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Tulip stems, onion seeds are among the bridges to spring

One of the benefits of a walk through Botanica on a warm, sunny afternoon in January: two sightings of red foxes – one in the children’s garden, the other from the heights of the pavilion.

Walking through Botanica’s meadow is to remember summer and to appreciate the bones of Botanica that are hidden under exuberant growth in August.

It also reminds you that things are not so bleak during a drought; if you’ve lost some things at home, and if our common landscape has lost some of its gloss, at least we have a garden that we can be a part of where plants are kept alive.

But that’s still not without challenges. Botanica’s tulips have started to come up – how’s that for hope? – and squirrels are chewing on the stems, presumably for moisture, garden supervisor Pat McKernan said. “We replanted some daffodils they pulled up,” he said.

“My concern is once shoots break the ground like that, we get a lot more damage from squirrels and raccoons, and crows peck on the new growth and pull them out of the ground. There have been a lot more crows around on the golf course and over by Cowtown. Hopefully they don’t start roosting here.”

No kidding. We don’t need them roosting anywhere, especially if there’s no rain to occasionally wash the ground underneath them.

But I’m feeling optimistic. It’s been a great lift the past couple of weeks to both go to work and to come home in the daylight.

Chances of rain and snow have appeared in the forecast starting Saturday night.

And if you’d like to grow onions from seed – there are more varieties available to you that way, rather than from sets or transplants in the spring, Ward Upham of K-State says – it is now time to start the seeds indoors for plants to put outside in late March, he says.

How’s that for a first bridge to spring?

Onions get the early nod because they take a long time to grow from seed (six to eight weeks), Upham says, and at the same time they can be put out in the garden fairly early, by late March. Count back and you can see that late January is the time to start the seeds.

At this time of year, Upham’s instructions for seeding, from K-State’s Horticulture 2013 newsletter, are like a dream:

“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.”

I hadn’t been planning to start onions from seeds, but it suddenly sounds like a great idea.