Our growing season is beginning it’s final stages. The gardens are now being allowed to go to seed. Such is the way with a self-reliant garden. The last of the harvest is not picked. I let the vegetables produce their seeds and begin the process of drying in the vine. Vegetables, such as green beans and peas, stay on the plants as the seeds within their pods grow large. Soon, the plants will start turning brown as they dry naturally. By the end of September, the pods will be fat with the dried seeds inside, ready to be picked. At that time, I pick the pods and harvest the seeds from them. I store them in a paper bag until spring when I can plant them to grow new plants.
Tomatoes are still used, but I carefully scoop out the seeds to dry on paper towels. In late February, I tear the paper towels with the seeds dried onto them and plant them into small pots to start new plants. By the time the spring weather is right for planting, the little tomato plants will be ready to transplant into the ground.
Early February, I grow sprouts on sweet potatoes. Once a sprout is about 5″- 6″ tall, they are carefully snapped off the sweet potato and placed in a jar of water to grow roots. These little potato “slips” will be planted in spring as soon as the ground is warm enough.
Some plants, such as herbs that grow seed pods, are gathered in sprigs or small bundles. I place them upside down in paper bags to dry. My father taught me this method. By doing so, the seeds will drop off as the seed pods dry and are collected in the bottom of the bag. This method helps me to collect as many seeds as possible for the next growing season.
Looking over my garden area and my journal, I am now beginning to plan out what parts of the garden to expand on next year. Throughout winter, new raised garden beds are built and filled with soil, compost, and mulch. By spring, the gareen beds will have settled and the soil is ready for planting.
I do a version of the “back to Eden” gardening, but utilize the raised beds to contain the soil instead of planting directly on the ground level. Mostly because as I get older, it becomes harder to tend a garden at ground level. I have found though that the raised beds are easier to maintain and the thick layers of mulch help keep the soil at the right level of moisture, even in a climate where temperatures can reach over 100°F in summer.
One of my best assets in my gardening is my journal. I have a layout drawn of the garden beds that shows what was planted in each. Next season, I can rearrange what is planted in each bed to prevent the nutrients in the soil from being depleted. Nutrient depletion can occur when you plant the same thing in a box too many seasons in a row. When that happens, you have to use fertilizers or other ammendments to recondition the soil. Crop rotation allows you to do this naturally, avoiding the use of non-organic materials. Journaling the garden also gives me the opportunity to make notes of what plants did well each season and which ones struggled. I can also track which plants need more space to get the size of harvest we need.
Throughout winter, I nourish the garden beds with things like finely broken up egg shells, coffee grounds, used tea leaves or tea bags that I have torn open, hardwood ash from my wood stoves, and kitchen compost. All these natural materials work well to replenish the soil in preparation for the next season.
My plants that I leave in the garden are trimmed if necessary after the first hard frost. I prune them back so that in spring, new shoots can flourish. They are then mulched heavily for the winter.
Just after first frost, when the daytime temperatures are too cold to stimulate growth, I plant garlic or other bulb-type plants. These bulbs harden off naturally through the winter and begin growing early in spring.
At this point, I am planning to expand my garden by adding four new garden beds. Most of these will be for my herbs. One will be dedicated to growing kitchen herbs, another medicinal herbs, and a third for the herbs that I use most often in incense or workings. The fourth one will be for flowers that I enjoy both to look at and to use later on in teas or other uses.
My plan is to have all the garden beds built and filled by the end of November to allow the soil to prepare for planting. This includes preparing the existing garden beds as well. I will be checking them over for any signs of repair/maintenance needing to be done as well as adding more compost and mulch to each.
In mulching the garden beds, I use a lot of straw. Never use hay or grass clippings as they can contain seeds that you don’t want in your garden bed. Straw contains no seeds, thus is a great choice. Later on, after planting and the seeds begin sprouting, I add a thick layer of cedar shavings aroung the young plants to naturally keep bugs from chewing up the tiny plants. Later, the wood shaving help hold in moisture and help with not having to water the garden so often.
I am still deciding on whether to expand the vegetable garden. I enjoy home canning our harvest to stock our pantry for winter, so I like a large yield from the garden. Especially since we eat from the garden during the growing season as well. My goal each year is to produce at least 75% of the produce the family eats throughout the year. This is much like how our ancesters may have done. They didn’t have a local market to shop at. If they wanted to eat, they had to grow much of their food themselves and store a large portion of the harvest up for the cold months.
One thing I am considering this year is the possibility of growing enough of the herbs to be able to sell some of them once they are harvested and dried. I certainly plan to begin selling extra seeds that I have from the plants once they are ready. So many of the plants are often hard to find in seeds for those wanting to grow their own. Maybe this can be a benefit to others. It all depends on how much seed and surplus dried herbs I am able to harvest.