WIT & WISDOM: from The Old Farmers Almanac, always 'useful, with a pleasant degree of humor'.
Grab your seed catalogs, a pencil, and a pad of paper, because it's time to plan the garden and buy seeds for this year's harvest. Perusing seed catalogs and selecting the seeds you want to grow is almost as much fun as harvesting produce. To ensure the best results, keep this advice in mind:
* Plan to rotate your crops. Plot your garden and make a diagram drawn to scale before ordering. Use last year's plot plan as a guide to what you grew, where you grew it, how much space you have, and the plant families.
* Make a list of what you'd like to grow, and check it twice before you order. A pause or two will give you a chance to change your mind, and to realize you probably don't have as much room as you think.
* Pay careful attention to the number of days to maturity included in every plant description. If your growing season has 85 predictable frost-free days, chances are you won't harvest a watermelon that needs 120 days to ripen.
* Before you order, contact your local county extension office and ask what cultivars grow well in your area. Discuss specific problems you've had with pests or diseases.
* Plan to buy enough seeds to sow them thickly. Inevitably, you'll suffer some losses (bugs, birds, weather). You can thin (and possibly transplant) later if you end up with an excess.
* Experiment! Try a couple of new cultivars or plants you can't buy locally.
Baked Beef & Barley Soup Yields 4 servings. 3 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil 1 onion, chopped 1 1/2 pounds stew beef 5 cups beef stock 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary 1 cup pearl barley Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley, optional 1. Preheat oven to 350 F. 2. Warm oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add and cook onion. Add stew beef, and brown on all sides. Transfer mixture to an ungreased 3-quart casserole dish, and set aside. 3. Add stock, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, barley, salt, and pepper to skillet, and bring to a boil. Pour stock over beef mixture. 4. Cover casserole dish with foil, and bake for 1 hour. 5. Garnish individual portions with parsley. Serve with fresh bread.
NOTE: For variety, add carrots, celery, peas, and/or potatoes.
* Set posts or pour concrete: January 22, 23; February 18-20
* Cut hair to encourage growth: January 27, 28; February 23-25
* Set eggs: January 6, 7, 16, 17; February 2-4, 12, 13
* Go fishing: January 1-10, 24-31; February 1-9, 23-29
January 6: Epiphany
10: Full Wolf Moon
13: Plough Monday (Traditionally, men returned to their work and solicited money for a "plough light" for the church.)
25: Chinese New Year (the Year of the Rat)
February 2: Groundhog Day
9: Full Snow Moon
17: Presidents Day
29: Leap Day
January: Venus dominates this month, and for 5 months this brilliant evening star will be a beacon in the west. Earth is closest to the sun on the 5th. Mars moves into Scorpius, passing above the star Antares. They form a triangle with the crescent moon on the 20th. In evening twilight, the crescent moon dangles below Venus on the 27th and sits to its left on the 28th.
February: Early this month, Saturn materializes as a low morning star before dawn. The waning crescent moon offers a close conjunction with Mars before dawn on the 18th. In the western evening sky, during February's first 12 days, Mercury is at a very bright magnitude 0.