Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
If you live in the eastern half of the U.S., chances are good that you're currently experiencing a foot or more of snow along with unseasonably cold temperatures. Here in the mountains of southwest Virginia, late February is usually a time to look for the first blooming crocuses, to prune perennials, and to start gearing up for the early spring garden...but all of that is impossible during our current deep freeze. How's the homesteader to keep herself happy and productive during the snow?
Start some seeds. I'll tell you up front that this plan can backfire if you fill a flat with tomatoes in February, then have to install grow lights and shelves everywhere to make room once the plants outgrow their seed-starting trays. Good choices for getting a head-start on spring without producing leggy, unhappy plants (and unhappy human family members) include vegetables and herbs that grow slowly from seed and (hopefully) can go out in the garden before your frost-free date. Specifically, I recommend trying onions, celery, oregano, thyme, and chamomile now, with more options opening up in March.
Root some grape cuttings. Grapes are the very easiest plant to propagate using hardwood cuttings (read: dead-looking sticks cut out of the winter garden). While you can get pretty good success rates by simply sticking these cuttings into the soil in your spring garden, you'll produce a plant twice as vigorous by the first autumn if you instead start cuttings in pots inside during the winter. I cut pencil-thick pieces of first-year growth with at least five buds, soak them in water overnight, then push the cuttings into low-nutrient potting soil until they're halfway covered. Water the pots well, then set them on a heating pad for two weeks. After that, you can use the heating pad for your seedlings and can ignore your grape pots unless dry winter air requires you to water the soil. Finally, move the grapes to a sunny window and begin treating them like any other potted plant once leaves begin to poke out of the buds. Your new house plants can be set out into the garden after all danger of frost is past.
Start some mushrooms. If you drink coffee (or live close to a coffee shop), growing oyster mushrooms on coffee grounds in a modified 5-gallon bucket is the way to go for indoors cultivation. You could be eating homegrown mushrooms within a month! We're not coffee drinkers, so are experimenting with some shiitake mini logs for indoor cultivation instead.
Cook something. A snowbound day is a perfect opportunity to poke through your winter stores. Are your carrots starting to shrivel in the root cellar and need to be turned into stew? Or perhaps it's time to thaw out one of those summer chickens, then brew up stock on top of the wood stove using the bones. Check out Farmstead Feast: Winter for the delicious, in-season recipes we depend on during the cold weather on our own farm.
Make snow ice cream. Okay, so this isn't as productive as it is just plain fun! If you tapped your sugar maples before this cold spell set us back into the dead of winter, you can even make snow ice cream with homegrown sweetener. Just fill a dessert bowl with clean snow, add 2 tbsp of milk, 2 tbsp of cream, and 1.5 tbsp of maple syrup, mix well, and enjoy!
What are your favorite ways to stay happy and healthy while the snow falls?
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