It’s been cold here- really cold! One beautiful sunny Sunday, my family trekked up a faraway corner of the woods atop another nearby hill where no one lives but the critters, and the entire world was covered with snow that sparkled like diamonds. We followed coyote, rabbit, mouse, and deer tracks. You’ll just have to close your eyes and imagine; it was too beautiful to be done justice with a camera and one of those times to not glibly click a camera, but to really breathe it in and be in the moment. We seem to have a mostly perpetual blanket of snow on our hill this winter, and I love it- I feel so insulated and protected, almost like a child in a womb waiting for a rebirth. My plans for delivering our new baby and the first few months of caring for a newborn seem to coincide with my plans for spring’s arrival and tending a new garden and all the seed babies… Our spring baby will be the perfect size and age to pop on my back in a carrier and be lulled to sleep as I move- to dig, plant, weed, and enjoy the fresh air.
My first priorities in the garden are having a never ending succession of lettuce for salads and plenty of root veggies (potatoes, onions, carrots and beets) that store well for the following year. I start my lettuces and cold-loving plants (parsley, carrots, kale and chard, turnips) in boxes as soon as we get a few nice thaws and 60-70 degree days in late March or very early April where the ground is workable. We have a few rectangular frames- nothing as fancy as square foot gardening, just leftover assortments of 2 x 4’s- and cover these with greenhouse plastic over a mini pvc pipe “hoop house” frame. If there is a big snow afterwards, I need to be diligent to brush it off the plastic before it accumulates too much so it doesn’t collapse- but last year this techniqe yielded my fresh salads while it was still freezing at night and snowing by day!
When it’s warm enough to plant peas, I plant them up the sides of my lettuce boxes with chicken wire or similar, so that they grow to shade the lettuce during the hot parts of the summer (many lettuces bolt and go bitter with heat).
I don’t remember when I first heard about it, but the Back To Eden gardening technique was an epiphany to me. Watch the free movie on their website and learn all about it- fascinating. I tried it out later in the gardening season with my tomatoes, and they were incredible. For a few years I had been discontent with the disruption of the soil caused by tilling (not to mention the hard work!), but didn’t know what else to do. Now, I lay down several (3-4) layers of newspaper from the recycling center over the ground, pile some good soil and compost from last year’s chicken litter patch on top, add some garden soil if needed (til I build more up and don’t need it anymore), cover with a layer of wood chips from the tree removal service, and create small rows by using the edge of the hoe to create rows below the woodchips but above the newspaper to plant seeds in. As time goes on and no tilling is done, the first steps are no longer needed as you have a deep layer of rich soil and wood chips, and no newspaper or new soil needs to be added- just keep adding a bit of compost and woodchips to the top and you’ve got a no-till garden that prevents soil erosion, is easy to weed (because tilling/exposing to light is often what germinates the weed seeds in your garden, weeds don’t take root as easily on a pile of mulch, and the soil protected by mulch is so light and airy instead of caked and compacted from tilling that weeds are super easy to pull out), and can grow A LOT in a small area- the airy soil just moves aside to let the veggies grow and little thinning is needed. This method also really captures water, keep things evenly moist, and makes watering your garden during hot spells almost completely unnecessary. Thinking of the earth in a holistic sense, the soil would be the “skin” and is a protective layer, not a something to be dug up and turned over. It is also interesting to note that tilling appears in the Bible after the separation between God and man- a method we came up with after our disconnection with the divine. I think it is one of the biggest contributors to soil erosion and loss of nutrient density in our foods.
Aside from the boxes, I like to add a bit of geometric variety by planting spiral gardens and making a few rock circles to plant in. Last year I had a rainbow tomato and rainbow potato garden, with as many different colored varieties of each as I could find. They were so much fun! I wish I took more pictures of last year’s garden- I kept meaning to- you know, when I was finished weeding- but I never seemed to be finished weeding!
I am also enjoying incorporating biodynamic techniques in our garden. I am still looking for a source for cowhorns and haven’t gotten into the soil “teas” and special concoctions yet, but I have tried planting by the moon, stars and planets with the help of the annual Biodynamic Planting Calendars. This year’s calendar looks great. I’m also really enjoying a few other great gardening/nature related books- Biodynamic Gardening for Health & Taste is wonderful (my husband has been reading it and asked me if it was necessary to be naked while making the soil teas- haha! No, it is just illustrated with simple caricatures of humans gardening- without clothes!). I think my favorite book right now is The Language of Plants. This book covers the doctrine of signatures and helps you understand why & how traditional healers chose certain plants to help bring their patients into balance. It explains how petals, leaves, shapes, and habitats communicate a plants’ purpose and use. For instance, just as eucalyptus planted in marshy/watery areas can actually dry up the landscape, so eucalyptus can help with drying up mucus in the body. I am looking at plants with a whole new mindset! One last book I am loving that is making me so excited to grow fresh herbs is Compresses And Other Therapeutic Applications. This books gives full details on using herbal compresses and dressings to effect healing- with techniques, recipes, and much more- written by an anthroposophic nurse. I think the warmth and love that goes into preparing and applying a simple compress has got to be very healing in itself- and so soothing for our children when they are under the weather. Stay tuned for a 20% off discount code on all the books for our upcoming February Cedar Ring Circle special order.
My favorite source for seeds is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Founded by a passionate young seed saver, Baker Creek is the result of years of hunting down unique heirloom varieties of seeds from the world over. Some of my favorites include the Slo-Bolt Cilantro, Contender Bush Beans, Dill Bouquet, European Mesclun Salad Mix, Teddy Bear Sunflower, Merlo Nero Spinach, Orange Porcupine Calendula, Oregon Sugar Pod Snow Pea, Pink Beauty Radish, Russian Red Kale, and Yellow Pear Tomato- to name a very few! For great deals on these seeds and many others, email me at email@example.com for details on our annual Cedar Ring Circle heirloom seed sale, going on now through February 10th.