Winter settles in … commit to a new gardening year in 2018

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Jeneen Wiche

Weekend Gardener


While the winter slowdown has not yet happened, it does seem to be around the corner. Or is that just wishful thinking? At any rate, winter is a time to regroup and plan for another year at the farm. We always do some serious infrastructure planning to improve our management of pastured chickens and grazing sheep.

The goal is always about allowing for more organized rotational grazing and sorting. We have gradually built our infrastructure as we also gradually grown emotionally and intellectually with our farming practices. I know this may sound a little strange but farming is very emotional because at any moment things can go terribly wrong. I am not suggesting that we have a fatalistic approach to raising animals, fruits and vegetables, but for each species, there lurks a threat. I have honed my skills on fruits and vegetables and now have “coping skills” when it comes to managing animals for food, as well.

We hedge our bets with fencing, livestock guardian dogs, movement, sunshine and rain and vigilant observation. This applies to sheep and potatoes alike. Observation reveals a happy lamb or a diseased potato plant. We weed, pick Colorado potato beetles from leaves and squish their larva. If we see the happiness we know we are on track; anything to the contrary we need to act accordingly to address the situation.

Yes, we have blown it on occasion and missed the signs of distress, but the lessons have never been lost on us. I try very hard not to make the same mistake twice.

We had a bumper crop of sweet potatoes again in 2017. We learned to use a pressure canner for our Christmas day festivities, canning Hubbard squash soup from another bumper crop that thrived in a resting pasture no thanks to us. I am planning a bigger vegetable garden this year now that I am no longer afraid of the pressure canner. Our vegetable garden sustains us, as do the lambs and chickens (for eggs and meat). I think my resolution for 2018 is to not become weary of the work (as I age) but to embrace the opportunities as the gift they truly are.

If you are a first-time gardener, the best advice I can impart is to build soil. Find a spot in full sun and pour on the composted manure! Building soil ultimately delivers an environment where plants can thrive.

There is a symbiotic relationship between healthy, living soils and the plants that grow from it. Healthy soil that delivers nutrients slowly, is well-drained yet maintains moisture, and supports important microbial life takes much of the burden off the gardener.

Weeding seems to be our biggest challenge because they like healthy soil, too!

There are two things that I go back to as I try to maintain a meaningful existence. First is this idea that individual dependency on the whole reinforces accountability to one another.

We have lost some of this accountability because of the anonymity of the services we use daily. We know where our fruit, vegetables, eggs, lamb and chicken come from, so you can be sure that accountability is easy to trace. The other thing that keeps me grounded is articulated best in a quote from Will Harris of White Oak Pastures, “the way you know you are successful is, do you still enjoy watching your animals.” I can say that this is usually the best thing I do on any given day.

Watching animals actively engaged in what they instinctively like to do is pretty cool.

Equally, weeding, harvesting vegetables and serving them to your family creates a connection to nature and nutrition that has been lost in the industrial food system.

Let’s try to get that connection back in 2018. Happy New Year!