Follow by Email

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

In difficult times

By now, many of us have "had it up to here" or more so from dealing the Covid 19 and the fallout there from. Whether you trust the science or not (with a background in the sciences and coming from a medical family, I do) the information sources each of us personally deems to be reliable are all but drowning us in stories and information. People are scared, people are in panic... and understandably. Life is decidedly not normal.

While my business is not deemed "essential" by the state of Maine, which just tightened up restrictions on our going about (which, in my way of thinking should *not* be needed, because we *should* all know better) I have received an order recently and will be shipping the sign this week, while going about "necessary business."  My important mail comes to a PO box, which I try to visit weekly, and the hex will go out while I am there, having been well sanitized before packaging just on general principles.

Six foot diameter sign in process, fall 2019.
I will be cutting and painting several signs for our own place for now, though should anyone be in a position to order, you can be sure your sign will be "decontaminated" to the best of my ability before shipment, though neither of us is ill. While it is not spring yet here, it is coming and I am excited to be able to get back to work on the 6' diameter sign I am painting directly on one of our buildings.

In addition to this big project, I am planning to attach 5 of the typical signs that I paint on plywood, to the south side of the building, facing the road. I will probably make three of the 3 or 4' size and two smaller ones. I am still doing "virtual design" placing pictures of these designs on a picture of the building digitally, to see what I like best. I am pretty sure, at this point, that the very traditional signs like the ones for protection, binding the blessings of prosperity, and natural balance will be featured, as well as some of my own design, like the Earth Blessing and Blessed Year with Old Norse Galdr... a traditional design with a northern tradition pagan "twist."
Protection Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign
Double Creator's Star hex sign binds blessings of prosperity
binding the blessings
of prosperity
Natural Balance hex sign
Natural Balance
Earth Blessing hex sign
Earth Blessing
Blessed Year with Old Norse Galdr hex sign
Blessed Year with
Old Norse Galdr
We *are* serious about quarantine here, with me being old and my S.O. being diabetic. And honestly, while some of the new protocols for out in the world are a bit annoying, that is all they are to me. As one of my kids said "Mom, you've been training for this for years!" and essentially I have -- unknowingly-- through many years of living in remote locations is many states.

When going to the store requires a trip of half an hour or more one way, just to get to "town" -- and much longer to get to a "real town," you learn quickly to stock up and to find creative solutions.
A "real town" is a concept that anyone who has ever lived remotely will understand at once. LOL A "real town" is one with more than just one small grocery, a post office a hardware store and a gas station. "Real towns" give you options. More grocers to choose from and the grocery you do choose will likely have more variety, just as an example. Living remotely, you are not going to drop everything in the middle of making dinner to take even a hour long round trip to the closest market or to put it on hold while you send your spouse out because you are running short of milk, eggs, or anything else. At least, not often and not for long. Such habits, which work well in a more urban setting, eat up hours and gas budgets quickly in the country.

When you factor in that we were always a one-vehicle household, I had to come to grips early on with being literally "stuck at home" while hubby worked.

Put together, those factors along with my native introvert tendencies, have made the transition to a quarantine situation "except for 'necessary' business" much easier for me than for many. I'm long past the frustration of wanting to go somewhere... anywhere...  even if I don't have a reason, just because I can not, or am not allowed.

I am trying to combine errands to no more than one essential trip out a week, most of which are related to feed and fuel and timelines set in motion long before "shelter at home" and "social distance" became a thing. There are chicks being hatched and a new kitten about ready to come home and we will need food for both. And since I will be pouring the 50# bag of dog food bought earlier into the dog food bin, and it comes from the same place as the chick food (medicated crumbles) which also sells kitten chow in larger bags, well guess what! I'll do a 3-fer at the feed store in the "real town" to the north of us, instead of heading to our equivalent of the "big city" to the south, and will pick up fuel for the space heater and post the hex in our little burg on the way. And yeah, I will to an "order online, pick up outside" at the feed store, though there is where the annoyance factor comes in. They are expecting me to use a cellular telephone to call them from the parking lot, instead of driving up and honking. Yes, I know I am probably the only hold out left, and I intend to keep it that way for multiple reasons. So I have a "creative solution!" Once I have placed my online order and it is confirmed with an order number, I will take a large piece of paper, a heavy marker and go to work, writing "pickup order #..." on the paper and will stand -- at least 6 feet away from anyone I see -- outside the store, waving the sign back and forth until I get someone's attention. Even though the clerk probably won't see me at first, I am sure other customers will point out the crazy old woman standing in the parking lot waving a sign. It will, at the least, give me a chance to wave and smile at the other folks who may be much more frayed, already, than I am.

