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no longer just a post-holiday pick-me-up?

are we having fun yet? more tree than car to carry

I love the November/December holiday season! Ask Bob, he’ll confirm. After the fall harvest, I love the thought of an extended family gathered at my Thanksgiving table, followed by four straight weeks of holiday carols, holiday gatherings, thoughtful gift planning, maybe travel, maybe hosting kids and grandkids. My quest for the biggest tree that could unreasonably fit into my family room is legendary. Once my kids were grown and out of the house, and theoretically my motivation for holiday decoration gone, there was no decrease in my enjoyment of decorating, cooking, baking, eating, and making merry.

just getting it through the door was no small feat!

Yes, the December holidays are great. . . but then comes January and the potential for winter doldrums. Take heart! You could always count on opening your mailbox on January 2 and finding it filled with seed catalogs. Spring might be many months away, and the fizz of New Years’ champagne a fading memory, but now that you were armed with catalogs, you could do something! You could plan your summer garden and get ready to start some seedlings in a few weeks. Joy!

four-season harvest, or just jumping the gun?

On November 16, 2010, I strolled to my mailbox to find not one, but two 2011 seed catalogs. Yes, seed catalogs. I would expect the clothing, useless gift, and toy catalogs that clog my mail box and keep the USPS alive, but honestly, seed catalogs? Perhaps I’m not as enlightened agriculturally as I’d like to assume, and maybe this post will prove to be an embarrassment. You readers have heard me speak fondly of Eliot Coleman and other proponents of winter and four-season harvest, but even Coleman suggests that for winter harvest, you would have planted in the late summer or early fall. While I do recognize that there are folks in warmer climes than Connecticut; folks who could do something with seed catalogs,  I do believe that the seed growers have become impatient, like so many of us, and are opening the season prematurely.

now is the time

The tree is on the mulching pile at the town dump and the holiday decorations are tucked away in plastic bins in the basement. The sky is a bleak, steel-gray; temperatures cold enough to make you want to stay inside; and upwards to a foot and a half of snow in the forecast. This is the time that you need the promise of spring and summer crops delivered to your door. This is the moment when your spirits need buoying, and nothing can do that like a four-color spread of tomatoes, peppers, or beans in your favorite seed catalog. Not in November when there’s not enough time to sift them out of the mail. Not in November when they will be in a losing competition with the winter holidays. No, not in November; now is the moment!

basement beauty

 

getting ready to start some summer seedlings and kitchen herbs

 

Yes, poised to plant some hope! Working with potting soil on my basement work table helps to fill the void of not digging in the soil outside. Once filled, these self-watering planters will graduate to the window seats in the family room.  Not exactly a Martha Stewart touch, but works for me.

My mid-winter garden endeavors (besides what I’m harvesting from the cold frames — more on that tomorrow) take a two-pronged approach. I’m going to start some tomato, beet, and herb plants using seeds that were left over from last year. I’ve had pretty good success with “old” seeds, and with the price of good, organic seeds, it’s worth testing their shelf life.  Between stretching a couple of years out of purchased seeds and beginning to save my own, I’m able to reduce my costs for seeds.

But that won’t stop me from pulling up next to the wood stove with my favorite catalogs — or, more realistically, with my laptop and WiFi connection — and begin to imagine a the joy of planting, the pride of nurturing, and the immense satisfaction of harvesting!

post-hole digger making home for asparagus crown

We are all grateful to Eliot Coleman for so many reasons; just add this one to the litany. And it’s not for anything to do with winter gardening. It’s for saving my life, or rather the tentative lives of the asparagus crowns that have been waiting impatiently to find their new homes while I attend to business and finish my manuscript on Canning and Preserving (sort of counter-intuitive to Coleman’s philosophy, but we won’t go there today).

My last experience with asparagus was about twenty-five years ago. We read the instructions about digging a trench; my then husband began the digging while I attended to the kids. Several hours later he returned to the kitchen and announced that the bed was ready to plant; with excitement, I brought out the crowns and probably a few toddlers to find what appeared to be a grave site. He had dug more than a trench — a wide pit sufficiently deep to accommodate a coffin at regulation depth. (okay, exaggeration) Knowing that it would do nothing for our marriage if I suggested that it was too deep, I placed the asparagus crowns into what turned out to be their grave. Nothing emerged, ever. Complicating their challenge was the fact that our instructions said nothing about gradually covering them as they grew, so we piled three to four feet of soil on the crowns and challenged them to find daylight. If they made the attempt, I’ll never know.

Fast forward twenty-five years. I’m ready to take the asparagus challenge again. Do you know how many different opinions there are on the best way to plant asparagus crowns? The most common opinion calls for digging a trench about eight inches deep and twenty-four to thirty inches wide, and as long as needed to place the crowns between fifteen and twenty-four inches apart. You do the math; that’s a lot of earth to move. I’m already behind schedule getting these guys in the ground because of the manuscript deadline, and I’m gone for nearly three weeks in May. Yikes!

This is where Eliot Coleman comes in. In his Four Season Harvest, he suggests preparing the thirty-inch wide bed as usual, but then using a post-hole digger to dig eight-inch-deep holes for the crowns, spacing them twenty-four inches apart down the center of the standard bed. Much easier than digging out the entire bed! I modified his directions somewhat based on other sources that suggested you could plant them closer than twenty-four inches. I have the holes fifteen inches on center, and was able to accommodate twenty crowns.

What Coleman and a few others recommended (but curiously not the instructions that came with the crowns) was to place the crowns in the hole or trench and cover with just an inch or two of soil — don’t fill in the entire eight inches. Let the crowns sprout and break through, then continue to fill as they grow, similar to mounding potatoes.

Here’s a series of shots from the process. Let’s hope that soon I’ll be seeing those crowns peeking through, though it will be a few years before tasting the fruits of my labors.

cown in bottom of hole

crown covered with a little compost

asparagus patch for twenty crowns

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