Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Midwinter Start to a Mini Farming Season

It is midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. I know I just might survive winter because it is time to start planting for the upcoming year.
By the beginning of February, I had planned out the upcoming season, what crops I would plant, where each would go, when each crop would need to be started indoors, sowed outdoors or transplanted. Even when a second crop would need to be started. Just before Feb 2nd it is time to sow onions, leeks, celery and chives indoors. The week after, around Feb 12, it will be time to plant broccoli, kale, cool weather lettuce. These might be able to go out in the garden as early as March 11. Things like peas, arugula and radishes can go directly in the ground as early as March 2nd. Have you planted your onions yet?

Many people think of gardening as only a late spring and summer hobby. When warm weather hits and their local garden shop or the farmers market is selling started plants. When you are farming or growing your own food you learn quickly that "working on the garden" is something that needs to be done year round. I have been studying mini-farming, biodynamic farming, French intensive, biointensive, square foot method and a few other techniques to get a maximum harvest out of a small piece of land. These methods allow small farmers to get an equal about of harvest using only a fraction of the space. I'm excited to put some of this information into action. I'm planning to use a combination of techniques that build on the concept of healthy soil, healthy plants, maximum efficiency and maximum harvest. I won't be using raised bed, which many of these methods recommend. Still there will be a strong focus on soil preparation, planning and organization.

Let's look at a few of these methods:

Mini-Farming is a holistic approach to small-area farming that will show you how to produce 85 percent of an average family’s food on just a quarter acre. "Mini-Farming is primarily different from gardening in terms of attitude. That is, gardening is a hobby that is usually a break-even affair financially at best; whereas mini-farming is undertaken from day-one as an economic enterprise whose intent is to be a net economic positive." (Markham) It has a strong focus on self sufficiency.

Biodynamic Farming:
  • An impulse for deep social change rooted in the practice of farming. Biodynamics calls for new thinking in every aspect of the food system, from how land is owned to how farms are capitalized to how food is produced, distributed and prepared.
  • A type of organic farming that incorporates an understanding of “dynamic” forces in nature not yet fully understood by science. By working creatively with these subtle energies, farmers are able to significantly enhance the health of their farms and the quality and flavor of food.
  • A recognition that the whole earth is a single, self-regulating, multi-dimensional ecosystem. Biodynamic farmers seek to fashion their farms likewise as self-regulating, bio-diverse ecosystems in order to bring health to the land and to their local communities.
Square Foot Gardening is a simple system that adapts to all levels of experience, physical abilities, and geographical locations. "Grow all you want and need in only 20% of the space of a conventional row garden."

Biointensive Farming has eight essential aspects:
  1. Double-Dug, Raised Beds
  2. Composting
  3. Intensive Planting
  4. Companion Planting
  5. Carbon Farming
  6. Calorie Farming
  7. The Use of Open-Pollinated Seeds
  8. A Whole-System Farming Method

French Intensive Gardening  is a method in which man works with nature to foster healthy, vibrant plants with smaller space and less water than more traditional gardening. As a very detail oriented method, more time will be spent than on an average type of garden, the maximized productivity and beautiful arrangements will be more than satisfying for the patient gardener. It started outside Paris in the 1890's and gained renewed interest after WW-II.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Winter Fare - Keeping in Local

While my family has been eating local and gardening for several years, this is our first attempt at getting through the winter with our stored local and home grown food as our primary food source. So far, I'd say it is a success. I have lettuce, spinach and salad greens growing in a flower box on the windowsill. Peppers and tomatoes started indoors and a healthy crop of wheatgrass.

Most of the peaches, pears and blueberries that I canned in the fall are gone. I do still have plenty of frozen blueberries, cranberries and one precious jar of strawberries left. The apples in the root cellar are holding up well and should get us through into March. Warm apple sauce for breakfast is extra yummy on a chilly cold winter morning.

Our supply of sun dried tomatoes ran out this month. I realized I need to grown a lot more tomatoes next year. I was lucky to find a local source of greenhouse tomatoes and have purchased some of those. I froze a bunch of our summer cherry tomatoes and still have several jars left. These make a great addition to soups and roasted veggie dishes.

Cold winter days scream out for soup! This beautiful yellow tomato soup that we made in September from heirloom tomatoes from Red Fire Farm is the exact right fit for winter lunch fare. It has been a real favorite this season.

One of the biggest complaints I have heard in trying to eat local during the winter is that people just get sick of root vegetables. The cure is to be creative. We like to make smoothies with our root veggies and some frozen fruit.We toss yellow and candy stripe beets, carrots and other roots in the juicer (uncooked) and then into the blender with some frozen fruit. It makes for a yummy breakfast or healthy mid day snack.

Another creative way to eat veggies is also very simple. Just braise them in a frying pan. Here's how we do it:

Warm Veggie Fry
  • cut up in 1 in pieces yellow and orange carrots, 1 small sweet potato, beets, brussel sprouts and leeks
  • add sliced up yummy peppers, sweet pepper and cherry tomatoes (we keep these frozen so we have them year round)
  • Put them all in a pan with a 1/2 tbsp of butter, salt lightly
  • Cook, stirring frequently, until the root veggies are soft
  • Melt some cheese on top and serve (we like home made feta or provolone)

I'd love to hear other creative things people have done with their root veggies. Please share your ideas.