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Archive for January, 2016

snowstorm January 23 2016-BLOG

We were recipients of some of the snow that fell on the east coast over the weekend. It was 14” deep at our house. It isn’t the most snow that I remember having here, but it is the most since January 1996 when we had 20”. We still had our milk cow then and I remember shoveling a path to the barn when the snow was at 10”, knowing I would be shoveling again. The path had to be a wide one—wide enough for me to walk with two five-gallon buckets of water.

snow covered row cover--BLOG

snow covered low tunnel

This time around I have kept busy finalizing my presentation for the upcoming Virginia Biological Farming Conference, shoveling snow, and knitting a sweater. Snow like this disturbs everyone’s schedule, for sure. But, as bothersome as that is, it presents a lot of opportunities. Of course, if you have been following my blog, you would know that I look at everything as an opportunity. It is when our structures are tested and we find out how well we’ve done. If you planned your low tunnels, coldframes, and greenhouses to withstand your usual conditions, you might find them collapsed in the snow. This snow reveals if they were built beyond the usual conditions.

It is good to know. This is the sort of thing you have to plan for from the beginning. Yes, it doesn’t happen very often and may not occur again for another twenty years, but the way the weather has been in recent years, I would build with the assumption that it could happen every year. That will put you at ease whenever severe weather strikes again.

As the kids were growing up, whenever we had a big snow that shut things down my husband would take them for late night walks down the road for at least a half-mile or more. Well, the kids are grown and establishing their own snow traditions and now it is me accompanying my husband on those moonlight walks. We went out on Friday and Saturday nights under the full moon and it was wonderful. Since the power hadn’t gone out, which was surprising, noisy generators didn’t disturb the silent night.

The first night it was still snowing when we went out and there was quite a bit of wind. We were walking in the road on snow. The plows had been out, but that didn’t mean the roads were fit to drive on. The next night I could feel the difference in the surface beneath my boots. Although not much traffic had been on them, the surface had turned to ice and there were lots of drifts across the road. So much so that the drifting snow and icy road had caused a snow plow to get stuck. He was waiting for a tow when we came upon him about midnight.

path in the snow to the barn BLOG

paths to the chicken house and barn

That walk brought to mind how important it is to get out and walk the ground to really know how it is; although, I’m usually referring to walking in gardens, possibly in your bare feet, when I talk about that. Looking out my window, either from my house or a vehicle, couldn’t have told me the road conditions like walking on the ice and through the drifts.

The roads in our area are full of curves and wooded areas. Even when the roads are clear after a snow, we know to look out for the areas where there are trees on the south side. Their shade keeps ice on the road in spots long after it has melted elsewhere. We can learn about where the cooler areas due to shading are in our gardens by watching the snow melt. I wrote a blog post about that in February 2014.

I hope you have enjoyed the winter weather at your place. It reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously. Things we have planned to do get changed, and that’s okay. It is an opportunity to slow down and check on our neighbors. Sitting by the woodstove is great, also. And about that snow shoveling—welcome it as a needed winter workout and be thankful that you are healthy enough to do it.

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garden plan dvd coverHere it is– a new year and time to plan your new garden. Before you do that, however, I urge you to think about last year’s garden. Most likely, if you are reading this you probably did some sort of planning last year. That’s what my DVD Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan is all about. In the DVD I show you how to put together a notebook with your complete garden plan. It even comes with a CD with all the worksheets I talk about, such as a Seed Inventory, How Many Seeds and Plants Needed, Plant / Harvest Times, and a Plant / Harvest Schedule. My book Grow a Sustainable Diet has an additional worksheet—How Much to Grow. It is great to work up a plan, but you might be like someone I met recently who put her plan together in a notebook, just like I advise, but neglected to keep track of things afterward. That is a great start and all is not lost. Even though you didn’t write it down, surely you remember something that happened through the year. Take the time now to note the highlights of 2015 and make a report of your gardening year. Then, file it away with the garden plan you made for 2015 for reference.

overlapping maps-BLOGFor many years my garden plan consisted mainly of my garden maps, the one I made showing what I intended to plant where and when, the Actual version that showed what actually happened, and the Amendments version that showed what amendments were added to each bed and when. It is the Actual version that will help you plan this year’s garden. If you completed it you will know what was in each bed throughout the year and when it was planted, particularly, what is in there now; but the subject of garden maps is a whole other post. Once I became a certified Ecology Action GROW BIOINTENSIVE Mini-farming Teacher I had to keep many other records and send them to John Jeavons each year, accompanied by a letter that explained what went on that year. It always gave the highs and lows of the year, what I was particularly working on, etc. It is that letter that I want you to write for yourself about your 2015 garden.

If you didn’t get past the initial plan, just making that plan should be considered a high. Not following through would probably be considered a low, but I’m sure there were extenuating circumstances. You should note those. It might be that you took a vacation and never quite got back to garden recordkeeping when you returned. Births, deaths, marriages, and divorces pretty much serve to get even the best planners off track, as do the activities of your children and parents. Building projects around your homestead might keep you occupied, and then there is the weather, which is always a good excuse for messing up your plans. If any of those things happened to you this year, they should be in your annual garden report. Although many of the things I mentioned cannot be foreseen or avoided, things like vacations can. If your vacation seems to coincide with crucial harvest times each year, change your vacation time for this year or time your plantings so their harvests will not conflict.

Thinking through the year will help you put things in perspective. If there is something you wished you could do better, such as fill in your Actual Garden Map as the season progresses, you might decide that will be a priority in 2016. What crops were you especially proud of? Even if you didn’t keep yield records you should have an idea if you were pleased or not with the harvest of most of the things you planted. Your pleasure or displeasure could be with the yield, taste, color, or whatever other traits you remember. Put that in your garden report. If you wished you had planted more or less of something, besides mentioning it in your report, make a note to change the amount planted in 2016.

What did you do differently last year? Did you try any new varieties or new ways of managing your tried-and-true varieties? What amendments did you bring in to your garden, if any? What did you use as mulch and where did it come from? Write about those kinds of things.

leatherwing on mint--BLOG

Leatherwing on mint

I hope you took photos of your garden through the year. It is amazing how things will look to you at another time. Having that visual record helps you to remember what was going on. Besides the plants and overall garden throughout the season, take photos of things you built or tools you used. Also, take photos of the insects and other wildlife in your garden. As you can see, I found leatherwings in my mint last summer. If you look closely, you might be surprised to see just how many varieties of insect helpers you have in your garden. This can all go in your annual garden report.

If you depend on the computer to store your photos, make sure to file them somewhere, hopefully in a file titled for that year, such as “2015 Garden”, with copies filed in appropriate files, such as “insects”, “crops”, or “tools”. Some people like to put photo books together online and then receive copies of the actual book. You could document all sorts of things in a book like that. Maybe that could be a project for your children to do, compiling information throughout the gardening season with that in mind.

Through the years I have often referred back to the letters that accompanied my records to John Jeavons and Ecology Action. Your annual garden report will reflect more than what is on record sheets. It can tell of the excitement, disappointment, discoveries, and enlightenment you experienced throughout the year. So, before you plan for 2016, take time to reflect on 2015. By writing an annual report, you can better direct your actions for planning this year’s garden.homeplace earth

 

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