Just as the trees store their resources for the winter and enter their quiet dream state, so the gardener spends the winter dreaming. There may be white snow outside, but the gardener sees the loamy black devil's food cake baking away in the compost heap, preparing to nourish another year's worth of crops. I turned the compost pile yesterday and more than a dozen worms wriggled out of my first pitchfork full.
This year we are expanding our blackberry and raspberry patches and adding one more blueberry bush. We plan to add a strawberry fountain, which I am most looking forward to, even if the plants don't bear fruit until next year. Strawberries are somewhat finicky and can be nutrient hogs. By building them into a raised bed shaped like a fountain, they can receive the best soil, more sunlight and warmth and it's easier to pick them. I'm not yet sure if mine will be square or round, but I'm looking forward to building it and planting the 50 strawberry plants that will arrive sometime this spring. I often order my fruits from the local nursery, Miller Nurseries. I like ordering from a local company that grows and rates all of their plants for my area. It can be cold in NY state and I appreciate that they've already done the testing for me. They send out the plants you order right after your area's last freeze date, so they always arrive right on time, even if that's a different week or month each year.
I plan to test out the three sisters planting method that so many native peoples have used. The three sisters are corn, squash and beans. The idea is that the beans use the fast growing corn stalks as support and scaffolding to climb, while the squash quickly fills in the shaded underside, preventing many weeds from growing up. All three seeds are sown directly into the soil.
Seed Savers Exchange. This organization saves and shares heirloom seeds, meaning these seeds will grow into plants that bear seeds so you can forever propagate your crops by saving the seeds they yield. This makes the gardener part of a long legacy as well as independent. Plus, it's exciting to plant seeds for crops you could never find in a grocery store. Last year we had heirloom organic black beauty zucchini, early fortune cucumbers and beautifully striped Amish melons with pale flesh. This year we are planting many new heirloom varieties. I'm especially looking forward to the yellow tomatoes that look like lightbulbs and the white and purple and white striped eggplants.
Eventually, we plan to grow some of the feed for our chickens. As was recently pointed out to us, even if you have chickens or other livestock, you're not a step closer to sustainability if you're not growing your own feed. I'm not sure how this fact escaped us before but now we can plan a feed garden for 2011.
In honor of St. Patrick's Day this week:
"You will never plough a field if you only turn it over in your mind."
- Irish Proverb