Making January Productive for the Edible Gardener

Making January Productive for the Edible Gardener

  • By Ralph Morini
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  • January 2021-Vol7 No.1
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For edible gardeners, November and December represent a gradual transition from the current year to the next one. Now, in January we are focused on the coming spring growing season, getting plans, supplies, and tools in order as spring approaches.


  • Many of us neglect maintaining a garden journal, but it is really a good idea to start one and keep it up. Things worth planning and recording include:
    • A garden sketch, reproducible if possible, where you can lay out where to plant each crop you want to grow. Also, develop a plan to rotate crops through different areas to add diversity to soil demands and reduce disease outbreaks.
    • Putting together a timetable beginning with indoor seed starting and developing a planting plan that runs through spring, summer, fall and winter cover cropping. Base it on “time to harvest” data from seed packs, catalogs or websites. Even if you deviate from it for weather related or other reasons, it provides a great guide to garden activity through the year. The VA Cooperative Extension’s Home Garden Vegetable Planting Guide provides helpful data on planting dates and amounts to plant for a range of vegetables.
    • Analyzing and recording pest and disease problems and attack dates. Paying regular attention to problems helps head them off early and the data is useful in avoiding issues the following year. This can mean purchasing seeds or transplants that are resistant, adding row covers to keep cabbage worms off the brassicas or simply being vigilant for arrival of the first squash bugs. Sometimes defeating a persistent pest is almost as satisfying as harvesting the vegetable that was attacked.
    • If you are thinking of adding small fruits to the garden, review the VA Cooperative Extension publication Small Fruit in the Home Garden for helpful advice.
  • Winter is also a good learning time. Studying best growing practices, and generally making gardening a learning process, adds to both skills and satisfaction. There is a wealth of information on the VA Cooperative Extension website via its search box or check the article Books Every Gardener Should Have in the December 2020 issue of The Garden Shed. In fact, the search function located on the main page of The Garden Shed gives you access to 5 years of research-based articles on many edible and ornamental plants, gardening science, and best practices.

Parasitic braconid wasp eggs on tomato horn worm. Photo: Ralph Morini

  • Increasing pollinator-friendly plantings helps to assure that pollinators and beneficial insects will be around when needed. Plan now to make your ecosystem more insect-friendly. The article Plant a Pollinator Paradise from the July 2020 Garden Shed offers a step by step process for supporting beneficial insects and pollinators in your home gardens.


  • Check seed catalogs and websites for information about hybrids as you choose your seeds. Finding the right blend of size, taste, and disease resistance can really affect the success and enjoyment of the harvest. Purchasing whatever is available at the local garden shop or home center puts you at the mercy of the selections made by their buyers, which may not match yours.
  • This year consider purchasing seeds early to avoid risk of availability issues. COVID restrictions have increased home gardening participation and seed supplies may be stressed this spring.
  • If you have older seeds that may have outlived their viability, it makes sense to test their germination rate. The Garden Shed article Good Seeds. Bad Seeds explains how to test your seeds prior to planting.
  • If you plan to do some container gardening, fresh potting mix is recommended. Old mix can be composted. Shop for good deals on new mix before the spring rush.

Compost batch in winter. Photo: Ralph Morini

  • Use the winter to assemble a compost batch that will start to decompose when warmer spring weather arrives. Collect fall leaves or tear up and add newspapers and paper boxes to start. Add kitchen fruit/vegetable waste and coffee grounds throughout the winter. When spring temperatures reach 60 degrees, mix the ingredients, moisten the materials and let nature do its work. You can have great compost in time for summer plantings in May/June if you keep it moist and aerated. Learn more about home composting here.


  • This is a good time to clean and maintain tools, pots, and planters. Both can be scrubbed and then soaked in a 90% water, 10% bleach solution. Store off the ground until they are put back into use. Clean, sharpen and oil cutting tools for ease of use and to avoid damaging plants during pruning work.
  • If you end up with a stack of plastic pots that you don’t need, recycle them. Some local nurseries will take them for their own or community reuse. Lowes has a chain-wide recycling program. Let’s keep plastic out of landfills!
  • While you are into maintenance, it is a good time to look over your garage or garden shed to identify ways to improve organization. Create an improved design or just straighten things up.

Other tasks:

Winter Feeder: Photo Ralph Morini

  • A key to minimum chemical gardening is to cultivate the most diverse eco-system you can in your yard and garden. Feeding the birds in winter is a good way to keep these helpful predators around for when they are needed. Get some tips on good bird feeder practice in the article Creating a Bird Friendly Garden from the February 2019 issue of The Garden Shed.
  • If you have a natural Christmas tree, please recycle it. The county has a recycling program for them. There are numerous drop off locations. Trees are ground into mulch which is given to residents free of charge at Darden Towe Park in the spring. Check out our latest Timely Topic on How to Recycle Your Holiday Tree
  • If you burn wood in your fireplace, remember that wood ash is alkaline. It can be mixed with compost or soil but will raise the pH if added in quantity. Not all plants can tolerate alkaline soils. Ornamentals including lilac, weigela, pinks and mock orange as well as vegetables including spinach, beets, corn and cabbage are exceptions. For more info, check the article Wood Ashes in the January 2017 issue of The Garden Shed.
  • If you feel like growing something edible, indoor herbs are a good idea. Use fresh potting mix. Moisten the mix well prior to filling a clean container, water after seeding and cover with plastic wrap or similar moisture preserving device until germination occurs. Then add liquid fertilizer as needed and provide regular care to enjoy fresh herbs before winter’s end. Find guidance in the article Be Inspired With Indoor Herb Gardening in last month’s Garden Shed.
  • Aphids, spider mites, whiteflies, and other pests are winter houseplant nemeses. To minimize pest damage, keep new plants separate from plants moved indoors, remove dead/damaged foliage and check plants regularly using a magnifier to watch for pests. Washing with soapy water and placing sticky-card fly traps around plants will help manage pests.


“Managing Insects on Indoor Plants,”

“Plants Grown in Containers: Indoor Containers – Houseplants,” N.C. State Ext.

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