Welcome to a new year in the garden

I was telling a friend the other day that I have more pictures of my Stewartia tree than I do my children. OK, that may be a slight exaggeration, but I love to photograph my garden throughout the various seasons and the Stewartia tree is always the star of the show.

Photos are also great for planning and helping to look back on what was good, bad and great in your previous year's garden. If you don't have pictures, January is a fine time to think back to the 2013 garden year and plan what you may like to do different this season.

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Try making a list of some of the things that went well, some of the new ideas you want to try, and what has gone terribly wrong. If you like to buy seeds, it is good to reflect back on your garden before you get trapped in a world of colour photos and tempting new heirloom varieties in the plethora of seed catalogues and sites that are out there.

Speaking of seeds, one of the most valuable tools for seed growing success is a garden notebook or journal. Keep track of what you buy, when you plant, what you liked and didn't, the weather, and things you want to get more or less of. I loved my early crop of spinach, which thrived in the cool spring, but need to research more heat-tolerant types for later in the season.

You might want to see what you already have. I keep my seeds several seasons, usually just folding the package down and putting them in a shoebox in my garage. Before you go crazy ordering or buying new seeds, it is prudent to take stock of what you have. Most seeds are viable for several years if stored in the correct conditions (except onion seeds which seems to need to be replaced yearly ).

If you don't do well with disappointment, you can try a little germination test of your leftover seeds. All you need is some plastic ziplock bags, damp paper towel and if you want to get fancy, some labels (a sharpie pen also does the trick).

Take five to 10 seeds out of the pack and lay them in a row on the damp paper towel. Fold it in half, label your bag, and seal it completely. Leave them in a warm place and check it after two or three days. Sometimes you have to wait a week or more depending on the seeds and the trick is to keep the paper towel barely moist, not soaking wet. Some of the seeds should sprout.

Count the number of seeds in each bag that successfully germinated and multiply it by 10. This gives you a pretty accurate picture of what percentage of your old seed is viable. If nine seeds are sprouted and alive, then the pack of seeds from which it came is 90 percent viable, and so on. If only two or three seeds sprouted, then I would probably toss the pack and buy a new one.

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