And that is important... spreading smiles, finding joy where we can. Do it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Helping things grow

The Garden Song
written by David Mallett in 1975. - sung by the writer!

Inch by Inch
Row by Row
I'm gonna make this garden grow
All it takes is a rake and hoe
And a piece of fertile ground
Inch by Inch
Row by Row
Someone bless these seeds I soe
Someone warm them from below
Till the rain come tumblin down
Pulling weeds, picking stones
Man is made of dreams and bones
Feel the need to grown my own
Cause the time is close at hand
Painful rain, sun and rain
Find my way in nature's chain
Tune my body and my brain
To the music of the land
Plant your rows straight and long
Temper them with prayer and song
Mother earth will make you strong
If you give her love and care
Old crow wathing hungerily
From his perch in youder tree
In my garden im as free
As that feathered thief up there

I do have one issue with the lyrics, though... we cannot make the garden grow, though with knowledge, wisdom and insight we can help it. And that I how I sing this song, often, while working the rows, and even this time of the year as I begin to start seeds. So in this vein, I share:

Starwalker's Necessary Resources For Planning Your Garden

Average Last Spring Frost Date Ours here is June 1-10. 
This is the link for Maine. If you are in another state, copy this link and replace "Maine" with the full name of your state and then paste into your browser.

Average First Fall Frost Date Ours here is Sept 21-30
As above, this is the link for Maine. If you are in another state, copy this link and replace "Maine" with the full name of your state and then paste into your browser.

For some reason, the main page of the site only shows links for hardiness zones. In my mind, this is both confusing and misleading, as it actually only affects your choice of perennial plants. Zones relate to the average winter temperatures, which have no direct connection to the growing season for annual flowers, vegetables and herbs. It will affect which herbs you have to treat as annuals, as there are many that will overwinter in all but the coldest climates. In case you need it: For Perennials: Hardiness Zones
is the main site. scroll down for state hardiness maps, as well as those for many other parts of the world beyond the USA.  

This time of year we are likely all getting "planting fever" as we have had months now to pour over seed catalogues and to make our orders. 
will help you stay on track for starting your seedlings, if you chose to, and for planting out whether you grow your own or succumb to the lure of the displays at the greenhouse or your favorite big box store. There are two things to remember, when your green thumb starts itching:
  • Your home grown babies need to acclimate themselves to the temperatures and additional sunlight of the out of doors before being set in their rows! Hardening them off will take about 2 weeks, as the PennState Extension explains. 
  • Stock distribution for stores does not take local climates into account. In some cases, decisions are made on a national level for all the company's stores! So just because the tomatoe plants are on display in April, here in Maine, does not mean it's time to plant!
One of my local seed companies, Johnny's Selected Seeds, offers a wide variety of other useful tools for gardeners, as well. While they are more aimed at small to medium size commercial growers, I find them useful on a homestead scale as well. 

This seed and seedling calculator is a good tool if you have already decided how long your rows will be.  The only downside is that you have to choose one crop at a time. 

This PDF chart, while based on 100' rows (they also give info for an acre!) will allow you to do the math for whatever row length you use, and give you an estimate not only of the quantity of seed needed (by pound, for heavy seeds like beans and by count for the smaller ones) but also an estimated yield. They are just estimates, your mileage may vary!

Like the chart above, but for crops usually started as transplants.

And because everyone's estimates vary, I also include this Planting Chart for the Home Vegetable Garden from our own University of Maine Cooperative Extension Office. 

Happy planting and may your gardens be blessed by your efforts to help them grow.

Friday, February 7, 2020

The Sans Microwave Life

We no longer have a microwave. Our version of this now-ubiquitous kitchen appliance died an honorable death last month and, at this point, we have not replaced it. It is not really a matter of money. I did post on a site for free things, looking for one. And a friend has offered me their "spare" unit but I have yet to take her up on the offer. I am not against the things; far from it. I fell in love with the technology as a child, seeing muffins rise and be ready to eat literally before my eyes, at a home show with my parents. If not for the cost, and my age at the time, I would have been an "early adopter" for sure. When, after several babies, ideas for post-partum gifts of major appliances from their dad had "topped off" my quota of larger units, an Amana Radarange came into our kitchen. The oldest kids were soon entrusted with its use -- supervised, of course, because the food came out hot -- and had no trouble instructing their grandmother in the use of the machine.

