Monday, February 9, 2015

Winter as a Blank Slate

One of the littles with our mini snow shovel,
digging a path on the sidewalk next to the side garden.
Our property ends at that little sidewalk--yes, there
actually is a garden smooshed up there against the house! :)

Winter blues can set in heavily around this time of year for those of us in cold and snowy climates. Our gardens are bare, the world outside alternates between frozen and just plain wet--but always frigid--and some days the sun never comes out. Many people become very depressed in the dead of winter and for good reason. The Ojibway Indians called the month of February the Hunger Moon, as their food stores from the summer and autumn dwindled, game could be difficult to find, and fresh food was only a distant memory. Though I have the treasured ability to get fresh vegetables year round from the grocery store, my heart hungers for my own veggies. Hunger Moon is the last leg of the winter marathon; we know that the chill will be gone soon, and that suddenly it will be warm and green once again, but getting to the end means focusing hard, with steel resolve. Our physical survival may not be at stake like it was for the Ojibway, but our mental and emotional endurance can be challenged in very real ways.

Though the snow is oppressive, and the bare branches on trees are dismal, there is a really great aspect to winter, and a huge incentive for walking around and quietly observing your little homestead.

The landscape has been wiped clean! A clean white canvas lies before you, and vivid images emerge; of garden beds, and pots, and spirals, all filled and lush with green growing food. And flowers, too, of course! If you are like me and working with a small suburban lot, where every inch of space has potential, the clean slate is very encouraging and exciting. When living on a little lot, there is no such thing as wide open spaces...yet, when the snow erases all the imperfections below, the space seems so much bigger.

Projects start to form in my mind every time I go outside in the winter snow. The layout of new beds, additions to old growing areas, and novel ideas come alive in my head like no other time. In summer it's sometimes overwhelming to make new plans. My backyard has several areas that always become wildly overgrown, remnants of a previous owner's landscape dreams that now have become a nightmare to keep at bay (*note to self: never, ever, ever plant decorative vines. EVER). In winter, however, the vines are dead, unwanted wild shrubberies are bare and it's easy to visualize cutting them down for firewood. Everything looks so bare and clean and easy to manipulate.

Come join me on a photo walk! I took my camera out on a frigid but beautiful February morning, and my creative juices started flowing. Each photo below has an area or two circled, and you get to peek inside my brain to see what I think should happen in those circles. :)

With snow covering and weighing down these behemoth shrubs,
it's easier to imagine ripping them out and putting garden spaces there.
I am TIRED of maintaining them,
they are overgrown,
and some nice edible landscaping could be the start of a front-yard paradise! still my beating heart!
Looking out from the front of the house:
the 1/6 acre empty lot.
My unrequited love, of which I dream daily...
one day perhaps it will contain the little orchard and sprawling gardens I see in my mind.
Still gotta work on the VERY stubborn neighbor who owns it. :)

South side garden-against-the-house (our property ends there).
 Someone once mentioned the potential for vertical growing against the nice big white expanse of that wall,
which gets very warm and sunny,
and I've been coming up with various ideas ever since.
Backyard from the far south corner. 
We had potato towers and we grew in straw bales
along the fence to the right (south)...the evidence is nearly erased by the snow!
Oh, and that little brown shed? It WILL be a chicken coop! But not yet.           

Another view from the south corner. The ONE open space in the yard.
I plan to add two or three raised beds in this open space....
but still leave some room to play in.
Been mapping out various ideas, over and over!

The other corner of the yard. Compost bin.
We need another matching bin next to it to make faster and easier compost.
In winter the bare branches of the half-dead shrubbery next to it looks
much easier to deal with--we'll remove it and build another simple pallet bin.

The other circle shows the end of the brush line that extends across the whole back fence,
which I'll get to in a minute.

The north fence in the backyard has some potential.
More brush to cut out, and narrow beds can go along the entire length.

Looking down into the corner of that fence, you can see some clues about things
we've been working on. There's a bean teepee, an upturned wheelbarrow (nice effect, eh?),
and in the very corner, our leaf mold pile contained with wire fencing. Along the back of the house
are various containers and a garden bed made of a pallet (easy easy way to get a quick garden bed made!)
I love this little space between the back of the house and the shed.
Since it is mostly shade, I've been experimenting with shade-loving plants.
Last summer the cilantro went crazy back here,
so I'm going to try lettuce, spinach, arugula...just lots of greens.

The circle on the left shows an old playhouse we have really outgrown.
It makes me sad to think of letting it go, but this could really open up some growing opportunity.
The circle on the right of the photo is a ridiculous tree we've cut out several times
 and it keeps coming back...
it needs to go.
In summer it gets overwhelmingly overgrown and completely in the way.
By the way, the medium sized tree trunk in the middle-ish of the photo--
that is our beloved mulberry tree!

