Gentle Readers, it’s cold. It’s frigid here in Nebraska, where an “Arctic Cold Front” (that’s what the cheerful weatherman called it) has swept over our area and parked here for a few days. Here’s the sad state of affairs, my friends; this is how desperate we have gotten: it’s early morning and 4 degrees as I write this, and I’ve just checked the weather forecast, and I actually feel ebullient because the high today is supposed to be in the teens.
Yes. In the teens. It has been so cold that the thought of 15 degrees today sounds like a blessed heat wave. Yesterday’s high was 4°. Nebraska is such a nice place to live, but there are drawbacks, one of which is that we get the extremes in the summer (over 100° at times) and in the winter (it hit -15° last night). I know that we aren’t alone in this, and that’s a comfort. The entire Midwest seems to be shivering right now.
But oh well. As they say around here, if it doesn’t kill you, it’ll make you tougher, and toughness is a quality that we all value very much. Toughness, common sense and resourcefulness are all qualities that I was raised to admire, and if you toss in a reasonable sense of humor, and a calm resignation to always “make the best of things,” you have the heart of the typical Midwesterner.
As people say around here, “It could always be worse.”
And you know, that’s true. The electricity could go out. The house could catch on fire. The cat could get sick on the new couch. We could all start throwing up, in tandem, and run out of buckets. God forbid. A fox could come and clean out the hen house. You know that things could always, always be worse.
Along those lines, if you can’t think of any other reason to be thankful for the cold (I can think of a few, actually: for one, I can wear my new wool Christmas socks!) then it gives you an excuse to tell jokes about it.
Ole and Lena, a farm couple from the Midwest, sat at the kitchen table at breakfast. The morning weather report was playing on the radio. “A snow emergency has been declared today, with 3 to 5 inches of snow forecasted . . . All vehicles should be parked on the odd-numbered side of the streets today to allow for snowplows,” the radio voice announced.
“Oh, gosh, okay,” said Ole, bundling up and heading outside, and dutifully parking his car on the odd-numbered side of the street.
Two days later, again the morning weather report was playing while the couple sat at their breakfast table. “The snow forecast for today is 2 to 4 inches of new snow, and a snow emergency has been declared. All residents are requested to park their cars on the even-numbered side of the street,” the radio announcer declared.
Once again, Ole sighed, got up from his breakfast, bundled up and went out to dutifully park his car on the even-numbered side of the street.
A few days later, the weather report was similar: “There will be 6 to 8 inches of snow today, and a snow emergency has been declared. Every resident must park his car on the . . . ” Just then, the power went out. The radio was silent, and Ole and Lena sat in their dark kitchen.
“Park it where??” Ole asked, in the quietness. “What am I gonna do now??”
“Aw, to heck with dem, Ole,” Lena said. “Don’t cha worry about it today. Just leave the car in the garage, for once.”
The weather outside is frightful, but guess what: it’s not too early to start preparing for your spring garden! Actually the timing for spring planning is perfect, with Christmas festivities over and packed up for another year (well, mostly) and a good three months before you can get your hands into the soil (the blessed soil) that is, if you live in the Midwest. You might actually have a little time on your hands, eh? So without further ado, here are a few things that you can work on NOW to get a head start on your garden season!
1. Make your garden plan. I’ve got to admit that I’m really horrid at doing this, once spring is in full bloom. There are not enough hours in the day! I’m in such a hurry to get seeds planted and seedlings into the ground and mulch moved, that I don’t want to take the time to sit down and make some silly plan. But now . . . the recliner next to the wood stove is a mighty inviting place, and sitting down to make a plan is a pleasant way to spend an hour or two in the evening.
There are lots of ways of doing this, but I like to keep it simple, (stupid–sorry) and so I usually just grab a legal pad that I keep all my garden notes on, and I first make a list of all the crops that I plan to grow. Do this now, while your last year’s garden is still fresh(ish) in your mind.
Then I draw out my garden spaces and try to sketch everything in. It’s very simple, very unrealistic, but it gives me something to go on, instead of a spring-addled brain that can’t focus on anything but . . . green grass! Birdsong! Blue skies! Warm dirt! Sunshine! See, there I go . . .
A word of advice: don’t get on Pinterest or the Interweb or some cool blog or whatever site you tend to gravitate to and look at pretty garden plans, all done up in watercolors or on fancy graph paper, or whatnot. I’m possibly speaking from experience here. If you do this, you’ll maybe use up the hour or two you had available to you to plan, and you’ll not get anything on paper. Just make your plan. Quickly. Now.
Oh by the way, look at the pretty watercolor garden plan I found on Martha Stewart’s website today . . .
2. Order your seeds! Oh, this is the pleasantest occupation of all, aside from bouncing a grandbaby on your knee. And you can go into it with all seriousness, since your family’s good eating is dependent on your doing a good job . . . right?? It may look like you’re enjoying yourself, with your steaming cup of hot tea, surrounded by your seed catalogs, ensconced as you are next to the wood stove (I’m very fond of my wood stove) but that is not the point.
Maybe the hubster will have to make himself a sammage for supper. Maybe the mewling infants will have to do the dishes for once. But it will be worth it, if you get your seed orders in on time! Here’s the deal: lots of those glossy catalogs that you’ve been getting in the mail since, oh, say, late October, will run out of the seeds for the crops that you want the most, if you wait much longer. It happens! Last year, I reallyreallyreally wanted seeds for a new heirloom blue cherry tomato, but I waited too long, and they were sold out! I hope not to make this mistake this year!
I plant primarily heirloom seeds, and I go into just why I do, in this blog post.
