On what a gardener does in the off season

What do I do to occupy my time when I don’t have weeding to do?

I hate this stuff.  And yes, that’s snow less than a foot away.

Well, who says I don’t have weeding to do?  Have you ever heard of henbit?  This mint family weed does not let Old Man Winter stop it from growing AND flowering; it loves the greenhouse beds and paths, and it’s a bear to evict from those little spaces between lettuces.  Ahem.  Sadly, no hens like it…nor do turkeys, bunnies or goats.  That puts it in the truly worthless weed camp.

So perhaps I don’t get a vacation from weeding, ever.  But the down season does allow me to attack the list of things I had set out to accomplish, um, the year before

Too good to be sauced, yet.

…like making applesauce.  Right about now is when the putative bad apple spoils the lot (bad potatoes, too, come to think of it).  I sort through the stores and pull out the spotty and the wrinkly, or the varieties which look fine but whose texture is off, and sauce them.  The apples are kept in half-bushel baskets on our back porch/mud room.  It’s an unheated porch and it does freeze, though not that often–cool enough, then, to keep apples–and it smells great.  The half-bushels work because they’re shallow enough to find the bad ones and the bottom apples do not get as smooshed as they do in bushel baskets.  We like our sauce saucy, not lumpy; I simply cook the thinly sliced/peeled apples and run them through a chinois.  Sugar, salt and spice is added to taste, then process the jars in the pressure canner.

Molasses-smoked ham

Smoking is another.  Despite the cold I am often quite itchy to be outside, and tending the smoker is a guarantee that I am in and out all afternoon as every 20 minutes or so I’m flying out the door to verify that the smoker is indeed still smoking.  Trimmings from our apple trees and grapevines as well as the yard’s ever-shedding maples are used as smoking fodder.  I do both hot and cold smoking.  It’s an opportunity to get creative:  hams, side pork, pork belly, fresh sausages, salmon from a friend’s fish CSA, boiled eggs, home-made gouda and mozzarella…even dried whole paprika peppers are game.  Some things don’t require much smoke at all whereas others can take all day. “Whatever’s available in the time I have” remains the rule of what gets smoked when.

And it’s not quite my least favorite time of year (indoor seed starting) but we’re getting close.  I do drive my husband crazy in that I am sloppy-organized whereas he is tidy-organized (both systems work, right?) but it’s usually late January when I mess up tackle the pile of grown/saved, newly purchased and old seeds.  (Of course, I do need to upend things in order to make things tidy, don’t you?)  This year it’s been a bit easier:  I got a fabulous sieve from Fedco…what a great way to do the final shake/sort of saved seeds.  And I love that the box it came in called it the Almighty sieve.  Indeed.

The bomb

One should appreciate the off-season, and I do!

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8 responses to “On what a gardener does in the off season

  1. That is a terrific looking sieve. My weeds grow all year long. Tedious.

  2. Oh god! IS that creeping charlie? I have that stuff everywhere (in my lawn, in my garden, in my compost bin, everywhere)! And it’s impossible to get rid of (although I haven’t tried herbicide yet).

    • Daedre, similar but not the same, similar flowers certainly. Creeping charlie is a perennial and it’s even tougher to eradicate because it puts roots out from its runners. Henbit is an annual, and tends to bunch its roots in one spot. The Wiki tells me that you can at least *eat* creeping charlie…!

  3. Yeah, we have a bunch of apples in one crisper drawer that I have been ignoring for far too long. I should probably get on the smoking bandwagon one of these days too, between you and Brett….its very tempting, it just feels like too many things on the to-try next list sometimes. And I LOVE smoked gouda, though thankfully one of our local cheese-makers does it better than I could.

  4. Oh wow, that ham looks amazing! One year I have to try to make applesauce!

  5. Henbit is the winter equivalent of summer crabgrass here. I didn’t know what it was until now but I am unfortunately quite familiar with it.

  6. I never experienced crabgrass until I moved to Virginia, and I’m not very fond of the experience! I’ve cut my hands trying to pull it out because it is so strongly rooted and it just tries to take over! I hope I never get Henbit, or for that matter Creeping Charlie!

  7. Regarding the apples, we buy from a local farmer, but I’m still unsure of how to keep the fruits. This year I put them in boxes filled with damp sawdust (like I do with beets and carrots). When I pull them out, a few may be splitting and a few have turned bad. Hadn’t thought of just putting them in the half-bushel baskets (of which we have plenty). But now I need to finish my seed order and get it sent in so I can start thinking about seed starting. I’m going to emphasize this year the use of cover crops in most of my garden areas to improve the soil.

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