In those early days, it was fun to actually cook in the microwave; the very first big entree that the Radarange made for us was a New Years day ham. Recently, I used mine every morning to reheat the diluted, refrigerated cold brew coffee, and found it one of the best ways to reheat veg like beets, greens and mashed squash that was totally, or nearly cooked prior to spending time in the freezer.

However, now that it's gone (or almost gone.. trash day will not be for another couple of weeks so, for now, it waits in the garage) I am experimenting with using its former space for other purposes.

Since moving in here, we have had no place to store my selection of cast iron pots, other than in the oven. I have so many that the actually fill the oven, even stacked up, and if I need oven space for actual cooking, they end up taking space on the range top... crowding that work surface as well. Admittedly I do not always need both cook spaces, but I do more often than one might think. And as I age, lifting the heavy, usually stacked, dutch ovens and lidded skillets from the oven to the back burner and back again is getting more difficult and annoying. I saw the empty space as possible skillet storage, and there they currently sit. It is the right height for me to access them when needed, stores the whole lot out of the way when they are not, and I have truly been enjoying having an oven and stove top free of stored pots.

And I have found that heating the morning coffee on top of the stove honestly does not take much longer than it did in the microwave! My routine was to dilute the brew in a big mug, put it in the "nuker" for 3 minutes (BIG mug...) and then commence to parcel out and take my morning meds. Generally I had to wait a bit on the coffee. Doing similarly with diluted brew in a pot on the stove top burner, on high heat, takes about as long. And since I am still in the kitchen, I do not need to hear the "ding" to tell me that my elixir is ready; I can hear the sound of the bubbles against the side of the pot, as it just begins to boil.

Reheating leftovers and thawing/heating veg required a little more thought. It takes more energy to heat the big oven up than to run the microwave for a few minutes, and going from frozen to serving temperature of, say, a section of turkey roll with dressing actually took longer than baking the sweet potatoes! I was never really happy with the results of the "thaw" setting on the microwave when I used it because I forgot to take frozen raw meat out in advance. Now, though, I have to pay attention, though I have use warm water in the sink to speed the process. For food safety reasons, I cannot recommend this, however.

I have been experimenting with a bain Marie which works well for reheating leftovers (and, if you know me, you know that the water in which the dish to be reheated sits, will be at a much more vigorous simmer than what the linked article mentions for keeping delicate sauces warm, but it is the same principle!) as well as putting those lidded cast iron skillets to work, steam-heating up things like the frozen slices of that turkey roll. That requires the use of lower heat and a flame spreader, for you are not really "frying" in that frying pan, but most frozen foods contain enough water to happily steam-thaw on their own.

And yesterday morning, while making pancakes, I put the glass jar of maple syrup at the back of the stove top, where the heat from the oven rises, which took away its chill quite nicely. *An oven to make pancakes?" you wonder? They cook on a griddle or skillet, but I turn the oven on very low and allow it to heat first, with a heat resistant plate in place, where the pancakes rest and stay warm until I have used all of the batter.

So, while it may not be for everyone, thus far life-sans-microwave is working just fine for me.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Is it magical, or just mundane?

There has been much discussion coming across my awareness, of late, about magical and witchey practices, and I am being prompted to share more of my viewpoint and my practices.

It seems that many, newly come to the path, want to focus on holiday rituals, special tools and what you need to buy to "be a witch." It should not surprise me, I suppose. The culture we live in is built on commerce, big showy events and has been getting more so for years. But then there is this old witch, who pulled herself out of the common culture years before even considering this path consciously. The maxim of "use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without" caught me hard when I first encountered it, in the 70s, maybe because I have always identified with my peasant ancestors. Even as a youngster and young woman, when my peers dreamed princess dreams and sought twigs of nobility on their family trees, the stories I enjoyed most, from my heritage, were like those of a great grandmother, hitching herself to the plow alongside the draft beast, to help get the job done.

Add to this, the way I came to my path: in an off-grid community, led and instructed for years only by the inspiration of the cycles of the moon, the seasons, and whispered hints from Elementals. There were no "pagan stores" even when I went to town certainly not at my fingertips as I sat at my desk, let alone hiding in my pocket!

