Friday, February 20, 2015

Two Great Winter Activities When You Can't Garden

This frigid February is breaking all records for low temperatures! What is a gardener to do? As I write this, the thermometer on the back porch reads -6 degrees Fahrenheit (that is -21 degrees Centigrade for my friends in England -- yes, there is a 'minus' in front of the number.)  Baby, it's cold outside, and I'm not venturing through the door. Again, I ask, what can a frustrated gardener do? Two satisfying indoor activities come to mind: watching backyard birds, and seed starting; both guaranteed to lift the spirits without freezing the fingers.

From my favorite armchair in the garden room, I participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count last weekend. It is fun to go to the website and see the results of the count. Click here to view maps and results by county, state or country.  There were 17595171 total individual birds counted all around the world. In my backyard, the cardinals were the most prolific, with bluebirds close runners up.

3 male cardinals and 1 female (she is bottom left-ish.)
The bluebirds arrive early morning when the light isn't too good for photographs.
Nuthatch fluffed up against the cold.
One of a flock of robins that visited the pond.

I was happy to observe Spunky, the one-legged sparrow, out and about each day of the count.

Spunky, the one-legged sparrow, shelters under the rocking chair on the porch.

The bird count is over, but I am still enjoying the birds.

Now for a real 'gardening' activity: Let's start some seeds; a simple, but effective way to shake off the winter blues. This is a good time to start pansies, as they can be transplanted outside before the last frost date. I purchased heirloom seeds again this year from Annie's. Click here for my reasons. I love the idea that the pansies I chose date back to the 1800's.

Using peat pellets is my favorite way to start seeds. A good reason: I can place the new plant directly into the garden without removing it from the peat medium, meaning less transplant shock, and no damage to delicate roots. Several years ago, I purchased mini 'greenhouses' with trays, covers, and heat pads that I use every planting season. I just have to buy pellet refills each year.

Each tray holds 75 peat pellets

The pellets are thin, flat discs. Gradually add water to cause them to expand. I add approximately 2 1/2 liters of warm water for the entire tray.

Add water to expand the pellets.

Add more water as needed. The pellets are fully expanded when they are about 1 -11/2 inches tall and turn dark brown.

Expanded pellets.

The next step is to gently pull back the netting on top of the pellets and fluff and level the surface peat. I use a small fork.

A fork works well for this stage.

The pellets are now ready for the seeds. Sow 2 - 3 seeds in each, and cover them lightly with the peat.

Cover the tray with the plastic dome and place in a warm location away from direct sunlight.

I set up a seed-starting table in the children's room (my grandchildren don't usually stay here at this time of the school year. When they do come, they are accustomed to finding plants and seeds in odd places in this house.) The room is cold at night, so I place a heating pad under the tray.

When the pellets turn light brown I know it is time to add water, being careful not to over water.

My 'children' are ready to grow in the grandchildren's bedroom.

When the first seeds sprout, I prop open the dome. When all the seeds have sprouted, I remove the dome and place the tray under a grow light. The grow light is on the table ready to go. I'll post an update when the first true leaves appear.

The weatherman forecasts another snow storm coming tomorrow and frigid temperatures to continue next week! I'm so glad the birds still visit despite the weather.

The oh-so-photogenic titmouse.

What are your indoor, winter gardening activities, my friends?

Stay warm and healthy!
Pamela x

Seed-starting Kit

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  1. I always look forward to the GBBC as one of my favorite citizen science projects. Things were pretty slow in my backyard for this year's count but it is always a pleasure to be out watching the birds.

  2. I like watching my birds at the feeders too, but did not participate in the GBBC this year because they have my location wrong. I am listed in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Sure that is only across the bridge from me and I can walk to there, but my gosh, they won't change it for me and I have tried numerous times. As an eBird member, they made this mistake not me. So rather than count for the wrong country, I just don't do it anymore. I also don't start seed indoors anymore either. The little guys get beat down in our spring weather, so I now just throw out the seed for survival of the fittest.

