What do you eat all winter?
If you have followed any of our 100-day winter pantry and spending challenge you will know that we are trying to spend very little money on food for 100 days while focusing on eating out of our pantry and freezers. Although the challenge is a fun idea to help us use the food we grew in the garden, the concept of eating out of the pantry in the winter is not exactly a new idea. It is what everyone used to do before supermarkets, freezer food, and extensive shipping changed the way people ate. Back then you grew what you wanted to eat, and saved it in the root cellar or pantry. So before you think I'm some crazy person, just remember this was the historical normal for most of the history of the world.
I was thinking about this as I walked through my garden today. I reflected while noticing all the tracks in my garden that rabbits don't store food for the winter. They don't go to stores. They don't hibernate or migrate. They have to forage. Judging by the abundance of tracks, they are still finding plenty to eat in my backyard. Before the snow covers the ground they eat small tender plants, but about this time of year they start to chew on my blackberry canes and blueberry bushes. They like the smooth bark of my apple trees. When Steven prunes the fruit trees, they will chew all the bark of the branches he trims and drops. It doesn't seem like a great diet, so I bet they are even more excited about spring than I am.
During the cold winter months we eat our way though all the things we preserved last summer and fall. When we sit down to a breakfast of french toast dripping with Aronia berry syrup, I am reminded just how much I like having Aronia berry bushes in my yard. When making dinner is as as easy as putting chopped and sauteed garden veggies from the freezer into the Crock-pot I get excited about what we can grow this next year. When I go down to the pantry and see just how fast we are going through the tomatoes and spaghetti sauce that we canned, I take another look through the seed catalog to see which high yielding varieties we need to plant this year.
What is the garden plan this year?
Just about now I am getting super excited for the upcoming growing season. We love to garden! As I write this post I have a big bag of potting soil behind me and a new batch of seeds in my mail pile. All the seed starting trays I need to get the 2020 garden season started were delivered yesterday. I ordered about 20 different kinds of herbs to grow this year. Steven ordered 6 different types of elderberries! Check out our new plant sale list to see what made the cut. In a few weeks we will plant thousands of seeds and sometime in early March we will put up the greenhouses and it will really start to feel like spring.
This year I'm excited to try new peppers. I want to make pickled peppers, smoke my own paprika peppers, and I might try making smoky Chipotle peppers too. We got seeds for Hatch Chile peppers to grow for roasting. Roasted peppers are amazing in lots of my winter recipes! We also bought seeds for tiny snacking cucumbers, pumpkins to make lots of pies, lots of new tomatoes and peppers, and a new variety of Rhubarb. We have plans for filling cut flower beds with beautiful blossoms, and plans to complete the cold frames that will help us extend our greens growing season this coming year.
Steven has been doing research into the different tomato varieties and hybrids, trying to find the stories, history and reviews of each one so that we can find the best that will grow here. In his "day job" he manages the advancement decisions of product lines worth billions of dollars so it is fun to see him at home making our own advancement decisions. If anyone knows what to look for in a crop to see if it has potential, he does. What worked well last year, and what didn't? What is new and looks promising? What has the highest yield and disease resistance? What really needs to be retired? I told him he was in charge of selecting which varieties we will be growing in the backyard farm this year. My strategy has been to try a little of something and find what works. He's got a little more data driven approach. We'll see if we can break our pounds of tomatoes grown record this year.
I love this time of year where we are planning the garden for this year while enjoying all of the harvest of last year. This 100-day challenge is a great incentive to planning for next year because it helps us see how much we really eat. Then I can plan to make sure we have enough of what we love to eat on hand for next year. After all, we're not rabbits and I don't like bark.
Cozy or Cabin Fever?
We just wrapped up week three of our winter spending challenge. I'm starting to have the same feelings for my challenge that I have for our winter weather. I love the beauty of the snow, and the coziness of cold winter nights at home, but it isn't fun to drive in, and I get tired of bundling everyone up to go outside. Its been cold and snowy long enough now that summer shorts and sandals seem a distant memory. This week was the first week I had to make hard decisions when shopping. I wanted to buy more frozen raspberries, but none of the stores had the ones I wanted. I also wanted to buy stuff for green smoothies, but we have other things I need to use up first. I found good deals on apples and potatoes but there really isn't anything very exciting happening at the grocery store at this point of winter. But, stop, this is me whining about lame first world problems.
Compared to when I was a kid, the fresh produce we have available at the grocery store all year-round is amazing. I was in college before I had things like kiwis, and married with kids before I had even heard of dragon fruits, star fruits, and many other fruits that are not native to the United States. The collection of produce I bought this week was grown in Mexico, Honduras, and Canada and has traveled farther than I have ever traveled. So while I'm complaining about the lack of options in Iowa in January, we actually have it pretty good.
However, when the coziness of winter starts to turn into cabin fever it is time for a treat. Well, sort of a treat. More like a default dinner grabbed from the one place I can spent $10 and feed my whole family. Little Caesars hot and ready $5 pizzas do not meet any of my health goals, but the family enjoyed a break in the routine.
