Story by Dave Feral
With the pantry packed, firewood stacked, and all projects of fall finally finished it’s time to slow down and enjoy the fruits of our labor. Lyrics from Greg Brown’s song, Canned Goods say it well, “peaches on the shelf, potatoes in the bin, suppers ready everybody come on it, taste a little of the summer…, Granma put it all in the jar, in those ball canning jars.” Preserving that taste of summer by canning, drying, or freezing, provides our family with delicious nutritious treats all winter long. November, December, and January are the months my family and I relax and savor the work of spring, summer, and fall. This time of year our living room is often full of friends and family sharing our favorite potluck meals, stories, and music. We are grateful for the bounty our land and community bring, and this is the season we give thanks!
It’s okay if you didn’t have time this fall to can 50 jars of salsa, dry multiple sheets of fruit leather, or fill the freezer with home grown goodness. Fortunately, most of us live near the coast where the weather is mild enough to garden year round. If you happen to live away from the coast, winter gardening may be more challenging, but that doesn’t mean you can’t harvest something from your garden almost all winter long. Seeding out your winter garden actually begins in the late summer and early fall allowing you to harvest vegies throughout the winter, some of those cold hardy crops include brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and chard. Other crops that can be grown include carrots, radish, and spinach. With a little bit of ingenuity you can grow more sensitive crops like lettuce and other delicate greens too.
Dating back to the 16th and 17th century European Gardner’s employed vegetables. Parisian growers were able to create hotbeds by piling manure around a cold frames. Metabolic heat from the manure munching microbes kept the bed warm through the winter, providing just enough heat to grow a fresh crisp head of lettuce in January.
A simple cold frame can be built with an old window and some solid 2”x 6” lumber for relatively little expense and labor. You will harvest the rewards each winter with fresh salad greens or whatever you decide to plant. You can learn more about winter gardening in Eliot Coleman’s book The Four Season Farm, sharing his experience as an east coast market farmer, his book is the bible to year round gardening. For over 30 years Elliot has refined and distilled the concepts of winter gardening for the market scale gardener living in the northern latitudes. Coleman explains in great detail how he produces year-round vegetables on his Maine farm under harsh winter conditions. Elliot Coleman has published four different organic gardening books each loaded with a treasure trove of detailed descriptions to help you successfully, plan, plant, and harvest year-round, they include; The Four Season Farm, The New Organic Grower, Winter Harvest Manual, and The Winter Harvest Handbook. Though we all have aspirations to make the most of our garden space, Elliot Coleman reminds us,“ The secret to success in lengthening the season without problems of failures is to find the point at which the extent of climate modification is in balance with the extra amount of time, money, and management skill involved in attaining it.
The dark days of December and January, being the most difficult months in which to produce crops are probably worth designating for rest, reorganization, and planning for the new season to come.” I wish you luck with your winter gardening and I hope you have the opportunity to share a little taste of summer this season while you relax, plan, and celebrate with family and friends!