I love this time of year when I can settle down with a good book or seed catalog, near the crackling wood burning stove. Casper (the perfect cat) nestles into my lap, my dog Sage warming my feet and wanting more attention then the cat is getting. Inside projects are getting finished that got pushed aside for several months of the year for gardening chores. I love winter months. But the real side of me is still yearning for those warmer winter days here in Southern Utah. Freezing by night and comfortable by day. These are days I gather leaves, turn compost and will be on the look out for that first narcissus to poke its leaves through the cold hard ground. Sometimes we get an early bloom at the first of January on the Southeast facing side of the house. What a welcome sight and a sweet fragrance they put off. This is the time when I take mental notes of what needs to be done, what I aspire for next year and what beauty I can add to the garden or flower beds. I watch over my fruit trees seeing what branches need to be removed due to old age or wind damage. It’s time to prune the grape vines and make grape-vine wreaths with the long spindly cuttings, feed those hungry birds that depend on me for their winter food. The vegetable garden still has many living things that require watering during dry spells such as the leeks, garlic, and the greens that are under row cover. One can get so much enjoyment walking through a winter garden, you just have to look a little deeper. A garden gives so much this time of year and asks hardly nothing in return. Not much care required. A break from weeding and what seems like constant watering. With a root cellar full of a bountiful harvest from summer saying, job well done and all the fresh greens we can eat from under protective cover in the garden during the cold winter months gives us satisfaction until new spring crops. I spend much of my time in the greenhouse this time of year. It won’t be long before hundreds and sometimes thousands of little pots will be sprouting there first little leaves so green and healthy. The first session of early crops were just started from seed this week such as brocoli, kohlrabi, kale and other greens. The smell of the citrus blooming while the Meyer lemons are almost ready to pick entices me to come back soon to the greenhouse. Who says winter is dull. It’s only as dull as we make it. Grant it, I don’t live in a very cold climate where the snow drifts make it impossible to visit the garden. I think a winter garden should have interest and a mysterious side to it.
This is such a great time to plan your next years garden. This year I will be planting only heirloom varieties in my vegetable garden and careful planning will ensure I don’t miss a beat. Sketch out your garden. Include crop rotation, succession plantings, leave room to try a new variety this year, add some interest to your usual planting by adding herbs here and there. Go walk through your garden and get inspired. Plan on the best garden ever! Try new flowers in your flower garden, pop some in your veggie beds. Add veggies to your flower beds for even more interest. I love to see Tuscan Kale grown amongst pink, red or purple flowers. Eggplant is such a colorful and outstanding accent. What a better way to make an edible flower garden. I love perennials, but you can’t beat some old-fashioned heirloom flowers like ‘Kiss Me Over The Garden Gate” over the garden gate! Try some new long-term shrubs this spring for next years winter garden like dogwoods popped in a few places. Their beautiful red twigs on cold winter days add so much visual color to an otherwise bleak garden. Choose shrubs that have berries through the winter time like Winter Berry, Holly or Snowberry. They are great summer time fillers, but flashy winter time thrillers. Enjoy winter, embrace it, because spring, summer and hard work are just around the corner!
Ahhh Fall! What’s not to enjoy? Isn’t this the best season of all? I enjoy fall time as the leaves begin to turn, weather becomes cool and pleasant, mornings are crisp and the fall rains start to moisten the ground. Gardening chores are at a low roar. Casper the Cat enjoys when I start to slow down and spend more time writing my blogs, studying gardening books and planning next years garden as he settles in to add some assistance by either sleeping on the keyboard or in the middle of the my book. The hummingbirds are gone except an Annas hummingbird that stays over winter here on our little farm. The chicken egg production is almost up to 100 percent. Fall crops are just starting to set and just a few weeks out for fresh new greens. It’s time to harvest the sweet potato crop before it freezes. Garlic, leeks and shallots will be planted this month. Pretty pansies, snaps and chrysanthemums are blooming. Pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins……. And the smell and sounds of fall! Wouldn’t you agree? This has to be the best time of year!
This is the time of year I love to cook and create foods that make you feel good inside. Pumpkins are abundant during autumn and I love to decorate with them as well as cook with them. Heirloom pumpkins are really just a pretty squash that taste great. If you didn’t grow any this year check out your local farmers market and grab a dozen or so! They are loaded with vitamins and minerals and they last for several months in cool temps.
Here is a simple and great side dish perfect for fall!
Crusted Pumpkin Wedges
Ingredients: 1 1/2 lbs pumpkin, 1/2 freshly grated parmesan cheese, 2 T dried breadcrumbs, 6 T finely chopped fresh parsley, 1 1/2 tsp finely chopped thyme, grated zest of 2 large lemons, 2 large garlic cloves crushed, salt, white pepper, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup sour cream, 1 T chopped dill.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cut pumpkin into 3/8 inch thick slices and lay them flat on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Mix together parmesan, breadcrumbs, parsley, thyme, half the lemon zest, garlic, and a small amount of salt and pepper. Brush pumpkin with the olive oil and sprinkle with the crust mix making sure to cover all the pumpkin. Pat the mix down to hold it in place. Place the pan in the oven and roast for about 30 minutes or until tender. If crust darkens too much you can tent with foil. Mix sour cream with the dill and some salt and pepper. Serve pumpkin warm with a sprinkle of remaining lemon zest and a dollop of sour cream on the side.
Several people have come to the garden this week asking about Casper. Where he is and what he is doing. Not far off I can point him out, on the patio table, in the flower-pot, in the goat manger. This loveable, lazy creature has touched many people’s heart. Some days when feeling his oats (not often) you know he has been into something. At my cottage retail store I have multiple herbs for sale. A few months ago I was experiencing problems with the lemon catnip being drug all over the place. Mind you! Not just a few feet away, but I would find the little root balls from the front of the store to the back, to the orchard and other various places. I know cats like catnip, but really! dragging it all over the yard. These poor little plants were mutilated to the point of no return. Casper does have his own catnip garden but he prefers the little white potted lemon catnip plants! When getting in several flats of new herbs today, I see Casper enjoying a new flavor! Sweet Grass! Soon after his indulgence he became frisky rolling around in the planter boxes for a few short moments before he fell fast asleep.
Meet Casper our cat. We brought him home in May, 12 years ago. Casper isn’t your average mouse hunter, or for that matter any kind of hunter. I’m right sure he thinks he is human….you know, the hunt is done by us, the, well owners? Or servants? Most times you will find him in a basket, bucket, pot, or in the new box of bulbs that just arrived at the store. He requires 23 hours of sleep (and that’s a full day of work) and wastes no time exhausting himself chasing birds. This leaves him with 60 minutes to care for what he finds important. Likely for grooming, eating, grooming and eating. I do believe he is a bit of a snotty cat. If you do see him under the bird feeders it’s only a short time of entertainment to only get excited and then quickly fall fast asleep with never making one movement towards a bird. He has been known multiple times to be a foster mother to little chicks, letting them snuggle right into his fur while grooming their little down bodies. Does he mind or think umm, lunch? Nope! If you have ever heard of a an animal that wouldn’t hurt a fly…..It had to be Casper. Follow up on Casper adventures (sleeping) in the garden.