Friday, January 9, 2009

Preparing for Spring

I had wanted to do a short series of "preparing for Spring" posts all about getting starting with gardening and canning. Then, I started seeing all my ideas on another blog I've started reading! The lovely author of TennZen has done a WONDERFUL job of laying out the basics of planning/starting a garden and preparing to harvest the rewards of that garden, so I decided (with her permission) that it'd be easier to just link on over to her blog.

Starting back on Dec. 29, she writes about her plans to only grow what's edible. We're all about "food, not lawns". We've completely given up our backyard and it looks nothing like what the typical suburban homeowner strives for--there's a mishmash of "weeds" back there wherever the grass hasn't already been replaced by large garden beds. The "weeds" ended up being just what the chickens love to eat though......they may not look like food to the casual observer, but they put yummy, nutritious eggs on our table. Our front yard is definitely not the best in the neighborhood. It's not that we don't care what it looks like, it's just that we don't care so much about keeping up the st. augustine grass. It's takes lots of water and time to upkeep, but doesn't give anything back. We've already planted peach, plum, fig and pear trees out there, and the goal is to landscape with things like artichokes and rosemary that contribute the manicured beauty the neighbors like to see, while providing us with food in return for our efforts.

Then, on Jan 2, TennZen wrote about planting a salad bowl. Great idea! Our grow lights will soon be monopolized by seedlings, so we wanted to find a suitable window to put our living salad. This weekend, we'll be attaching a left over piece of bamboo flooring to the chosen window sill so that it will support small pots of lettuces.

On Jan 5, I began to wonder if TennZen had a direct connection to my brain or something (even though we've never met). Her Advice to a Beginning Gardener post is fantastic. She included many of the same links I would have included! For those of you who are local, here are a few more specific things for you to check out: Producer's Co-op is a great local source of seed/plants/trees. The folks that work there are helpful, they carry the varieties that are known to grow well in our area, and they have useful information packets on certain topics already printed out for you to take with you. You can get information from the Brazos County Master Gardeners (hint: they have a class next week on spring vegetable gardens 101) too. Two of the most helpful resources I like to have around are the Vegetable Planting Guide and Vegetable Varieties Guide. These will give a head start about when to plant and what grows well in our area. You can also access the Aggie Horticulture page for information about all sorts of different plants and how to help them grow in our area. On Thursdays, from noon to 1pm, you can tune into KAMU 90.9 on your radio and listen in (or call in with your questions) to Garden Success with Doug Welsh. His email's down right now, but usually you can also email a question when you think of it, and then just listen on Thursday for your answer. Doug has also put together a Texas Garden Almanac that's available locally (though if you buy through that website, you get a discount that nearly cancels the cost of shipping).

Moving on to January 6, When TennZen posted the first canning topic of the year, and I just have to ditto everything she says! Like she mentioned, we love the National Center for Home Preservation website and the Ball blue book. The canner she mentions is the same one we use. If you are looking for canner parts locally (gaskets, gauges, etc...), I have seen them at Parker-Astin Hardware along with harder to find items like half gallon Ball jars, and large boiling water bath canners. She talks about using flour sack towels instead of cheesecloth and I'm definitely going to have to try that out.

She Followed up with a post about canning safety, which I nodding along in agreement with until I got to the part about cake in a jar. Cake in a jar made me uneasy, but then one day I decided to go ahead and try it out. It seemed to work fine and no one got sick and I changed my mind into thinking it was a good idea. Then I clicked on the link in TennZen's post and read the statement about cake in a jar on the National Center for Home Preservation website and decided cake in a jar really isn't worth the risk. I have two deep freezes, I can freeze cake. Even if it's worked fine for me in the past, I'm really not into pushing my luck when things like botulism are involved. So thank you, TennZen, for teaching me something new!

Most recently, TennZen wrote about why she save money. I am all about saving money! I get some flack sometimes because our garden is not 100% organic. We don't use pesticides, we don't use chemical fertilizers, but we are not totally organic. Our chickens are grass/bug-fed, but they are supplemented with (non-medicated) feed and are not free range...they stay in their coop, their coop just moves around the yard. So, I've clarified before, but I'll do it again. We do this because it's frugal and because it makes us more independent. We are working towards being as self-sufficient as possible and certainly growing our own food is part of that. As an added bonus, it's comforting to know what we're putting in our bodies. We know what goes in our plants and on our plants and we are comfortable with eating those things. We also feel the nutritional value saved by eating or preserving immediately after harvest makes a big difference. Actually had a doctor tell me about a month ago that she'd really prefer her patients eat frozen vegetables because the "fresh" vegetables have often been stored so long they've lost much of their nutritional value. Better than that is just grow it in your backyard, run out to pick it, and eat it right away! I was shocked to find through TennZen's blog that Tennessee taxes food! While we deal with a pretty high sales tax in Texas (8.25% in our area), we do not tax food unless it is a "convenience" item. Even better for us, vegetable seeds are not taxable. Regardless of tax though, I don't trust that the local grocery store will always be there and stocked with affordable food. Even if I don't NEED it at the moment and choose not to maintain it all the time, I want to make dang sure we have learned the skills to provide for ourselves if the need arises.

Skip on over to TennZen's blog and enjoy her wonderfully thorough posts. Especially if you are in Texas, NOW is the time to start planning your spring garden.


TennZen said...

Well, I am speechless (for once)! Thanks so much for the honorable mention here on your blog.

It's been said that great minds think alike and it looks like it's true! But I also take a lot of comfort in knowing that people like you and me aren't alone in our efforts to truly support ourselves while keeping old traditions alive.

Thank you again for the mention - I'm really tickled!

- Leia (TennZen)

The Hills said...

Thank YOU for writing such thorough posts! :-)

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