes into the garage on a dolly each night and then back out when it’s sunny. We all have our own little ways of coping with the transition of the seasons. It’s also fun to do science experiments.

“Let them go,” McMahon said.

I was at Botanica on Wednesday, and one of my coping mechanisms was to walk around the gardens in the opposite direction from the route I usually take. It was sunny and stunning. Leaves filled many of the paved surfaces, so I felt, especially in the woodland, like I was in the country. Amid the flat smell of fallen leaves, the meadow was still redolent of summer. When I stood before the statues of three little girls in the butterfly garden, the fragrance of licorice was in the air. I found a perfectly still corner of the Beverly Blue Teaching Garden where I swear it could have been July.

All this, and Christmas lights were going up all around me for Illuminations. Talk about seasons co-existing.

Got leaves at home? Then you have “quite a resource,” extension agent Bob Neier says. They can be added to compost piles to turn into a garden soil-improver. But most people anymore shred them with the lawnmower over the lawn, allowing the organic matter to break down over the grass, Neier said.

If you do have a compost pile, remember to keep it moist, Ward Upham of K-State said. This allows bacteria and fungi to break down the raw materials. “Use a sprinkler to soak through the pile to the center,” Upham writes in the Horticulture 2013 newsletter. “Allow the pile to drain. The goal is for the pile to remain moist, not waterlogged. Edges will dry out the quickest and may need a light sprinkling from time to time.”

The Washington Post’s garden writer, Adrian Higgins, had this advice about leaves in garden beds: “Fallen leaves can be blown or raked into ornamental beds, raked into a uniformly thick layer and allowed to break down over the winter to feed the soil and prevent weed germination. Make sure leaves do not pile at the base of shrubs or directly against tree trunks. Windblown leaves might need to be re-raked once or twice over the winter.”

It’s good to know we have tasks ahead in the garden that will get us working outdoors, no matter what the season.

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @anniecalovich.

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