January & February garden checklist

You won’t be getting too dirty in January and February, but you will get busy. Now is the time to plan and prepare your garden. Whether you are starting a garden for the first time, on your 5th year, or starting an herb pot, you want to put a little strategy behind your vision.

Your main task in January and February is to plan and make preparations to be ready to plant seeds and/or transplants in your garden, yard, and/or containers.

Before diving into what you will plant and where, there are a few other important items to-do.

January & February checklist

  • Purchase and plant bare root plants: roses, fruit trees, shrubs, etc. You will see these at your local nursery in February, possibly on sale. If you want roses, blueberries, raspberries, hydrangeas, lilacs, and other fruit and flowers like these, this is the time to make it happen. Learn more about planting bare root plants. 
  • Take inventory of garden supplies, seeds, fertilizers, and potting soil. Do you have what you need to plant seeds? Do you have the seeds you will be planting? Are your gloves still in good shape? Do you have enough fertilizer? 
  • Build structures to support growing plants. Are you planning to grow any plants that climb or need support? Like climbing peas or raspberries? You will need a trellis. Do you want to install irrigation this year? Do you want another raised bed? I have two raised beds and have decided it is time to add a third. I am creating a plan to build this bed before I need to plant seeds in this bed in March. DSC_0183
  • Prune perennial fruit trees/bushes and roses. Time to get everything cleaned up! 
  • Plant onion and leek seeds indoors. If you want to grow your own onion and leek transplants, now is the time to do it. These crops take a long time to grow so it is best to plant as transplants versus directly planting the seeds in the ground. 
  • Finish harvesting any crops that overwintered in your garden. It is time to finish off those leeks, carrots, and beets. Make room to plant in March! img_6704

While you are making preparations to be able to plant your seeds and transplants in March (specific to Seattle), you need to make a plan for what and where you will plant. 

Check out this post to create a plan for what crops you will grow and where they will be planted.

Time to start daydreaming about a yard full of flowers and edible food!DSC_0091

How to air dry and store herbs part 2

Three weeks after cutting and preparing my herbs for storing, they are dried! And by dry, you want them to be crackle dry. They may have been ready at two weeks, but I decided to give them one more for good measure. So now what? dsc_0105

Remove leaves from herb stems
This can be tedious, especially with thyme. I recommend putting on some music or a podcast, I listened to the latest episode of Encyclopedia Botanica podcast. What you need:

  • A big bowl – remove the leaves over the bowl so that you don’t lose any.dsc_0110
  • Use your hands to remove the leaves – try to be patient so that you keep the leaves intact.dsc_0113
  • Music or a podcast (I promise it doesn’t take that much time, but it will make the experience more enjoyable).

Store leaves in a container
You will need an airtight container to store the herbs, preferably glass. I used mason jars. If you are really on top of it, you can use old, cleaned spice and herb jars. dsc_0116

Label and date
After filling the containers with herbs. Be sure to label the container with the herb name and date.

Tie it with a bow
Consider gifting these dried herbs this holiday season (and don’t forget to save some for yourself). Use natural twine or a colorful ribbon to wrap the container! dsc_0119

A few notes

  • Dried herbs will store for up to eighteen months, one year is ideal.
  • I tried to air dry sage. It actually dried beautifully, but it smelt a little funky. It actually didn’t smell quite right when I cut it. Note to self: be sure to cut herbs before they have bloomed or become water logged. If they aren’t good fresh, they won’t be good dried.
  • Drying herbs is fun, resourceful, and straightforward. I plan to grow more fresh herbs with the intention of drying them for storing and gifting next winter.

Add a little zest to the holidays! Cheers!

 

How to air dry herbs part 1

I still have fresh herbs in my yard and I don’t want them to go to waste. I have decided to dry them so I can use them all winter long. With the holidays right around the corner, I’m also hoping to gift a few jars!

This post part 1 is about preparing the herbs to be dried. I am currently waiting for the herbs to dry. As soon as the herbs have been dried, stay tuned for post part 2 to find out how they turned out and how to store the herbs.dsc_0105

The easiest method for drying herbs is to air dry. This is most effective for herbs that don’t have a lot of moisture, like oregano, thyme, and rosemary. I do have extra sage, however it has higher moisture content. I am still going to try to air dry the sage and will let you know how it turns out in post part 2.