It was, as they say, literally a very "chop wood, carry water" existence and that informed my practice from the beginning.

As I raised my family off-grid, heating and cooking with wood and lighting with kerosene and candles, the kids often asked "how did they do it" whatever *it* was "in the old days?" And picking up my spiritual path as I did, I think this same mindset contributed.

In the very far past, I think, my foremothers needed, called on and used the collaboration with the unseen forces -- and likely the Gods as well -- on a daily basis. When you are living a life near the bottom of what we now call the Maslow hierarchy of needs -- when *survival* is the focus of all you do -- I think even the smallest hint that there might be some force beyond the physical existence that could be called on to help you would have been used on a daily basis. And in that mindset, many of my practices were born, informing and augmenting what otherwise were strictly mundane tasks.

Today I am thinking about laundry.

I do not just throw loads in the washer willy nilly through the week and then into the dryer, to be pick at until the next load comes along. I do not just *clean* the laundry, but instead cleanse it, with the power of earth, air, fire and water.

The water is self evident; some of the others less so. Earth comes from my laundry product, which is not a package of store-bought detergent (though I suppose a case could be made for it coming from the earth, as chemicals). Instead I use a product that I make from soap (animal far and lye are both very earthy), baking and washing soda, which come out of the ground in the form of minerals nahcolite and trona, which are refined into soda ash (a.k.a. washing soda or calcium carbonate), then turned into baking soda (a.k.a. sodium bicarbonate), and borax, also a mineral. How much earthier can you get!

The air and fire come into play in the drying cycle, but I do not use a

mechanical drier as you might have gathered from the photo heading this blog post. The fire in my laundry cycle is most often the sun, which provides heat even in winter (especially when combined with a good brisk wind). When we get a snowy week in winter, the hearth fire will suffice, and loads get hung on wooden racks inside.

The most important part of the process, though, is the INTENT. Kept in mind while loading the machine with the clothes and the washing powder, and while transferring them to the line or the rack, my desire to have the elements cleanse -- as well as clean -- the load is foremost in my mind. I picture any residual negative energies picked up along the way, being lifted from the fabric by the earth elements and going down the drain with the water. The nasty look or comment from a fellow shopper, or my own loss of temper at an unsafe driver encountered on a trip to town linger on what one was wearing, even if put out of mind. The "laundry ritual" not only takes care of those sort of things, but can wrap the garments in elemental blessings at the same time. And I do not think we can have too many blessings, too much support from the unseen worlds, certainly not in these times!

Blessings to you all.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Feastlet of the First Eggs

This morning, after coming in from chores, I posted on Facebook
"Today we celebrate the Feastlet of the First New Eggs! I did get a second one from the ladies this morning, to go with yesterday's gift. This is quite early, as usually the first egg comes in early February, with the longer days. I think the open winter is confusing the hens. I am pretty sure they would not be fertile, as I have not heard the roosters having their way, nor the drakes with their hens either. But i shall boil mine (in heavily salted water, to help the peeling) and K's will be over easy, as he likes. They will go with potato patties, leftover 'taters from our garden. Livin' the witchy life in the country!"
 I want to elaborate a bit on this, here, in response to a spate of recent activity in one of the groups I follow there. This group, for folks of my general spiritual persuasion,  has had a sudden influx, it seems of newcomers to the practices. They are all asking for guidance of some sort -- not unreasonably -- but their apparent single-minded focus on getting things "just right" for the full moon ritual just past, what one "should" and "should not" include at such a time, and especially what they need to purchase and where to find it has set my personal witchy hackles on end.
As an aside, let me remind my fearless readers that I came to my path led only by the world around me. The moon's and sun's cycles and movement, the inspiration offered by the plants, animals and elemental beings were my only instruction for years. Later there were books, people, online groups but in the beginning at least some of those resources had actually not been invented yet. When I did begin to encounter the tools of instruction that most folks take for granted these days, I checked the information I received against what I supposed should be called my own UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis) but which was, and remains the backbone of my practice. New things that "felt right" were tried on for size and either melded in or put back by the wayside for the wanderer to whom they would apply.

So, I share this little ritual of thanks to the hens and acknowledgement of the turning of the year with the observation that, for me, the most meaningful rituals == the things that connect me most strongly with both the natural world and the Goddesses and Gods with whom I work == come to me this way. Organically.

