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kale

The Winter Garden

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.

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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.

Speaking of Peas

By tomorrow these babies will be crawling up their poles

By tomorrow these babies will be crawling up their poles

They are finally up! I dug their bamboo teepee poles out from alongside the garage this afternoon so they can start climbing. Peas are such a great crop with which to start and end the season. Because they are hearty and fast-growing kids enjoy planting them and watching them climb and bare pods. My kids love to eat the whole pods right off the plant. 

 

This is the time of year where I really need to dig deep and get my second wind. I’ve already sowed and reaped two harvests and now I need to nurture my winter garden. This is the first year of our “expanded garden.” Stay tuned for a blog post on how we built a garden where our neighbor’s used to have a pool. Here is a teaser…it was a ton of work. I have to remember there will not be a whole lot of local organic produce at the store this winter.

Kale...or as the kids say..."more green stuff please."

Kale…or as the kids say…”more green stuff please.”

Right now I have lots of kale and coming up. The spinach I planted is not doing so well. I have some lettuce but plan on planting more. I also plan on seeding more carrots. I plan on sowing some radish too. No one in my family really likes radish but they pop up fast. It is kinda like a home pregnancy test “yes your garden is growing.” Because we do our own composting you never know what will start growing where. We do have some random lettuce and potatoes starting to grow here and there as well. Last year I planted lettuce and carrots alongside the house and they grew through much of the winter. Kale and swiss chard can both take a frost and even a little snow.

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Tomorrows battle is to fight the mildew

Tomorrow’s battle is to fight the mildew

The wintersquash is full of potential. Beetles got at my summer squash. After losing that crop we planted a ton of marigolds and the beetles got lost. However today I noticed some mold on the vines. Any tips?

I will be excited if this beautiful plant bears fruit too

I will be excited if this beautiful plants bears fruit too

A lot of plants from earlier in the season are still doing well. The broccoli is just now starting to bolt. The heirloom tomato plants are heavy with big green tomatoes. This year on a whim I put in a tomatillo plant and it looks cool, about 4 1/2 feet tall with lots of foliage and but no fruit yet. The pepper plants are yielding the sweetest peppers ever. The funny thing is they are only about a foot high. We grew them from seeds from peppers we bought at the store and started them inside back in May. They grew so slow I was sure they were duds. Then one day there were peppers almost as big as the plant itself.

 

These pepper plants are tiny but the yellow and orange peppers are delicious

These pepper plants are tiny but the yellow and orange peppers are delicious

 

There is a watermelon plant that we transplanted from the back yard. My dad calls these plants volunteers. I think the kids were spitting seeds early in the summer and one took hold. Steve asked me to clean up the yard so he could mow and I spotted it. The vine has since grown long but t won’t last through a frost so if it is going to grow fruit it is now or never.

Here goes nothing

Here goes nothing

Because we are still building up the beds from nothing (sand and clay) we are trying some new this year called green composting. I bought a small bag one pound bag of winter rye. The plan is to let it grow in the beds over the winter and come spring till it in. From what I have read it sounds like the plant will pull nutrients up from deep in the soil to the top layers where our spring crops can thrive. I am sure I am over simplifying that process but like I said this is a new one. I’ll keep you posted.