It’s Short Winter—the pause between Harvest and Yule— and time to evaluate the growing season. (Long Winter comes after New Year’s, when it feels like the clouds will never lift again). It has been raining steadily for days; there is thirteen inches of rainwater in the barrel I left by the leaf pile in the driveway several weeks ago. The clouds have moved in again for another bout this evening.
We have food stashed away all over the house—40 pounds of various squashes, 60 pounds of onions, several varieties of apples, some beeswax, ten fruitcakes, and a couple of cabbage are tucked into the larder. There are about one hundred pounds of potatoes in milkcrates under the cellar stairs. In the cellar, on the shelves, are rows of canned and dried fruits—peaches, plums, apples, cherries, blueberries, figs, all picked within a bike ride of the house—as well as roast tomatoes in convenient half pint jars, jars of grape and cherry juice, pickles, and honey. The other side of the shelf holds dried beans, oatmeal, and whaet purchased from local farmers, and bulk goods, like tea, tuna fish, and Annie’s Mac and Cheese, that we order from the co-op. Even though our garden is buried under leaves and the CSA has ended, it is easy to eat locally right now. We just walk downstairs. It was a good year in the valley.
Here, it was a really good year for potatoes. Moving the extra beds into our backyard and bringing the potato beds home made a huge difference in production. I was able to monitor and water just enough to produce our largest crop ever. Some people may be able to pull off an allotment garden by visiting twice a week, but I can’t. We had a bumper apple crop as well. I dried several quart sized bags for Christmas presents and made extra applesauce. Next year, I’m going to juice them and can the surplus. Jean next door had an exceptional cherry year and we both benefited. We also had good luck, although some weird moments, with the bees. In the valley, it was a good year for squashes and carrots.
We had a few problems, as always. Stringy green beans have been an issue for two years now, but this year, the green beans just did not grow. They sprouted, came up about six inches, and stopped. Weird. Wax beans, in the same bed, were fine. It was also not a good squash year; I planted them in the furthest bed, which has always been a problem area. The same plants that took over the year before just sat there. I moved the blueberry bushes out of that bed and into barrels, which wandered all over the backyard, looking for a final home.
I learned a few things. First, there should be more than one spring bed. One for leafy plants that we chow down on and empty by mid-July, like mustard, broccoli, radishes, and peas. Another needs to hold the early in, but long lasting crops, like celery and cabbage. I still have celery plants in the spring bed, which I trimmed last week for soup. There’s still a small cabbage or two out there as well, fenced off from the chickens. With three more beds, the contents have to be managed tightly so that all are chicken tractors before planting time. I need to study the furthest bed, to see why it does not do well. And, I have to manage the beehives so that we do not have the very weird stack of boxes that is balanced in the back yard right now.
All in all, it was a good year. Not great, but good. Now is the time to eat from the root cellars, read books, and visit with friends. Next year begins on New Year’s Day, when I break out the seed catalogs.
Winter Squash Bread
1.5 T of yeast, proofed in--
3 cups of water, warm
1.5 T salt
1 cup of cooked, mashed squash
.5 t cloves or cinnamon
6.5 cuips of flour—half whole wheat, half white
Mix, cover, let rise on the counter for two hours. Place in the fridge overnight to cool and firm up a bit. The next morning, divide in half, form into balls, and bake on a baking stone until done—about 40 minutes. 450 degree oven
You can bake both loaves at once, save half of the dough for a few days, or form some into Lucia Buns or Thanksgiving rolls.