by Krystal Krogman
I don’t know about you but winter, it gets me itchy. Not just because the winters in the Midwest are so dry, but also because come January and February, I’m getting the itch to be outside. By then, I want the aroma of freshly cut lawns, I’m wishing for the days of open windows and blooming flowers. Heck, I’m even looking forward to stocking up on tissues for spring allergies that come out of nowhere in our house.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the look of fresh snow and admiring the different shapes and sizes of the snowflakes. Not to mention, the scenery of the snow clinging to all the empty branches on deciduous trees and the heavily weighted coniferous tree branches… But car tires and exhaust seem to take the innocence and purity of that fresh blanket, leaving behind a bleak gray and a dingy-looking ground. It’s been a particularly cold winter, with a green Christmas and New Year’s, then two feet of snow in the last weekend of January and it hasn’t stopped since then. I’m pretty sure winter forgot when it was supposed to start. I just hope the “in like a lamb” doesn’t lead to an “out like a lion.” Typically, this phrase is used to describe March, but I think it better fits winter… especially in the North.
January and February are notorious for the arrival of seed catalogs – it’s almost like my favorite seed companies know I’m tired of seeing the bland white and gray. I’ve already started thinking about the location of the garden this year, taking into account what I’ve learned over the past few years – avoiding the ultra-shady porch for the most part, remembering where it’s sunniest and where the dogs have ‘staked their claim’.
I’ve begun thinking about the different vegetables I want to grow, and which ones I should grow. For instance, I know that my family will eat their carrots (plus I like to sneak them into other meals, like tacos), corn, and green beans. We go through so many heads of lettuce, and love in-season watermelon and cantaloupe (or is it muskmelon?). Despite my allergy, my husband and son love strawberries and enjoy indulging in radishes. I’d like to attempt the growing of potatoes this year, as I feel like we’re always buying them. Plus, as I’m planning for future use I’d like to try my hand at canning vegetables this year- tomatoes especially!
I’ve never canned anything myself, but as I’ve told you all before, I’m a convert. The first thing I ever made myself was laundry soap… and I was hooked (who wouldn’t be when one batch lasts 11 months?!). Then I made enchilada sauce all by myself, and according to my taste-testers, it was delicious. Then I made bread, all by myself – no mixer or bread machine used! The most recent thing I’ve made is taco seasoning, no more packets of GMO seasonings and preservatives for my family. (If you’re interested in any of these recipes, let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org) So, logically, my next step is in stocking the pantry is… Canning vegetables!
Goodness… With all these dreams, my garden is going to need some room this year… but I probably won’t plant all of these things. Since I’m a newbie to gardening and still learning, I plan on being a frequent visitor of our local farmers’ market. One where I’ve seen radish bundles the size of small shrubs with a price tag of a small handful, and still have a little dirt on them so you know they’re freshly-picked.
I’ve purchased at our local farmers’ market several times, particularly when my son was an infant and we were just starting the “real” food (baby food). I bought all fresh carrots, green beans, squash, peaches – the works, and pureed it and froze it for him. Ours is a small market – taking up only a third of a parking lot. Most of the vendors are selling handmade crafts, honey, and the common over-producing vegetables, although a couple vendors sell tomatoes, carrots and even potatoes. I’ve found that tomatoes tend to be a rarity at our market, as it seems that people are canning their extras for these cold winter months.
While you should definitely know where your local markets are, don’t be afraid to play tourist while on vacations this spring. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend trying to fly with bags of vegetables, but you can visit local markets while on a road trip. This past September while visiting my sister, I got to visit one of those “big-city” farmers’ markets (well as “big-city” as you can get in farm-country.) We attended Aksarben Farmers’ Market in Omaha. It was incredible. I felt like an Iowa kid in NYC, staring with awe. I had never seen such a huge (and busy) farmers’ market, and still trusted the products there as being homegrown and tenderly cared for. This farmers’ market has at least 95 vendors selling so many amazing things! There are artisan breads and cheeses, crafts, fruits, vegetables, plants, potatoes (and other vegetables), home-breweries and wineries – I could go on and on! The Aksarben Farmers’ Market is only about two blocks wide, but with them all jam-packed in there, it closely resembles a can of sardines. They’ve got room to grow (which they always seem to be) into the parking lots and neighboring park, which happen to be holding a Zumba exercise class that morning and has even a playground for the antsy kids tired of holding the wagons of delicious foods down. We finished out our trip with a couple of massive gourmet cupcakes, satisfying both our sweet tooth and our stomachs.
It’s time to get planning for the warmer weather. Bust out your seed catalogs, garden journals & calendars and local papers. Write down your garden dreams, review your “failures” and successes of prior years, take inventory of what you ate, what you need to restock, and draw out your 2015 garden. And when you run out of room in your yard, break out your calendar. Find out where all your local farmers’ markets are, even the small towns nearby, and write them down. Just remember that if one town’s farmers’ market is on Saturday at 8 a.m., that not all of them are at that time. Aksarben’s Farmers’ Market is on Sundays, our in-town farmers’ market is on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, a neighboring town does Saturday mornings. Depending on where you live, you could get homegrown deliciousness every day of the week!