Friday, January 3, 2014

And so the 2014 Garden Planning Season Begins!

     This is the time of year to reflect on the past and dream up the future.  Our future is looking a little different this year as we get ready to welcome our first child into the world this May.  On one hand that makes me think we won't have as much time and energy for the plants and animals.  On the other hand it makes me want to redouble our efforts in growing our own food and healing the land.  Anyway my new years resolution this year is to increase the percentage homegrown food in our diet so there's that.  I am quite proud of the major effort over the last few years that has taken us from 0% to somewhere less than 1% of our diet coming from our garden.  But it's not where I want to be and not what I want to provide for our children.  Still, I was looking through some pics and realized that it has been almost exactly one year since we got our first egg so that's pretty cool.  We are still averaging about 8 or so a day in this dark time of year, though the ameraucanas are barely producing at all.  The leghorns are doing the bulk of the laying with the red stars and rhode island reds not far behind.

     We made it through the flurry of holiday traditions and obligations in fine style this year, though I am still somewhat recovering from the summer of masonry.  Busy summer, and the gardens sure suffered for it.  We had many successes but things started getting out of hand after July.  More produce than I'd care to admit went unharvested or unprocessed, and the edges of the lasagna beds never got cut this year.  Not quite as many as I would have liked but I did manage to save some collection of seeds for next year.

This years list of seeds saved:

Oregon Sugar Pod Peas
Daikon Radish
Mammoth Sunflowers
Aunt Molly's Ground Cherry
Strawberry Spinach
Amish Paste Tomatoes

     One exciting development has been meeting a couple of local seed savers this year.  A man named Bob who was giving a passionate speech about the importance of protecting heirloom genetics while demonstrating an antique cornshucker at a local event known as the farm breakfast.  We had a great conversation and he gave me two handfuls; one of heirloom flint corn that he got from some Amish, and the other a colorful Indian corn.  (I hate using the word Indian in this context, the corn has nothing to do with India and it makes me feel like a stupid American who's bad a geography and ignorant to the plight of the hundreds of unique human cultures that once inhabited this land)  I brought the handfuls of seeds back in my shirt pockets and carefully packaged and labeled them when I got home. Gonna need more garden space.

     A wonderful family came to our yard sale early in the summer and started talking plants.  They ended up staying for hours while Nikki gave a tour of the gardens and talked animal husbandry and such.  Mason, a boy of impressive intelligence and enthusiasm, traded me for some black krim and golden jubilee tomato seeds that he had saved and brought in clever envelopes made from reused paper.  We are very excited to be building a network with some fellow seed savers in the area.

     All things considered, this is looking to be a daunting garden year.  There is still much to do as far as grading and repairing the front yard that was reduced to mud by heavy equipment in the process of digging out and repairing the foundation of our home.  There is still a large pile of dirt close to the house in what will eventually be our kitchen garden.  Since we leave most of the plants standing over winter to provide shelter for beneficial insects there will be quite a bit of cleanup and prep work in the back gardens and hugel mounds.  I had hoped to have an herb spiral and new lasagna beds put together in the fall, but construction delays happened instead.  Such is life.  We do have the two hugelkulture beds in place though, so that will be a good place to start planning plantings.  I will likely use the straw bale method to get the rest of that area started after it gets graded this spring since we had such good success with the zucchini last year.  Also, come spring we will have a lot of damp straw bales that are currently insulating the hoop coops.

     I've got some new ideas to test out this year.  I am trying to design a cheap, modular frame system for the garden.  I am hoping that we will be able to use them for a variety of purposes including; starting seeds outdoors, extending the seasons for veggies, protecting plants from chickens and other predators, isolating plants from cross pollination, a pen for small animals or broody hen or injured chicken, perhaps even a solid wall version for creating temporary compost bins or planting boxes for potatoes.  The frames would all be the same, but the sheathing could be swapped as needed with clear plastic, remay fabric, screen, chicken wire, wood or whatever.  We will see, I put together a prototype so far but it needs a little bit of tweaking and a whole lot of testing.  

     Currently we are battling the snow and the cold of a real Wisconsin winter after being lulled into false confidence by the last couple of light ones.  But that's life here, and if you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes.  The hens seem to be faring well so far, though we have to shovel out an area for them or they won't leave the coops.  Unfortunately 5 out of the 6 babies we hatched out this year turned out to be cockerals and they are getting big rapidly.  But it has been too cold and we have been to tired and busy so far to send them to freezer camp.  Gonna have to do it before spring gets here and they get really rambunctious.

     Meanwhile life roars by at it's usual raucous pace and employment continues to demand the best from both of us.  But the seed catalogs are starting to come in and the time is here to make lists and maps and timelines and to dream of green things and fresh tastes!

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