(This is the first of several forthcoming posts to help get you pumped up about the year ahead. It’s also the first real content in almost two years!)
Every year, around this time in late January, I start to get fidgety. It’s usually around this time that we Portlanders get fooled by a little warm spell. The buds on some of the early blooming trees start to swell, and the crocuses get confused and start to poke up through the soil. I call it the spring tease, and it’s when we garden nerds start obsessively pouring over our seed collections and catalogs, counting down the days until planting can begin.
In the meantime, it’s nice to remember that winter is a great time for observation, planning, and preparing. In that vein, here are some things to do to keep you sane until things warm up a bit…
If you’ve recently moved, as we did last September, this lull before planting time provides a great opportunity to attune your senses to a new site. A keen understanding of how sun, wind, wildlife, neighbors, traffic, and other phenomena affect the site is essential to any food production effort. This is a great time to play with sector diagrams, which help to map out how these forces influence your site (two decent articles on that topic: 1 , 2 ).
Here is another useful pdf put out by the Kentucky Master Gardener’s program that explains how to understand sun/shade patterns on a site. (In teaching workshops and classes, I find that a lot of folks don’t intuitively have a good grasp on how sun changes over the seasons, and how that affects gardening.)
Your garden design and planning should be driven by a clear sense of your goals: What do you want to grow? How much of it? How much work are you willing to do?
Answering these simple questions gives you a clear picture of where you want to go, which makes it a lot easier to get there. Mark Krawczyk, of Keyline Vermont, has put together this great pdf to help you really flesh out your goals.
If you have access to a yard or other growing, this is a great time of year to build or repair raised beds, sheet mulch over a lawn, and get dormant trees and shrubs planted into edible container gardens.
In relatively mild temperate climates (say…zones 8 and above), it’s already time to start some seeds indoors. Burpee seeds has a really great tool that generates a planting and seed starting calendar based on your zipcode. (NOTE: I don’t recommend buying seeds from Burpee. Rather, find and support your local/regional seed company.)
Even if you live in a much colder zone, or don’t have much of a place to garden, here are some other things you can be doing in the meantime:
-If you don’t have a place to garden, network now to find a yard to share.
-If, like many gardeners, you find yourself with way too much of one crop, and not enough of another, create a crop swap with neighbors.
-If you’re at all concerned about food sovereignty issues (and if you’re not, you’re not paying attention), start a seed lending library to strengthen local food security.
What else are you doing during the cold months to get ready for the growing season?