A fulcrum is both a thing upon which a lever wrests and the essential point, the middle point upon which all other activities rest. Although February isn’t thought of as an “important” month in gardening, it is essentially the fulcrum, the point upon which all other gardening activities rest.
Time to Use Up Store Garden Produce and Check the Pantry
February is the month in which I take inventory of the remaining garden produce from the past year. I look through my dried herbs, noting which ones I’ve gone through the most. This year’s winners: elderberry, which I made into a medicinal syrup during my bout of the flu back in November; tarragon thanks to my continuing love affair of tarragon with chicken; apple mint, which I make into tea at least once a week; and lavender, which was a big hit this Christmas when I made it into sachets and other gifts for family and friends.
In the pantry, I go through the stored produce. The sweet potatoes are storing well this year, but the potatoes are sprouting eyes and wrinkling up and I need to make them into something, anything, and fast before they end up in the compost bin. The garlic has, alas, dried out, but a few cloves remain useful, and the onions are long gone.
As for the canned goods, we’ve gone through plenty of apple butter, again given as gifts this year, canned apples and peaches, and strawberry jam. I’ve already made notes to add more strawberry plants to the garden so that I can increase the yield and make more jam.
The green beans and pickled beets are still in good quantity, although I am using them up at an average pace, and the canned tomato juice, chicken and turkey stock are all in good supply.
This inventory isn’t just a pat on the back and feel good time to admire my summer’s hard work. It’s also the time for me to take notes on:
- Sizes of canning jars and lids I may need for this summer’s canning. I typically purchase canning supplies out of season not because they are cheaper but because our local stores tend to run out during peak season.
- Varieties that we enjoyed and ones we didn’t. The beets, for example, that made the best pickled beets are “Detroit Dark Red” so I will plant more of those this year and avoid varieties such as “Chiogga” and “Bull’s Blood” which although they were okay just didn’t taste as sweet as Detroit Dark Red. The same holds for frozen produce. Peas froze really well and we are still enjoying fresh garden peas in February. The broccoli rabe was just terrible frozen, like eating rope, and the chard, if diced fine before blanching and freezing, is a good substitute for spinach. It is notes such as these that guide my seed purchase now and planting in April and May.
- Canned goods we ate very quickly because they tasted great. New recipes, such as the green tomato relish, were a hit. I make notes now so that when summertime comes around and I am busy with work, gardening, and canning, I don’t have to wrack my brain and think, “Now, where was that recipe we loved so much?”
This is also the time of year when I do a little experimenting in the kitchen. Yesterday I made sweet potato fries in the oven, adapting a recipe I found online by using my special blend of herbal salts. (Recipe coming this week – it was scrumptious!). I test recipes online, make old favorites to use up stored and canned produce, and simply enjoy time puttering in my kitchen.
Today, I’ll use up canned sweet potatoes, stored carrots, and canned chicken broth to make sweet potato-carrot soup. It’s a good day for it, too. I’m feeling a little under the weather, it’s sleeting and raining out, and the cats are all snuggled in bed. A good day to nest and tackle some homemaking chores.
February marks the beginning and the end. Once I’ve assessed everything from previous years, I’ll continue ordering seeds, planning the vegetable garden rotation, and taking notes for future years. What’s your February garden task list look like?
Happy Gardening. Keep growing! – Jeanne
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.