OK, its too cold and wet to be outdoors, but there are garden preparations you can make now that will facilitate chores after it warms up.
Get a small piece of pegboard, and use twigs or small dowels thrust through the holes every two inches, to a depth of one-quarter inch on one side, one-half inch on the other. When its time to seed the garden, press the side with shallow protuberances down and fill those depressions with carrot or lettuce seeds, pre-spaced, no thinning. You could use the half-inch deep holes for larger seeds such as radishes or onions, if you dont have onion seedlings ready to set out. Lightly brush soil into the depressions and firm them with another set of the pegboard.
This will help with bed-style planting, not row planting, but its value is most obvious in a raised bed. Ive been hesitant to abandon row planting, but last years bed planting of carrots convinced me water wicks sideways sufficiently to permit planting between the rows.
For row planting you can take two-ply toilet tissue, a toothpick and a paste made of flour and water. Dip the toothpick into a bit of the paste and use it to pick up a seed. Apply the seed to the top of the bottom layer of tissue, making your own seed tape. Putting the top layer of tissue in place would help firm the seed in that location so you can just plant the tissue at the appropriate time. The late Ross Hadfield, advanced master gardener of Meridian, recruited grandchildren to help make seed tapes this way.
Save plastic milk jugs and two-liter bottles sufficiently transparent to admit sunlight. Many seeds such as those for trees, shrubs and some ornamentals, call for stratification and light for germination. Stratification means periods of cold treatment.
Poke drainage holes in the bottom of your plastic vessel, then cut three-fourths of the way around the jug or bottle three or four inches up from the bottom.
Tip the top back on its intact hinge and fill the bottom with potting soil, moisten it, and plant seeds in that medium. Replace the top part and fasten with duct tape, leaving the cap off. Set the jug outside, where winter temperatures will stratify seeds for you.
Perennials that re-seed themselves often dont because seed falls on mulch and fails to make firm soil contact within range of sunlight, or moisture drips beyond seeds use, or if seed drops on soil, soil may cake over, barring moisture to the seed. Wildlife also consumes many dropped seeds.
Perennial plants identified as alpine, polar, Arctic or Siberian, for instance, may be good candidates for winter sowing. Read seed packets to see if they need stratification. Some folks use refrigerators for stratification, but winter outdoor temperatures work too.
We grow a number of ornamentals that are called weeds, such as Joe Pye weed, Butterfly weed, Jewel weed, or milkweed, all good candidates for winter sowing.
Advantages of using containers such as these for winter sowing are protection from bird and rodent consumption, labeling by writing contents on the container, and ultimately, ease in hardening off seedlings. Some folks make slits in the plastic to admit breezes, acclimatizing seedlings to winds and direct sun before transplanting. Youre also repurposing the free container.
Dogs might not be a garden problem afterall
Some folks go to great lengths to bar their pet dogs from gardens. Ive never done that, and have found dogs do very little damage if theyre never barred. Cairn terrier started to dig in a bed, I said no, and hes never tried again. In other parts of the yard hes dug huge holes, I think (and hope) clearing out vole nests, but hes never damaged or killed a living plant. My dogs excrete in paths or on lawn, never in my beds.
You do have to allow them space for a running path inside a fence though.
I suspect fencing them out of an area leads them to think theres something very desirable inside, so they wreak havoc trying to get at it.
Send garden questions to email@example.com or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.