Time out for a Pep Talk!
Ugh! So here we are going into week four and I blew $10 of my $56 weekly budget on cheap pizza. I basically wasted 18% of my weekly allotment on one meal. Now what?
I'll have to do a really good job this week to make up for my fast food cave. The first thing I did was make another menu. I'll add that making a menu is very different from actually making the food on the menu. I looked at last week's menu and found three or four meals that I still need to make with the groceries I bought last week. If I didn't make them last week, what makes me think I'll want to make them this week? I expect you all have these weeks where you'd rather make something else, or eat out because its just easier, but you probably shouldn't.
This is where we both need a pep talk. So here we go. I call this my offense and defense speech.
I like a good football game. I love the crispy fall air, the crowd, the excitement, the marching band. Its fun to cheer for your team. I have noticed however, that the quarterback, running back and wide receiver get the majority of the attention. Great throws, and runs from the offense can make an exciting high scoring game to watch. Having a great income is like a great offense. It feels really good because that's the side that gets cheered the loudest! Yay! a paycheck! Yay! a bonus! Yay! a raise! Touchdown!
Defense is critical!
But there are other really good teams trying to win the financial game as well so we we need a great financial defense! Just like you can lose a high scoring game, you can be broke at any standard of living. If you spend more than you make you'll lose the game every time. It might take until overtime, but you can't win if you spend more than you earn.
Although they don't receive as much acclaim, a great defense is required to win the game. If you are going to play like a team, everyone needs to know the playbook. A written budget is a major part of our defensive playbook. A couple months ago Steven and I took a hard look at the family finances. We were playing okay offensively, but we felt like we really weren't getting anywhere because our defense kept letting the opposing team score big points. A few months ago, we decided to get really intentional about our budget and added some new defensive plays.
Steven went through the last 16 months of expenses and made a spreadsheet so we could see the historical spending in each category and identify the weaknesses in our defense. Then we divided the budget up so that we each took ownership and accountability of half of the discretionary spending. We even opened dedicated checking accounts for those categories to make it easier to focus our efforts and track our results. I became the vice-president of groceries and other consumables and Steven became the vice-president of non-consumable and dates. Yes, we are still on the same team, but we are much more accountable since we each literally have a bank account for our budget categories and we literally report every two weeks to our board of directors (each other). We can no longer get away with a the budget will cover it somehow mentality. Just like playing in a big game, we each own the process and accept the blame or praise that go with our performance. Like the menu, a budget is easy to make and hard to stick to, but we can do it! Go team!
Postscript: These are all the groceries I bought this week not counting the pizza. I took two trips to Sam's Club and one to Fareway. Including the pizza, I spent just under my $56 dollar budget for this week.
I am on the distribution list for just about every seed company I know of. In December and January we flip through them and plan what we want to plant in the coming year. The catalogs end up all over the house and car. I always want to try something new. Steven wants to make sure we can get all of our favorites again. This year I am excited to try a cut flower garden, and hardy greens for the cold frames that Steven is planning to build. This is a good time to order bare root fruit trees and bushes too. That order will show up after the ground is warm enough to plant. So how do we decide what to buy and from who? Here are a few of my favorites companies that we have ordered from. Now we just have to get the seed trays out and get started!
If you are looking for open pollinated varieties so that you can save your own seed from year to year, this is the place to look. They have so many cool seeds to choose from. We don't always think of plants being endangered species, but lots of varieties fall out of favor and are lost.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
If you want heirloom seeds Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is a great spot to look. I always try something new and fun from them. This year i'm trying some pink celery and a fruit radish. I love their fun seeds from all around the world.
Johnny's Selected Seeds
They have a wide range of products, some hybrid and commercial varieties, some open pollinated and heirloom some great new varieties too. They have a good selection and I like that they test all the seeds to make sure they have a good germination rate. This year I am buying a bunch of cut flower seeds and all the greens for my cold frames in addition to some veggies for the garden.
Stark Bro's Nurseries and Orchard's Co.
Jung Seeds & Plants
If you are planning to but a fruit tree please don't buy it in a pot from a big box store parking lot. I know they seem less expensive or bigger. In my experience a bare root tree is a much better option. You can order spring and fall and the variety is so much better, and the root stock is better. You will be so much happier. They are better trees.
Gurney's Seed & Nursery
Both of these are good catalogs and they usually have good deals. I will purchase some of my carrots tomatoes, and cucumbers here this year. Any garden seeds will be good from either one. Burpee has more variety than Gurney's. You can find some Burpee seeds in big box stores, but the selection in much better online.
If you want a tomato that you can't find, try this site. I get some of my harder to find varieties here.
I love their selection of unique and unusual edibles. I spent a lot of time looking through their online catalog wishing I had space for more plants. They have a great selection of edible plants.
Prairie Moon Nursery
If you are into native prairie plants, look at this one. I love planting native prairie plants and my pollinators love it too. I'm still hoping to make a rain garden, and when I do, I will fill it with plants from here.