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Homestead Reflections January 2019

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2019 January Issue Newsletter

By Sharon Gensler

First of all, I want to thank all of you who have been so supportive during my recent health challenge; thanks for the good energy, thoughts, prayers, meals, cards and concern.  I’ve heard from other NOFA staff that some of you have been asking about my status, so here’s a brief rundown.

I had a very successful mitral valve repair performed through open-heart surgery on December 4th.  Because they were dealing with a genetic abnormality that caused the prolapse and there were no other problems with my veins/arteries, it went really well.  Then I spent 4 ½ days in hospital and have been home for a week and a half.  I’m slowly and steadily making progress building up stamina by walking and doing gentle exercises.  Not being able to lift over 7-10 pounds has been a challenge.  Pru has been an amazing “nurse” as well as being “Homesteader Extraordinaire” by doing EVERYTHING while I sit back and watch (not an easy thing for me to do).  I also want to thank my amazing Wendell community who has pitched in to help with meals, Sharon-sitting and encouragement.

I can’t drive or do much for 6 weeks, and then it will be a gradual build up of my strength and abilities, with the prognosis that I’ll be better than I was before surgery.  But for now I can’t stay focused for long, so I will end here with a wish for all of you to be healthy and enjoy this new year, as it unfolds.  Since I’m not really up to doing much, I’ll share a “re-run” of last January’s article, which still seems relevant. I hope it feels relevant to you.

Homestead Reflections January 2018


It’s that time of year when the days are beginning to lengthen and the seed catalogues have started to arrive.  I’m still glad it is winter and I am hoping for more nice deep snow to keep my garden soil protected from the harsh winter temperatures and to inspire me to indulge in more cross-country skiing.  However, when not availing myself of an opportunity for a great aerobic workout, I’m happy to do my indoor gardening!  Time to dream and plan, while curled up next to the wood stove, with a cup of tea and the seed catalogues. 

I tend to stick with my old standbys, the vegetable varieties that we like, both for their taste and for their reliability; those that have proven themselves over the years and grow well under our particular conditions.  First, I go through my box of seeds to inventory what I have on hand and what I need to buy new, this year.  Some seeds can be viably held over from previous years (carrots, brassicas, beans, peas, corn…) and others need to be obtained new each year (squashes, onions, parsnips…).  Just keep I mind that held over seeds probably have a lower germination rate than what is stated on the packet.  For these I usually do a germination test to check seed viability.  Soak 10 seeds for a couple of hours, drain and place between sheets of damp paper towels, keep damp and monitor until seeds sprout.  Count the number sprouted and you will get the percent rate of germination (5 sprouts equals 50% rate).  This will help me decide whether to buy new or to just plant the seed at an increased rate.  I also do this test with seeds, which I’ve saved from our Wild Browse Farm crops. Just as a precaution to make sure I didn’t screw up!

After taking care of my old standbys (the must-plant veggies), I then scan the catalogues for something new that might strike my fancy.  A new variety or a totally new veggie or one I haven’t grown in years.  It’s fun to look at the pictures, read about the improvements and then just dream.  It always brings a ray of summer into the short days of winter cold!

Remember to hang on to those catalogues, as they are a wealth of information that will help with your planning and also with your planting.  Useful information concerning:  planting & germination dates and temperatures, cultural requirements, days to maturity, disease and pest issues, seed saving tips and much more.

Seeds are so inspiring.  A tiny bit of life-force packaged in a hard shell just waiting for the perfect conditions so it can burst forth and strive to survive.  Our job, as gardeners, is to help each one do more than survive but to thrive and to reach it’s full potential; a delicious & nutritious vegetable, chock full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, flavonoids and other necessary phytochemicals. 

I think it was John Kempf, at one of the NOFA Soil & Nutrition conferences, who compared the growth of a plant to that of a human being.  He explained how stress at any stage of development could lead to the person/plant not reaching their full potential.  And that it is important to nurture growth along the continuum, from seed preparation to planting, transplanting, growth, maturation and harvest.  If a seed/plant is crowded or fails to get proper nourishment it will be stunted and then it is difficult, if not impossible, for the plant to become all that it could be.

We must pay attention to the needs of the plant at each stage of development. Each variety has a growth spurt, not unlike a teenager, which necessitates additional nourishment, either from the soil or from an auxiliary feeding by the gardener; a soil drench, compost side dressing, or a foliar spray.  I’ve learned that I can be most involved/helpful in this co-creation process by preparing and nurturing a healthy vibrant soil, paying attention & monitoring the plants and helping them as needed.  

January is also a good time to think about your soil’s health and how to improve it.  I am appreciative of the NOFA/Mass Bulk Order, where I am able to obtain hard to find soil amendments and other products. I use this opportunity to purchase all of my cover crop seed and as you must know by now, my mantra is “cover crop, cover crop, cover crop”! 

For beginner cover croppers I recommend my favorite three:  oats, field peas and buckwheat, as they not only improve soil health, are easy to work with and will also be killed back by winter temperatures, thus saving you work and providing on-site mulch.  But more on the cover crop topic in future articles.  For now though, it’s time to obtain those seeds and it is as important to get organic seeds for these crops as it is for your veggies.  Most farm supply stores do not carry organic cover crop seeds, so read your catalogues, order them with your other seeds or save on the shipping costs and buy through the NOFA bulk order.

Another seed to plant now is the larger one; conceptualizing and determining the shape and texture of my 2019 garden.  I make my garden plan by putting on paper my ideas about next summer’s garden.  By looking back at previous plans I can get a good sense of how to rotate my plantings, to help decrease potential disease and pest problems.  It is also helps determine how much of each bed needs to be allocated to each veggie in order to give us both fresh food and what’s needed for off season storage.  I also like to pencil in where cover crops will be planted, either as long or short-term crops before, during or after the main vegetable season.

It’s also a good time of year to plant the seeds of joy for future personal, family, community and gardening inspiration in my mind and heart.  I’ve never really gotten into New Year’s Resolutions, but I do enjoy thinking and planning ahead.  Thinking of these ideas as seeds helps me make them happen.  Seeds of positivity, community service, inclusion, activism, love over hate, travel, fun, sharing, health and well being for all…..

Plant the seeds, water them with inspiration and resolve, nourish them with attention and love, and harvest the joy of your accomplishments. 

Happy new gardening cycle to all of us and may we truly enjoy the fruits of our labor!



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