Many friends say to us this time of year, "You must be so glad the market garden’s been put to sleep for the winter! Now you can relax!" Which is definitely true — the frenetic pace of 4 a.m. - midnight work of summer days in the North Country does ease a lot, but the winters at Larch Grove are no less busy. For one, when the underbrush has died back (and the nettles, ha), it’s prime time to get out on the snowshoes and clear runways to drop dead trees for the coming year’s projects. We always need tamarack for trellises and road edging, as it has a natural preservative in the wood that allows it to last without breaking down for between 5-10 years. (The moose fence around our market garden is made of 75 twelve-foot tamarack logs, hand-tamped into place below the frost line back in 2008. It’s still going strong today, with only two poles needing replacement this summer.) So we do a lot of clearing this time of year to help manage the woodlot around the cabin and to tidy up for fire safety. It also never hurts to have some extra wood stacked in case of a cool summer.
But mostly, this time of the year is all about crop rotation planning! I think it’s my favourite time of year, outside of actually growing the garden. We go back through the previous year’s plans and notes taken during the growing season that detail quality of growth, weather, and harvest yields. Then we draw out our whole garden on many, many taped sheets of 8.5 X 11" computer paper, and we plan where everything will go this coming spring. It’s important to take note of where high-need crops, such as corn and potatoes and wheat, went last year; we’ll plan cover crops into our rotation to bring those beds back up to full strength.
We’re very lucky to farm on essentially untouched land, so the soil is rich and deep, though peaty, and we’re always very conscious of maintaining that full fertility. Cover crops and biochar (charcoal from our burn bins) provide essential nutrients to our soil, and winter is the time when we plan out and order in the coming year’s cover crop seed (unless we’ve stored some extra from our crop for that purpose) and burn refuse wood in the big steel burn bin to produce the biochar we’ll add to the beds in the spring.
Although we’re not certified organic yet at the farm (we want to be living there full-time when we pursue certification), we follow all organic growing practices and buy only organic/untreated seed. As much as possible, we like this to be certified organic, but we’re well aware that some of our favourite seed places are practising organic but are not yet certified because of cost. We pick and choose and research as carefully as we can, and when it comes down to it regarding seed sources, there’s always yours truly, who is a canary in the chemical coal mine when it comes to my pesticide and herbicide allergies. My being able to eat healthy foods without blistering or coughing or getting sick is a huge part of the reason we started our farm in the first place — and we want to plant safe seeds for vegetables and flowers that will look after others in the same way.
Here are a few of our favourite seed companies! Some are certified organic and some are non-certified, but don’t spray, use fertilisers, or sow next to commercial crops.
Prairie Garden Seeds We look for their organically grown seeds, some of which come from the Pacific Northwest and need a bit of tweaking and roguing in order to find the plants that best suit our cold climate. Then we keep the seeds and grow them on!
What are you planning to plant in your gardens this summer, friends? Are the eye-candy seed catalogues coming in already?
Dreaming of tasty harvests to come…