What Gardeners Do in Winter

“Oh, you’re a gardener, so what do you do in the winter?  You don’t grow food right?” 

I love this question because there are so many cool things gardeners do in the cold months.

Awesome October harvest
Awesome October harvest

November means cooking up yummy dishes from soups to pies from autumn’s harvest. The more you store in your root cellar, garage, basement and fridge from the year’s bounty, the more bang for the buck you get from your garden. If you get into fermenting and canning, your benefits go up even more.

If you planted a mid-summer crop of potatoes, December is a great time to harvest them. How cool is it to have friends over for dinner for the holidays and servethem fresh potatoes you harvest last week! So cool.

ferment your harvest
Home make kimchee from early winter harvest

December also brings opportunity to share your bounty. You can gift those you love with home grown and dried herbs or fruits.  One year we gave everyone popcorn we grew.  Another year, it was kimchee we made from fall grown cabbage.

December also brings the first of the seed catalogs and these are one of the best things to read while sipping a cup of hot tea/coffee/coco on a cold wintry day in January and February.  This is the time to dream about what you will grow next year .. oh, but wait .. we also do our seed inventory and reflect on what worked and what didn’t during the year with things like:

  • Did we use up seed of our favorite tomato variety?
  • Did anything new we tried do great or horrid, or just so-so?
  • Was there a whole crop fail? This is the time we chat with each other to see if everyone in our community had a bad year with that, or if we need advice on what might have happened in our garden.
Seed Catalogs
Catalogs from some of our recommended companies.

Reading seed catalogs lets us dream of warmer days in spring and plan what we want to do next year in the garden. They also provide useful information and are great resources.

A creative winter garden project is designing the next phase of our garden.  Whether it be the next phase of our long range garden plan (this is the year I put in blueberries and asparagus!) or so a new garden follow-on layout from spring and summer.  Maybe you expand it into fall and winter if you have not yet ventured into four season gardening.

collards are sweeter after frost
Winter collards harvest during snowmageddon

Likely the most rewarding is the continued harvest.  My favorite winter harvest story is from a few years ago during a winter storm dubbed ‘snowmageddon’. It was the biggest snowfall I’d ever been in.  We dug a path to the collards, buried deep in the snow to harvest some for dinner, and honestly they were the sweetest collards I’ve ever eaten.

Harvesting in winter can be less dramatic, simply have a few things in a simple hoop house or cold frame that could be harvestable in winter and certainly when they get a warm day or two to grow a bit and provide more food offerings.

grow food from seed
Young seedlings under lights in winter

Winter is also the time to start early spring and some summer crops.  Your brassicas can be started indoors to be hardened off and planted our as soon as the ground softens up.  Some summer crops like basil and peppers that take a long time to germinate and get growing also benefit from being started in late winter.

I’m also in mid-swing with teaching The Foundations of Organic Gardening Course, which empowers people to be successful gardeners.

Winter is a great time study, dream, muse, plan, order seeds, start seedlings and chat with other gardeners.

Sourcing Materials for your Garden Projects – Foundations of Organic Gardening Info Series

Backyard Foodscape
Backyard Foodscape

Think free, or darn close to it. There are various ways and places to find low coast items for your gardening projects.

‘Use and value renewable resources” is one of the 12 permaculture design principles we explore in the Foundations of Organic Gardening course.

Sometimes this looks like building a community of people who share resources.

Sometimes this is discovering what resources we have on our property we can cultivate.

Sometimes buying something makes sense based on its utility.

Another permaculture design principle is “Produce no waste”. These two principles can go hand in hand.  For example, maybe you have a tree that drops branches each year. Perhaps it makes sense to invest in a chipper so you can chip those branches into mulch instead of bring in mulch. You may be saying, ‘that is not free’, but consider how much you spend now dealing with the branches and how much you currently spend on mulch.  The investment may be worth it.

Most of the things we use to build healthy living soil are free.

We explore these types of ideas all through the Foundations course, so join the fun and sign up now.

Supporting a Home Orchard – Foundations of Organic Gardening Info Series

Home grown peaches
Home grown peaches

So far many of the “Foundations” posts have focused on annual vegetable and fruit gardening. What about the home orchard ? Not only do we include maintenance in the individualized month-by-month checklist that each student in the Foundations Course creates, but we cover several topics to help you decide what fruit might be right for your home orchard.  We also do a pruning demo.

Consider these five things:

  1. What grows well here
  2. How much space will the tree need when it is  full grow in relation to how much space you have, would you rather have a few larger trees, or more smaller ones.
  3. Is it a high maintenance crop like peaches, or a low maintenance crop like figs.
  4. How can you plan your garden to provide your orchard with the best sunlight and water.
  5. What companion plants can you provide to feed and protect your fruit trees.

Hope you join us for Foundations this winter, it is going to be loads of fun !

What to Grow When – Foundations of Organic Gardening Info Series

Forellenschluss, translated to Flashy Trout's Back, romaine lettuce is a not only a good choice for most seasons, but a beauty in the garden.
Forellenschluss, translated to Flashy Trout’s Back, romaine lettuce is a not only a good choice for most seasons, but a beauty in the garden.

You already know to grow your tomatoes and squash in the summer and you may know to grow your peas in the spring, but what about all year round ? Did you know there are several plants you can over winter here ?

There is a yearly cycle that can have you eating out of your garden all year long, even in winter. For example, now is a good time to start kales, cabbages and other winter crops. There are timing differences not only with different spring and summer crops, but also with fall and winter ones.

You can refine this further to have even more success. For example, you can grow lettuce almost year round here. To do so, take into account what different varieties like, some only grow well here in cool weather, but some can take more of our summer heat.

Choosing where to grow each crop in each season, based on sunlight and water resources different months of the year also helps insure your success.

