‘Tisn’t the season

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.

17 people are having a conversation about “‘Tisn’t the season

    • Of course it is! And that’s what I meant, and now that’s what it says. Thanks for catching an embarrassing blunder before it went any farther.

  1. I’ve always liked winter, but only since becoming a homeowner where there is real winter have I realized the need to come to an accommodation with it. Thus, I simply arrange my life such that I rarely have to go out. If it snows and I don’t feel like shoveling, I don’t. Nowhere to go urgently anyway, so why make the effort? Library books can be renewed by phone if it comes to that, and there’s nearly always an extra half-gallon of milk in the chest freezer. I can wait for the sun to do my shoveling for me. It already has, three times this winter. I grant you though, so far we’ve had only a few inches at a time. When it gets up to six inches, I know I’ll eventually have to get the shovel out.

  2. I’m totally envious. Here in Wisconsin, during January we have no catalogna. Only seed catalogs. Na dandelions, wild or domestic.

    And hoophouses? They might not work for a few more months. Plus, the snow would probably collapse them, just like it did the Metrodome down in Minneapolis.

    So it could be worse…

  3. I have to tell Al that the first time I ever read about someone gardening through the winter, it was a couple in Wisconsin! They managed with row covers in a hoop house. So there.

    I guess this week I’d really better work on starting some lettuce and radishes; you’re putting me to shame, Tamar. I live in a warmer clime than you do.

  4. Since moving back to the big city I do not miss shoveling snow,

    As for the hoop house it may get a real test with the next storm that is coming this week, will it follow the Metrodome in Minneapolis or did you and Kevin build a studier structure?

  5. Everyone knows March is “Late Winter”. It goes something like this: January, February, March, March, March, June. I love the optimism, though!

  6. I feel your pain, but in opposite.

    It’s Summer here, so you can’t spend more than 15 minutes outside without burning (yes, literally). So you can either smother yourself in +50 every few hours (it sweats off), or cover up. I go for the latter. Long sleeves and long pants in summer … makes it even more steamy and humid. Hat with a long tail to protect your neck. You get out early, before the sun breaches the tree-tops. Any sort of work has you dripping in sweat. Even if you had my cro-magnon eybrows, sweat still runs into your eyes, stinging. You come back inside at 10am, change your shirt for one that’s not all wet.

    Outside the sun continues it’s relentless beaming. The forest of eucalyptus forms a smell-haze as their oil evaporates, heating up and dripping to the ground. Cicadas (a good year this year) begin their infinite drumming, meaning all speech is done in raised voices. The ground dries back to crust, and the grass grows crunchy. It wont be comfortable again until Autumn.

    Some days you just can’t face it. You sit inside waiting for it to cool down in the evening. Except some evening’s it doesn’t – unless you count dipping from 40°C to 30°C “cooling off” (I think that’s about 105 down to 85 in old fashioned). But then about 11:30pm (or later, you can’t sleep anyway) you hear it coming, first in the trees outside, and then as doors slamming.

    The Southerly Change.

    A cool blast of air suddenly makes the world a much happier place. If you’re really lucky, along with a huge-arse thunderstorm. You lay awake, watching the flashes of lightning on your ceiling. The air inside your house is still much warmer than outside. Even with a strong wind, it will still take way too long for the temperature to equalise. You drift off to sleep, only to be woken in a panic as the storm manages to target a thunderclap right inside your bedroom.

    Oh for a rainy day.

  7. I am way further south than you folks are, and I hate winter anymore! I don’t have the motivation for hoophouses, floating row covers, or any of that. I just think about loading my bees onto a truck and heading for warmer climates, then following the bloom northwards. Maybe someday, but not today. 22 degrees F and a snow on the way—JOY! Now the idea of local fresh greens has me curious enough to ask: Do you cook catalogna greens, or put them into a salad mix? A crunchy salad sounds better than soggy greens, to me anyway.

  8. So I see I’m not the only one who struggles with winter. Kate, I do use your approach, but I find that a day or two is my snowed-in tolerance level. After that, I need a dose of the outside world.

    And I gotta tell you doubters out there — the Metrodome ain’t got nothing on our hoophouse! So far, it survived its first storm (about a foot of snow) unscathed, and we fully expect it to make it through the winter. The Romans were onto something with that whole arch thing.

    Greg, the catalogna can go either way. Sometimes I cut it small and put it in salads, but I also cook it with cabbage or some other green.

    Kinglsey, thanks for the view from the other hemisphere! Perhaps we should do a house swap, and we’d both learn to appreciate what we have.

  9. I struggle with winter too … so, you may well ask why we moved to Canada in 2008!! That definitely wasn’t a decision I was happy with – but you have to go where the work is, I guess! I too have my thermostat set to 65 and, on a bad day, I’ll go as high as 68 – but I draw the line there! We were brought up to just put another sweater on and maybe a hat! Keep warm!

  10. And another plus side of winter and snow: all those piles of crap and machine parts covered in blue plastic tarps in the yard? Magically tidied away under a blanket of snow. My neighbors stop worrying that they’re living next to a hoarder.

    And I don’t feel guilty that I should mow the lawn because, hey, it’s covered in snow! Ditto the weeds in the veg patch that I never got to. Snow wipes away all my yard transgressions. Apparently my pride is worth the cold toes and high fuel bills.

  11. You mean to tell me you haven’t laid down and made snow angels in that driveway?

    I think I’d have to go outside and play for a little while at least!
    And throw more logs on the fire, you guys chopped them!

  12. Personally, I prefer to count my seasons based on the old Celtic calendar — the new year, and the winter, begin on Nov. 1. The solstices and equinoxes mark the halfway points, the turning of the seasons, so by the time you get to Dec. 21, winter is half over! Spring starts Feb. 1, summer starts May 1 (Why ELSE would we go a-Maying?). Ever wondered why June 21, “the first day of summer,” is also called “midsummer?” Because historically, it IS the middle of summer, which ends when harvest begins, on Aug. 1.

    My husband and I are both pretty much lifelong northeasterners/New Englanders, but neither of us particularly like winter (he, in particular, waxes rhapsodic on how little he appreciates the white (expletive) falling from the sky). We do know, though, that we don’t want to live in any other part of the country, where the weather extremes and hazards can be even greater, and we share your 65-and-80 temperature spread and methods!

    But it does help to be able to think that the start of spring is “really,” if we could just convince people to follow the old-school calendar, only three weeks away. Keep the faith! It’s coming.

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