The first of March brings promise that the unwavering changing of the seasons is upon us once more. Whilst we got belted with snow earlier this week, we know winters' back has been broken and spring is right around the corner. Oh sure; we'll have some spring storms; but that's just what they are - spring storms. No matter how hard they hit us we know they're here only for a short time. And speaking of time, I don't wish away time in anticipation of warmer temps and the sunny days of summer, but rather enjoy watching and being a part of the changing season. It's not so much about the temps and the long dry days of summer, but more about the changing that occurs around us. Winter can be a bit long, what with the endless storms and the short days (by far the worst thing about winter in Maine) but I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. Well, not at least for now.
The subtle signs of late winter are evident around but you may have to look a little harder than in mid-spring. Some of the things that I notice this time of year include ice fishing shacks being removed from the lakes and ponds, the channels and rivers opening up with a few hardy ducks occupying them and last year's wood piles are severely shrunken. The skunks are out and I've seen a few robins. Late last week I saw a woodchuck sitting on a snow bank looking somewhat bewildered. I look forward to a "normal" spring after somewhat of a "normal" winter.
As you might remember from last spring, we didn't have any frost in the ground so once the snow starting melting it was immediately absorbed. I don't see that happening this spring but I don't think there's much frost in the ground this year either. That's not my prediction for an early spring. Last year we plowed one particular field weeks before we could ever plow it; I'm not that optimistic this year, but Spring: It'll come and we'll be ready.
On another note, I went grocery shopping over the past weekend. Not a big deal, I know, but we seldom go. Between what we raise and store/freeze for winter we don't need to spend much time in a grocery store. There are however things we needed, so once in a while we make a trip of it, albeit a quick trip. Was I in for a surprise: prices have changed since I was last there! 200 bucks and the cart wasn't even full. Time to rethink my strategy for the garden this year and maybe make some changes around the ole homestead.
While searching for some frozen tofu (don't ask) that was on sale, I was amazed (perhaps shocked is more accurate) how much of the frozen food is already prepared; freezer to microwave to table; easy as that. The "need to cook" section was pretty small, mostly vegetables. Is everyone out there so busy they can't cook anymore? We enjoy cooking: using fresh or fresh frozen veggies, home grown chickens and eggs, and local wild-caught seafood.
I grew up on a dairy farm in central Maine and was blessed with large meals of meat and potatoes and plenty of home cooking. We didn't have a microwave, but we did have an electric stove, modern fridge and even a dishwasher. At one time there were my folks and three of their sons working the farm so we ate plenty. Often people would stop in at lunchtime as it was a good time to catch my father before we went back out into the fields; lunchtime was often a social event. Extra hands helping out in haying season also shared our table. Did I mention the home cooking? Lots of beef; we had our own supply, fresh veggies from the garden and homemade desserts like old fashioned apple pie - yes, all homemade.
The word "homemade" has been seriously overused and abused. I bought a chicken pie last year that was "homemade". I never had a homemade chicken pie like that. You could make a hundred pies out of one chicken. I'd say the first ingredient was water and the second was a thickener to thicken the water into something that resembled gravy. Chicken is relatively inexpensive so why skimp on it? And don't call it homemade unless it is - call it something like "about as far away from homemade as you can get". My next chicken pie came from a combination of the garden and the henhouse. That's homemade.
So, anyways, the trip to the grocery store got me thinking about raising an assortment of veggies this year and not relying on the sheer volume of certain crops. We don't need 50 quarts of green beans or 40 packages of beet greens. We need a diverse group of crops in which to pick from. We have carrots, beets, potatoes and onions in the root cellar; I think I'll add some cabbage and rutabagas. In the freezer we have Swiss chard and beet greens, green beans and shell and snap peas. There aren't a whole lot more veggies I can think of to put in the freezer that we like.
Next week: What about fresh greens in the winter and what to plant in the garden in 2009.