One day closer to Spring!

That’s what I’ve been telling myself the past few weeks as we’ve dealt with freezing temps, rain, ice, wind and snow flurries. I admit it. I am a wimp.  I could never, ever live in a place that receives several inches – or feet – of snow for several days as the norm for winter. ~shudder~ God bless those who can. They have my full respect.

I’ve been using the extra time indoors to begin preparing for the garden and subsequent harvest this Spring and Summer. I’ve taken inventory of my canning lids and jars, organized my canning recipes, and collected a few more I’d like to try. I’ve also inventoried our seeds and it looks as though we’ll only need to buy flower seeds. We should have plenty of edibles.

Given the condition of our soil. (translation: CLAY), we use raised beds and containers for most of our vegetable crops. We do have some areas in our yard that we have worked with and are actually able to plant a few things, but not nearly enough for the amount of food that we want to grow. We have joked about how great it would be to cover the backyard in newspaper, haul in several loads of topsoil, manure and compost and do away with the “yard” completely. But, the time, expense and given the fact that we rent currently just don’t make that feasible. ~sigh~ So, for now, we work with within the limits of what we have.

Currently, we have 5 raised beds, each measuring approximately 4’x4′. We made them from pallets that we obtained for FREE (love that word!). They are filled with manure, our compost, clay from the yard and good ‘ol dirt. A couple of years ago, we had a friend who was clearing part of his land to build a structure and told us we could have all the dirt we could shovel and haul. I have a “thing” for dirt. Dirt to me smells like earth. It smells “alive”. It has a certain feel and texture. It’s pure, natural and beautiful. It’s been in the same spot for enough years to have layers upon layers of organic matter and natural compost absorbed into it. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a bazillion worms in each shovel full of dirt. You know it’s quality stuff when you see that.

So, for several Saturdays, we’d load up every bucket and dirt holding vessel we could find in our pick up, head off to our friends house and shovel and fill. We learned a very valuable lesson in doing this. Even though a container CAN hold that much dirt, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it SHOULD. Especially when mere mortals, such as ourselves, have to load and unload these vessels. Dirt can be quite heavy in case you didn’t know. 🙂 But, somehow, we got it done and were very thankful to have it as part of our garden. Of course, we shared our bounty last year with our friend for his contribution, as we will this year.

Each year of gardening, we learn something new. Either about watering, plant placement, companion planting – every year brings new knowledge. For example, last year, my plan on paper was perfect. Yes, I mean perfect. As long as the plants had stayed around a foot tall, there wouldn’t have been any problems. But bless goodness, they grew like crazy and totally destroyed my plan! Harvesting was quite the challenge in some places, with us having to actually crawl up under the tomato plants, trying to make sure we didn’t leave any to rot on the vines. The cowpeas snaked themselves through tomato plants, pepper plants, winding around with the green beans and getting themselves all tangled up in the mint. There were areas between the boxes that we couldn’t even walk through – we had to duck under to walk beneath the canopy of plants holding onto one another and invading each others growing space. As challenging as it was, it was a beauty to behold. We just let nature “do it’s thing”, letting the plants grow as they would, staking only when absolutely necessary to prevent breakage. The downside was, some things we planted, like bell peppers and squash, simply didn’t make it because they got crowded out.

This year will be a bit different. We’ll have 4 main boxes for growing tomatoes, beans, peppers, peas, and cucumbers. Our okra will be planted in the ground with natural soil amendments added. Our fifth box will hold mainly our carrots, radishes and beets. I’m using restraint this year to allow some extra room in each box for adding odds and ends to as we decide to plant them. I believe I will do flowers in containers and place them all around the perimeter of the yard as well as throughout the boxes to help with pest control and attracting pollinators. The herbs I will do in containers. The only herb I had much luck with last year was basil. I’m hoping by doing them in containers, I’ll get more of a variety to flourish. Our melons will more than likely be planted in a mound along the fence of our yard so they can just grow as they please.

In the next week or so, it will be time to start some seeds in grow pots to have them ready for transplanting once the time is right. I can’t wait! This year we have the chickens, which we didn’t last year, so we now have more natural fertilizer and rich organic matter to add to the compost pile. They’ve been working diligently at weed control this fall and winter, and I will certainly appreciate their help with bug control when the temperatures warm. I’d also like to try vermicomposting this year. I think that will be a valuable, all natural addition to fertilizing our garden.

For now, I’m counting the days and keeping myself busy. I know it’s only a couple months away, but it seems like a lot longer. I just love the transformation as winter gives way to spring. The new buds beginning to open, the birds flitting about making nests and singing constantly, clothes blowing in the breeze on the line, and the greeness returning to everything that had went dormant to rest and wait out the winter. I love the tiredness I feel at sundown, sitting on the back porch with a cold drink and gazing upon the work that we’ve created with nature, God and the sweat of our brow. It’s a feeling of peace, accomplishment and thankfulness.

Allow me to throw out a couple of bits of reference. I have found the advice of Bill Mollison and Sepp Holzer very helpful during my gardening research. While we’re not able to do permaculture gardening on as big a scale as we’d like (yet!) we have been able to incorporate a few basic principles. Here are a few links that I find very helpful and informative for gardening as well.

http://backtoedenfilm.com/

http://www.permaculture.org/nm/index.php/site/index/

http://www.permies.com/forums

http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening.aspx

http://www.ghorganics.com/ (They have a GREAT guide for companion planting on their website! I think the company itself may be out of business, but the website is still an amazing resource.)

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