Homeyer: Garden Resolutions

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(HOST)  For commentator Henry Homeyer, looking forward to a new year means looking forward to a new garden.

(HOMEYER)  There’s a special quality to the light now as the sun gets ready to drop behind the hills.  It tells me we’ve turned the corner and we’re headed towards spring – which makes me think about gardening.

In 2010, most of us had a pretty good year in the vegetable garden. Early in the season I got plenty of panicked emails about the late blight that kills tomatoes and potatoes showing up early in Connecticut or Maine. The naysayers told me doom was on the horizon – that, like Chicken Little, the sky was falling and our tomatoes would never come to harvest. But I’m an optimist and didn’t worry too much – and my optimism was justified: the sun was strong, and no one I know had late blight on their tomatoes. Not only did our tomatoes do well, so did our peppers, broccoli, beans and squash. In fact, almost everything did well.

So what do I plan to do differently this year? I think I’ll moderate my kale plantings. I had a dozen plants last year, and as much as I like to eat kale, I have many quarts in the freezer. And I’m still eating kale from the garden – it seems oblivious to the cold.

I’ll try some new varieties of tomatoes this year, as I always do. Each year I grow Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, Brandywines, Ox Hearts and Jet Stars, because they’re all sure winners. I grow new varieties of tomato for two to three years to see how they perform under different weather conditions. What one catalog or gardener tells me is delicious, productive and disease-resistant may turn out to be less so for me. Seeds are generally good for at least 3 years, so I start my seedlings of any new variety 3 times.

Last year I forgot to plant rutabagas and parsnips until very late in the season, but this year I won’t make that mistake. Parsnips are wonderful, especially if you harvest them in the spring. The cold of winter encourages some of the starches to turn into sugars, so they’re sweeter. Parsnips are usually my first garden meal of the spring, and I look forward to them.

This year I’ll be sure to keep my onions weeded. Last year I let the weeds get big and when I pulled the weeds I must have damaged the shallow roots of the onions, as they never fully recovered – and my onions were small.

And lastly, I’d like to plant some flint corn this year. Flint corn is what Native Americans grew and our early settlers depended on for Johnny Cakes and corn meal. I like the idea of growing a crop that needs no cooking or freezing to store well. I’ll need to learn more about flint corn, but I think it’s worth a try.

The days are still short, but I can tell they’re getting longer. Before long I’ll be back in the garden – and I can barely wait.

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