It’s 5 degrees out this morning here in our neck of the woods. It’s even colder where some of the kids are up at college like Burlington where it’s -18 right now and 4 degrees in Ithaca feeling like minus 4. In Boston where our other one is at it’s 5 degrees but the winds up there are making it feel more like 10 below. Brrrr…it is cold out there today. It’s around this time of year that we start to jones for one of our homegrown heirloom tomatoes. Thank god we made sauce at least. The garden is covered with a thick quilt of hard-packed snow about 20 inches deep burying our overwintering vegetables and Charlie the gnome.
The new year has brought us a new Sears Craftsman riding lawn tractor. We decided to get the snow blower attachment so we could us the things year round – mowing and mulching during the summer, snow blowing now. We’ve already had the pleasure of clearing the driveway 6 times in the last month – quickly making back some money on our investment. Making me think we should have done this a long time ago.
Getting to know the ins and outs of snow blowing our own driveway has had it’s ups and downs but nothing that hasn’t been resolved quickly. Day one, Mark threw a pin trying to clear a path to the garbage shed – not to self watch the natural rock wall on the left hand side of the path. Day two I’m clearing the front of the driveway by the mailbox when Ruby – yes we’ve named her – decides to stop throwing snow and emit a slight burnt rubber smell. Thankfully, that too was fixable although not sure exactly why it happened – the belt to the auger seemed to have stretched or the cable did…regardless Mark was able to trouble shoot and we were back to throwing more snow in no time. According to the groundhog, we have 6 more weeks of winter so it will be a while before we get to take the snow thrower attachment off and put the lawn mower deck on the bottom.
On frigid cold days like these where Jack Frost is nipping more than just the nose; it’s best to stay inside and grab one of the many seed catalogs that have been pouring into the mailbox last month. I’ve been really busy preparing for a number of lectures on the schedule for February, just finishing the first one this past Wednesday.
I gave a Garden to Table presentation to the members of the New Canaan Beautification League at the New Canaan Nature Center. There is a lot of material to cover when you want to paint a picture for an audience of why and how they can grown some of their own delicious food. So much material that the next programs I have coming up is actually a 4 part spring garden series where I can go more in depth to areas like composting, setting up polycultures, and container gardening. The spring garden series will be hosted by the New Canaan Library which I am really excited to being working with. Our library has recently set up a new Seed Bank – so I am excited at the possibilities going forward that there is an increasing interest in edible gardening locally.
I’ve lived in my town for the last twenty years, raising my kids and working for my brother most of that time, but volunteering in my community is ways like coaching girls lacrosse. My fiance and business partner, Mark has been an EMT at our volunteer ambulance corp – NCVAC for past two years. The members of the Beautification League volunteer to their time to helping keep our pretty little village looking it’s best via working with nature. Volunteering has always been a big part of my life. When I was a teenager. my mother was at one point the President of the YWCA of New York City. She had started at the Y as a volunteer coordinator and her work ethic and passion for the place propelled her to president at lightening speed. The woman knew how to make things happen.
Volunteering is a wonderful way to give back to a community or organization you feel passionate about. It’s a great way to get out and meet like minded people who enjoy similar passions. I purposely use the word ‘volunteering’ as opposed to ‘community service’ because at some point in today’s world, the legal system has dished out ‘community service’ to many making it sound more like a penalty than something that can be very rewarding for the volunteer, them-self. It’s a shame that to a generation of children the words ‘community service’ doesn’t sound like something you would want to do but have to do.
In the gardening world, ‘volunteers’ means something different than people giving of their time to do something for free. Instead when you hear a gardener refer to a ‘volunteer’ they are referring to a specific plant that wasn’t purposely seeded but successfully growing where ever its seed lay. Last summer we had a number of ‘volunteers’ come up in our backyard and not all in our raised beds. We had a couple tomato plants come up over in wood chipped area and two more in the raised beds – one in my designated 3 Sister beds and the other in my cabbage bed. The ones in the raised beds fared better than the wood chipped areas – most likely since we had composted the beds and perhaps the wood chips reduced the ph too much for the tomato plants to fruit. The two plants in the wood chip grew pretty big – one just flowered but didn’t fruit, the other fruited but very late in the season and we only were able to take some of the cherry tomatoes off before they had a chance to ripen on the vine. Conversely, the volunteers in the raised beds gave off a lot of fruit – both of those were also cherry tomato plants.
I’m reminded of all this when I was preparing my presentation and was scanning my hundreds of photos of our garden and our client’s gardens. The pictures get me thinking about the possibilities for this season. What varieties should we plant this year? Peas for certain will be among the first things, along with a variety of lettuce…The seed catalogs have sat untouched by me until just the other day. I was afraid if I opened even one I would be too distracted to work on my Garden To Table presentation. Later in the night, the day of the presentation, I finally cracked open my first bit of what we fondly refer to as garden porn. Beautiful photographs of the most delicious looking fruits and vegetables are coupled with mouth-watering descriptions which causes you to have eyes bigger than your garden beds.
I was proud of myself, I didn’t go seed crazy and deliberately focused on edible flowers in as I checked out Annie’s Heirloom Seeds catalog and then also the strawberry starts – had to get those before they sell out like last year. Oh, then there is the potatoes – had to get some of Binje potatoes to try this year…Luckily I was exhausted form my day and that was all my tired eyes could handle at the time.
A few days have past since my seed binge and now we have these wicked cold temperatures outside, I think it’s the perfect time to start breaking out the paper and pen and start listing what we want grow this season. I’ll need to check the cupboard where I keep our seed supply in neatly labeled plastic containers with pop-tops for one handed handling when out in the garden. It took me a while to figure out the best way to save and keep seeds organized. I like the plastic containers because they keep seeds dry and safe, whereas envelopes don’t reseal always and get wet and then compromise the seeds. Or land up at the bottom of your pockets, purse, garden bag, truck…
February is the best time to plan your garden – remember to consider crop rotations into your plan. Crop rotation is the practice of growing related vegetable families in different areas in consecutive years. There are four plant families that benefit from crop rotation: the cabbage family, the carrot family, the cucumber & squash family and lastly, the tomato & eggplant family. Rotating these vegetable families will help prevent soil borne disease from building up and help keep and provides a principle mechanism for building healthy soils and organically controls pests.
When you plan things out on paper first it makes it a lot easier for to take into account things like crop rotations and companion planting. This way you can also makes sure that the proper companion plants are not only coupled together but the plants which should be kept away from one another will always stay away from one another.
If you are just starting a new garden and would like some ideas, I highly suggest looking at organic seed websites perhaps with your laptop or iPad or other mobile device to see the different types of delicious food you possibly could be growing in your backyard, porch or balcony. If you are in the Fairfield County, Connecticut area and need help you getting your garden started, please reach out for us to help at firstname.lastname@example.org – that’s what we do. Elsewhere, check your local listing for organic land care professionals that may help get you started. Here is the northeast we have NOFA – the Northeast Organic Farming Association but I am sure there are many regional organizations like NOFA which are committed to promoting and supporting organic land care practices.