Steps to air dry herbs

  1. Harvest the herbs before they flower. I have to admit, a few have started to flower, but I am still going to use them. This means they are not at their peak flavor, but still do the job. Only use healthy branches.dsc_0099
  2. Dry and clean the herb branches. Shake off the insects and pat dry with paper towel. I laid the herbs out on brown paper bags to dry overnight.
  3. Bundle and tie a few stems together. Make sure there is enough space for some air circulation. dsc_0096
  4. Punch holes in paper bags so that air can circulate through the bags.
  5. Put the herb bundles in the paper bags. Place a bundle or two upside down in each bag. Gather the ends of the bag around the bundle(s) and tie it closed, I used a rubber band. dsc_0097
  6. Keep the bags in a warm, airy room. I am keeping the bags in the basement, which is dry and about 60 Degrees Fahrenheit.
  7. Check on the herbs in two weeks. Keep in the bags until the herbs are dried.

Go cut those herbs before the winter hits hard. Stay tuned in early December for how to store the herbs and prepare them for gifting.

Winter squash + pumpkin recipes and planting

Confession: I totally missed the memo on planting winter squash. I was so focused on summer squash, that I wasn’t even thinking about growing my own fall decorations and more importantly, delicious fall and winter food. dsc_0087

So here we are, in the midst of fall and all of its glory. With Halloween right around the corner, pumpkins line patio steps and apartment balconies, and grocery bins are bursting with squash and pumpkins. And I suddenly realize that I want winter squash, of every kind, to line my steps, to spice up my fall decor, and of course, to eat!

Note to self: Plant winter squash and pumpkins (and gourds) next year (you should too). They are easy to grow and inexpensive (but do require some space).

What to plant:

  • Winter squash: acorn, delicata, butternut, and hubbard
  • Pumpkins: for carving and sugar pumpkins for eating
  • Gourds: if you have spacedsc_0086

When to plant: Direct seed in mid May. Winter squash need more time to mature than summer squash. You can also direct seed to grow your own transplants.

Reality check: We are well past May, so the opportunity to grow winter squash has passed, but it is added to the list for next year. The good news! Winter squash and pumpkins are readily available at the Farmer’s Market, Pumpkin Patches, and the grocery store.

NOW, getting to the actual motivation for this post – I encourage you to decorate for fall, Halloween, and Thanksgiving with winter squash and sugar pumpkins. They are beautiful, provide bold color, and the best part, when you are done using them as your autumn flair, you can eat them! So your decorations don’t go to waste. 

I have compiled a list of my favorite recipes that use an array of winter squash varieties and pumpkins. Check these out for some inspiration. 

Recipes for winter squash and pumpkins:dsc_0091

Winter Squash Pancakes with Crispy Sage and Brown Butter from Smitten Kitchen
Squash: you can use any variety
Are you kidding me? Pancakes for dinner?! Really they are for any time of day. Yummy!
Smitten Kitchen is an all time favorite of mine, check out her fabulous cookbook: The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Wisdom from an Obsessive Home Cook.  

Slow Cooker Butternut Squash + Apple Soup from The Natural Nurturer
Squash: Butternut
Slow cooker? Say no more! Any recipe using my crockpot is worth trying – nothing better than the smell of dinner when you walk in the door after a long day! Not to mention healthy and delicious.
I have been following The Natural Nurturer for her easy, wholesome recipes that are intentionally crafted to be healthy, delicious, and family friendly. Check her out!

Chicken Sausage + Kale Stuffed Squash from Simply Real Health
Squash: Delicata
Not only is this recipe sweet and savory, but it is easy and healthy. Plus, 100% seasonal! I am still growing carrots and kale, and just finished harvesting my zucchini. You can find all of these ingredients at your local Farmer’s Market right now.
Sarah from Simply Real Health is the Queen of healthy, wholesome, tasty recipes that are designed for the seasons, so you can truly eat real food farm to table. Check out her cookbook: The Simply Real Health Cookbook: Easy Real Food Recipes For a Healthy Life, Made Simple.

Roast Pumpkin with Honey and Feta from Not Quite Nigella
Squash: any variety
I love this recipe – so simple and flavorful and you can apply it to any variety of squash or pumpkin.

