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Urban Farmer: Whether it’s a groundhog, a restaurant or plant food, names can make all the difference

By Ginger Dawson
NKyTribune’s Intrepid Urban Farmer

Well, Mother Nature certainly has been puckish this year. At the beginning of the season, Winter was mild, getting around was easy and utility bills were down. Then, that damn groundhog had to show up with his oracle act. He saw his shadow (that miscreant!) and then polar blast 2015 began.

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Now, as you know, there is more than just one groundhog that everyone looks to for this highly scientific proclamation. Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil is not the only groundhog on the municipal lectern. NO! There are several.

We have New York’s Malverne Mel, Ohio’s Buckeye Chuck, and Georgia’s General Beauregard Lee, among many others. The most striking and, in my opinion, accurate prediction was delivered by Wisconsin Jimmy. He saw his shadow and was so agitated by this revelation that he BIT the mayor who was holding him. If this is not a marriage of action and outcome I don’t know what is.

Winter came back and bit us all.

Now, I don’t really care about extreme winters. I actually kind of like them. As long as the Jeep starts and the furnace stays on, I am up for the challenge.

It is this spirit of meeting challenges that has helped me to become a decent gardener. Lord knows I have had plenty and, in some cases, have created challenges that didn’t even need to be there. I recall a really poor choice of pole bean supports that occurred just last year. If I had any sense, I would keep these matters to myself, but I offer them up as an example so that others may benefit from my poor judgment.

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Now that winter does seem to be behind us, it is time to look forward to the new gardening season.

Back in late December and early January, I decided what I was going to plant. I had received my enormous assortment of catalogs and gleaned through them. The orders were placed and filled.

I currently have thirty packets of seed to deal with. I just counted them and didn’t realize the number was that big. Twenty of the varieties will need to be started inside. In another week, I had better get on it. Mother’s Day, our traditional last-frost date here in zone six waits for no man… or mother. Don’t forget to call your mother.

You will never forget the last frost date in zone six again.

Now, I know that other gardeners are well on their way with seed starting. This is perfectly fine. Some are market gardeners and have the wonderful convenience of a greenhouse. Some just like to get a head start and have the room to keep larger plants inside before they relocate to the garden. And some are making their first mistakes at seed planting. This I know about personally.

I have made plenty of mistakes starting seeds.

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I’ve tried the “grow-lights-in-the-basement” route. I had a two-light fluorescent fixture on a bracket that could be raised according to the height of the plants. In theory, this was supposed to work. I thought I had done my research, but it wasn’t very successful. There really wasn’t enough light with these fluorescents. It was also a little too cold. I don’t think I had discovered heat mats yet. I also wasn’t terrifically diligent about monitoring the progress. You can do all the research you like, but if the pupil is too feckless to follow through… well, disappointing show of effort there, in any case.

I got discouraged for a couple of years after that. But, I wasn’t ready to give up so easily. I figured out a few additional kinks and tried again.

I moved the whole affair upstairs to my office. I have an enamel-topped table that I put two heat mats on. Three seedling trays fit on this. My grow lights are now four-light fluorescents. I have only one window in this room that faces West, so the light upgrade has helped. I germinate the seeds on the heat mat table and then move them to the lights. I thought I had an ideal set-up.

I got everything all lined up, got my pots and seed together and then — the fatal mistake. I chose this stuff called Posy Power as my starting medium.

I should have know by the name that something was off. I have always been sensitive to the names of things. Naming something, whether it be a restaurant, retail store or product is a task that should be performed carefully. Names are markers. The name of a place can ruin its perception in the public eye. Issues of quality, style and desirability can be dashed with a poorly thought out moniker. World of Dinettes, Sofa Universe, Dress Barn and Knuknfutz (a restaurant!) are names that give me moment to pause.

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Why on earth I would select something called Posy Power is insensible. Posy Power is a soil amendment, rich with nutrients and manure. Of course it burnt every little plant up even if it got a chance to germinate.

That, fortunately was my final bad mistake. Since then I use a decent potting soil geared for seed starting. There are many different mediums that are equally good. This is just my choice.

After germination and relocating the seedlings to the grow lights, I fertilize them once a week with a dilute mix of plant food. I like to use Monty’s Liquid Plant Food manufactured in Louisville. Monty’s used to be called Monty’s Joy Juice, but apparently they got into trouble with the Little Abner people. Some of you no doubt remember Kickapoo Joy Juice. See, names ARE important. I liked Monty’s Joy Juice better. If it had not been called Joy Juice, I may not have been attracted to it. But I like the effect it has on my plants so it is still Joy Juice to me.

We have survived the wrath of Punxsutawney Phil and Wisconsin Jimmy. The snow is melting, the season approaches and anticipation is keen. Let it be known that the Insipid City Gardener remains Knuknfutz over her Garden Universe.


Ginger Dawson has resided in Covington, Kentucky since 1988. Raised on a farm in South Central Ohio, she has enjoyed a very eclectic and enriching life. She loves her Italianate Victorian Townhouse and particularly the garden behind it.

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