    1. How annoying about the address mix up! I plan on putting the pansies in a cold frame until they can survive without. Hope that works.

  3. The cardinals look quite happy out in the cold with their lunch buffet set up!
    You have me excited for seeds. I think I'm going to start a few tomorrow and pot up a some cuttings. Maybe that will drive away some of the cold :)
    Kelloggs Breakfast is my favorite tomato btw, I grow it every year and always look forward to the first ripe fruit!

  4. It's sounds cold over there, it's not too bad here at the moment. I love seeing photos of your garden birds, so different from the ones we get here. I love watching birds at the feeders and reading books about gardening is a good substitute when you can't get out there and do the real thing.

    1. I agree, Jo, that reading is another great activity when you can't garden. I'll be reviewing some new gardening books in an upcoming post.

  5. your birds must be so grateful for a heated water dish!
    We have fresh weather, instead of shorts and a T shirt, I'm in jeans and a hoodie ;~)

  6. You have such a nice variety of bird visitors and they seem to really be enjoying their buffet! The cold is frustrating so I have been watching the cardinals, blue jays and juncos at the feeder in the back of my yard and doing a lot of writing...actually working on a book. I hope the grass will be visible once again sometime soon! Keep warm.

  7. Pam those are my 2 big activities. So far I have started violas, pansies and snapdragons. The GBBC was not very successful here as the temps were at -30 for 2 days and the birds were absent except for a few hardy woodpeckers and juncos.

    I am also working on cleaning and clearing the house and a few online courses. And I am now keeping track of what is getting buried as the snow keeps piling up....another big storm today which has brought 6 inches and probably another 6 overnight....looks like we will get our 110-120 inches here....

  8. I love all those bright coloured birds against the white snow. What a treat to see so many. I just started onion seeds this week and that's all for now. We've got frigid temperatures too and spring is still a long way off for us. Most of my seeds won't get started for another month yet.

  9. I am so envious of those of you who have the patience to photograph birds. I need subjects that remain still when I get close.

    We all have our methods of seed starting. What a thrill when the first little green appears.

  10. Oh believe me, I do know what that feels like, coming originally from Norway, -6 F is a pretty average February day where I used to live. And now that I have lived 15 years in London I feel it’s too cold as soon as we get down towards freezing :-)
    I have used those pellets before too, they are great, although a bit costly over here unless you buy a lot of them. It’s the big seed start for me next week end, after I have had my niece and two of her friends staying over in my guest room for 5 days. Then I can have the room to myself and spread all the little pots around. Hopefully the seedlings will all have got out in the garden by the time the next visitors turn up!
    Good luck with your seeds!

  11. Pam, I take my hat off to you - bird count and nice bird pictures, very well organized seeds... I am a very impatient person and can't do this!

  12. I used to have a bird feeder just outside my kitchen window, but we lost the tree where it hung in an ice storm last winter. How I miss watching the birds come and go!
    Just today I ordered my first seeds. I am looking forward to getting them started as soon as the weather warms just a bit.

  13. This is a wonderful article! I too plant seeds and feed birds in the winter. The photo of Spunky, the one-legged sparrow is very cool....what a great shot of a White-throated Sparrow!
    Here in California all winter long I feed seed to 6 species of sparrows, several species of doves and Towhee, Nutmeg Manikins, house finches, Oregon Juncos, and others, and suet to the flickers and woodpeckers, warblers, and the occasional Bewick's Wren. There's a Scrub Jay who follows me around in the garden, and I keep peanuts in the shell in my pocket for him (her?) and he/she will now take them right from my fingers. So much fun!
    Wild birds are a great addition to any garden.

  14. I've given up on starting seeds indoors. I can't figure out why I pay so little attention to any indoor growing things, but I wasted far too many seeds in the past. I only start seeds outdoors now. But good luck to you!