View from the back door--the shrub line all along the back fence
has been slowly dying through the years. It's great for privacy and I've resisted
 the idea of cutting it all out.
But last year hubby mentioned replacing it all with edible stuff (like blueberries or hardy kiwi or grapes, etc),
and I thought 'genius'!
I'll be honest though...this project seems huge and scary.
We don't have a lot of power tools, and it may not look like it, but there is 
a lot of gnarly stuff growing there.

Finally, the back patio. The wall faces south and gets tons of light each day.
A gutter is right overhead.
I'm thinking of a system of Earth Buckets for this spot.
(click here for Earth Bucket instructions!)

Actually getting these projects started? Much less, finished?! Ohh, that is the hard part! Dreaming is fun...doing takes discipline. I know that I'm going to have to prioritize what I want done the most, so I don't jump in and make a bunch of messes that never get completed.

Things will be picking up indoors as I start the garden's seedlings, and start making plans for summer (a very, very busy time for my daycare). Life in all other areas never seems to slow down (don't we ALL know that). Can't I just be a full-time gardener and homesteader...please??? ;) Finding the time and the motivation to make these ideas come alive will take some will power, especially when the snow melts and reveals all the imperfections in the yard; the vines--oh shoot me now, the vines. The overgrowth, the pesky unwanted plants. If I can commit to taking care of the cleanup before everything starts exploding with green, then hopefully I can expand and evolve some areas around this little homestead into valuable growing spaces!

Stay tuned, and please share: What have you imagined in your blank slate this winter? Do you have a project or two in mind for your garden this spring?


  1. I loved my stroll around your garden!! And oh my... all that white :)
    I cant imagine how cold it must feel. I think Garren has only been once to see the snow and I think that was about 3 years back?? Only because the snow was close enough for us to get up into the Drakensburg.
    I love your plans you have going all up in your head- and I do hope you persevere and go forward with them!
    While you are most certainly welcoming in the warmer months, we down in the Southern Hemisphere are welcoming in cooler months too!
    Have a wonderful day... blessings on you and your beautiful family
    Angie xxx

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by, and for the kind words, Angie!

  2. Oh, planning is half the fun! If I may offer one your raised beds and gutter garden near a water source. And thinking of your wonderful blank canvas... I can envision what your garden spot would look like....and it would be so cute framed in a little picket fence with a grapevine arbor entrance!!.....Can you see it? Lol...I can!

    ~Sandy (Carolina Straw Bale)

  3. Sandy, how did climb into my brain??? Seriously, a little picket fence and arbor's the garden space of my dreams! :) Thank you for the water tip, too. So nice to 'see' you here!

  4. Hello, wonderful blog, congratulations.

    We are suburban homesteaders, too. Dreams! Dreams!
    If I may make some suggestions...
    * list all your dreams for your plot, and decide to do one or two a season. That way it doesn't get too overwhelming.
    *do the ones that need time to mature first - such as adding espaliered fruit trees, the LOVELY idea of fruit bushes along the back fence, maybe an asparagus bed. Consider rosa rugosa bushes, too, for their rose hips?
    * be sure to plot it all out on a plan, with what needs what sun and water requirements. You will avoid heartache later. I am sure you already know this (I haven't read ALL of your blog yet) but I have this "big sister" need to tell you something you already know! ;-D
    *Use the best materials you can afford. Buy the best local nursery stock you can afford.
    I second the motion to have your raised beds by a water source. (ask me how I know...)
    How blessed you are to be doing this at a young age. We didn't start until in our 50's, and it's harder work at that age! How blessed are your littles to grow up with growing things, with good food, and parents such as you.
    God bless you.

    1. Your comment almost brought me to kind of you to stop by! I will take alllll the big-sisterly advice I can get! I'm not as young as you may think...turning the corner to 40 and didn't catch the homesteading bug until I was 35. My oldest is 16 and he didn't get to witness much of this at a young age, which makes me sad...but he's been a part of some projects and I'm happy for that. I only wish I had started even younger! My boys are 16, 11, and 6 (the extra littles in all my photos are either my nephews, daycare kids, or neighbors. This place is usually hopping with kids). Thank you for ALL the awesome tips, and for taking the time to write them out. Now I'm off to check out your blog! :)

  5. Oh, yes! those overgrown bushes out front? Yep, tear them out! YEA! Go for it!

    1. Right??? I HATE them! I do love the semi-privacy they provide by the front door (essentially forming a small 'porch'), but I have a couple ideas to tackle the problem of their absence. :)