It's that time again. Time to pull the yellowed paper from my desk, unfold it - careful not to crack the brittle creases - read the list put together years ago, and resolve once again to do them. Really try this time. Honest.Some people make new resolutions each year, but I don't need to. I have plenty left over. Don't tell me you've never recycled a New Year's resolution.
One I have actually done, but I need to remind myself every January. Get seed starting mix.
Seed starting mix is a sterile soil mix that is more finely sifted than normal potting soil. In recent years it has sold out early, gone before I actually need it. So as soon as it appears on store shelves, right after the last plastic Christmas tree goes at 90 percent off, I get my supply.
I resolve not to order more seeds than I can use. Yeah, well. Let's move on.
This year I will test suspect seeds at least a month before planting time. I keep seeds, sometimes for years, and their viability dwindles with age, sometimes down to nothing. It's a good idea to find out before time to start them for real. Too many years I have not had some treasured plant in my garden because old seed didn't germinate.
The process is simple. Count out 10 seeds, lay them along the edge of a paper towel, and roll it up tightly. Mark the name of the seed and the date on the towel, wet it well, drain, and put it in a ZipLoc bag in a warm spot.
In a couple of weeks, unwrap them and check for a radicle, the beginning of a root, emerging. If none has, but some seeds have swelled, put them back in the baggie for another week or two and check again. The number of seeds that have sprouted times 10 gives your germination percentage. If it is zero, there is still time to get new seeds.
This must be done well before you would normally start planting seeds, which brings me to my next resolution. Make a schedule. I used to do this routinely every spring, but I slacked off because I thought I knew what I was doing. I didn't.
Different seeds get planted at different times depending on how long they need to grow to transplant size and when they can go out in the garden. Melons, for instance, only need four weeks to transplant and go out the first week of June, after the ground is well warmed. Onions, on the other hand, need eight weeks and go out in April.
Using a free wall calendar from the bank or the insurance company, I prominently mark the average last frost date, early in the second week of May for me. That's a starting point.
Just about every garden magazine at the checkout this time of year has a chart telling you when transplants go out and how long they take.
Tomatoes, for example, need eight weeks and go out after the last frost. So take the last frost date, move your game piece ahead one week to be safe, count back eight weeks, and write t-o-m-a-t-o.
For the adventurous, count back another four weeks and write "tomato" again. This is the early, and risky, first planting. You can warm the soil with plastic mulch - black or, better still for warming, clear - and protect the plants with water towers or floating row cover. Or you can just put them out and hope the frost date is wrong this year.
Peppers take longer than tomatoes. Lettuce and Chinese cabbage and cole crops are ready in six weeks, but they go out much earlier in spring. It's all too much for my mind to keep straight, so I will write it all down on the calendar.
Next resolution: Remember to look at the calendar.
o Duane Campbell, a nationally known agricultural expert, can be reached at R6, Box 6092, Towanda, PA 18848 or by e-mail at email@example.com for questions or comments.