Dig This: Virtual Wintertime Gardening

So that you don’t have to twiddle your “green thumbs” during the winter, here are some activities to make gardening interesting and fun, without digging in the mud.

First, remember, “you are what you eat.” Be careful. Growing your own food changes you, gives you another perspective on a healthier life, on your use of time. Successful gardening doesn’t come by epiphany, but by experiential learning over time. It’s becoming more and more important that we grow our own food because of cost, health and safety. Food gardens may become as important as they were during WWII, when “victory gardens” produced 40% of the fresh vegetables.

OK, now that the sermon is over, we can get to some activities for you and your children:

Notice gardening-related stories in the newspaper and magazines: They are hot topics these days because of the economy and health benefits of fresh foods. You may not have seen them before, but now you will notice them everywhere. Clip out articles, underline and make notes. You can make it a family game.

Use the Internet: Google your favorite veggies – learn all about them. While you’re at it, learn how to save your seeds so they won’t cross and turn out to be something else. But if so, you might like what you get. One year, out of curiosity, I let a volunteer summer squash plant grow. It produced a zucchini-shaped squash with pretty bands of yellow, green, yellow, green, and it tasted great. Probably it was a cross between a yellow straight-neck and a regular zucchini.

Tools and seed catalogues: Now’s the time to repair, sharpen your tools, and if necessary, buy new ones. A digging fork and a bulb trowel are some of my favorites.

Order a few free seed catalogues, a great source of information on how to plant and grow thousands of tasty herbs, edible flowers, fruits and vegetables. Here are some of my favorites: Redwood Seeds (Shasta County and organic) (www.redwoodseeds.net), Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (heirloom) (www.rareseeds.com), High Mowing (all organic) (www.highmowingseeds.com).

Set up a neighborhood gardening network or join an existing one: Working together with close-by friends and neighbors can produce lots more fruits and veggies. It can be an easy way to learn, share tools and labor, and preserve the fruits of your labor. And, it can build a better cooperative neighborhood community. Since individual gardens vary in soil, size, sunlight/shade, etc., one garden might produce lots or corn but won’t be suitable for lettuce and greens. So if neighbors divide crops, everyone could have more of what they like.

Help older neighbors with gardening tasks. Like me. My spine has let me down and I can’t dig any more. To cope, I layer my garden beds instead of digging them. And more enjoyable, my wife and I organize garden parties several times a year. We invite neighbors and friends to a planting day, a harvest day, a pruning day and we make a feast for everyone. We cook; they plant. We all socialize. You don’t have to wait for an invitation. Look around. Make an offer to rake leaves, make a compost heap, prune, repair a fence. While working, ask questions about gardening. Older gardeners have lots of gardening experience, so they might be a wealth of gardening knowledge. I know an expert elder gardener in Redding whose hip is giving out so she needs help. She would welcome a trade: your digging for her knowledge.

Young children: One of the best life lessons you can teach kids is how to grow their own food. Create interest by helping them to choose a vegetable that they will plant this spring. Get a kids’ gardening book, show pictures from catalogues or magazines, find recipes, buy kid-sized tools, choose a garden spot, etc. We like Sunflower Houses: Garden Discoveries for Children of All Ages by Sharon Lovejoy. If you have a warm, south-facing window, help your child plant some radishes in a pot in early February and see the excitement when they pop up. Speaking of radishes: They are hardy, grow well in cooler weather with shorter days, and you can eat them in about 24 days. There are dozens of different kinds, like White Icicle, Purple Plum, Chinese Red Meat, and Long Black Spanish.

Give a gift certificate: The Community Teaching Garden is offering gift certificates for attending Garden Workshops. (www.shastacollege.edu/teachinggarden) Give one or more to your spouse, to an aspiring gardening friend, to a neighbor, to a gardener who has helped you. Many of the Community Teaching Garden Workshops are hands-on, actual garden works. You learn by doing, and if you ask lots of questions, so much the better.

Photos by Melita Bena

Shasta College Community Teaching Garden Upcoming Workshops:


Saturday, Jan. 29, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Room 812, Shasta College Main Campus

Presenter: Ron Epperson, Fee: $15

Fruit Tree Pruning

Saturday, Feb. 5, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Room 812, Shasta College Main Campus

Presenter: Rico Montenegro, Fee: $15

The Early Spring Garden: Gardening in the Mud

Sunday, Feb. 27, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Room 812, Shasta College Main Campus

Presenter: Wayne Kessler, Fee: $15

Getting Started in Your Organic Food Garden

Sunday, March 6, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Room 812, Shasta College Main Campus

Presenters: Jim Collins and Wayne Kessler, Fee: $15

Please register by going to www.shastacollege.edu/EWD and click on “Pathways.”

Dig This! is a regular biweekly column offering ecological wisdom and garden advice. If you have questions or would like Jim and Wayne to address a particular issue, you may contact them at the Teaching Garden by e-mail at teachinggarden@shastacollege.edu

648-wayne-rakeWayne Kessler is a local organic farmer, nurseryman and activist for local food security. He is the owner of Shambani Organics nursery in Manton with his wife Laurie. Wayne is a technical advisor to the Community Teaching Garden.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.

Wayne Kessler

Following his grandfather's advice, "Grow food. People always need food," has led Wayne to a lifetime of cultivating and processing food. He spends much of his time encouraging people to become more food independent by growing their own.