Vernal Equinox

by Vince Bushell

As I write this, there is still a thick cover of snow on the ground and it hasn’t been above freezing for a month. But my cats know something is changing, and after sleeping away the dark months, they are eager to go outside despite the cold, if only for a few minutes. The sun tells them spring is coming. Kellnersflowers.jpgAlthough March is not known as a warm month in Wisconsin, it is the month that marks the vernal equinox (March 20). The sun is directly over the equator and everyone in the world has 12 hours of light and 12 hours of night. In the northern hemisphere the days get longer from here until the solstice in June. Yes, believe it, spring is on the way. What to do while waiting for the earth to warm up? Here are a couple of options that don’t require an airline ticket. Visit the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, better known as the Domes at 524 S. Layton Boulevard. Flowers bloom year round and on a sunny day the tropical dome feels as warm as Florida. The temperate dome has toy trains rolling around the landscape. The desert dome cacti are getting ready to bloom. On April 3 springtime blooms will greet you for the official spring floral show. Admission is $4.50 for adults, $3.00 for kids under 17, kids under 5 free. And for free you can have a similar experience by visiting Kellner’s Greenhouse at 3258 N. Humboldt Blvd. Owner Paul Mueller will probably be working in some corner of the greenhouses, but feel free to walk around and enjoy. You can smell the scented geraniums and start planning your garden. Speaking of your garden, now is the time to start planning and planting indoors if you want to start tender plants yourself. It is exciting for young and old to see seeds poking up out of the soil. All it takes is a sunny windowsill and a little care and you can start vegetables and flowers from seed. I recommend using a seed starting mix, which will improve your success rate in getting seeds to germinate. You can buy seed starting trays or even use paper cups. Warm season crops like tomatoes and peppers need a head start before planting outdoors, so start them now. You can also start flower seeds like impatiens, which love shady areas in your yard and provide an abundance of color all summer long. Follow the instructions on the seed packet as to depth to plant the seeds. Seeds need to be moist and warm to start growing and once they poke their heads up they need plenty of light. For a failsafe experience, especially for kids, try starting beans or sunflowers indoors. These can be planted directly outside, but it is fun to watch them grow indoors and you will have early blooms and beans. The average date of the last frost is the first week in May in Milwaukee, so don’t transplant outside too soon. If you do plant before the end of May, be prepared to cover the plants if there is a chilly evening predicted. Some crops like it cool, like lettuce, cabbage, and peas, so plant them early.