The time is coming up now when most of us will be getting very busy on good days and twiddling our thumbs on days when it's too cold, or raining (hopefully), or the ground's too wet to mess with, or when we still have energy left in the evening (yeah, like THAT's gonna happen at OUR house....).
There are lots of things that need doing that don't require us to be outside. They can, in fact, be done all winter long, depending on what inside work spaces you have. If you think ahead a little, I'll bet you can come up with several do-ahead projects, depending on your resources and your needs.
It's a good time to clean out the pantry, defrost the freezer, and maybe even cook double- and triple-batches of main dishes and desserts, stowing the extra away into the freezer for those days when you don't want to have to come in from the garden to cook.
Of course you can do your garden planning now. And you can start seeds for cold-weather crops. In fact the window for that is beginning to close for our zone (Zone 6a). It's also closing for Wintersowing, though the "baby-sitting" part of that project is nearing. Lots of people here are buying and planting onion plants and even the extension agency had an article in the local paper saying it's time to plant potatoes here. I don't agree. I really don't plan to put ANYTHING into the garden until early March. When you say "Oklahoma" to people, they automatically think of weather like it is in the southern part of the state. That's Zone 7, and if you go south far enough, there's even some Zone 8. But our part of Oklahoma is in the northeastern corner. We're almost in Kansas, and fairly close to Arkansas and Missouri. In fact, we're considered part of the Ozarks region.
I've been washing styrofoam seedling cups that I brought in from the shed. I won't buy any more of them, but I will use what I do have until they are no longer useable. I don't like having to store them, nor do I like having to wash them before I can use them again. So much better to make paper cups that will be buried with the seedling still in it. I don't imagine I will have any trouble getting newspaper to make them from, at least till all the newspapers are no longer printed because of going digital, which I don't see happening till a bunch more of us Baby Boomers kick the bucket.
Last week when the power was off for a couple of hours, I sat at the dining room table and made a stack of seedling pots. If you don't open them out until you're ready to use them, you can store a lot of them in a box. The link to the instructions on how to make these newspaper pots are on a previous post, called "Burying Flower Pots In The Garden".
On those days when the ground is not frozen, I'm digging up buckets of soil out of one of the raised beds we're going to be moving, and bringing them into the garage. Every time I need to mix up a new batch of seedling mix, I can bake ("sterilize") a couple of pans of it and save having to buy bags of inferior "compost".
If you have a garage or shed to work in, now is the time to make tomato cages. You might want to try making the reinforcement-wire tomato cages like the ones that we used last summer. The beauty of reinforcement
wire is that it's about the sturdiest wire you can get for the money. I
like how, at 5' wide, there is enough to cut off the horizontal
piece along the bottom of the roll of wire so that will leave "prongs"
about 6" long to stick into the earth and help stabilize the cage, and the cage is still tall enough to support most indeterminate tomato plant varieties. After
having used them last summer, I can tell you that I was able to push the cage down into the ground all the way up
to the next wire which made for a pretty stable cage.
Our cages were
kind of mis-shapen because we had to use wire that came in a roll. We could bend out the curve, but
no matter what we did, we could not straighten them out well enough so the hooks down that one side would match up very well with the
spaces they were supposed to hook into. They were always coming loose and then catching in inconvenient places. I think this summer I will
close those hooks into a loop with the pliers and I will tie the open side closed, maybe only in two or three places, by
running a wire or a twist-tie through the loop and then wrapping it
around the side it's supposed to connect to. Other than that, they
worked great and contrary to the comment from Hubs about
how they'll rust away during the first summer, anyway (Oh, the negativity!), they
were still in good condition by the end of the summer and they all
folded up well and were easy to stack.
I might also
add that what I said about the bolt cutter still holds, and in fact, I
used it a lot last summer. Some of those small wire tomato cages had
bottom wire sections that were as much as 2 feet long. They would only go into the
ground so far and then the cage was wobbly because it was so top-heavy.
I guess manufacturers added that length to make us think the cage would
work for bigger tomato plants and in fact it's just the other way
around. So I used the bolt cutter to shorten some of those ends,
the part that pokes down into the ground, to uniform length. I think
about a foot is plenty. We also used it to cut through those heavy
stock panels when Hubs made the trellis over The Fraidy Hole.
My initial inspiration was THIS
You-Tube tutorial. This man has an advantage that we didn't have, and that is that he can get concrete reinforcement wire in flat sheets. All we could find locally was in rolls. This is a problem because the makers and sellers of these rolls don't care how they handle them and aside from each piece having a curve in it that has to be flattened out, you have to waste a good bit of it that's on the inner part of the roll because it gets progressively crooked as you unroll. So if you can get reinforcement wire in sheets, do that, even if they do cost a little more, because you will not have any waste.
