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December 12, 2016

As winter tightens its grip, gardeners dreaming big

Photo/Jim Hankins
Winter preparation can improve your chances of producing spectacular vegetables next summer.
By Jim Hankins
Fauquier Education Farm
Executive Director


Any of the regular volunteers out at the Fauquier Education Farm can tell you that I often talk about that beautiful idea of next year’s garden.

Next year, when we have taken all of those lessons we have learned from real life and put them to good use. Next year, when everything will be planted on time and under perfect conditions, when we will never be short of helping hands and we’ll need to get a bigger truck just to haul all the vegetables to the local food banks. Next year looks so incredibly beautiful through a gardener’s eyes.

Gardening is inherently a huge leap of faith that we can participate in the miracle of nature that is planting a seed, tending the plants and reaping a yield of beautiful flowers or healthy vegetables. It is quite possibly the single most optimistic human enterprise.

It can be frustrating, hard work, and often it seems that nothing wants to go right. And it can seem an incredible miracle that everything worked perfectly when we hardly tried, and will you just look at these cabbages! Many experienced gardeners can tell you about the crops that sprang up out of the compost pile, the crops that happened in spite of our efforts rather than because of them.

It is a miracle, and we get to participate. We very seldom get to fully control the outcome but we can dream of outrageous success.
It's December and winter will soon arrive in full force. There isn’t an awful lot to do in our gardens.

We can make sure everything that may need it has a good layer of mulch. It’s an excellent time to send off soil samples to Virginia Tech for testing so that next spring we will be ready with all the amendments our gardens may need. If you’ve got animals, it’s an excellent time to clean the hen house or stables and add the manure straight into the garden to mellow over winter and be ready to fuel next spring’s growth.

And we can stay warm and cozy inside and dream big. Many gardeners are excellent map makers and plotters of stratagems. This worked really well, so how can I build on that success? And, that was a flop so what do I need to do differently?

I am constantly planning and shifting, and most importantly of all, I am trying to always learn something new.

The Fauquier Education Farm is true to its name. We are a simple 10-acre vegetable farm that is a learning resource for our community. We teach by doing what we teach.

It is run with one employee, while all the remaining labor — and that’s quite a bit of labor — comes from volunteers of all ages. They come for a direct, hands-on learning experience and to support the fact that everything we produce on the farm is donated to area food banks. In 2016, that amounted to more than 17 tons of fresh, healthy vegetables for those in need.

The Education Farm has a great many more learning opportunities besides our volunteer work. Next month we will announce our Beginning Farmer courses for 2017. These multiweek courses are taught at the Fauquier Cooperative Extension office in Warrenton.

Also, look for our Education Farm Workshop Series. These 10 free workshops throughout the year that cover a wide variety of agriculture and conservation topics. All but the first of the workshop series are taught at the Education Farm. The topics and dates for all of these learning opportunities will be announced in January and will be posted on our website, fauquiereducationfarm.org, and our Fauquier Education Farm Facebook page.

In the meantime, it’s time to dream big. Join the ranks of the most optimistic people on earth and plan that garden for next year, even if it’s just a few big flower plots on your deck.

It is a very widely held opinion that homegrown tomatoes always taste best, and all those people who can’t wait to get their hands in the dirt must be onto something good.

Maybe it’s just because we’re a little crazy. But then again, it’s those gardeners you know who are the only ones who call tell you just how beautiful it’s going to be next year.

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