So I favor catalogs that sell mostly heirloom seeds. Heirloom crops are gaining popularity, year by year, partly because home gardeners are finding out just how easy and satisfying they are to grow, because there is such an incredible range of varieties to choose from, because you can often save seeds from your crops year after year, and because of the excellent heirloom seed catalogs that are available! Yay!
Listen: if you don’t have the catalogs below, order them now! Time is of the essence! Here are a few of my favorites:
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds: This is such a pretty catalog and is just packed with gorgeous color photos of heirloom fruits and veggies. The friendly folks at Baker Creek Seeds in Missouri offer over 1500 rare non-GMO seeds. You’ll have to pay for the catalog if you order it from the website, but if you order seeds, they’ll send you a free one next year!
Bountiful Gardens: This catalog is a project of Ecology Action, a nonprofit dedicated to ending world hunger by teaching sustainable agriculture. They’ve developed a simple, sustainable gardening method called GROW BIOINTENSIVE®. What an impressive organization! This method allows gardeners to grow large yields of vegetables in a small space, while the soil gets richer and better from year to year. It is ideal for home gardeners, and for anyone who wants to grow good food naturally. I got my wonderful Orange Jelly Turnip seeds from here last year. And the Homeschooler’s Parsnips that everybody devoured with relish. Great catalog!
Seed Savers Exchange: This pretty 100+ page, 2014 Seed Savers Exchange catalog is free, and a source of over 600 heirloom and open-pollinated varieties. This year’s catalog also includes many new introductions from their Preservation Collection, and a large selection of organic seeds. Not only does this catalog have beautiful images and stories for their collection of heirloom and open-pollinated seeds, it also contains great educational material! It’s great!
Territorial Seed Catalog: This family-based business has grown impressively in just a few years, going from growing their own crops for seeds in a neighbor’s garden plot, to sending out hundreds of thousands of gorgeous seed catalogs every year. They are based in Oregon and have a beautiful, free catalog.
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange: Southern Exposure’s motto is “Saving the Past for the Future” and their catalog offers not only heirloom seeds and gardening accessories, but also lots of useful information and interesting stories, also helpful hints about disease and insect control, seed saving, and other cool stuff, including a very large selection of garlic cultivars!
Are you getting excited about your spring garden yet?
Okay, so you’ve made your simple garden plan and you’ve ordered your seeds. But have you thought about this?
3. Do some weight work NOW. This may seem like a random suggestion, but you know how awful it feels to go out in the early spring, the hoe in one hand and your precious seed packets in the other, and you’re full of ambition and vim and then . . . you raise the hoe up to make a furrow and . . . the hoe . . . *gasp*. . . weighs a ton . . . what has happened . . . and when you glance over at your arm, you drop your hoe in alarm! Something has happened to your muscles over the long, cold, inactive winter . . . there is absolutely no muscle tone! They are hanging there like an empty hammock, like the muscles on your sweet (but aged) third-grade teacher’s! Clearly, your garden dreams are over!
Honestly, I discovered this the hard way. I’ve worked out diligently some winters and other winters have taken time off from the exercise routine, la-de-daa. So I know from experience that my spring planting and necessary chores go so much better when one is strong and ready for it! I have a number of workout videos in our basement movie-closet, and a nice variety of weights. You probably do, too. Push-ups are great, and so are bicep curls, dead lifts, squats, etc. Start today!
4. Start collecting milk jugs: if you have fruit trees that are prone to insect infestation, you’re going to want to mix up this all-natural fruit tree insect bait to hang in jugs in your fruit trees. It really works, but you’ve got to have it out there before the bugs make their entrance! You just can’t wait around for the kids to drink the gallons of milk so you have jugs to use!
5. Start collecting newspapers, cardboard, woodchips, and mulch! Okay, Gentle Reader and devoted gardener: what’s your Number One Deterrent to having the garden of your dreams? Lack of time? Deer damage? Bugs? Not enough soaker hoses? I’ll tell you what mine is: Weeds. I plant such a monstrously large garden every year, that keeping the weeds down is difficult. There tend to be quite a lot of them! And I usually get to a point, mid-summer, where I have to choose how to best spend my time: harvesting, or pulling weeds? The harvesting usually wins, and I have to turn an (embarrassed) blind eye to the weeds. And hope nobody asks me to give them a garden tour. (Oiy.)
The happy thing is, I think I’ve found an answer to the weed problem in the Back to Eden Gardening method. My friend Anne and her husband Boyd went all-out and did their garden this way last year, and I wrote about it on my blog. You can check out the post, and the follow-up post, too, if you’re interested. And if you struggle every year with weeds, you ought to be interested!
I mean, really, think about it: what would you do with all that weeding time, if there were no weeds to pull . . . . ? It really does give one pause, does–it–not?
So to that end, I’ve already got one large trash bin in the garage full of newspapers, and my nose is in the air, sniffing out fresh wood chips. My goal is to have a very large pile of them ready to spread in the spring. A new friend (thanks Mari!) suggested that I call all the tree-trimmers and electric companies in the area and tell them that I’ll take any loads of wood chips that they have available to dump in our area. We are just around the corner from the local landfill (alas) so we’d be on their way, in any case, and I could save these companies some dump fees. That’s the plan, since my Number One Wood Chip Hauler and All-Around Good Egg, son Timothy, has gotten himself a great job in the city and just isn’t around as much to do favors for his ma!
That’s it for today, Gentle Readers! If winter has you hemmed in and you’re beginning to despair of ever seeing the color green again, have hope! Spring and planting time will be here before you know it, and won’t you feel clever for having taken these pre-emptive measures before you really needed to?
Hey, I’m linking this post with the great folks over at The Prairie Homestead, as is my wont, at Jill’s fun weekly Barn Hop. Join me!
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