Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Winter Garden

Garlic in the Snow

Winter gardening, it's kind of an oxymoron isn't it?  Planting and harvesting fresh green vegi's in the winter months, really?  Now I'm convinced everyone should try it!  If I didn't have my prepared garden beds I'd have pots and beds on my patio and small containers of started seeds all over my kitchen window sill awaiting their place outside.   As much as my hubby and I eat lettuce and the like, I plant seeds a few at a time so I have an extended harvest, or in plain English....lettuce all the time!

Have you noticed the price of fresh foods lately?  It's crazy!  If you really pay attention to the quality of those fresh  foods it's even crazier!  In our house we eat a lot of fresh vegetables so anything I grow rather then buy really makes a difference to our bottom line.  Heck, just keeping me out of the store is worthwhile.  Farm life keeps me a bit secluded some weeks and the grocery store becomes an outing I look forward to (sad but true) and that is not the formula for walking out with only 1-2 items!  So, when I don't have to make that quick trip to the store for the perishable things we seem to always need most, it saves money and time.  Let's not forget the increased health benefits from the garden freshness too.  The vitamins are at their peak when picked. For me, knowing exactly how the food is grown and handled adds that much more satisfaction!
Arugula at 3 weeks
Tango Lettuce at 4 weeks
I'm going to make a huge leap and assume anyone reading this knows the basics of growing something.   If  you  think you don't know how to grow something I encourage you do get some dirt and try.  I am reminded of the many times in my life I avoided a challenge because I was convinced I couldn't do it.  Does anyone excel at anything until they've first made a few feeble attempts?  I didn't say until they got it right cause I don't believe that usually applies...my lettuce probably won't look like your lettuce  so where is the "right" in growing it?  Besides, as they say, we never know til we try, right?  Having a garden or just something growing from seed  is so easy and so rewarding and I think you'll find yourself successfully harvesting something on your very first try.  I cannot begin to tell you how cool it feels to pick those leaves and put them straight in your mouth!  Hints: keep it moist and give it sun...that's all you need to know. Whether from your window sill or your patio...it matters not.  To begin a winter gardening adventure all that is required of you is to pick something you'd like to grow.  Lettuce and arugula I've already mentioned., well how about spinach?  If space is an issue or you just want to start small;  lettuce, arugula and spinach are excellent choices.  A clay pot on your window sill would easily accommodate any of these choices.  If you have more space cabbage, fava beans, brussel sprouts just to name a few more.   Some of my very favorite resources for seeds are, Johnny's, Pinetree, and Territorial Seeds.  Each resource offers excellent quality seeds with a great variety of choices and customer service has been superb with each.  I find Pinetree offers smaller quantities on many of the items which better accommodates the home gardener.  So, pick that something that you want to grow, where your going to plant it and if it will be outdoors figure something to cover it when the temperatures are going to drop below freezing.   That's all it takes!

Onion that doubles as chive like herb
Some might say nothing is quite as pretty in a winter garden.  Although the winter garden always shows signs of harsh winter realities (or my forgetting to cover them up when temps drop below 30),  I say the color contrast from the browns and greens, sometimes capped with snow are really quite pretty.   There are certainly no bugs to contend with in a winter garden.  The leaves I see so many rake and pile by the road side...the best mulch ever.  If a small bed or pot is your choice the leaves crumble beautifully between your hands and are an excellent source of carbon for your soil too!
The winter garden is also stress free. Less yield for me gives me more flexibility for the when and how the food gets from the garden to our plates. In the prime growing months when the bounty is brimming I sometimes find getting out there to pick before things get over ripe haunts me.  Preparing that bounty before it goes to waste...I sometimes get stressed about that too.   Don't get me wrong, I love making preserves, canning tomatoes or just preparing that fabulous freshness from our garden. Let's face it, when those vines are spilling over and the branches weep from weight I often have plenty else to do.  So, winter gardening  reminds me how manageable it can be and when it is, I am more inclined to enjoy it.  It kind of re-exposes me to the  'root' of it all and I look forward to the bounty ahead.

I hope you will all find some seeds, whether you flip the pages of a catalogue or grab a pack as your standing in the check out of your favorite home improvement store, choose a vessel, and give it a try!  I promise it will brighten even the gloomiest of winter days.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Boys are Back

Each year in the fall the rams (boy sheep) get moved in with ewes (girls)...it's breeding time!  Since my background isn't in livestock or farming I am inclined to blush at the sites and thoughts of all the goings on around here.  I have an even greater imagination when it comes to the romancing I'm convinced takes place.

We have different pastures with different rams in each pasture.  We decide which ram goes with which ewes based on blood lines.  We just want to be sure there's no inbreeding.  Not too long ago I had someone jokingly say, "picking their beau's are you?"  Believe me, I did not laugh that off.  For a day or so I had to wrestle with the possibility that I might be involved in arranged marriages of sorts. Making the final decision for these girls, really!
 My justification rested in the fact that every ram on this farm is handsome and therefore these gals wouldn't mind.  I mean they don't have to rely on them for anything other then pretty babies and I hope a romantic evening, of sorts.

 So, the day approaches sometime in October each year.  We watch the calender.  For the sheep, the rams especially, they know.  This year Mi Sueno, our #1 ram, stood in the corner of his pasture for some 30 days before it was time.  Longingly staring at the ewes in the adjoining pastures.  They say the moon, stars and earths influences tell them it's that time of year again.

The other rams didn't show much interest but they haven't been around the block as many times as Mi Sueno so they're not quite as tuned in.  With very specific direction we send each ram strategically to they're perspective harem.  It is such a change in dynamics on the farm I stick around and feed my imagination.  I know when she bats those eyelashes...I saw it!     As I describe to anyone who wants to listen, each of our rams has a very different style.  Mi Sueno,  magnificent as he is, has one thing on his mind.  It is a job.  It's not work he'd trade for anything but that's all it is, his job.  He joins the gals one day, does his job, and regardless of the number of days past on the calender, he tells us when he is ready to get leave the mixed company!  Each year we know, when Mi Sueno starts getting rough with girls, he's had enough of whatever they were offering...he has forgotten again for another 12 months.

White Lightening is a handsome young ram with great promise just not enough years to build a reputation.  I know he is just discovering who he is but I still contend they each have their own style. He hasn't shown a single sign that he bred or was interested in such.  We won't really know until it's lambing time but I've seen his type before, he's just the private type. He nibbles on their ears and asks them if they'd like to dance.  I've actually heard cooing before.

Yesterday we moved the rams back to their pasture.  As we open the gate for them to join their fellow rams,  they look back toward the ewes, as if to say, "am I sure about this" then forward they move to the other rams calling, "come and get us".

Each ram being different in character, one looks back at the ewes again and then at me saying please can I stay with the girls while another doesn't give it a second thought, off he goes ramming rams! Once together they butt heads jump on each other and bully about.  They are boys, happy to be back together.

So you see some might say they're just animals and that I have too vivid an  imagination but I say, nope, not too far from our own stories of romance...sans the music and candlelight!