Hubs and I have made tomato cages out of other
stuff. We made some out of PVC pipe. They were just OK. And expensive
to make because of all the little elbows and tees they need. We had
some we bought at a garage sale to start with, which eased the pain
some. The thing I didn't like about them was there was too much open space
for the tomato to lean outside of the cage. When this happens and the
tomato plant gets big, it will tip over the cage. I like that they come
apart for storage but they are a pain to take apart and put together,
that's a project in itself. I followed Bob Matney's instructions but
now there are a lot of PVC variations on You-Tube. You can do a search
on "PVC Tomato Cages" and see all of them if you're interested. Mostly
now I use my PVC cages around baby trees we've planted out on The North
Fourth. Being white, they stick out like a sore thumb. Anyone can see
where the trees are and not drive or back up over them. And if the tree
dies we have the hole marked so we can replant. Every tree that's
planted out here has to have rock excavated from a big ol' hole, so we
don't want to lose that hole. I'm told PVC will disintegrate out in the
hot sun after awhile, but I've used these outside every year for
probably five years now and they still are just as strong as ever.
Two summers ago, we paid $100 for a big roll of wire fencing at Lowe's, but
the wire is just too bendy and lightweight. The dang cages
were blowing over all. the. time. We didn't have the garden fenced yet
and so the dang things went visiting our neighbors a lot more than we do. One summer I
mostly used them laying on their sides to spread shade cloth over, or
tucked in under things that were getting floppy, for extra support. Or
covered with orange barricade fence to keep the chickens out of things.
(The spaces between the holes were so far apart that if the barricade
fence material wasn't draped over them, those silly chickens would just
walk right through the holes.) Or staked along the edges of my zinnia
bed during my garage sale to keep people from walking on my baby
I have lots of the small tomato cages
that inexperienced gardeners buy to support their tomatoes and then find
them woefully inadequate and put them in their garage sales. Atwoods
puts them on sale every spring for about a dollar apiece, but the used
ones at garage sales go for a quarter or so. While these aren't that
great for tomatoes, they are wonderful for lots of other things.
Peppers, for instance. They are decent for tomato plants that stay
relatively small, like paste tomatoes, allowing you to save the big
cages for plants that get bigger. I like that they nest into one
another for storage. Mark them well, or spray paint them with an easily
seen color if you're going to use them in unexpected places. Our
postman, who liked to cut through my zinnia bed rather than use the
sidewalk (when we lived in town), would tell you they are not fun to get
tangled up in. Nor is it good for the tomato cage, which you will find laying in your yard all bent up or flattened.
I posted the next few paragraphs on the old blog and so some of you will
have already seen the next few paragraphs. But for those that didn't,
here it is:
I am really enjoying owning a bolt cutter! Seriously,
why have we not owned one before this?? This small one pinches through
heavy wire, like stock panel and concrete reinforcement wire, in just
one quick motion. I took it out to the driveway and cut all the
sections for our triangular, folding tomato cages. Good thing we
experimented with some old round ones we took apart first, because
following the specifications given in that You-Tube demonstration I
found left a little to be desired. Each section is cut right up against
one vertical wire, so that each piece has all the sticky-outy wires on
only one side. The fella doing the demo recommended one section with
two squares and a side of sticky-outies and two sections with three
squares and a side of sticky-outies. We decided it made a better cage
to make them all the same, three squares and a side of sticky-outies. (The
ends of the sticky-outie wires are then bent into a little hook that
attaches to the straight side of the next piece.) When it's all
together it looks like each panel has 4 squares. Pinch down the hooks
on two sides so they're permanently in place but still loose enough to
work like a hinge and leave the hooks loose enough on one side so you
can easily get them apart. That way, they fold flat when not in use.
Oh, and you cut the bottom horizontal wire off so that it makes
stickie-outie wires that will poke down into the ground to stabilize the
cage when it's in place. Now isn't this just the coolest idea? Hubs
bought a 150-foot roll of 5' wide CRW for about $95. I don't know how
many that'll end up making, I'll estimate about 35. It takes a little
doing to bend the end hooks small enough. Hubs, who has nearly every
tool known to mankind, found a pair of Diamalloy pliers that he bought
at a garage sale for a dollar sometime back. I
just found one on eBay listed for $8. They call it a "cowboy fencing
tool". But anyway, there are two holes on the head of it, and the hole
nearest the outside edge is just right to bend the right size loop. The tool is forged steel so it stands up to the job without breaking, too. These
cages are a little work to make but they should last for as long as we
need them to, be a lot easier to store, and I won't have to be weighting
them down with rocks to keep them from falling over or blowing away.
Well, this is about all for this time. There are things to do and I'm burning my daylight. .......Are you?