“For your long winter needs you just plant a few seeds. You must get up and work, not sleep. Dig and Hoe, watch them grow, as ye sow so shall ye Reap” Porky ‘s Bear Facts. I always loved this cartoon, but more importantly when preparing for the long winter ahead it’s important to remember to “work while you can, be a diligent man, better to earn your keep. Do not shirk, do your work, as ye sow so shall ye reap”. Here in New England preparing for winter starts now. Yes, I know this winter isn’t even over yet, not by a long shot but if you are going to have what you need next year you better start now. It’s sugaring season now (as a matter of fact the guys are preparing our trees right this very moment) and very soon the maple houses will have their precious sap boiling away. We do not make our own but our trees are tapped and we get a small measure of syrup in return for letting them tap our trees. This too is the time of year for cutting wood for next season. It’s generally easier to get into the woods and at least get the trees laid out and branches off, there are no leaves to deal with so it’s easier. We do not have enough land to sustain us in terms of firewood so we buy ours locally. We still have to plan ahead for this though because we buy it green and season it ourselves and then bring it in. It’s cheaper this way and we do have the space to leave it in piles for it to dry. In general we use our tax return for this expense and it works out nicely. We are actually are paying at this moment for not ordering quite enough wood last year as we are down to our last bit of it and we could have really used another cord. Honestly one problem we have never had is in buying too much wood. If we have it we use it, the way the oil prices are going we have to.
It’s also just about time to start seeds for the garden. The growing season here is quite short so we have to get the tomatoes, squashes, cucumbers etc started soon. This year my husband and I are having a bit of a competition when it comes to potatoes, I am growing mine in a bin and his he’s planting in the ground and we shall see who gets a better result. (I WILL be winning this one) We have long had a garden every year but for the first time rather than just eating in season I am looking to storing more food for winter than ever before. I envision potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbages, onions, squash and the like lining shelves in our cellar this winter, rows of canned goods and in the freezer green beans, peas, and corn. In reality though I don’t believe I’ll be planting corn. I love fresh corn on the cob but it takes a great deal of room and you have to really hill them quite often so they do not work out well for our black plastic covered garden. Since I work sporadically I am never sure if I will be able to get out and do the weeding and with my faulty legs it’s difficult for me to do so we have been putting plastic in the garden for some years and for us it has worked out well. For the first time I will also be planting beans for drying and am quite excited about that. We love baked kidney beans and I’m all excited growing my own and letting them dry on the vine. Shell them and you are all set! I’d like to say that I’d be growing carrots as well however our soil is so rocky that they really do not do well, I’ll give that valuable garden space to something that will yield a lot more in the same space for instance cabbage. I make a superb coleslaw that is requested at all the holiday gatherings so it’d be nice to have it on hand. Besides we like it stir fried, stuffed and it stores well. We even like sauerkraut and though I’ve never made it myself this year I just may get to do that.
There are a great many resources for you to find in terms of seed starting so I will not go into the details of that but I will say something about planning your garden and what should go into it. First if you are going to do any seed saving I would highly suggest you buy heritage seeds. You can save the seeds from your plants from one year to the next and be assured you will get the same plant you had. This saves a great deal of money and so does starting your own IF you have the time and space to do so. Buying your plants at a very good nursery is also a good option but you will definitely lay out more money doing it this way. Second it’s important to only grow what you feel you can reasonably maintain. I mentioned earlier that we use black plastic for mulch on our garden and this is not inexpensive however we usually only have to buy plastic every three years or so, keeping it for at least a few seasons. It doesn’t make any sense to plant a huge garden to only have it go to weeds and have very small yield as a result. Better to start smaller, plant the things you love and get a decent crop for your time and money that you have put in. You can always add more as each year goes by. In the past I have laid down newspaper six or so thick and covered it with straw. This worked pretty well until toward the end of the season when the weeds finally broke through and took over. You should really mid-season put down another layer of paper and straw again but this takes some serious time to do which is something I am usually in short supply of come this time of year.
Third consideration is what you are going to do with your crop when it’s ready. Will you be freezing, drying and canning your crops and do you have room to store all of it even if you wanted to? I like to freeze my green beans rather than can them. I adore bread and butter pickles as well as relish and can’t face the winter months without those. I was just given a dehydrator and will be drying tomatoes this year, something I have always wanted to do rather than canning them. Canning tomatoes is no small task and again time has been an issue for me and though I am quite adapt at hot water bath canning doing it with a pressure cooker has been daunting. It’s a skill I really need to learn. I was also given a very large pressure cooker. Did you know that you can take them to a cooperative extension and get them tested? It’s the best way to be sure the pressure valve is working properly and giving you the correct readings. I think I really need to do this!
Fourth, seed catalogs are just so beautiful and tempting aren’t they? Staring at them this time of year has always been a favorite past time of mine. Somehow in February I get the notion that winter is never going to end and I’ll never see another green leaf again and the seed catalogs help dispel this silly notion. Planning what you’ll plant, how you’ll plant it and how you’ll store it is important now. Our growing season here is not long and as of yet I have not found a watermelon that will do any good here (suggestions on this front are welcome because we do love it). One year we got a beautiful crop of melons but we couldn’t eat them all fast enough and I was not quick enough to get them cut up and into the freezer. Nothing more sad to me than watching my hard work go to the compost pile. So what do WE plant? Well this year we are trying a Boston Marrow which looks like a Hubbard squash but it’s orange instead of that grey color. We usually have zucchini, summer squash, both regular and pickling cucumbers. Swiss chard has become a favorite and you can grown a whole bunch of it and it freezes well. Potatoes, sweet potatoes and if I can manage it, I’d love to try planting peanuts. Tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, plum tomatoes, green beans, dried beans, cabbage. I have a separate bed for herbs. I planted Rhubarb several years ago and should be able to get a good harvest from it this year. There is oregano, chives, and lemon balm that come up every year. I’ve decided to do a nice heavy planting of basil since I do really really like pesto. Some big bunches of rosemary, thyme and sage will be a nice addition. I’ll have my own italian seasoning by the time I’m done. I have mint in one of my flower beds and would like to add some chamomile. Then I’d have the lemon balm chamomile and mint to make my own herbal tea. It’d be ideal if I could save some of my rose petals to go in this however in recent years Japanese Beetles have decimated them! Controlling pests will have to be a discussion for another day!