By the end of December in Maryland there is not much growing. I chair my son’s elementary school’s gardening club, and every time I walk by the dead mums and pansies I remind myself I need to clean the beds up, but it is so cold outside. So how do I keep my dinner table from looking as bleak as the flower beds? With some planning and creativity.
Eating local is a big deal. Eating local ensures a sustainable and healthy food supply. Thanks to modern shipping you can buy produce from all over the world at the grocery store. I am not suggesting that anyone give up their Florida oranges, but I do think we should all think about the carbon footprint of seasonal shipping. Produce must be wrapped up and shipped across the country, requiring containerizing and fuel. Despite the best methods, most produce can lose quality and nutritional value during shipping.
The Winter Garden: Growing a winter garden is a great way to have fresh veggies on the table. The picture featured above is of kale that is growing in my garden right now. I took the picture a few days ago while it was snowing. We also have Swiss chard growing as well though it is not as strong as the kale. Last year we had carrots and winter blend lettuces growing alongside the house. Brussels sprouts are another vegetable that can survive a mild winter.
Stocking Up: Winter squashes and apples, as well as many root vegetables will stay stable in a cool dark place for up to eight weeks. This year we had finished all the squash and apples we had squirreled away by Thanksgiving, but next year we will have to put more in reserves.
Harvest Preservation: With good planning you can prepare foods that wouldn’t otherwise last the winter. This includes canning, dehydrating, fermenting, and freezing. In my family we relay mainly on freezing. My father on the other hand is able to set aside the time to preserve cases and cases of jars of vegetables and fruits. Dried or canned produce can by cooked with locally grown poultry to make soups and broths.
Green House: If you have the land for a green house I say build it! What a treat to be able to extend the growing season for your area. Even if you don’t have a green house, you can plant a few favorites indoors. This works well for herbs.
Planning for Winter: Around the same time we start running out of produce, the seed catalogs start to arrive. I keep a stash under my mattress like a teenage boy keeps girly magazines. I circle the plants I want the way my kids do toys when they go through the toys-r-us mailers. I’m thinking of the tender sweet plants of spring and summer and the bright colors of the flowers I will plant. Using your garden to sustain your family requires year round planning though. However the summer harvest turns out, a good portion needs to be preserved for winter. Also, I need to make sure I have enough of the summer beds harvested and turned over to sew the winter seeds.
So back to the fact it is the end of December and it is too late now to plant your winter garden. Don’t be discouraged. Check your supermarket for local produce or visit the local farmers market. The good news is Spring will be here soon. My asparagus and rhubarb start coming up in late February, which is when I direct sew lettuce, spinach, and peas.