We hear about “eating seasonally” all the time but what does that really mean? So many of us have had the luxury of relying on grocery stores for our food that we have no idea about what crops are native to specific times of the year (greenhouse and large-scale industrial grow houses aside)… at least I didn’t before I started gardening and homesteading.
Why eat seasonally? Fresh, seasonal food is loaded with more nutrients per bite (and tastes better too). Plus our bodies require more or less of different nutrients by season which those seasonally available produce items helps to fulfill. Out of season strawberries, for example, have to be harvested before their prime—or before they even ripen, for that matter!—to be shipped and distributed elsewhere. They lack the flavor and nutritional content of in-season, local strawberries.
Do I buy avocados at the grocery store? Yes I do. Do my children like to include bananas in their homemade lunches? Yep. Neither of which are local nor in-season to me. But the majority of the fruit and veg in my diet comes from homegrown, freshly harvested, frozen, canned or stored homegrown produce. It’s about setting realistic goals rather than giving into the criticism of nay-sayers and not trying at all.
So with that, here’s an abbreviated list of common items in season NOW.
👉🏼If you’re interested in looking up your area specifically, there’s a great resource called SeasonalFoodGuide.org. Simply plug in your state and it’ll tell you what’s available for any given month of the year.
Winter squash (butternut, spaghetti, etc)
Think canning belongs in the 1950s? Think again! So much of what I grow is selected and planned around preservation. I want food security and freedom from grocery stores. About 75% of what I grow has been researched for the ability to store. The rest is for fresh eating. When COVID started, we didn’t set foot in a grocery store for 3 months. That was for dry goods like flour—and toilet paper ;).
For anyone interested, here’s my list of crops I’ve put together over time for shelf longevity, freezer quality and canning... I hope it’s helpful!
Bridger, Copra, Cortland, Patterson, Pontiac, Talon, Yellow Globe (includes heirloom and hybrids), Yellow Sweet Spanish
Southport White Globe, Stuttgarter, White Sweet Spanish
Brunswick (heirloom), Red Bull, Red Creole (heirloom), Red Wind
Elba, Katahdin, Red Chieftain, Yukon Gold, Burbank Russet, German Butterball, Yukon Gem, Rose Finn Apple Fingerling, Russian Banana Fingerling, Red Pontiac, All Blue, Kennebec
Garlic (Softneck best for storage)
Inchelium Red, California Softneck, California Early, Italian Loiacono, Silver White
Nantes, Chantenay, Imperator, Danvers
Cylindra, Flat of Egypt, Pacemaker III, Pablo, Boro
Dutch varieties (chicken leg and Dutch yellow)
San Marazano, Amish Paste, Roma, Big Mama, Golden Mama
Cherry (Paste and Preservation)
Sungold, Super sweet 100, Yellow pear
Slicing (Paste and Preservation)
Black Krim, Rutgers, Mar globe, Ace 55
Free stone varieties
Apples (whole storage)
Granny Smith, Red delicious, Golden delicious, Gala, Empire, Winesap, Fuji
McIntosh, Cortland, Fuji, Braeburn, Jonagold, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Pink Lady, Jazz, Honeycrisp
Bush varieties: Black Turtle, Goldmine, Blue lake 274, Topcrop, Tendercrop, Contender, Provider, Strike, Improved Tendergreen, Refugee and Stringless Green Pod.
Pole beans: Blue Lake FM-1, Kentucky Wonder
Squash (whole storage)
Spaghetti, Waltham Butternut, Anna Swartz Hubbard, Golden Hubbard, Sibley, Musquee de Provence, Chioggia, Queensland Blue, Dutch Crookneck, Australian Butter
Livestock guardian dogs and other working dogs can develop dry, cracked paw pads and accumulate snow clumps in the wintertime. To keep my pups on the homestead comfortable in the snow, I make my own Buddy Balm. Here’s my recipe:
Buddy Balm Recipe
2oz dried beeswax, melted
2oz olive oil
2oz coconut oil, melted
1 drop vitamin E oil
Combine all liquified ingredients in a heat safe container and stir well to combine. Pour into a storage jar with a lid. Use the cooled balm by rubbing just a bit onto each paw. The pads are instantly moisturized and will stay snow free! Safe for outdoor cats too.
P.S. This is great for human skin too!
The water had frozen in the 100-gallon outdoor stock tank nightly for weeks, despite a heater. I was complaining about cracking and removing the ice to Annette at Azure Farm and she said, "Just do the water bottle trick." What water bottle trick?! This was the catalyst for my finding winter short cuts in the stable.
