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Time for Soup

Although we wish it were snowing here, it should be noted that Lorraine is in Franklinville, NJ. Soup instructions are in bold.

Many gardeners love to get outside no matter what the weather. I am always eager to look at the garden when I go out to feed the chickens or fill the bird feeders. It is important to take some deep breaths and enjoy the frosty weather. There is a certain beauty in the landscape when the stark reality of winter bares so much. Trees are outlined against the sunset or early morning light in a different way than in summer. They are most beautiful after a snow. Thinking back to the heat and drought of late last summer and fall I am quite thankful for winter rain (we did get a lot so far this winter), snow and cold.

If you have chores to do outside, think first of making soup at the same time.
Step one is to put the soup pot on before going outdoors. Simmer some beef chuck or chicken with bones, a couple of chopped up onions and some finely sliced celery tops and stalks, and a parsley root (optional). My soup pot has an insert that I can place all this in.

Then bundle up and off to the garden. Collect any herbs that are still green and any root crops that are still around. Beets survive most weather. Luckily the parsley is still there with some plants in the row hanging on.

We watch the few renegade fowl not in the pen yet, as they scratch around eating weeds, seeds and insects. I noticed that when I allow them to forage all winter the zucchini, gourds, and pumpkin are much healthier, with few or no borers in the vines the following summer. So it is‚ “Here chick, chick, chick,” on frosty mornings. It is surprising that even the roosters and hens roosting in far away holly and cedar trees come running when we cluck, call them and rattle the corn can. It is okay, however, that they ignore my call when the big ole red-tailed hawk sits in nearby trees. Those safely in the pen and hen house await any greens from the kitchen or garden that we throw to them. It all ends up in the compost eventually. We still get a few eggs each day, despite the shorter hours of daylight, but this will increase, as the days get longer. Our eggs are in various shades of tan and brown with a few pale green or blue from time to time.

Bulbs forgotten in fall? You can plant them now rather than let them shrivel and dry. A good 8-10 weeks of cold will allow roots to form and then they will still have time to send up green shoots and bloom this spring. Plant any time you can dig and the soil is not frozen.

Cold, hardy seeds that would normally drop from seedpods in fall can be scattered now. Scratch some soil in sunny spot and scatter Larkspur, Cornflower, Poppy, Calendula and Nigella seeds, as well as dill and parsley. Tamp in or cover very lightly with some grains of soil. Water if it is dry and come March they will sprout just as the ones nature planted will. I love the early Poppy and Cornflowers that bloom in time for Memorial Day when the seeds drop naturally into the soil. It is still winter, so don’t go over board since only a few cold hardy seeds need the freeze and thaw to best germinate. I did six packs of poppy and larkspur. Hopefully they will take and not be eaten by chickens or birds. Sometimes I cover them with a piece of burlap to protect them.

Pick a few branches to force. Forsythia, winter sweet, pussy willow and others will all bloom in a vase indoors.

Once back in the house I tend the soup. Pull out the bones that were boiling to make the stock. Add a couple of cans of crushed or chefs cut tomatoes to the soup as well as a handful of barley, lentils, split peas, dried corn and dried beans to the soup. Be sure there is plenty of liquid to cover these. Peel and chop carrots, more celery, some cabbage and a beet or two. After the dried materials have gently simmered for 35 minutes or so, add the hard vegetables to the simmering soup pot.

While this slowly simmers and cooks continue the gardening indoors and shower houseplants checking for insects. Wipe any that the shower missed. If insects are a problem use a sticky stripe or spray with safe insecticide soap or neem oil. These are safe organic solutions that will rid houseplants of pests. (But always follow directions.) You might want to give a dose of Osmocote time-release fertilizer now so as the days lengthen there is food for new growth.

Stir the soup, add liquid if needed. Go back outside to fill feeders or walk a bit. We like to go up near Franklinville Lake or back to our creek to take a look at waterfowl or small songbirds in thickets near the edge of the lake.

Upon returning to the house, add a few frozen vegetables such as peas or string beans to the soup. Stir a bit and turn off. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and parsley. When serving, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and enjoy a glass of wine and some crusty Italian bread and butter with the soup. Add a healthy ending the winter supper by slicing up oranges and a few grapes. You might even have a few Christmas cookies left to enjoy with coffee or tea in front of the bird feeder window. Enjoy.