Singing Gardener: 2016 is leap year!

Plus, info on the moon, a new annual dianthus and healing power of onions

It’s leap year and that means February 2016 has 29 days. If you’re amongst those who celebrate a birthday once every four years according to the calendar, let’s hear from you what it’s like the other three years.

We Canadians love to talk about the weather, so I’m asking Grainews readers to look skyward on February 8 when the new moon begins. I’ve got a question! Can you tell whether its horns are pointing upward or downward? I’ll fill in the blanks shortly as to why I’m asking.

There’s a new 2015 All America Carnation Pinks being introduced this year that was test grown throughout N. America (Canada, U.S. and Mexico).

I’ve been drinking my onion tea and have lots to tell about this ancient health-promoting bulb.

Long ago I took a fancy to wearing different kinds of headgear including my own original-designed Singing Gardener cap. Now it’s time to tip my icon hat as a hearty gesture of thanks to Grainews readers for stopping by. You’re all as welcome as the new moon in February, first day of spring in March, Earth Day in April and Mother’s Day in May.

By the way, this is no myth. A Tilley hat is said to have passed through the entire digestive tract of a trained elephant not once but thrice. The hat came out the other end in due course and each time was retrieved and laundered to be worn again by its animal trainer owner. No wonder the hats are known as endurables.

Will 2016 be wet or dry?

I am not a weather prophet but as a gardener do appreciate and respect past legends and folklore practices. Previous generations of indigenous peoples were very close to nature and maintained a strong adherence to the natural cycles of planting and food harvesting. They looked to February as the beginning month and gave it such expressive names as ‘First Things Are Born,’ — and — ‘Seeds Swell.’

Farmers and gardeners are also very close to the land, many of whom I would think also look to the moon and watch for signs and symbols. Here’s an example. One widely held practice has to do with the new moon’s position during the first two weeks of February. By the way, the new moon arrives during the morning of Monday, February 8 and enters a most fruitful, emotional and intuitive sign the next morning. Continue to take a look while moonlight is increasing.

A folklore legend says if the horns point downward the moon is emptying its water and the spring and summer to follow will be wet. By contrast, a dry season is said to follow if the horns point upward, suggesting February’s new moon is retaining its water. Check the new moon more than once each evening and over several days then draw your own conclusion. A good pair of field glasses or binoculars will be of benefit. Your decision may help with deciding what crops to grow this season in your area.

Of course, scoffers will disregard and ignore the whole idea that February moon’s appearance has any impact on the planting season. As with anything, there is one important rule. When it comes to gardening and farming by the moon, we must always apply common sense. When not possible to use the best days for planting and harvesting, then select the next best and work with what we get.

Let’s qualify the aforesaid and keep the following in mind. We all know weather patterns are changing. Seems Mother Nature can be really angry in some places, yet kind and gentle elsewhere. Where we fit into the scheme of things this season remains to be revealed. There are almost as many moon-minded ideas about weather and seeding, weeding, feeding and harvesting as there are seeds. If you have something to share with Grainews readers from a personal experience with moon sign gardening and farming, let’s hear about it.

Dianthus Jolt Pink, a new interspecific for 2016

Floral fanciers sit up and take notice. Here’s news about a new annual for the forthcoming flower-growing season. It’s a good one if you crave something really different with outstanding features and delightful attributes. Carnation Pinks hybrid Jolt Pink is heads-up indeed. This dianthus displays a blaze of showy, bright-pink fringy blooms non-stop, all summer long right through until fall for about 14 weeks and get this: without setting any seeds. (See photo of potted Jolt Pink on this page.)

It’s classed as the most heat-tolerant dianthus to ever be available. The plants are described as vigorous, well branched, excellent for cutting and don’t require any pinching. (Ouch! That would hurt anyway.) The flowers are slightly scented, are edible and will attract streams of hummingbirds, bees and butterflies to your floral garden. Individual plants top out at a nice height too, just 25 to 40 cm (10 to 16 inches) tall with a spread of 30 cm (one foot).

Flowers are supported on strong stems that bear easy-going, easy-growing dark-green foliage. Besides renowned heat tolerance both in full sun or partial shade, this dianthus is low on upkeep and high in disease resistance whether as a single potted specimen or in a basket placed on the patio, or mass grown in the landscape as neat mounds. Watch for it during the forthcoming bedding plant season at garden centres and nurseries. You can also start your own from seeds. Check seed racks at local garden centres or order a packet of Jolt Pink dianthus seeds from W.H. Perron, Laval, Que. by phoning 1-800-723-9071.

There’s healing power in onions

From the outermost skins to the innermost cores there’s something good to be said about onions. If you’ve never done it before, now’s the time to start saving onion skins from the most common brown-skin varieties to red and white onions. I have hundreds of handy tips in my arsenal and here’s one of the best reasons for saving onion skins. Just pop ’em into a large brown paper bag (not plastic) or brown cardboard box and keep dry. When it’s time to plant your seed potatoes place a few onion skins under each potato. You may never have potato bugs attacking your spud plants again. If you decide to try this approach, compare it with some potatoes planted elsewhere in your garden without using onion skins. Let me know your results, including seed potato variety grown, terrain, type of soil and region of the nation.

Price-wise yellow-skinned onions are the top choice as an all-purpose onion among millions of Canadians whether homegrown or purchased. Personally, I’ve also made and consumed my own homemade onion tea and onion cough syrup this winter using yellow-skinned ones. Onions are among the healthiest and most versatile of veggies we can eat. They possess vitamin C, sulphur compounds, flavonoids and disease-fighting quercetin, a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. Other phytochemicals are known to contribute toward heart health and reduce high blood pressure. The inhibitory effects of onions on carcinoma have been widely researched.

Onions are said to benefit those with neuro-degenerative health issues and can help increase the ratio of beneficial bacteria in the gut, may assist prevention of ulcers and aid weight management. We’re not tossing aside other veggies and fruit. It’s OK to say: Besides an apple a day keeping the doctor away — an onion a day also helps do the same thing.

Handling onions

Be careful not to peel onions too much. When removing the outer skin of an onion, take care to remove as little as possible. (Remember to save those outer skins/peels for potato-planting season.) The immediate layers of onion flesh just below the skins are thought to be the most nutritious part, possessing the highest concentration of flavonoids. To maximize health benefits remember the following: remove as little of the edible fleshy portion immediately below the outermost paper skin layer; overpeeling an onion can result in unwanted loss of important nutrients. Here’s a tip to avoid burning tears. Onions release a gas called the lachrymatory factor causing burning tears. To slow down the rate of release, chill onions for an hour in the deep freeze or fridge before cutting.

Seeding tomatoes – best dates

Can I squeeze this in? For millions of Canadian gardeners who start their tomato seedlings indoors, under lights or the greenhouse, here’s advance notice of preferred germination dates for 2016. They are: February (best) 17, 18, 19. (Next best) February 20, 21. March (best) 15, 16, and 17. (Next best) March 18, 19, 20. April (best) 12, 13. (Next best) April 14, 15, 16. These dates also apply to starting annual flowers and other veggies.

Resolve to be a gardener

Does life ever seem too 
much for you?
In 2016 plant a garden.
If things appear bleak with 
an outlook blue,
In 2016 plant a garden.
When bills seem high 
and income low,
In 2016 plant a garden.
Worries will fade like 
melting snow,
In 2016 plant a garden.
A gardener has no time 
to sit and brood,
Make a tantrum or show 
a bad mood,
Gardeners don’t sulk,
act out nor are rude,
In 2016 plant a garden.

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