Warm Winter Kale and Delicata Squash Salad with Maple Vinaigrette from Do You Even Paleo?
Squash: Delicata
Everyone needs a “go to” warm, delicious fall and winter inspired salad. Plus, if you still have kale in the garden, you can use that too!

Classic Baked Acorn Squash from Simple Recipes
Squash: Acorn
So simple and easy and NEVER disappoints. Pairs perfectly with just about anything. Plus, it is even a good leftover! Full of nutrients, regardless of the yummy brown sugar and butter.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds Six Ways from Wholefully
Pumpkin
Whatever you do, don’t forget to roast your pumpkin seeds. I personally prefer the basic olive oil + salt. But may have to give one of these six other options a try this year!

What are your favorite recipes using winter squash and/or pumpkins? Please share!

And come May 2017, don’t forget to plant your winter squash!

dsc_0097

How to put your garden to bed

Just last weekend, I had the opportunity to take my very first Seattle Tilth veggie gardening class. It was awesome! It really hit me that I truly love gardening, actually love it so much that I get amped up talking about the soil ecosystem. I know I’m excited about something when I actually arrive early, and it did not disappoint.img_5862

I chose to take this class “Put Your Garden to Bed” because I always struggle with actually knowing when to call it quits and how to make the most of my garden during the winter. This class provided a plethora of knowledge, but to keep it simple, check out my key takeaways specific to a garden in the Pacific Northwest.

Soil is everything. I have said it before and I will say it again and again, the health of the soil ecosystem directly correlates to the health of the plants. Healthy soil is full of organisms that convert organic matter and compost into nutrients for plants. It is important to continue to build this ecosystem in the winter months. All of the takeaways listed below are recommended with the end goal of maintaining and building healthy soil through the winter months.

Remove warm season crops, keep cool season crops. This was my biggest question going into the class, which vegetables do I need to finish harvesting and remove and which ones can I continue to grow through the winter months?dsc_0025

  • Remove: warm season crops such as beans, tomatoes, squash, peas, basil, peppers, cucumbers, celery, and onions. These need to be harvested and removed as soon as possible in order to seed a cover crop, garlic, and/or shallots.
  • Keep: cool season crops such as kale, lettuce, leeks, beets, and carrots. These are much easier to keep if you protect with floating row cover or a hoop house + row cover. Also, it is important to continue to harvest these cool season crops and not let them sit in the dirt the entire winter as they could rot due to the increased wetness.

Remove any plants that have disease. If you have a plant with a disease, you need to completely move this plant off site. If you live in the PNW, this means to put it into yard waste and not a compost pile. Take it off the property.

Plant a cover crop. This is the money maker! Remember how “soil is everything”? Cover crops not only protect the soil from the impact of the rain, but they inject organic matter and nutrients into the soil, while also hosting a bacterial ecosystem during months when this can become dormant. The best part, cover crops are so easy to plant!

Like anything, there are a million different types of cover crops for different goals, check out this list. However, to keep it simple, just find a soil builder mix, basically a blend of cover crops, and sprinkle this on your soil. Cover with some dirt, water, and let it grow.

dsc_0035About 4 weeks before you plant your spring vegetable seeds, you need to chop back the cover crops and put them into the soil. Basically, use a shovel to chop them up and turn them into the soil. If possible, cover with a burlap sack so that the cover crops compost faster, injecting an abundance of organic matter and nutrients into the soil. Yay!

Plant garlic, shallots, and fava beans. You can grow a few vegetables in the winter months. You need to get these in the ground now. Check out this post about planting garlic.

Mulch. Your warm season and diseased crops have been removed, your cover crop and garlic, shallots, and/or fava beans are planted. Now, you can add mulch to help keep soil temperatures a little warmer. There are several types of mulch, learn more here. I plan to use straw to protect my cool season crop and garlic. you do not need to use mulch on the cover crops. dsc_0027

There you have it, your checklist for wrapping up the garden season and making the most of your garden during the winter months. It is best to do all of this now, in the month of October. So get to it!

My last takeaway – take a class at Seattle Tilth. From veggie gardening to composting 101 to making herbal salves, there is something for everyone. It is always a good time to learn and try something new.

Check out this Crimson Clover cover crop sprouting between tomato plants. dsc_0032