As soon as we pass the first of February I am into a new garden year. The light has noticeably changed and the sun is getting stronger every day.

I had planted several varieties of kale, spinach and lettuce into an unheated hoophouse sometime in October. These were all seedlings that started in the open field around Sept. 1. Happily, I was able to eat several nice salads through December and part of January. I never even rolled the sides all the way down as most days were warm enough. Then we had the big freeze — all the varieties of kale took a big hit with the exception of the dwarf curly. I’m not sure if the red and white Russian cultivars will revive.

On Sunday I noticed that both the spinach and leaf lettuces are putting out new growth. Isn’t that something? More proof that light rather than temperature determines plant growth in the cold weather crops.

Oddly, I planted some lettuce seeds into a big tub in my attached regular greenhouse right after Christmas and they took a full month to germinate.

That germination so inspired me that I set up the propagation mats, hauled in frozen bags of planting mix and set up planting trays. This is my absolute favorite time in the garden year. The greenhouse is warm and cozy midday. I have NPR blaring on the radio and all seems right with the world.

For several years now, I have started common thyme, lavender, sage and oregano from seed in February and have enjoyed plentiful harvests from the new plants. I hate when perennial herbs get all woody and unruly. I’ve started ripping them up after a year or so.

Now is the time to seed both onions and leeks into flats. I have much better luck with my own baby seedlings than with either sets or purchased plants. Oh, did I mention the savings for the pocketbook!

Several years ago, I bought a 50 pound bag of alfalfa seeds. Trust me, I’ll never need more in my lifetime. I did have the presence of mind to store them in my freezer. They are still viable, and I’ve been making sprouts to supplement winter salads. This is so simple and gives one that wonderful sense of providing for oneself. They soak overnight and then need twice-daily rinsing for a week. We eat big handfuls in passing. I do know they sometimes cause problems with bacteria if purchased from unreliable sources. Doing your own ensures a clean, healthy product. I’m just saying.

I was very unhappy with my potato crop this past year. I am changing everything. For starters, I am ordering my seed from another source. Secondly, this past season I planted in the traditional manner in trenches that I hilled up around the plants as they grew. I picked bugs, I fertilized, I did not use the hay as I have for years. I thought it would foil the voles to have a bare ground. All this and my harvest was dismal at best. I have already bought a few bags at the market. I can’t remember the last time I had to purchase potatoes in the winter. It is the one thing for which I’ve enjoyed reliable success over the years. I’ve been perusing a catalog called Irish Eyes Garden Seeds. The seed potatoes are organic and I shall stick to tried and true classic varieties. A friend, Terri Appenzellar, sent me a note about Peru boasting 2,000 varieties of potatoes. Imagine. I doubt I’ll need that many, but it is interesting enough to send me researching.

I wake very early, but have been lazing around in bed for quite a while lately. My house is predictably cold in the morning when I neglect the woodstove on my way to bed at night. Monday morning I was enjoying the half-moon shining into my room when I really took stock of the bare tree branches against the sky. Winter offers up its own special beauty when one is paying attention and not complaining about the cold, wind, ice or snow. Note to self — carpe diem.

I guess some of the extreme right-wingers are having difficulty accepting the facts of life. That would be another four-year term for Barack Obama. Knoxville, Tenn. state representative Stacy Campfield (R) came out with a suggestion for cutting welfare payments. He said the checks should be tied to how well the children of the recipients do in school. In other words, if a child fails an exam take away some food stamps or maybe his shoes. Honestly, how do these people sleep at night?

Even Chris Wallace of Fox News had to take NRA representative Wayne LaPierre to task. How do the libertarians make peace with armed guards in schools and movie theatres? It is frighteningly close to a police state if I could state my humble opinion.