Next week will find many a modern gardener checking the sky as soon as the alarm clock rings. Why? It’s Groundhog Day! While Punxsutawney Phil may be more famous, in Wisconsin Jimmy rules. Let’s explore the origins of this quirky American holiday. Spoiler alert though. Badgers are a part of the story.
The holiday has evolved over centuries and has been observed by many different groups, from the Celts to the Pennsylvania Dutch. In pre-Christian Europe, the Celts celebrated 4 turning point dates that were between the equinoxes and solstices. Some of them were incorporated into the Christian calendar and others became more secular holidays. February 1 was initially known as Candlemas, a day when newly made candles were brought to the local church to be blessed, representing a source of light, warmth and the end of the cold winter, a definite reference to the importance of weather in an agricultural society.
The animal component was introduced by Germans who hedged their hopes for an early spring on a badger. When the custom crossed the Atlantic with the Pennsylvania Dutch, the badger was traded for a groundhog, an equally shy and retiring creature. Bonus? If we forget about Jimmy’s biting incident in 2015, groundhogs are a lot less aggressive.
But we’re not counting on Jimmy, Phil, Louisiana’s Pierre C Shadow or Thistle the Whistle-pig of Cleveland to tell us when to start gardening! Any chance of milder days are perfect for crossing a few mid-winter chores off our lists. As the days lengthen we are reminded that the Spring Equinox is a mere 54 days away.
The seed racks at the Garden Center are full of choices with so many distinct varieties of vegetables, herbs, flowering annuals and perennials that it makes us a little dizzy. If you find yourself a little overwhelmed, just check in with the Plant Information Desk. The staff will be delighted to help you navigated through the possibilities and settle on the tomato, or squash, basil, insert your favorite here, of your dreams.
Once you’ve secured your seeds, all you really need are clean flats and seed-starting or germinating mix. Warming mats are a nice extra that will help speed things along. Your seeds will sprout faster with a bit of heat under the trays. A clear dome is another handy piece of equipment, helping to keep humidity high and moisture levels even. Once the seedlings have emerged, take the dome off so that air can circulate freely around them. Stagnant air can cause fungal diseases, which will kill your little plants quickly. There are two words to remember when watering, gentle and often. A spray bottle of room temperature water works great for wetting the seed-starting medium. It won’t cause the flood that may wash your seeds right out of the flat. Try to keep the soil slightly moist all the time.
You can start impatiens, petunias and pansies now. Slow veggies like hot peppers, artichokes, bulbing onions and leeks, and cool weather veg such as broccoli and other cruciferous types can also be planted. Many flowering perennials can be started as well. If you are re-using flats from previous years, be sure to clean them with a little bleach and hot water, and use sterile seed-starting soil mixes.
The Garden Center isn’t expecting any of our summer-blooming bulbs until the middle of February. You can save them to plant outdoors when the weather warms. But many of these tend to sprout slowly, so you can start them indoors. Be careful with watering at this early stage. A good rule of thumb is to water thoroughly after potting, and then wait until you see some growth before watering again. Bulbs are water storage organs and can easily rot if kept too wet.
Don’t forget one of our favorite signs of the warmer weather to come. This year’s Garden and Landscape Expo is scheduled in-person on February 9th, 10th and 11th. Advance one-, two- and three-day passes are available at the garden Center. Just inquire at the Plant Information Desk. Visit the event website, https://wigardenexpo.com/ for more info.
And finally, check out our Social Media platforms. Our Pinterest boards are chock-full of inspiration and the Facebook page features what’s going on in the Garden Center every day, from new product highlights to event schedules.