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COLUMN: Gear yourselves and your plants up for spring

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By Cheryl Steenerson

We’re done. Bring on the warmth. The Vernal Equinox is only 32 days away and I know I’m not alone when I say, “Come on spring.”
The Old Farmer’s Almanac says we’ll get a couple of dustings in March, but by then it will be warm enough not to bother us. Time marches on.
The hours in the day seem to whiz by even faster as the sun rises in the sky. Have you ever thought of what it would be like if we didn’t have hours in the day? There was a time when folks counted only days, not hours and minutes.
Time was measured using the sun, moon, planets and stars. Ancient civilizations used them to count off seasons, months and years. It was only after the creation of the sundial that we became reliant upon hours.
As spring nears, I focus on basically one time element, how many hours of daylight do I have today. Outside, it helps me determine if I have enough time to finish or start a project before it gets too dark to see. Inside, it helps me determine how many hours I need to set the timer for the grow lights on my seeds and plants.
I don’t wear a watch, but I’m surrounded by plenty of clocks, and they don’t all use electricity. I use the sun and my hand. You can, too. Put your hand up, like you wanted to stop someone. Now, turn the fingers sideways, palm in, fingers out and thumb up to the sky.
Hold the hand between the earth’s horizon and the sun. As the sun goes down, measure the space between the sun and the horizon with your fingers. Each finger is about 15 minutes of light. If you can fit two hands, one on top of the other, you’ve got about two hours of light. If you have only have a finger or two you better head for the barn.
Since the temperatures are starting to climb, it’s a good time to start working outside, even if it’s just to get in shape. Soon, we’ll be doing some serious physical labor in our gardens and we all know just how “pleasant” sore muscles can be. I like to do a slow roll into it. A little lifting here, a little shoveling there and pretty soon my muscles get use to doing more.
Our plants are the same way. Like us, they don’t do much in the winter, except survive. As the temperatures climb, so do they. This time of year they stretch to reach the sun. Our indoor seed trays start to get skinny little sprouts and they stretch to reach the light.
Bring the light closer to them and then raise it as they grow. Three inches between the top of the plant and the light is good.
Next, bring in the wind. A small fan helps to make the stems sturdy and strong. I also take a piece of paper or cardboard and lightly brush them in a wave a couple of times a day.
If you haven’t yet started your seeds, don’t worry. You have plenty of time. The first week of March is generally a good rule of thumb to use for most summer vegetables. If you have some old seed and you’re not sure if they’re still good, try to sprout them.
Get a paper towel and lightly dampen the middle. Lay a row of 5 seeds, then roll the paper towel, so it looks like a fat straw, and place a twisty tie on one end to keep it rolled. Place your “straw” in a clear plastic cup with about a fourth of a cup of water. Place the cup in a sunny window.
The towel will wick the water up to the seeds, keeping them moist. In about 7 days, unroll the towel and see what sprouted. That will tell you how viable the seeds are and if you should buy new ones.
Now, go enjoy some well-deserved sunshine. We won’t have it every day, but we can well appreciate it when we do, after the winter we’ve been through.
You know what the monkey said when he got his tail caught in the door? “Won’t be long now.” Happy growing.

Cheryl Steenerson is a gardening columnist for The Anderson News.