Water Bottle Floats
Fill a plastic water bottle with 1/4 cup salt. Fill the rest of the way with water. Reapply the cap, seal and shake. Place the water bottle (I do 2-3 for a 100-gallon stock tank) in the water trough. They will float and bob slightly, offering just enough movement to slow freezing.
My horses get itchy as winter progresses but I won't bathe them until we're above 65 degrees Fahrenheit. I started using Dry Shampoo for horses by @equiderma. It's natural and smells so good. Just work down to the skin with a curry comb!
Insulate Water Buckets with a Second Bucket
Water buckets can freeze in stalls easy, but heaters are a big no-no indoors. Instead, place a smaller bucket within a larger bucket and fill the gaps between with hay or straw (think a 2-gallon inside a 5-gallon). Works like a charm.
The Stable Crockpot
Sometimes water is required in the stable during the winter for grooming--especially when it comes to helping horses with mud fever. A crockpot kept on warm can be filled with water to have on-hand as needed. Just be sure to test the temperature on your own skin before applying to your horse.
Slicken a Manure Fork
Frozen manure sucks to clean up when the tongs won't go through. I usually switch to a pitchfork because those plastic forks don't work so well. Unless you slicken it with horse detangler! A quick spray on the fork will help it slide through and clean up the yuck.
I am fortunate to have water spigots that extend well below the frost line. Getting water from the spigot down the hill up to the stable, is a different challenge. I got sick of freezing hoses so I purchased cloth hoses. After use, simply unplug the hoses and allow them to drain. After a few minutes, I roll them up and toss into a 5-gallon bucket and bring them indoors. The next time I need to fill a trough, the hoses are thawed.
I hope these tips are helpful!
The best time to prune fruit trees is in late winter when the trees are fully dormant. The open wounds from clipping have plenty of time to heal before buds set and long before pests and disease come out in droves. There's a few things to keep in mind when pruning, specifically as a permaculture grower. Since we're trying to mimic Mother Nature (who prunes barely at all), we're going for a minimalist approach.
Look for the 3Ds
Diseased, Decayed and Dead wood should all be removed from the tree. This is simply speeding up the act of abscission, or when a plant naturally would drop infected tissue to focus its energy on the rest of the plant. These removed pieces should ideally be burned so any disease or mold spores don't spread.
The 5-foot Rule
We find most fruit and nut trees in nature without low hanging branches. Deer are responsible for this low-level pruning job. While deer can absolutely be destructive in orchards with young trees, more established trees can benefit from having deer remove low, flimsy wood. Additionally, the trees are providing a food source for the great ecosystem. If deer aren't allowed into your orchard, prune any branches that hang below 5-feet off the ground. This will open up an understory for companion plantings.
Thinning and the "Cardinal vs. Cat Rule"
When pruning, it's a good idea to remove any small, vertical branching that threatens to grow into one another. Branches rubbing can cause friction for the tree, which may result in bark peeling and can invite pests and disease into the wood. However, removing too much can be a bad thing. There's an old adage I learned from author Mark Shepard. When pruning, you've done well "if a cardinal can fly through the branches without its wings touching a branch. But if a cat can be thrown through the branches without hitting anything, that's too much." Basically, don't over-prune. :)
Suckers are the side shoots that branch out from the trunk of the tree, towards the bottom near the soil line. These should be removed.
It’s time to start planning for the growing season. In fact, I’ve already started Brussels sprouts and artichokes in my greenhouse! Before you can buy any seeds, you need to know what and how much to grow. This is different for every person or family. I grow a zillion tomatoes (35 plants to be precise) for example because I grow for fresh eating and preservation of all of our tomato products. This is calculated over time, based on my experience.
Here’s a rough guide from Garden Gate Magazine on how much to plant per person. It’s a great starting point!
