So before you read this, keep in mind that I began writing it in Mid-January, and at the time February was indeed the only dependably cold month in New Orleans. In the weeks that have since come, my thesis has been harshly disproven by an unrepentant sun that has left us in short sleeves all month long.
Every year in January small talk of the weather hovers all around the crazy warm weather we seem to be having, but in my limited experience, having first experience a New Orleans winter in 2007, there have always been weeks of t-shirt weather interspersed with a few random days of freezing or near freezing weather. This may not have been normal 20 years ago, but we hadn’t fucked the planet up beyond the point of repair yet 20 years ago. January’s are warm, but for now at least, February’s still tend to be dependably cold here. As such it is one of only two months that I think planting gardens is not a fantastic idea, August being the other.
Seeds and young seedlings are delicate creatures that need to be nurtured at the right times, at the right temperatures. February offers neither of these things to most plants. It is instead a time to barricade your garden against the onslaught of weed and pest terror that will inevitably come in March, and plan for a cohesive future in which only those things you wish to grow do so under your careful and caring watch. Many of us will be doing just this in our broader lives over the coming month, given the new political climate ahead. Let your approach to your life reflect your approach to your garden, and vice versa. Use February to curl up and evade the gloom, to plan for the future, and to take preemptive measures to protect yourself and your garden to the best of your ability.
Don’t force yourself to tend to the garden on the nastier days. It is best to glean optimism from whatever corner of your life you can right now, and a garden on a rainy day when nothing is growing can darken your mood and turn what should be a shining beacon in your life into more drudgery and emptiness. Things are going to grow slowly this month, and that’s ok. Save the sunny days to act on your garden. I preach often the importance of succeeding with your food early on so you don’t get turned off to the idea of growing for yourself in the long run. Shivering in the rain to weed a bed full of stunted herbs is not going to make you feel better. Unless it does. If it does, by all means, go for it.
Now is the time to buy seeds and get them started at home if that is a thing you do. Your anti-consumerist values hold no sway over the penultimate pleasure derived from flipping through a seed catalog and fantasizing about the myriad wonders that will soon be flourishing in your Spring and Summer garden. Johnny’s Selected Seed, Baker Creek Heirloom Seed. And Territorial Seed produce my favorite catalogs. They are all free and full of beautiful pictures, very handy information, and tons of seeds for sale. There are other great sources for seed buying, but these three have far and away the strongest print catalog game.
Diagram stuff. Plan out your space. Things are going to change, recognize as you make your plans that you probably will not accomplish everything that you hope to with your space, and that probably nothing will work out quite as you had expected or hoped. Still, it’s important to draw up an idea of what you’ll be doing with your garden. Where you’re beds will be, what you’ll grow in them, all of that. It will give you an energy as we creep into Spring, a catalyst and a reason to move forward. Again, recognize that nature has its own agenda and your dreams will inevitably have to meld into that reality, but without dreams your garden will not be your own at all.
The weeds will come in full force with the sun and heat, loving it every bit as much as your plants do. So too will the aphids, caterpillars, beetles and more. February grants a bit of respite from all of that, and as such is the best time to fortify your growing space against the resource devouring waves that will come.
Also since you won’t be growing as much, this is a good time to refresh your beds with fresh compost and soil if you don’t have anything in them. Don’t preemptively pull anything out to this end though. Greens, lettuces, and everything else we grow in the Fall and Winter here will thrive through April in most cases. If your beds are empty, definitely get that fresh dirt in now, but if they’re full, it’s probably best to wait a couple more seasons to do so.
We are now in a post cold-season New Orleans, so all of these cozy aforementioned notions have kind of been thrown out the window, but I thought it was important to share some perspective and insight into what used to be the norm in our fair city.
Ian writes these. Fearlessly.