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For most of us gardeners, big transitions are upon us. With many folks already experiencing their first hard frosts in the North, we know that winter will be here before we know it! Although we might hope for the work to slowly wind down, there is still a bit to prepare before winter makes its debut. Now that the growing season is coming to a halt, these necessary fall preparations can all the difference come next spring.

Soil Prep, Part I

While it may be tempting to simply leave your dying summer crops in your beds, pulling, tilling, or burying your decaying annual crops is an important step in building a rich, healthy soil for the upcoming season. By removing or tilling your crop into your garden beds, you will be eliminating the chance of overwintering pests, such as the infamous earwigs and formidable squash bugs. Plant debris that remains on top of the garden beds provides a warm and dark hiding place for these insects that will return with vengeance come spring. When you till your crops in, you are also adding a rich source of organic matter that will have several months to decompose into dark, nutrient-dense soil that will invite more soil-friendly bacteria and worms. If you choose not to till your beds, be sure compost the removed plant debris for use in the garden next season.

Soil Prep, Part II

Fall is the best time of year to order a soil test. It’s important to research your options to find a soil test that will give you the information you need to make the right decisions in supplementing your soil. Some companies offering soil analysis will even provide feedback on the specific types of amendments you’ll need. Once you’ve tested and reviewed your soil analysis, amend your soil accordingly. Fall is an excellent time to get these necessary salts and minerals into the ground to give them time to break down without shocking any transplants that might otherwise happen in the springtime.

Overwintered Crops & Spring Bulbs

Depending on your USDA hardiness zone, you may be planning to keep growing a selection of crops through the winter. Early fall can be a great time to get your brassicas in the ground, such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, and all types of kale. Winter greens, like spinach and arugula, can be direct seeded at this time, too. And, don’t forget to get your garlic and scallions in the ground now. You’ll be graciously rewarded with delicious garlic scapes come springtime. Also, now is the time to get spring flower bulbs into the ground, such as tulips, ranunculus, and daffodils, to ensure the earliest spring flower blooms.

Planning for Next Season

This time of year is bittersweet as the hard work of the summer season comes to a close and we begin to retreat for some much needed rest. But, as most gardeners know, the seasons move quickly, and it will be time to begin seedlings for next season before you know it! Using the down time of fall and winter to develop your crop plan for the upcoming year will be time worth spent. This gives you an opportunity to reflect on what went well this season and what needs to be adjusted for next year. Develop and write down a week to week or month to month plan that is easy to follow. Set new goals, and create an action plan or monthly checklist to help you stay motivated through the cold winter months. The work you do now will undoubtedly pay off come next season!

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Fail-Proof Sunday Loaves

I remember every Sunday my great-grandma would bake bread. She would use these loaves for meals throughout the week and give any leftover crumbs to the chickens. Nothing went to waste!

The mark of any successful homesteader is the ability to make a delicious, hot loaf of bread. Here’s how you can make your own with homestead-friendly ingredients, like whey.

Granny Mary’s Sunday Bread

Ingredients:

3 cups whey (you can use water or milk, but your bread won’t be as fluffy)
8 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons butter
2 servings packages of active dry yeast
5 to 7 cups of unbleached white flour
Cornmeal

Directions:

In a mixer with the dough hook attachment, add all of your yeast.

Heat the whey to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix the whey with the yeast. Cover the mixture with a towel for ten minutes, or until the yeast froths.

Melt the butter, sugar, and salt. Mix.

Add 4 cups of flour. Mix.

Add more flour in 1/4 cup increments. Do this until the dough is slightly sticky but doesn’t stick to your hands.

Increase the speed on your mixer to knead the dough. Knead for five minutes, until the dough is shiny.

Grease a separate bowl with oil. Put the kneaded dough into the bowl, cover with a wet dish towel, and let rise for one hour.

After the dough has risen, punch it two or three times.

Lay out the dough on a floured area and shape it. I like to do a round loaf and a plaited loaf.

Place the dough on a pan lined with cornmeal. Cover with a towel and let rise another hour.

After the bread has risen, add any embellishments or an egg wash, if you’d like.

Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 to 40 minutes. You’ll know the loaves are done when you knock on them and they sound hollow.


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