Brainstorm in an Ice Storm

by Tusha Yakovleva


Forecast for tomorrow: Variable clouds with snow showers. Wind chills may approach -10F. Low 3F. Winds N at 10 to 20 mph. Chance of snow 70%.

The weather dictates mood swings not just for plants, but gardeners too, and on days like we've had recently, it is without doubt hibernation weather. So, let's embrace the feeling, collect our resources and energy, daydream, introspect, learn by reading, writing, thinking… Gardening calls upon a diversity of skills, and at a time of year when balls of ice are knocking on our windows, thankfully, there are many agricultural activities that can be done indoors while wearing wool socks with a cup of hot tea in hand.



1. Be a Cartographer. Drawing a map of your garden is a great organization tool. For returning gardeners, it helps in devising a crop rotation plan. For a healthy growing environment, crops from different plant families play musical-garden-beds each season. The rearranging throws pests off track (at least for a while!) and also helps return the whole spectrum of nutrients back to the soil. A simple rotation recipe to follow is: leaf, fruit, root, legume. We’ll get into more details about crop rotation soon, but for now: here’s an example of the the various residents of one garden-bed over the seasons, following the above guideline:

Year One – Leaf

Year Two – Fruit

Year Three – Root

Year Four - Legume

Collards, Chard, Herbs, Lettuce, Mustard

Eggplant, Tomato, Pepper, Melon, Squash, Cucumber

Beet, Carrot, Onion, Turnip, Radish

Green Bean, Pea

For first-time growers, making a garden map can unify fragmented visions and jump-start actual planning decisions. Don’t forget to include permanent structures (like trees and sheds) to figure out what casts shade where and how that will dictate seed choices. Consider your natural resources like water access, sunlight, healthy soil and make a note of where the limitations of these resources are felt most. For example, if your hose only reaches three of your four beds, dedicate the fourth bed to hot peppers and perennial herbs that don’t mind a little drought.

This blog is provided by the Hudson Valley Seed Library, a small group of dedicated growers and plant lovers working to provide good seed to gardeners and small farmers. Your purchases support our work. Thanks!

A map can help articulate goals for your growing project. What kind of a garden did you draw? Will it nourish one person? One family? Will you share your harvest with neighbors and bees? Do you want to test your farming endurance to feed a CSA program? Will you collect rainwater? Will you compost? Will you have bright, fragrant picnics under the sunflowers, next to the moon flowers?

Also, use a pencil.

2. Archive your seed library. Many seed packs are filled with too many seeds for one garden in one season. The leftovers not only form a historical record of your garden, but also provide a foundation for an expanding seed collection. Before buying fresh seeds, organize what you already have. Seeds stay viable for years, but their germination rates do decrease with each season. Take a look at the date on each pack, then decide how best to use them. Most seeds that are a year old can safely be used just like fresh seeds. (Learn how to do a simple germination test at home here.) For seeds that are two to three years, double or triple up when planting, then thin all but one when the baby plants emerge. If your seeds are older or you’re doubtful of their vigor, don’t compost them just yet! Plant them thickly in a tray indoors for mid-winter home-grown shoots, or, if they are a delectable variety: take them straight to the kitchen. Cilantro (coriander), dill, fennel, flax, cumin, and mustard seeds make great cooking spices. Use basil seeds as a tapioca substitute (when moistened – the seeds form a pearly jelly coating)! Make tea with chamomile; tincture from echinacea; and throw beans, peas, and corn into soup. Just be sure none of the seeds you use for this purpose are treated; here at the Seed Library we never sell treated seed.

3. Take Inventory of your kitchen pantry, freezer, herb and spice collection. What did you use first and most this year? What’s buried and forgotten in the darkest corners of your freezer? Our ambitions as gardeners don’t always match our goals as cooks and eaters. It’s a good time of year to be honest about your tastes and accept that there is only so much frozen fennel that you eat in one winter, and that you have yet to hit your limit for ground cherry jam and tomato sauce lining the shelves.

4. Choose Seeds! Nothing feels like the start of a new season like new seeds, but committing to one or even three varieties is not easy with the ocean of seed options available to gardeners. The articles below untangle the complexity of seed choices and are good reminders that simply following our eyes, noses, and mouths, is not always enough in this complicated world:

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