And while it seems easier to sync with the natural world when it, and not the things of mankind, are what surround you, it is not necessary to move "beyond the sidewalks and off the grid" to connect. It is, however, necessary to change your assemblage point. How you will do that is variable, but let me suggest spending time outside your apartment and when you are outside, pay attention to: the weather -- wind and direction, temperature, dampness, the rain, the snow. Have you felt the moisture precipitate out of the air as you walk? If you live where it snows, do you know more than one word for the white stuff that falls? Look for "corn snow" and if you want to know more about kinds of snow, talk to someone who enjoys cross country skiing! Pay attention to the sky as well... learn the clouds, look for hints of the moon and the bright "star" or two you might see over the ambient light. Look around you at the street trees; talk to them, watch them change and listen to what they may tell you. Look for their short-lived annual friends that may spring up around them... both those that humans plant and especially the ones who volunteer to live in the cracks. While those specific individuals may not be safe, on account of exhaust and other contaminants, to use in teas and salves, if you learn them there, they will be greet you as friends when you visit the countryside, and offer some of their bounty for your use. 

Listen to your intuition and learn to recognize when you are are "in the flow." Don't expect to *stay* there, as it, too is always changing. I imagine it as a benevolent whirlwind or waterspout, that may catch me up or whirl around me as I wander for a bit and then, following a different diversion or trail, flow off for a time, to be rejoined later. 

So, with the blessing of the hens and the constant change of the seasons -- slowly moving through winter today with winds and rain which the weather guessers predict to turn to power-disrupting ice -- I leave you to your day. Mine will include cleaning the kitchen, decanting apple cider vinegar, mending and spinning once I repair a spinning wheel. 

Blessings to all.

Monday, December 30, 2019

On Changing the Calendar

Here at hex central, we do not make a big deal about "change the calendar day" as I call it. Yes, we usually have poultry on the day before and pork of some form on the actual day. It can be useful to tap into energetic threads, even if you are not totally invested in them, to further your purpose. In this case, the purpose is to "scratch the recently passed time away to the past" and to "root (or push) forward" into the coming days.

As the days begin to lengthen, the impetus to begin starting seedlings will stir, I know, though that phenomenon won't be noticeable to me for a month or so. But since I choose to grow specific varieties of most of the vegetables and herbs in my garden, it will soon be time to begin placing orders. The first seeds -- onions -- will go into the potting soil around Imbolc (Groundhog Day to many of you) with others following in increasingly rapid succession. So, in many ways "the year" begins for me at the spring equinox, even though here in the northlands, it will not be time to turn the soil for another month or so.

Many who follow earth-based spiritual paths consider the year to begin with the slide into the dark season which is marked by Samhain (Halloween). In similar, vein some traditions around the world mark the beginning of a day with nightfall, though our common calendars and clocks count from the middle of the night and our workaday bodies usually mark it as beginning when we arise from our beds and stagger forth to the coffee pot to face our labors. Those who work at night, I will acknowledge, are often confused.

We need conventions or we would *all* be confused, but please feel free to step away from the hoopla of the next couple of days, if you choose. Flip your calendar, certainly. I am sure there are days coming that you will not want to miss! I know I am looking at a couple of nearly double-booked Saturdays which i would like to double and have one event each of the two days. But do feel free to go about your days as usual. Other than the designated meals, we will.

Resolving to make life changes can happen any day you choose, and probably with more effect if they are plotted out as goals, with benchmarks tied to other events and times in your life.

Reflection on the past, likewise, is best done within relevant and actual context.

And lifting a glass to toast accomplishments, to bid farewell, to hail the Gods is never out of season.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Garden planning for increased self-sufficiency

I often talk, or write on the Internet, about my life as a "homesteader." This is my preferred lifestyle and I have plied it at three times in my life, now, in three different states, and in the process have acquired quite a few skills. It is not surprising to me, then, when folks ask me questions about all sorts of things home- and homestead related.
It has been my intention to include more homestead-y stuff here in this blog, along with info on my ongoing "Pennsylvania Dutch" hex sign projects. So I was absolutely delighted to be asked recently, “We're working on making a homestead and making ourselves self sufficient---how do we gauge enough vegetables to plant to freeze, can or eat for just the two of us.” I responded that it was a lovely question, and an even better writing prompt. Here follows my response.