Taking all these things and many more into account is part of how each person come up with their month by month checklist in the Foundations of Organic Gardening Course. Don’t miss this opportunity to become a great organic gardener ! Sign up today.

A Tried and True Tomato, and Everything Else – Foundations of Organic Gardening Info Series

Tomato Tasting Tray.  One thing we sometimes to for dinner at Prior Unity Garden is the tomato tasting tray, where we just try all the different kinds of tomatoes from the garden.  Here is a tray with over 15 varieties - Yum !
Tomato Tasting Tray. One thing we sometimes do for dinner at Prior Unity Garden is the tomato tasting tray, where we just try all the different kinds of tomatoes from the garden. Here is a tray with over 20 varieties – Yum !

Hopefully everyone is enjoying juicy home grown tomatoes from their garden or farmers market. Do you know what your favorite tomato variety is or what ones do best here ?

Although most love a summer tomato, if you are growing your own, it is an asset to know what ones you like best as a place to start. It also helps to know what grows well here.

It is no secret that Debby’s favorite is Cherokee Purple and Russell’s is Green Zebra and if you know a favorite, it a great place to branch from to try different varieties. The good news is, when growing at home, pretty much every tomato tastes good, so even if a new variety does not turn out to be a favorite, chances are it will still be better than one you’ll get anywhere else.

Also consider if the tomato variety is Indeterminate or Determinate. Indeterminate varieties are vining and are best trellised. Determinate varieties have a more bush habit and are often the best choices for containers.

One of the things we do in the Foundations of Organic Gardening Course is everyone get to consider what the best varieties are best for them, of each thing you want to grow, and learn ways to keep making choices you’ll like. Check it out and sign up soon before space runs out.

3 Reasons to Start Your Veggies from Seed – Foundations of Organic Gardening Info Series

Ok, I have been getting such a great response to this series of posts, I’ll keep going into August ….

Are you someone who has hesitated to start your own plants ? Here are three really good reasons to try it.

1. Save money. Really, you do save money by starting your own plants.  A seed packet that can last you for years can cost the same amount as one plant.

2. Variety diversity. Think about how many varieties of tomatoes you see in the store.  How many from your local farmer’s market.  Consider this, the Seed Saver’s Exchange Member catalog  has about 4000 tomato varieties– that is variety diversity. You won’t get bored,  you get to try loads of cool stuff and eat a much more diverse yummy diet – what is not to love about that ?

3. You control what happens to your garden plants. Most people I work with want to know their plants are not grown with GMO seed, are not given chemicals as infants and given proper organic nutrition as they grow up. Unless the plants you buy are certified organic, or you know your local plant grower well, you are taking your chances.

Spring Green Seedlings
Spring Green Seedlings

Growing from seed is not hard, especially the crops most people love like tomatoes and cucumbers. Some plants grow really easy from seed right into the garden, like lettuce.

Want more Foundation ? Consider the Foundations Course.  We start in August, so sign up soon so you don’t have to wait anther year for garden success !

3 Garden Design Ideas – Foundations of Organic Gardening Info Series

Put your herb garden in close proximity to your kitchen.
Put your herb garden in close proximity to your kitchen.

1. Think Permaculture Zones – The concept is simple, put the stuff you use most, or need to access most often, closest to your house. Put the stuff you don’t need to access much farthest away. So, herbs in easy access from the kitchen and fruit tress farther away since you only need to tend them a few times a year and harvest when the fruit is in season.

2. Maximize how you use your space – Layers are a good way to look at using your annual garden space to its maximum potential. Roots grow down, bushy plants like tomatoes are in the middle layer and vines like cucumbers and pole beans can climb.

3. Mix it up – Not sure what will be successful, try a mix of a small raised bed, a few plants in the ground and a few containers. Try the same type plant in each and see what works best for you.

Want more help turning your yard into a productive food oasis ?  You’ll get all the info you need in The Foundation of Organic Garden Course classes and workshops.

 

 

Yummy home grown figs can go farther away from the house
Yummy home grown figs can go farther away from the house

The Most Critical Factor in Successful Composting – Foundations of Organic Gardening Info Series

The most important factor – always “Have two”. No matter what type of compost containment you choose,  have two of them for one simple reason: If you are always adding stuff to your compost, you don’t get to harvest your compost.

You might notice that some manufactures of those pre-made bins, even the ones you can rotate, now have models with two bins. People are getting hip to needing two bins.

If you have one already, you can get one like you already have (if you like it) so they’ll look cool together. If you don’t like the one you have, here is an awesome opportunity to try a different one.

Not sure what type of compost bin is best for you ? Check out our older blog post to help you choose.

Not sure how to compost or why your compost is not producing well for ?  You’ll get loads of Q & A time for all your questions in our Foundations of Organic Gardening Course.

Happy Composting !

Critter Protection – The Two Biggest Pests – Foundations of Organic Gardening Info Series

Container Garden on a desk away from Deer
Container Garden on a desk away from Deer

The two biggest issues people have gardening in this area are deer and Home Owner’s Associations (HOAs). You laugh, but it is true.

Honestly the two best ways to keep deer out are:

1. Fence your garden
2. Container garden on a deck or patio deer don’t frequent.

There are other ways to keep deer away, most involving something pretty smelly. You can buy a predator animal urine product or make your own smelly stuff with rotten eggs and milk, garlic and hot pepper. They do work and all these wash off in rains, so remember to reapply least those deer take advantage of a rainy night.

And if your HOA bans you from growing your own food, join them, get on the gardening committee (or make one) and be the person who helps them change their tune. It can be a rewarding community experience if you enter the process in the disposition of prior unity vs. opposition.

 

Want info on dealing with other critters, we cover allot more in the Foundations of Organic Gardening Course.