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About a month ago I got out our seed catalogs, a few sheets of paper and a pencil and started scribbling garden ideas. How can we try to grow more food, we’ve been asking ourselves, as the years roll on and the number (and size) of the bellies we fill is ever expanding.

So I scratched out a possible list of larger crops. Now that The Chicken Field is expanded enough to fit a small field crop, we’re looking to grow some calorie crops there. In particular, we are considering putting potatoes in in February and Black-Eyed peas in after the harvest in June, Lord willing.

But first, the spring garden is not far off. That seems crazy to say since we are literally just wrapping up the fall garden. But here in Texas we tend to stick to three shorter growing seasons. So I scratched out the spring and summer gardens to get us started. I scratched out a little plan that goes something like this:

Start Seeds Inside

  • January 10- Broccoli
  • February 1 – Lettuce, Collards, Eggplant, Peppers, Tomatoes, Tomatillos
  • March 1 – Start Sweet Potato Slips

Transplant Into Garden

  • February 15 – Broccoli
  • March 1 – 15 – Lettuce & Collards (will still need covering on freezing nights)
  • April 1 – 15 – Eggplant, Peppers, Tomatoes, Tomatillos

Direct Sow in Garden

  • February 15 – Potatoes
  • March 1 -15 – Beets, Turnips, Bunching Onions, Radishes, Kale
  • April 1 – 15 – Summer Squash, Cucumbers, Pumpkins, Green Beans
  • May 1 – June 15 – Okra, Second Round of Summer Squash, Cowpeas, Sweet Potatoes

Much of this plan has come after years of not being ready in time to beat the summer heat. If we don’t get even the heat-loving plants well-established by July, things tend not to go very well. So we have learned we must start seeds inside early, transplant carefully and cover as needed, and try to do as much as we can before July.

Our seed order from Southern Exposure Seed just arrived and it has been warm the past few days but while it might feel like spring, it most certainly is not. Even so, years of being behind has me making an attempt at being prepared for spring planting.

How about you – are you planning your 2018 garden?

Deep in summer I find myself struggling to make it out of bed before the sun. The days are long and full and since, as they say, you must make hay while the sun shines, we cram those days desperately full.

Not so in these, the shortest days of the year. Coffee and wood stoves and milking before the sun. Everyone into bed before you might even put the chickens up in early July. And, of course, Mabel’s milk and the butter and cottage cheese we make from it.

This raw, cultured cottage cheese is pretty much a daily staple in our diet now because it is just so easy to make. I make it so often we put it in our forthcoming homesteading book.

We are, however, finding Mabel a bit sensitive. Never a full case of mastitis but many cases of a hardened quarter at milking time or milk that doesn’t strain quite right. It seems to coincide with the slightest change in her routine – a slight budge in her feed, a bout of cold weather, or the bull that has recently come to join her for freshening.

Any other milkers experience this?

And into the root cellar we go for pumpkins at least once a week. Pies are, of course, a regular but the children seem to really like a pumpkin stir-fry with a bit of canned longhorn. Pumpkin soup is, apparently, only delicious to Stewart and myself but I am hoping to wear them down yet.

Also down in the cellar are bags of sweet potatoes we found on sale at Aldi and packed away for weekly meals. Perhaps next year we will grow our own?

Speaking of Aldi, the garden is mostly done for this year save these lovely microgreens in mini greenhouses and the patch of Chinese cabbage I am hoping makes it through the upcoming freezes with a bit of covering. So cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are now on the grocery list and, roasted, pair nicely with the garden greens and orange vegetables from the cellar. (Can someone tell me how to grow Brussels sprouts in Central Texas? I might be able to live off of those little green delights and my other favorite, fresh from the garden beets. But truly I would like to grow our own.)

And of course I have several seed catalogs all marked up and am planning away for starting seeds in just a month or so now. You can leave any suggestions here for productive and tough vegetable varieties you recommend trying. Such inspiration I often glean from you all!

How is your kitchen (and homestead) in these darkest days of the year?