I want to like winter. I do. I want to appreciate a beautiful fresh snowfall – and I ought to be able to, since it makes our property look like fairyland – but all I think about is how much I have to shovel and whether we’ll be able to get the car out.
Since I have, at various times in my life, enjoyed skiing and ice skating, I also ought to be able to appreciate winter sports, but if there ever was an accident waiting to happen, it’s a winter sport. They all involve combining speed with ice, and it’s hard to imagine that ending well.
I spend most of the winter letting my internal thermometer battle it out with my inner skinflint. I hate being cold, and I get cold easily, but every time I put a log on the fire or turn on the oil burner, I can’t help but think of fuel bills. So my winter is long stretches of sixty-five degrees punctuated by occasional can’t-take-it-no-more bouts of eighty.
Here’s what’s good about winter: it’s insect-free and it’s finite.
I start marking the harbingers of spring on December 21, the winter solstice, when the days start getting longer again. That date is also, paradoxically, the first day of winter, but I’m a glass-half-full kind of girl.
Next is the day the historical average daily temperature increases. Depending on whose data you use, that’s round about January 21. That’s only twelve days from right now, which means winter’s almost over! After that, there’s March 1, the beginning of spring. Not officially, of course, but everyone knows March is spring.
This winter, though, we have our very own spring. Here it is, mid-January, and I’m transplanting seedlings. Astonishingly, the plants in our hoophouse are still hanging on, and yesterday I transferred a few mizuna seedlings from their seed-starter trays to the cold frame. Looking back on it, I suspect it was a bad idea. They probably won’t withstand the trauma of transplant, but I just couldn’t resist the idea of doing April’s work in January.
There are rows of radish sprouts that look, if not vibrant, certainly viable. There are a few itty bitty carrot plants poking up. The collard and kale seedlings are coping with cold and holding their own.
Best, though, is the catalogna. It was an accidental crop; we bought the seedlings last spring at the Cape Cod Organic Gardeners’ plant sale. I had to ask what they were, and when the woman who had donated them explained that they were cultivated dandelions, and would last well into the fall, I bought a few.
We planted them on spec at the back of our upper garden. Even though the soil there is sub-optimal, and it doesn’t get enough light, they seemed to do just fine. We were a little worried when we noticed that the chickens, who periodically breached the fence to eat the potato plants, wouldn’t touch the stuff, so we were pleasantly surprised to find that catalogna is a perfectly serviceable green.
Ambrosia, it ain’t. It’s decidedly bitter, and the stem takes up a good part of the leaf. But, in combination with other, less assertive vegetables, maybe some legumes, and, ideally, a preserved pork product, it’s just fine.
When we decided to build the hoophouse over the upper garden, we just left the catalogna where it was, and built around it. And now, months later, not only are we still harvesting leaves from our catalogna, we’re actually getting new ones.
Daytime temperatures in the hoophouse are usually in the high forties – up to sixty on a really warm day – but nighttime temperatures are well below freezing. The catalogna, though, is not just living, but growing. Back in December, I thought this remarkable. Now, in January, I’m thoroughly impressed.
Each time I’ve written about the hoophouse, I’ve told you that I don’t expect any of the plants to make it through the winter, but I’m going to change my tune. I think it’s just possible that the catalogna, and even some of the seedlings, are going to survive. They’re going to pick up just enough nutrition from the soil, and light from the sun, to keep body and soul together. Then they’ll start growing gangbusters, come spring – which, as we all know, is right around the corner.