I am here savoring winter, sitting here sipping warm tea, delighting in the play of sunlight on rain droplets from last nights’ rains, contemplating plans for late winter garden efforts. This is a good time to alchemize what lessons were gleaned from last season with all the excitement and anticipation for the 2018 garden season on the horizon. Every year I am astonished at how much there is to learn from working closely with seed and soil, it is truly a school from which no one ever graduates! And as the rush of growth energy begins to flood in with the lengthening days of spring, it is sometimes easy to forget all that became so clear with the harvests from the fall. The little details such as, maybe I should plant my peppers farther apart next year, or plant the quinoa earlier to see if pollination is more successful during cooler weather. Or…how about, maybe I need to plant more winter squash, or less potatoes and such. Considerate reflection is a blessing.
This brings us around to record keeping, garden planning and mapping. This time of year I am pouring through seed catalogs and considering what new varieties to try and compare through carefully controlled trials with my tried and true favorites. Then there are things like Luffa gourd sponges which I tried growing a few years back and wasn’t entirely successful, but perhaps this season will yield different results? I believe that a key aspect of garden success lies within accurate record keeping and mapping. This is particularly true when planning for seed saving. Every season I have the sad misfortune while cleaning seeds in November and December of discovering some bucket of dried tomato (or some other variety) seed has lost its label. This can occur despite all the fail safe systems that are in place to ensure that seeds are labeled when planted, harvested, cleaned and all the way to being in a clean bag, labeled with lot code, weight, germination test results and name in our straw-bale seed room. Unlabeled tomato seed makes for some really expensive mulch! Wisdom is experience distilled down, like so much grape juice into brandy.
As for garden planning and mapping I start with a list of everything that I want to grow, my anticipated yields and how much row footage that I will need to plant to achieve those yields. Then I transfer this information to maps that have spaces for every bed on the farm with a 3+ year crop history to ensure that I am not planting vegetables in an area where I had recently grown a similar species. All this information is stored in binders that go back to the year 2000 when we moved to our present location. Field locations are numbered or given some other easy to decipher code to also track information like fertility that has been applied in the form of compost or rock dusts. It may seem tedious at times, however it proves to be extremely useful information time and time again. Any time that I think that I can let it slide and entrust to memory, I am proven of my less than god-like status!
I have kept journals of weather, wildlife sightings, rainfall records, significant storm accounts and wildflower and found them extremely insightful in recognizing patterns that are unique to this land and microclimate. As gardeners we are like alchemists bringing form out of formlessness and careful observation helps to ensure that our actions are well considerable and given the best possible chance at success. Within this assessment lies a powerful meditation that transforms the raw carbon of our thoughts into diamonds we can eat! Growing food is magic at our fingertips, but oh you must study your spells, gather the right ingredients, sign those certain songs that harmonize it all just so before incanting our prayers to the soil, the sun, the seeds, the rains, the life we are attempting to orchestrate…musically if we can. And at the end of the day, at the end of the meal, it’s all about growing food for people, growing people, seeding the type of life that we want to have, the type of health we aim to enjoy and a life rich world for now and the future.
Winter blessings to you.