They’re here! They’re here!

For about a month now they’ve been marching through my door. They arrive curled in the mailbox, exploding with colorful, exciting promises of spring. So many promises, so many options provide such welcomed relief in this, the darkest, grayest part of the year.

The seed catalogs have begun making their annual appearance and with them, my dreams of bigger, better, more colorful gardens spring to the forefront. Why yes, I’d sure like to plant more of that and that, maybe try some of that this year, oooh, a new flower bed full of nothing but red and yellow flowers is definitely what I need!

And I start picking from the pages. A little of this, a little of that, who doesn’t want to try a purple carrot or a row of kohlrabi? Who says I don’t need 12 varieties of tomatoes and 16 varieties of beans and peppers and melons? I go a little crazy when I start picking out the seeds I’d like to have. I want to try EVERYTHING and the descriptions of the flavors and the smells of each delightful fruit, vegetable and flower does not help keep my enthusiasm in check. Buttery, nut-flavored squash? Yes, please! A melon with an exotic flavor that hints of banana and pineapple? Absolutely!

But, eventually, as my want-to-have seed list grows and grows and grows, reality sets in. I’d need five acres of tilled, amended soil to even begin to plant what I want to grow. That’s a lot of work, and all that work requires time I know I won’t have. So, I scale it down. Purple carrots are fun, but they aren’t a necessity. I decide what we will definitely eat, how much we’ll need, in reality, and add maybe one or two fun crops just to keep things exciting. Last year, we planted way to much chard and way too much lettuce. We had salad every. freakin’. day. I love salad, but trying to keep up with a bed that’s going to bolt if you don’t eat it can become tedious. I did not plant enough beans and I went overboard with the varieties of peppers and tomatoes. We needed more potatoes and more onions, so I’ll increase those this year and cut back on what I went overboard on.

Simplicity and feeding my family through the winter months is the goal. If I can’t can it, freeze it, dehydrate it or otherwise store it, forget it. Lettuces, while I can’t preserve it, I will plant it, but much, much less of it.

The biggest mistake most new gardeners make is too much, too big, too soon. It’s easy to plan it all, it’s easy to plant the seeds or tenderly transplant young vegetables and flowers with great plans of big, beautiful, productive plants in mind, but, within a month, the truth is evident in the weeds choking out the crops and the flowers. Weeding is time-consuming and is usually the biggest reason to be in the garden, aside from regular plant checkups for health and insect infestation. Ninety percent of my time in the garden is to pull weeds and attempt to keep them under control. The other ten percent is for harvesting, amending the soil, working the soil around the plants and watering. The weeds always seem to grow about 20 times faster than the plants! When you don’t use any kind of herbicide or insecticide, gardening can be very, very labor-intensive.

It is a labor of love. I love being in the garden, I love spending time with the plants, watching my hard work flourish as the tiny seedlings thrive and grow and produce. I like keeping things orderly and healthy and bringing in buckets of fresh produce to feed my family. But, I also know how much time I have and how much time it takes. I’d love to be able to dedicate a couple of hours to my gardens and flower beds every day, but I know I can’t make that kind of commitment.

It’s easy to dream big, but when it comes to the reality of it, it’s far easier, and more rewarding, to keep things under control.

Sorry, beautiful little purple carrots and blue squash, you just aren’t on my list of must-haves this year. But that buttery, nut-like squash? Most definitely!

 

Year-end roundup

We got through the summer, despite the heat and drought. We had to have water hauled out to refill our dry well a few times, but thankfully we saw some rain raise the water table towards the end of summer. Too late to save my squash and melon and bean plants from turning to crispy bits of formerly living things.

I canned what I could: Several quarts of tomatoes, tomato sauce, peaches, rabbit stew and shredded rabbit (mmmm!) and chicken broth. We harvested many huge, tasty, sweet potatoes and a bucketful of late season turnips. The late-season beets did not do well and the late-season spinach did not produce enough to bother with. My garden is currently wintering beneath a layer of rabbit manure mulch and garden leftovers, waiting for the first bite of the tiller to dig in as soon as the ground is warm enough to get out there.

We are in the middle of winter now, and so far, it has been significantly milder than I expected. We’ve had some moisture, not much. We’ve had a few below-freezing days, but not many. I am worried this could be a precursor to a dry, warm spring and another hot, dry summer.

I think I will approach keeping my garden watered a bit differently this year. I learned the hard way that the overhead watering system (a sprinkler) cannot compete with dry, windy conditions and the plants fail. This year, I think I will invest in a good quantity of soaker hose and nestle the hose near the neediest plants. I am also going to reduce the number of tomato varieties this year. We had WAY too many cherry tomatoes and not enough good, meaty canning/eating tomatoes.

The spring seed catalogues have begun arriving and I am drooling and ready to start ordering. But before I do, I need to sit down and design my garden, decide what I’m going to plant and where, maybe try some companion planting this year. I do know that although I thought it was big enough last year, I need to add a few more feet this spring. And cattle panels will make better vining bean supports than strings between posts. For sure.

What are your “must have” veggie plants?

A few things have happened since I last posted (forever ago, I know!)

1. I got married to a good ole farm boy who has no problem doing some of the heavy lifting around here.

2. I somehow managed to acquire two more horses, bringing my herd up to five plus one boarder. Six horses takes a lot more time to care for than three! Just sayin’.

3. We started breeding/raising/butchering rabbits. We are working on perfecting the process so we can make the venture worthwhile. So far the meat we’ve gotten from the rabbits is yummy, but about as pricey as a filet mignon, pound for pound. I’m working on ways to reduce our costs (feeding), otherwise, it’s just not worth it. I would also like to figure out how to market them, and that requires some FDA research. I’m not sure if we can sell them dressed, or live only.

4. There are more than 20 homegrown, free-range chickens in my freezer. I will be doing the chicken-raising venture again! Aside from the initial expense of buying the broiler chicks and feeding them a high-protein diet for the first few weeks of life, the meat and effort was definitely worth the end result.

5. I’m down to only about 20 egg-layers, so much for having enough to sell some of the eggs. We get more than enough eggs to keep us well-fed, but not enough to sell. If I get a good broody hen this spring, I’m going to let her set and see what we get.