Winter has certainly settled in, and will not be going anywhere soon. The Food It Yourself garden is fast asleep. My raised beds are frozen solid. My pitch fork, shovels, and rakes are tucked behind the snow thrower. My kitchen table, however, is covered with seed and plant catalogs. Yes, this is that exciting time of year when I start dreaming about what the garden is going to be.

I will probably pass on carrots and peppers this year. They just do not seem to yield well for us. It might be that our soil is lacking something. If any of you gardening DIYeters have tips, pretty pretty please share in the comments!

We are definitely going to grow sweet corn again. I have finally found a few sources for the old New England favorite variety Butter and Sugar. I have to say one of my favorite parts of keeping chickens is the concurrent inexhaustible supply of high-nitrogen fertilizer. Corn loves nitrogen rich fertilizer.

We have not grown potatoes for a few years, but we will probably grow those, also as I recently found a few pounds in the back of the pantry that have healthy sprouts on them. Reducing food waste is always a good idea, right?

I am pondering the possibilities of a few new crops, also. I really want to try to grow loofah gourds. Evidently you can eat them when they are small, or let them dry on the vine into a natural scrubbie. If I do grow them I will have to build some kind of support for the vines to climb on. Not a deal breaker, just something to consider.

I am also considering a purchase of some Carolina pine berry plants. Allegedly, they taste like pineapple. I have seen them in the catalogs for a few years now, but I do not know a single person who has grown them. I have some room in my strawberry bed, after all. And yes, I know the picture is of raspberries. I’m keeping my wild raspberry canes. Raspberries are yummy.

Every January I get this sense of emptiness because I am not growing anything. Perhaps other gardeners do, too? I know it will be time to plant eventually. Right now I am trying to enjoy the planning stages. What garden plans are you hatching this year? Share in the comments section!

So, Last week I promised I would share some pictures of the Food It Yourself garden if it stopped raining before it started snowing. I really should know better than to play chicken with Central Massachusetts weather. However, as I am a stubborn New Englander, I took pictures anyway.

Here is my new, improved and expanded strawberry bed. The majority of the plants survived the dry early summer and the subsequent monsoon-like late summer and fall. Many of them even sprouted runners. I like to think the very strongest have survived. I will transplant them in the spring to give them more space. The ultimate goal is a batch of strawberry jam. I think that is achievable.

The biggest challenge will be preventing the birds from getting the ripe berries before I do. So far, it seems like the least expensive thing to try is hanging shiny things (old CD’s are a popular recommendation) from the nearby trees.  Allegedly, the flashing lights scare off the birds. I suppose it is worth a try. I am also open to suggestions from my fellow DIYeters.

Just to the right of the strawberry bed and the cherry trees I put some cardboard over the grass and weighted it down with rocks.  I am hoping this will knock out the grass and make expanding the front yard garden a little easier in the spring. We get good sunlight in the front yard, it is a shame to waste it on grass.  I might move the bee balm up front and add more varieties of herbs. Front yard gardens are also good for edible flowers.

The chickens have not been laying recently. However, they did spend all summer producing some amazing high-nitrogen fertilizer.  We dumped it directly into our fallow raised bed; In 2019 I think this is where we will grow sweetcorn. Corn loves nitrogen.

Mr. Food It Yourself has been investigating possible reasons why the ladies have stopped laying. Age is one probable factor. Also, they just got through their fall molt. The short days and low temperatures certainly have not helped. While no man alive can change New England weather, we can winterize our coop to take that stress off our little flock.

I will shamelessly brag that all the winterizing equipment Mr. Food It Yourself and I put away last spring was exactly where we thought it was.

Once again, the chickens will spend the coldest months sandwiched between our deck and our garage. We decided to get the coop off the ground this year. Last year the chickens spent a lot of time with wet feet. That is not good for chickens! Mr. Food It Yourself dumpster-dove some large pallets from his workplace. We stapled some indoor/outdoor carpet over the pallets to keep the birds from getting stuck. I think it is important to note that we measured the foot print of the coop and the size of the pallets before we started this process. Good thing, too, because…

We nailed it! After setting up the lights (with a timer), fitting the water trough with a birdbath heater, spreading a layer of bedding and re-installing the doors on the run, we moved the chickens to their winter home. Looks like they are happy!

Yes, this was a challenging year for the Food It Yourself garden. Woodchucks are terrible people. However, we are not going to give up our garden, we are going to keep expanding. Meanwhile, we will keep learning how to work with what we get from the weather and the local fauna. I am glad for a little before I have to start again though. What went well in your garden this year? What do you hope you can improve next season? Share in the comments!