October’s brilliant, fall foliage and cerulean skies welcomed me to my first season at beautiful Mount Fair Farm. With the Blue Ridge as our backdrop, the farm swarmed with activity, and as luck would have it, even the weather cooperated with our ambitious plans. At the farm, we were still enjoying sixty-degree days into December- perfect weather for Aspen and I to continue with bed prep and boxwood pruning. While under Mike’s watchful eye, the guys worked hard building several western red cedar raised beds in the vegetable garden. With so many nice days outdoors, I’d not opened page one of a seed catalog, and it was long past the holidays. But by the third week of January, Mother Nature put an end to any ideas that we would skip over winter this year. She ushered in wind chill temperatures into the single digits and blanketed the landscape with snow drifts reaching the top of the fence lines.
With at least eighteen inches of snow on the ground, I was indoors catching up on garden planning, spring tool prep, and annual seed orders. With their glossy photographs and detailed seed descriptions, seed catalogs had been arriving since late fall enticing you to try every seed variety. Seed ordering becomes both a labor of love and a perplexing dilemma. How do I weed through all these choices to find just the right mix of new exciting varieties to compliment my old favorites? The time indoors also allows me to coordinate with our wholesale annual grower for pre-orders of flowers in the vegetable garden, containers, and surrounding landscape. Vegetable garden plans also have to be carefully layout on paper and recorded for future crop rotation in order to avoid issues with pests and diseases.
One of the most exciting winter projects is the time indoors spent starting seeds. By mid-February, the first phase of spring crops such as lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, swiss chard, fennel, and celeriac will be started, with summer crops following shortly. Our tasty English peas will be the first crop planted directly outdoors- happening as early as mid-February. Among vegetables in Thomas Jefferson’s garden, the English pea was considered his favorite. He planted fifteen different varieties and would have an annual neighborhood contest to see who could bring to table the first peas of spring. The winner was to host the contestants for a dinner which, of course, included the peas. His neighbor, Mr. Divers, generally trumped Jefferson, but one season when Jefferson prevailed, his family reminded Jefferson of his prize, inviting the company to dine at Monticello. He replied, “No, say nothing about it, it will be more agreeable to our friend to think that he never fails.” We’d like to think we might give both, Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Divers, a bit of competition this year.