How does one gauge enough to plant?

The first, rather flip response that came to me was "You can't. It's a crap shoot." Not helpful, perhaps, but more true than most of us want to admit.

A more accurate version of this not-terribly-helpful answer would be that it's a moving target, controlled and modified by so many variables -- most of which are not under our control and some of which we are not even aware of -- that the best we can do is try to come close and balance it out over a couple of years. Changing variables involve gaining experience, changing tastes and habits as the result of your lifestyle change and one must always factor in Mother Nature.

Pinning down the human-side variables

There are dozens of "how much to plant" lists put out by extension offices, seed companies and random internet blogging experts. Google it, click on a few and read some. If you have ever gardened at all, I am pretty sure you will eventually read a line, like I just did researching for this essay, and burst out in laughter.
My garden, in June of 2014.
It is less than 1/4 that size now!
In my case, I read that for a family of 4, you only need 5 broccoli plants! Now, maybe if you were in the family of --- was it one of the Presidents Bush who let it slip that he did not like broccoli? -- that would work. But if you like it, even in just in season, that does not seem nearly enough. Even though there are just two of us, it is one of our standard offerings on the table. That might be a whole 10 meals for us, if they were a variety that sends out a fair number of shoots after you cut the main head. And that would put none in the freezer at all!

This brings us to two variables on the people side: what your family likes and when in the year you want to serve it, and on Ma Nature's side, we need to consider how various varieties of each species grow. But more on that later.

What does your family like, how much of it do they eat, when in the year and in what form?

It's winter when I am writing this, so I am going to suggest to my inquirer that she begin getting a real handle on what they eat by making notes -- in a diary or on the calendar or maybe in her new garden planning notebook (we all have one, right?) -- every time she serves something she could grow.

I am sure she will miss some... it's easy to overlook the onions you just cut up for that casserole or the tomatoes that went into that spaghetti sauce, for example, so here is the another example of variables! But even if you just record the dedicated vegetable dishes, you will begin getting the idea.

Some of my stores: canned, dehydrated
(for use in soups) and a stash of lids!
This will get you thinking more about what you eat, what you can grow, what you eat fresh (likely from the store in winter), canned and frozen. If your goal is self-sufficiency – or even something close to it – you will probably begin plotting menu changes. See, there is that moving target again!

Since you will have to order seed and begin planting before a year is up, take some time to think about how your menus change, if they do, over the course of the year. More moving targets, 'cause with all those fresh vegetables calling from your dooryard come summer, I cam almost guarantee they will!
Even before I began to eat more deliberately "in season," I craved salads and fresh, raw fruits and vegetables in the summer and hearty storage veg, like carrots, potatoes, and winter squash, along with more meat, this time of year. And there is nothing quite so appealing as the first meals with each vegetable as it comes ripe! I love fresh, lightly steamed green peas and so I know that if I did not plant more than just enough to offer "a mess" at a time for a meal, none would ever end up in the freezer!

How many pea plants does it take for me to pick a mess of peas for a supper for us two? That depends on when in the season I am picking and the variety or varieties I have planted. In many respects this is all going to be a matter of experience. Harvests are somewhat like those bell curves we may remember from school. First a few come ripe, then more and more until many have been picked and the harvest tapers off to the "why bother" department, at least in my garden. Before the peas are all done, the green beans are "coming on."

So to recap things to think about:

What do you actually eat?
What are your staples/favorites?
What do you eat fresh all year long?
How will your attempt to become self-sufficient change this?
What do you eat canned/frozen?
Do you expect to make veg based condiments and ingredients such as spaghetti sauce, salsa, etc.

Mother Nature weighs in

Now that I've got you thinking about the human side of the equation, we've got to deal with Mother Nature, in all her variable glory! Not everything grows in all climates and not all varieties of any particular veg will grow in a given climate, so lets get to know some of the important and relevant biology! (I promise no quiz at the end.)

