New Gardens-New Hopes

dried-flowersHope everyone had a great and stress free holiday season. I had wanted to wish everyone well before Christmas and here it is well into the new year already.

The house has been full these past few weeks and I have loved every minute of it, but it has left me feeling off balance with no time to myself or time to write. Everyone is now back to their normal routines and I have caught up on the housework and looking for time for myself to unwind.

We were talking about making resolutions last night and I realized I don’t make resolutions ever…I set goals and work towards them every day in one form or another. I posted my goals for 09′ several weeks ago here on the blog. I notice several of my favorite blogs are just listing their goals for the coming year. Great job! It’s great to see so many of them are much the same as mine and although I didn’t write any of my personal goals such as community or health down their’s will help keep me on track with my own.

Most pressing in my mind these past few months is becoming more dependent on our own farm and what we can produce here, growing a vegetable garden again, raising chickens and worms. Times are hard for everyone and the blogs are full of evidence supporting this, from folks facing forclosure, depression, living without heat and low on food, divorce or worse.

My husband and I have had the conversation lately that we need to change the horses for beef or goats. We have limited pasture space and that space might be better put to use. This is not going to happen, I love my horses and they bring me joy each day, each time I care for them and even just look at them. This is worth more to my happiness that a larger garden or a goat ever could. I find solace, happiness, stress relief, and comfort in those two and that would be hard to replace. When I’m worried I saddle up and take my worries for a ride and loose them somewhere along the way. Believe it or not cleaning the barn each day brings me comfort and joy and this out weights the cost of keeping them and the space they require in my mind.

The seed catalogs are starting to arrive, a few each day. 🙂 Boy-oh-boy if I didn’t know what I wanted before I certainly don’t have any clue now with all the new choices available. I am still partial to the heirloom varieties but this year (which is a good thing) there are more of those than ever before to choose from. Then there are the recommendations from my favorite blogs, my friends and local farmers. This may take me some time to figure out exactly what to grow. Then comes figuring out what seeds are available through local farmers and fellow homesteaders, then the local small farm stores, then the catalogs to fill in the rest. I’ve already wrote and crossed out several lists.

With my life and routines lately raised growing beds put close to the house will work best for me. I have been reading about the square foot gardens and decided last fall to try my own variation of this. What little lawn I do have is now in serious danger. I have also been reading about planting in stages to extend the harvest amount through out our very short growing season (104 days on average).

Another new concept to me is the cold frames, hoop houses and row covers. There is a vast amount of information on these all over the internet, but surprising to me very little written on the actual use and success in a cold climate, zone 4 such as my own. Our own cooperative extension doesn’t even have much useful information on the success of using these techniques.

With the cost of food on the rise and the current state of our economy I think that growing as much of your own and carefully preserving it for future use a practice everyone should consider for the coming years. Not only for the purpose of feeding your own family but also as a resource for trade and helping fellow community members feed their families.

I am not a gloom and doom type of thinker, but I can’t ignore what’s right if front of me. I do have the feeling reliable food may not be that easy to find always in the coming years. One recent event that has me thinking this was last month we had an ice storm that left 40,000 homes in the state without power for up to two weeks. Our local grocery store ran on generators for 4 days. There was no produce, dairy, frozen foods, meats or other items needing refrigerating after the first day. These items weren’t restocked until a week and a half after the power came back on. This seemed like a minor event to me and that the food system should have had a better system worked out as to not interrupt the supply of food to their customers. What would happen if something more major that an ice storm happened? MANY MANY families would be in serious trouble. I also see crimes being committed to feed these families.

It was on the local news– generators were being stolen from back yards in the night, utility workers being attacked while trying to restore power. Homes were broken into and thousands hit the emergency shelters looking for help. Schools, business and offices closed. This was an ice storm what would I see if the food supply was interrupted for a longer period of time….It scares me to think about it. Suffice to say I have added additional personal and home security planning to my list of emergency supplies. I live in rural NH for goodness sakes, not a big city….What has happened to the Yankee ingenuity, self reliance and hardiness of the people in the area? I seriously doubt I would have seen these things happen when I was a child. It has to be the growth and increased population in the area. Something I’m sure is not unique to this area.

Growing a garden, canning, drying and freezing is something I had done for many years. A few years ago…2002 according to my saved seeds (my how time flies) I got very discouraged with the wild animals eating the entire garden and stopped growing my own and went to bartering and trading with neighbors and attended the farmer’s markets for our fresh produce. We even gave away our freezer! While this worked well I never had an excess of produce to preserve the quantities needed to feed my family until the next growing season.

The cost of the produce even at the farmer’s markets has steadily risen and I’m thinking, wood chucks or not, I must succeed in growing and preserving my own produce again.

Add to this I’m hoping to produce enough extra to help in feeding of the Java chickens that are coming in the spring. I don’t expect to feed them solely from the garden as there is no practical way of proving fresh veggies outside the growing season. In our area that’s June-September, realistically. I also will be letting them wander around the farm to find their own food too. I will be constructing a solar dehydrator to preserve some greens for them.

 I have plans on starting a medium sized Vermicomposting system with the hope of feeding the worms to the chickens and using the worm casting in the garden. I am just starting to research which system I would like to use. I have found information on building your own worm beds and some manufactured ones. Some of the sights have suggested putting holes in the bottom to allow the fluid to drain. I’m not sure I like the idea of it just draining, I think I would like to be able to control it and actually have it to use on plants.

