My favorite time of year - looking at seed catalogs and imagining warm spring days and green plants pushing their way out of the ground. And this year, it might be even more important to be doing this early, before the ground is even near ready, than other years. Consider the supply chain woes that are preventing food from being delivered and empty shelves in the grocery stores. As gardeners, we may want to take the old World War II Victory Garden approach where every family was encouraged to grow some of their own food in their backyards. It got the population through the depression years.
So what might we consider for our gardens this year, that we haven't grown in years past? Before we get to that, here are some things to consider:
. Buy seed early - there will be lots of other people considering this and early planning and ordering might just get us ahead of a rush on seed that might leave some folks without.
. Try to buy heirloom seed. Besides being non-GMOed, heirlooms have the ability to reproduce after their own kind. In other words, if you can harvest the seed from your own crop and save them for the following year. That way, if seeds become scarce, you have your own supply.
. Think preserving over the winter and what might have to be processed, frozen or canned, versus some things like squash that can be kept in a cool, dry closet if you lack a cold cellar, without processing.
. Think about what your needs as a family are. Your preferences might be different from someone else.
. And don't forget some medicinals to build up your family first aid needs.
. Choose a garden site and know the size you have to grow in, as this will determine how much you can plant. You will want to figure the soil prep or raised bed costs.
. There is also consideration whether to use a cover or hoop house in locations where weather can be harsh. This can stretch the growing season or protect from storms or hail or stretches of drought or heavy rain that can wipe out crops. There is more ability to control to some extent the growing conditions and protect precious food. Elliot Coleman, in his book Four Season Harvest talks a lot about this very subject.
With long-term in mind, what to buy? In our house green beans are one of our favorite veggies, and they do grown well in our climate. So I plant extra rows in our raised beds. I can plant closer in raised beds because I don't have to leave formal rows and walking spaces as in a traditional garden plot. Two double rows in an eight foot bed produce 5 to 6 gallons of frozen beans which is enough for the two of us to last through winter. And I have the advantage with heirloom seeds to leave a few plants to dry their pods and keep the seeds for the following season. I haven't bought bean seeds in 10 years. Snap peas work the same way with one eight foot row on a fence at the back of the box which are easily freezable and continue to produce well into summer in New England climates. Another consideration in the bean family is dried beans like Cranberry, Black, Great Northern, Cannelini, etc. They are easy to grow in good soil, can be left at the end of the season to dry out and then harvest and shuck. All you need to preserve them when you are done, is put them in a dry jar with a lid on your larder shelves.
Winter squashes are a must in my book. They store well if picked before fungus and dampness are allowed to set in and if kept in a cool, dry place, will last well into late winter. They are full of Vitamin A, important for keeping colds and flu at bay. I planted 2 plants in a raised bed with room to spread outside the box one summer, and the weather was so perfect I had 2 mild crates full of squash for us and our neighbors as well. If you have the room, often a box with a couple inches of sand at the bottom is ideal for absorbing winter dampness and keeping them fresh.
Here in the northeast, root veggies can be kept over winter in a number of ways. First, they can be left in the ground and covered with a tarp and harvested in middle of winter or early spring. They can also be saved in sand in a container, like a trash can, layering sand, then root veggies, sand, veggies……
If you're in a warmer climate, you may be able to grow your greens all year round, especially in a double hoop covering that will keep occasional frost from disturbing them. If not, growing sprouts in a winter box on a sunny window may be your salad fixings.
Canned tomatoes for making sauces can be a great staple for soups, pasta and other dishes.
If your growing medicinals, dry them at picking time to keep some in dry jars over the winter or start your tincturing process as you go.
I hope this gives you some things to think about as you put your spring seed lists together. This may be the year to plan ahead, and think about the needs of family and neighbors. Some neighborhoods can work together to grow specific things and share with one another.
Heirloom seeds can be purchased from any number of companies you can find on the web. We use High Mowing as they are close to us in Vermont, but there are some great companies out there. Try to support your local growers and suppliers. Wherever you get them, do it early and you'll be ready for whatever comes our way.
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Over 40 years of Herbal and nutritional experience.