GARDEN SIZE for growing food for a year:
Vegetarians: 4400 square foot of growing space per person
Omnivores: 200 square feet of growing space per person
HOW MUCH PER PERSON
Asparagus (1 plant/ft. of row), 5-10 plants per person
Bush beans (2 plants/ft. of row), 12-15 plants
Beets (Thin to 3 plants/ft. of row), 15-30 plants
Cucumber (1 plant/2 ft. of row), 1 vine, 2 bushes
Carrots (Thin to 12 plants/ft. of row), 48 plants
Corn (1 plant/ft. of row), 10-15 plants (plant in blocks for best pollination)
Eggplant (1 plant/2 ft. of row), 2-3 plants
Kale (10/10 ft. of row), 2-7 plants
Leaf lettuce (Thin to 3 plants/ft. of row), 24 plants
Melon (1 plant/6 ft. of row), 1-2 plants
Onion (4 sets/ft. of row), 12-20 sets
Peas (6 plants/ft. of row), 15-20 plants
Pepper (1 plant/ft. of row), 3-5 plants
Potato (1 plant/ft. of row), 10 plants
Radish (thin to 12 plants/ft. of row), 10-15 plants
Spinach (Thin to 6 plants/ft. of row), 30-60 plants
Squash (1 plant/6 ft. of row), 1-2 plants
Tomato (1 plant/2 ft. of row), 2-4 plants
Zucchini (1 plant/3 ft. of row), 1-2 plants
Of course these numbers are based on a general guideline and should be altered to suit you or your family's dietary needs!
I always make sure to include crops for the flock when planning my annual gardens. Ducks, chickens and geese all benefit from both fresh and dried herbs, flowers and vegetables. Many are medicinal and offer immune support in addition to being tasty treats. Here’s a few I grow and how I use them in the coop:
Lemon Balm (shown)
I use this in my nesting buckets both fresh (summer) and dried (winter) because it’s a naturally calming plant. The strong lemon scent is a great pest and insect deterrent plus this hardy perennial grows back vigorously each year. Careful—it can spread quickly!
I offer basil leaves fresh in the summertime as a snack. These fragrant leaves are a natural antibacterial and help repel flies.
An absolute favorite of mine. I cut the tall stalks in bunches and hang in the coop in the summer. The scent repels flies as the herb dries. The dried plants are then shredded and packed for later use in nesting boxes in colder weather. Anise Hyssop smells like licorice and is said to calm birds while also helping relieve congestion if taken internally.
These sweet flowers keep unwanted pests away in the garden plus they attract pollinators. I like to pluck the flowers and feed them to my ducks and geese in the summer and fall as floating treats in their water buckets. They love their peppery flavor and some folks believe them to be a laying stimulant (I have not tried this).
Thyme is an amazing plant. It’s filled with healing properties; it’s antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiseptic, an anti-inflammatory, an antioxidant... basically anything “anti-“ that’s good. It’s great for placing around bumblefoot-affected birds in their bedding as it is said to aid in staph infections if used topically or ingested.
Cayenne pepper, ground into a powder, can be sprinkled on top of feed. It acts as a natural dewormer—and, if your flock isn’t laying because of a parasitic cause, cayenne pepper can help them restart.
The list goes on and on. What do you grow for your flock and why?
I’m getting guardian goose questions on repeat lately as people start to place their spring chick/duckling/gosling orders. So let’s talk about what a goose can and can’t do for the homestead.
For more information you can see my Instagram highlight of published articles I’ve written on geese called “Writing.” My website has a free goose guide download which I’ll also link to.
You guys were so enthusiastic about my quick list of gardening tips I posted last week. Thanks for that! And many of you asked for more quick bits of info to apply to your own growing spaces. So, without further ado, here’s a few more things to keep in mind for the growing season:
Group hugs after I groomed my horses and clipped Finnegan’s feathers (the long hair that grows around the hoof). Shaving is a last resort at my farm but I will do it if I need to. You see, bacteria, moisture, and mites get trapped in the hair especially during spring thaws and mud season. It becomes very itchy and irritating and, if left untreated, can even cause a horse to go lame from the pain (not to mention infection). To make it even trickier to battle, a treatment that works for one horse won’t necessarily work for another. Dozer does well on pig oil & sulfur applied weekly. She has no issues. But this actually irritates Finn further.
If your horse has Clyde Itch/Mud Fever/ Scratches (it’s all the same) here are some things to try:
As always, with anything you apply be sure to do a patch test to make sure the horse has no allergic reaction. Additionally, keeping the horse away from mud and standing water is hugely helpful. I hope this helps! Feathered horse owners know this can be an ongoing battle to keep our babes comfortable.
Angela is the farmer and content creator behind Axe & Root Homestead LLC. This historic six-acre farm is home to two Clydesdale horses, ten honeybee hives, three Hampshire sheep, a guardian dog, barn cats and a flock of 40 geese and ducks. The farm produces maple syrup, fruit from a small orchard and loads of garden produce for consumption, preservation and donation to the local food pantry.