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A bit of earth Living, growing through the winter

  • Published Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, at 11:11 a.m.

I’ve had a little spontaneous garden growing on the top of my fridge this winter.

A visit to the farmers market late in the summer had netted a huge bag of onions, red, white and yellow, small, medium and large, still partially caked in dirt. I spaced them out on a tiered wire stand atop the refrigerator, and for a long time enjoyed pulling them down to slice into soups and salads.

And then, sometime into the fall, I kind of ignored the remaining few onions. Instead of rotting, they kindly split their skins and shot green growth down through the wires of the stand and then back up toward the sky.

Lately, though, the green shoots have looked a little peaked. They’ve been getting by on the nutrients in the onion bulb, the (very little) moisture in the air and the warmth of the refrigerator, extension agent Rebecca McMahon told me. But now they would like more in the way of soil, water and light. Kind of like the rest of us, who may or may not be voluntarily growing in the frigid stages of mid-January.

Whenever I get the chance, I take a little walk through my yard at lunchtime, feeding and watering the birds and tending to chores that didn’t get done in warmer weather (they never end, and maybe that’s a good thing). The little tour brings back warm memories and rekindles a connection to the earth.

In the evenings (which are already noticeably, gloriously shorter), I find myself gazing at prints by Stan Herd on the walls of my house – scenes from the Kansas countryside that glow red, orange and yellow with flowers, grasses and sunshine in lamp light.

I love the fact that, despite some painfully cold weather this winter, it hasn’t lasted more than a few days at a time. This is livable winter.

And the garden calendar, after taking a long winter’s nap for the holidays, is starting to reawaken in the new year. Garden clubs are picking back up – see details on Wichita Rose Society and Suburban Garden Club meetings in the Gardener’s Almanac on Page 2C – and the Sedgwick County master gardeners will offer a slate of spring-gardening classes for the public on Jan. 30.

After requests to offer the classes on a weekday rather than a Saturday, extension agent Bob Neier said, the master gardeners decided to have the classes on a Thursday this year, from 3 to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 30. Fifteen classes will be offered in all, three at a time, so that attendees can attend five classes over the course of the afternoon and evening. The cost is $10.

Here’s the schedule:

• 3:30 to 4:20 p.m.: creating natural landscapes, improving soils through composting, seed starting under lights

• 4:30 to 5:20 p.m.: perennial flowers, weed management, growing tomatoes

• 5:30 to 6:20 p.m.: container gardening, installing drip irrigation, growing and using culinary herbs

• 6:30 to 7:20 p.m.: water-wise landscaping, rain barrels, growing thornless blackberries

• 7:30 to 8:20 p.m.: pruning landscape trees, color year-round, growing low-maintenance roses.

You can register at the door, or in advance online at 2014springgardening.eventbrite.com, or by calling 316-660-0138.

I’ve loved the voluntary growth of my fridge-top onions and am not sure I’ll follow the directions I asked from Rebecca to pot them up to produce, at the least, chives (which I can eat even now) or, if the plants were to get enough light, green onions.

But guess what? Our first planting alert of the year has just arrived: Onions from seed should be started indoors in mid- to late January to grow into transplants that can go outdoors in late March, Ward Upham of K-State says.

The reason you may want to start onion from seed is that you can choose from more varieties that way than from the sets and plants that will be available later at the garden centers.

Whether you plan to start onion seeds or not (the farmer, after all, will still have us covered), you may enjoy the sunny instructions that Upham gives, and apply some of them to other seeds you may want to start this winter:

“Onion seed should be placed 1/2 to 3/4 inch apart in a pot or flat filled with a seed-starting mix. Place the container in a warm (75 to 80 F) location until young seedlings emerge. Move to a cooler location (60 to 65 F) when the seedlings are 1 to 2 inches tall.

“Make sure they have plenty of light, using fluorescent lights if needed.

“Start fertilizing when the seedlings reach 2 to 3 inches tall, using a soluble fertilizer with each or every-other watering.

“Onion seedlings tend to be spindly, with the remains of the seed sticking to the end of a leaf for several weeks. Encourage stockiness by trimming the ends of the leaves when the plants reach 4 to 5 inches tall. Start hardening off the onions in early March by moving the plants to a protected outdoor location. You may have to move them inside temporarily to protect them from extreme cold snaps.”

Winter is definitely looking up.

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

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