If you are used to buying veg in the can or box... or some from the fresh isles... the idea that vegetables have "first names" may be surprising news! A green bean is not *just* a green bean. (...And let me digress here for a moment and explain that they are not called "green" just because of their color, but because they are, actually, unripe! The same is true of green peppers. To further confuse you, I will note that some of my favorite varieties of "green beans" are actually purple when picked and do not turn green until cooked!) The bean plants really want to produce "dried beans." Pinto, navy, kidney beans, and all their kin, could be picked when the pods were young and green, and steamed or boiled to eat. Plant breeding over the years has brought us special varieties that hold longer on the vine or plant, have a better taste and usually lack the “string," a hard, fibrous strand running the length of one side of the pod that is common in the bean varieties that are grown to maturity. You will see the fledgling bean seeds if you open a green bean, and any pods you fail to pick in their eating prime will begin to show bumps where the bean seeds are developing. The pod will become tough and hard to eat, even on the most desirable green bean varieties. Green beans in the veg department of your grocer, even though they don't tell us so, will be one or more of the varieties dedicated to fresh eating and might be "Provider" green beans or "Annihilator" or "Cosmos, all varieties offered by one of my favorite local seed suppliers, Johnny's SelectedSeeds. In scientific terminology that would make them Phaseolus vulgaris (the latin for beans' genus and species) var. Provider or var. Annihilator or... 

The same holds true of all your friends in the produce isle. They all come in many varieties, and you will end up doing a lot of reading, thinking, plotting – and still order way too many seeds! Don't fret; most will keep at least until the next year.

As you browse your catalogs, pay attention to the growth habits of the seeds you are considering. Some peas and beans grow as vines and require support. Others are bushier. It's best not to be surprised. The size of your garden as well as how you work will determine some of your choices.

This is just on example of the varieties of growth habit. Some broccoli makes just one, large head; others make a smaller initial head and finish the season with smaller spouts that emerge from the leaf axils (where the upper leaves meet the stem of the plant). There are varieties of all plants with widely varying times to harvest and not all vegetables take the same length of time to be ready to eat. 

This means that to work most effectively with nature, you need to become very familiar with plants and varieties thereof, but also with how the growing season works in your location. Here in Maine we have two online tools that will show you the average last spring frost and the average first autumn frost in your location. Note that not only are these averages and micro-climates abound here in Maine. There are some veg that can stand a light to moderate frost at the beginning and/or end of their growth cycle.

Just like we humans don't all like the same climate, neither do plants! I still see many gardeners planting their whole garden Memorial Day Weekend (which is actually the safe time to begin seeding and transplanting warm season crops in my location) and then fussing because their spinach and lettuce bolts to seed straight away. If the seed packet says to plant "as early as the ground can be worked" they mean it! As long as the seeds won't be sitting in soil wet enough to rot them (grab a handful of newly cultivated earth. It should stick together in a ball in your hand, but break apart easily when poked) it is time to begin planting spinach, lettuce, peas and other veg that like cool temperatures.
Once the soil has warmed up (and if you are a garden/science nerd like me, you will acquire a soil thermometer and check its temp regularly!) is the time for beans, corn, squash, melons and tomatoes.

Seed packets often tell you how many feet of row they will plant, or how many seeds they contain, if the plants are typically started indoors for transplants. But that gives you no clue as to how much actual food that will produce. There is a big difference between 25 feet of potatoes, tomatoes and peas! Fortunately we now have a resource to help us calibrate how many feet of row we may need, once we have a handle on how much our family will need. This resource, again from the helpful folks at Johnny's, will give you average yeilds from 100' of direct seededrow, and a little math will help you scale it up or down as needed. For the tomatoes, peppers and other crops that are usually transplanted out to the garden, check this

Of course Ma Nature always has the last word, so these are once again only guidelines. Specific weather conditions which vary from year to year will have a massive effect on anything you do. As an example, I have had several years of "really bad luck" with spinach, only harvesting enough for eating fresh in salads in season... until 2019, when again I was able to put some in the freezer -- and out of a shorter row, too! So plan to be flexible if you want to minimize what you have to buy from the store and put by extra in years of abundance. While last year's frozen or canned veg may not have as nice a texture or quite as much nutrition as things put by earlier in the current year, if it has remained properly frozen or the seal is still intact, it is still safe, and we eat them here. Our goal is to be as self-feeding as practical and so we use the overages of one year to offset the challenges of the next. 

And, as a hexeri, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the addition of a sign for Abundance on your homestead would never be a bad idea!

Happy garden planning, get ready to order seeds for starting seedlings indoors and do check out for my work, and you can find me on Facebook as well, where I will be glad to answer questions about homesteading and my hex work.

*"mess" is old time country talk for the quantity of a veg that you go pick prior to starting supper.