Cabin Fever Gardening: Seven Cures for a Gardener's Winter Blues


Cabin Fever Gardening
Seven sure-cures for the winter blues

By Marion Owen, Fearless Weeder for PlanTea, Inc. and
Co-author of Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul


Tom Hanks' "Power of Four" solution

More good stuff:

Marion's online catalog

Who is Marion Owen?

FAQs about PlanTea

Search Marion's articles, tips and recipes

Why grow organic?

News and press releases

Read love letters

How to link to this site

Need a speaker?

How to contact Marion

Visiting Alaska?
Come to Kodiak Island!

Go to home page

Gardening newsletter
Marion's UpBeet Gardener
has been
replaced by Marion's blog
which you can find at:


It's winter up North. The sun takes its sweet time getting up in the morning and goes to bed far too early at night. On one particularly gray, snowy afternoon a friend called from southern California.

"The lemons are so sweet right now," she taunted, "you can eat 'em like oranges!"

That was a low blow. People who move North from places like Florida or Mexico in search of clean air and wide open spaces don't understand Cabin Fever. Until winter rolls around. Then, all bets are off. It isn't the ice and snow, because their presence actually brightens things up, or the wind, or even that weird feeling when your nose hairs freeze.

No, it's the lack of light and green, growing things. The trees have been bare for weeks and the sun scrapes along at treetop level. You linger at magazine ads showing beaches lined with palm trees and you watch reruns of Flipper. It's the season when nothing grows but dust bunnies or whatever's inside that odd jar in the back of the fridge.

northern gardening

Folks that live above the 47th parallel understand these things. You've started ordering seeds, even though it's a little early to start them. You've trained binoculars toward the garden spots where you planted tulips last fall so you can catch that first, brave shoot. And you've taped clippings from seed catalogs on your bathroom mirror to help remind you that there's life beyond white snow and brown ground. Spring might be a short ways off, but mid-winter can a tough season to wait out.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to bide the time and get out of the Cabin Fever blues. The following garden-related activities have been selected because they require little preparation and accommodate attention spans as short as two minutes. There's something for everyone, regardless or age or thumb color.

Seven cures for a gardener's winter blues

1) Remember the alfalfa sprout craze of the 70's? Well, alfalfa sprouts are back, big time. Since sprouts have recently been heralded as the ultimate health food, theircircle of friends has expanded to include broccoli, bean, cabbage, mustard, onion, radish and wheat sprouts. Where to find such things? Go to your local health food store. They'll carry seeds for sprouting, and sprouting gadgets such as handy perforated lids that fit on canning jars. It couldn't be easier. Preparation time: 2 minutes. Edible results in 10 to 14 days.

PlanTea organic fertilizer2) If garage sales haven't yielded a collection of neat, antique bottles, line up a few empty soda or beer bottles. Fill each one with water and plug the opening with a large garlic clove. Within a couple days, roots will begin sprouting. They are more fun to watch than sleeping dogs. Keep the bottles topped off with water. When the green tips reach 4 to 6 inches, snip them off and add them to salads or soups. Preparation time: 1 minute. Waiting time: a few days.

3) Organize a seed swap with your other Cabin Fever friends to bring over last year's seeds. Swap away. Preparation time: It depends on how much house cleaning and baking you need to do before they come over.

4) Before inviting anyone over for a seed swap, test your old seeds. Dampen a square of paper towel, put 10 seeds from an old packet on one side and fold over the other side. Keep the towel damp for a several days (the seed packet will tell you average number of days to expect before germination). Check daily and re-moisten the towel as needed.

It's a good idea to check germination before buying any seeds. Of note, lettuce and onion seeds don't last long, so you should start fresh each season; broccoli and cabbage seeds are viable for several years. When you think that no more will sprout, count the ones that did and multiply by 10. This is the percentage of viable seed that you can expect. Label the packets so you don't forget the results.

winter blues

5) Forget proper timing and grow a real garden anyway. Fill a flat with potting soil and plant last year's seeds. Herbs, lettuce, broccoli, it doesn't matter. Sow them thickly. Grow a little forest. Make little row markers or a mini scarecrow. Make rain with a spray bottle. Add a full-spectrum "seasonal disorder" light. As the seedlings grow, create a neighborhood. Add houses and hotels from a Monopoly game, popsicle stick fences, aluminum foil streets. Don't do this activity when other adults are present.

6) Grow some herbs indoors, or if you know someone who's already growing herbs in their house, call them up and ask permission to sit by them for while. Rub the leaves a little and inhale deeply to get their essence. Leave a tip at the door when you leave, or bring cookies next time.

Dress the part

7) Pull on some old gardening clothes (preferably with some of last season's dirt still rubbed into the fabric) and go about your errands. If you're daring, show up at work in costume. If a handkerchief or trowel handle is sticking out of a pocket, even better. Pay attention to the reactions you get.

Here's a true story: A gardener in Denver, Colorado learned his lesson about garden attire while running some errands after a long stint working the the garden. He stopped for lunch at a fast-food restaurant in one of the seedier parts of the city. When he got to counter and checked his wallet, he found only 2 dollar bills. So he ordered a small burger and a glass of water.

The young lady probably saw that his wallet wasn't exactly bulging, and given his grubby clothes and several days' worth of five o'clock shadow, concluded that he was down on my luck. When she brought his order, he figured she'd made a mistake: the hamburger was a double, the drink was a large cola, and there was an enormous order of fries. He started to say something, but she pushed the tray towards him, saying, "That was a single and a glass of water, right?" with a smile. Feeling guilty and grateful at the same time, he managed an embarrassed "Thank you."

I haven't had it with winter yet. If I'm really desperate I'll go for a walk in the woods, sit down at the base of a tree and stare, with sincere appreciation at the very green moss. I'm just looking forward to making it through March. By then my seed orders will have arrived and I can set up my lights and soil-filled trays for starting a real garden of pansies, lettuce, lobelia and poppies. Preparation time:1 hour. Satisfaction time: endless.

Thanks for visiting and please stop by again. I'll put the coffee on!

Meet Marion Owen /// Learn about PlanTea /// Online Catalog /// Articles, Tips, Recipes /// Get free UpBeet Gardener newsletter /// Read current issue /// Listen to radio show /// Read news and press releases /// More resources and links /// Learn why 'grow organic?' /// View guidelines for retailers /// Read love letters /// Book Marion as a speaker /// Site map /// How to link to us /// Contact us
/// Go to home page

PlanTea: The organic plant food in tea bags.
Copyright 1996 to present: PlanTea, Inc. All Rights Reserved. PO Box 1980, Kodiak, AK 99615-1980 USA
Questions or comments? Phone: Toll Free: 1-800-253-6331 (US and Canada); 907-486-2500