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Homesteading Observations: Gardener’s Delight Down South

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2013 December Issue Newsletter

By Sharon Gensler, Homesteader and NOFA/Mass Outreach Coordinator

I’m feeling a little ashamed to say I’m away from the homestead again, but I am still “on the job.” Last month, I wrote to you from an urban homestead in Portland, ME, this month from a gardener’s delight in Covington, Louisiana. My baby brother, Larry, now 51, has become an avid organic gardener. He and his partner, Jenny, tend their 200 square foot vegetable plot with loving care. They are able to eat fresh produce year round without any special protection we northerners need, like tunnels or hot beds. They’ve created other beautiful landscape areas with exotics like Bird-of-Paradise and banana trees. Not possible in Massachusetts!

After years of his quirky sister talking about organic food, he eventually caught on. Ten years ago a CSA came to the New Orleans area and he signed up for a share. Loving to cook, his taste buds taught him the flavor difference and fresh organic produce became a staple. Katrina wiped out his CSA farm and shortly thereafter he moved to a new home where he started his first small but expanding veggie garden.

I’ve been able to encourage him and offer gardening advice. He now uses permanent beds and a broadfork instead of a tiller. We compare soil-life to intestinal flora and fauna (he’s a gastroenterologist). However, much about gardening down south is foreign to me. He’s had to learn on his own, as there’s nothing comparable to NOFA/Mass available to folks in his region. Questions concerning plant varieties, timing for planting, insect, and disease issues are often quite different. For example, because of extreme summer heat, his tomatoes are planted, harvested and composted before ours are at the green marble stage. Now we’re sitting on the porch, basking in the sun while talking food. Pru and I came south to celebrate Thanksgiving with my transplanted northern family. Now that the traditional feast is over, we are planning how to blend the 100 pounds (total free baggage allowance!) of goodies from our homestead with the fresh produce from his still flourishing garden, to create our menus for the week. Whatever we come up with will be delicious, nutritious and packed with love.

It’s great to relax after the crazed time getting ready to leave the farm. We spread soil amendments on the pasture in the bitter cold with an inch of snow on the ground, dug and stored the last of the root crops, removed garden debris, and got all beds covered with mulch; slaughtered the last two meat birds; finished the last touches on the new compost toilet; and installed a new hot water heater to name just a few of the last minute essentials. We would hate to return to 2 feet of snow and not have been prepared.

Of course, there is going to be plenty to keep us busy the rest of December. It’s a great time for mending fences and trellises, sharpening and repairing tools, splitting and stacking cordwood, and planning for the next season. It’s the time for dreaming up the next project and evaluating its merits, for visiting with friends and building community, for making and distributing all those homestead-based gifts, and for reading a good book by the wood fire after a cross country ski.

Even though I love to visit the south, I’ll be looking forward to returning to the homestead where the soil is frozen and I’m forced to take things slower. Yes, I still can get my hands in the soil in the greenhouse, but that’s a lot less intense than gardening full scale. So, from our homestead, and from the Louisiana gardeners, here’s wishing you all a great holiday season and fruitful down time.

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