“Attic Salt” column for Jan. 6, 2013

By ED CULLEN

Advocate staff writer

This morning, it was almost as cold in my garden as one of those snowy scenes you see in calendars printed in Wisconsin.

Unlike northern gardens buried in snow and asleep for the winter, my garden has four kinds of lettuce, a thick bed of multiplying onions that provide green tops for salads, cilantro, parsley, dill, Swiss chard, snow peas, thyme, rosemary, pineapple sage, oregano and marjoram, banana bushes, satsuma and Meyer lemon trees.

Four bushes have produced about 100 bell peppers this summer, fall and winter. The bushes have so far made it through this winter’s nights, including a few that got close to freezing in my front-yard garden.

One winter, a bell pepper plant — too scraggly to be called a bush — made it until spring though it never again produced very large peppers. I think that pepper was pooped.

One recent morning, following a night of heavy rain, I went out to check on a lettuce bed I’d put in the day before.

The first lettuce bed went in at mid-September — black-seeded Simpson, arugula, romaine and red sails. It’s the arugula we use most, but I like the textures of the different lettuces snugged up to each other in the garden.

My garden is too small for rows. I plant on flat, well-worked soil, broadcasting the seed of different lettuces. I overseed, then thin as the lettuces mature. Once the different lettuces are no longer competing for space, I harvest only leaves from different plants.

Once the first bed is producing, I start a second bed that will start to mature in late January. That second bed, and sometimes the first will produce until the lettuce bolts (goes to seed) in late spring.

Planting heat-sensitive plants to receive morning light only may delay bolting.

I planted the winter garden in a cloud of mosquitoes, sweat rolling into my eyes. The trick is to plant lettuce while it’s still warm enough to pop the seed but not so warm that the seedlings succumb to the heat.

These early January days, I garden to the sound of glass bottles clanking against pieces of metal hanging by fishing line from the limbs of a satsuma tree.

The wind chimes are visited by neighborhood children who look wistfully at unpicked satsumas too high for them or me to reach unless I get out the stepladder.

There was a little dirt left to plant in my front-yard garden where the amount of daylight is marginal. I planted English daisy seed so I could discover the colorful, empty seed packet on a stick on gray winter mornings.

It used to upset me when after carefully preparing a lettuce bed, broadcasting the tiny seed and watering it in critters dug in the loose earth.

Squirrels first bury nuts in my garden and pots and, then, dig them up. Armadillos are after white grubs.

The cats enthusiastically cultivated the dirt after I fertilized with fish emulsion. They were disappointed to find nuts and grubs but not halibut.