I gave away all of my canning supplies several years ago (I can hear the gasp of horror to many reading this) to a family just starting their homestead that needed them more than I did at the time.

So I have been on the hunt for new supplies. This fall I purchased 2 water bath caners with extra racks for an amazing $6 each including the extra racks. (check the Internet they are selling for $36. each these days) A small local hardware store had them on clearance and I bought the last 2 good ones. Had there been more I would have purchased them also to gift to someone. The ones left were dented and the granite enamel finish was flaking off. CANNING SUPPLIES NEED TO BE IN GOOD WORKING ORDER ($6 or not)!

Now to replace my jars and other supplies, Craig’s list, yard sales, church sales, estate auctions, newspaper ads and local feed store bulletin board are a good place for me to start. At the end of next season all supplies will again be on clearance, I missed the jars this year. I will also need to find a clean, dry place to store them when not in use.

In the meantime I will continue to sort through the seed catalogs, pull out and organize my canning recipes as well as look for new ones. Last fall many of my favorite blogs posted recipes, I printed them out and have yet taken the time to organize them properly. I am going to purchase a new Ball Blue book, my copy is 15 years old and I have noticed some of the information and recipes in the book are different now. I’m not sure if this is due to the thinking of safety or the difference in today’s produce being used. Something to research, if I’m preserving heirloom varieties perhaps the old recipes would be safer…Any one have any thoughts on this? I read somewhere the tomato recipes had changed because today’s varieties have a different amount of acid in them… I’m sure as years past in the heat of the canning season I won’t have time to look for recipes much less have the time to organize them nicely. It’s a perfect time to curl up with a cup of coffee and do this.

I’m hoping to have my seed orders placed by the end of the month and the garden size and layout completed then too. Then figure out where and how I’m going to do the succession planting I’m hoping for this year. I’m going to figure this out on graph paper, here is a link to a graph designed for a square foot garden I think could be sized for any size garden.

Any suggestions on cold climate gardening, cold frames in a cold zone or other information would be very much appreciated if you would share it with me. I am also looking for a local seed swap if anyone knows of one coming up.

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Posted on January 19, 2009, in Chickens, Food Storage, Gardening, Planning and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Well, I have a little experience with extending the season. I sorta border zone 4/ 3.

    I have a small cold frame that I plant spinach in. I start a succession crop of spinach starting in August. I plant in empty spots in the garden once a week until late September. This gives us fresh spinach right through October with some for the freezer and dehydrator. The last plantings I put in the cold frame. The grow very slowly and will only get their secondary leaves. But, in late winter or very early spring when the weather starts warming , the spinach will grow and I will have fresh spinach from the garden in March and April.

    I visited a Biodynamic Farm, in western Maine, last January. The folks had planted their spinach in this manner and had a greenhouse full of spinach during the January thaw . It was so nice to have fresh spinach in January!

    I also plant a big plot of kale and that will usually last through early December. I have seen methods for forcing endive indoors in the winter too.

  2. In contrast to the horses, you’ve never had a cow before, I gather. They’re a nice break from human society, will lick you like their calf once they get to know you, and give you lots of milk & cream too! Yes, you would use it all up!! And never miss those expensive horses!

    On the Ball Blue Book and canning changes, here’s my take: the USDA is ALWAYS researching and revising. They’ll tell you that making kraut in jars as I do is unsafe. I don’t buy it. These same people also go after small family farmers if they even venture to sell meat, milk, or eggs off their farms while the BIG AG companies are steam cleaning and irradiating to cover up their mistakes. I’d say save your cash and use the older one. Mine is 10 or 15 years old and I’ve no problems with it.

    Now, with that saved cash and your interest in winter gardening info, I HIGHLY recommend Elliot Coleman’s 4 Season Harvest. He’s in Maine and has lots of great info that you would find useful.

  3. I second the recommendation on Four Season Harvest – great book!

    I have tons of vermicomposting resources if you want some. I even teach a class on it at my local community college. If you have any questions, let me know, its a great thing and I love helping folks get started.

  4. Hi Kathie,
    When I get closer to starting I would love some of your info. I did see the post you did on the worm container you are using, you said at the time you liked it. Is that still true?

    I will look for the Four Season Harvest book.

    Hope you are enjoying the winter season.
    ~Karyn

  5. Hi Karin,
    That is great advise. I will give the spinach a try that way. We are not huge eaters of it, maybe once a week, but I bet I could find lots of recipes to use it…I have been on the look out for a cold frame, I found some nice plans to build one on the internet it is sunk into the ground on 3 sides.

    Again thanks for telling me your planting method….

    ~Karyn

  6. Hi Kristin,

    I hear you about the USDA! I am a firm beleiver in the methods our parents and grandparents used in many areas, food is no different. I am going to take your advise and use my trusty old blue book and purchase the Four Season Book. It sounds like its going to be just what I have been looking for.

    We did have a cow when we were young and my sister has one now. I LOVE THEM! and they are so sweet. My true love is my horses, I had them as a child and honestly couldn’t/wouldn’t want to live without one. I would like to have a cow too. Maybe some day that will be an option.

    Thanks for the input I always love hearing what everyone thinks esp. when I start to doubt myself.

    ~Karyn

  7. WE plant the spinach but you may be able to try other cold weather greens that will work the same way. Pok Choi?

    Four Season Harvest is a must for those of us who live in the colder climates.

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