Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Virtues of Winter

This is one of the hardest periods of the year for me.  I've had my winter break from gardening duties, and it was very welcome.  Now I'm a bit antsy and definitely missing all the summer vegetables.  There is still a week or two to go before the earliest seed starting can begin, though I'm pushing that boundary with some experimental cold frame plantings.  I've done a few germination tests to make sure that the seeds I put into our personal seed vault came through the year in viable condition.  All looks well there, so my seed orders this year will be fairly limited.  We have snow on the ground still from two separate storms, and six-ten inches of mixed sleet and snow predicted for the next 24 hours.  As I write, fat flakes are coming down at a decent clip.  I'm trying to see the upside in winter.  Here's what I've come up with.

I used our recent -1 F (-18 C) temperature to go around the windows of our home feeling for air leaks.  At that temperature you don't need any fancy instruments to find them.  Bare fingers will do the trick, trust me.  I'd brought in a tube of silicone caulking from the garage to warm up in the house.  Then I went over all the leaks I could find, sealing them up.  It made a noticeable (but not huge) improvement in our downstairs bathroom, which has two exterior walls, both of which are only passably insulated.  Upgrading the insulation in these walls is on the list, but the expense will not be insignificant, so the project is not near the top of that list.  But hey, a reduction of those thin drafts of icy cold is all to the good.

I've also got a tiny tip today.  I call it iceboxing - turning our refrigerator into an icebox.  It's easy to do at this time of year, provided there's a little extra room on the top shelf.  I use empty plastic juice and soda containers, given to me by relatives.  The large squarish ones with the rectangular handles are really nice for this purpose. Just fill them with tap water, put them outside and let them freeze solid overnight.  In the morning, I put them in the fridge and put two more filled bottles outside so as to have swaps available when the first two thaw out.  Two large chunks of ice keep the refrigerator's compressor from running much at all.  I don't unplug the machine because I still want the light in there, but it certainly cuts down on our electrical usage.  Easy, free, saves money.  Seems like an obvious win to me.

Winter is also the time of year I most like to knit, and cold hands certainly provide motivation.  I've made myself two more pairs of fingerless gloves.  I finally have some that fit snugly around my wrists, like the ones I made for my husband a few years back.  A pair of these gloves is a quick project that suits my short knitting attention span.  They can be made fast enough to give me a quick sense of accomplishment, and that helps keep me going on other fronts. 

The cold season is a tough sell, but I wouldn't give it up for anything.  I've lived in places without a real winter and always felt slightly cheated.  I grew up with four seasons, so snow and sub-freezing temperatures feel right to me.  Winter has its austere beauty too.  As a gardener, I know the value of the frost heave that loosens up our heavy soils, making them spongy and easier to work.  The glory of spring in this area is part and parcel with the severity of our winter.  Where I live spring explodes out of frozen winter: dramatic, lavish, electrifying.  Other places have springs that sort of saunter onto the scene, a nearly seamless transition from tepid winter, or maybe even just a rainy season.  Not our springs.  So as I look out the window at a world drained of color, it's well to remember this.  I know that in a few short months we'll feast on asparagus and enjoy the succession of breathtaking tree blossoms. Meanwhile I muse on hoop house designs and hope that this time next year will see us harvesting abundant greens as the snows come down.

Have you been making good on winter weather lately?  Do tell.


Anonymous said...

I'm with you on the four seasons! I've lived in Michigan my whole life and I think I would go crazy without the changing seasons.

Unfortunately I cannot do much in my apartment for winter. I'm hoping to get a community garden plot for this year, but I haven't found out yet. I'm busy daydreaming!


Anonymous said...

Much as I dislike the cold dark days, I need winter to accomplish so many projects (as you've noted). Kitchen reno, tomatoe cages, seed swap organizing... it is all happening.

BTW, I like the changes you've made to the blog, especially the recipe index. I missed that naan recipe, but I'm gonna try it now that I've seen it.

Anonymous said...

ack! tomato cages!

esp said...

I love your iceboxing idea! I' going to try it as soon as I can get some space cleared in the fridge.

teekaroo said...

I love winter, but it sure gets long and cold in Wyoming. Where I live now isn't quite so cold and the snow melted quite a bit already. I'm honestly surprisingly disappointed. Planning the spring garden is what gets me through the dreary days.

Michelle said...

The variety of footprints in the snow has become another thing I like about winter. I can tell who has been visiting the compost & the paths of rabbits, squirrels & even rats around the property & under the outbuildings.
Being indoors more, I've rediscovered the art of crocheting plarn bags & t shirt rag rugs. I really like your seed vault ideas. I learned a lesson on storing saved seed in a safe way by not doing it & losing the seeds to squirrels in the shed .

Janet said...

I love the icebox tip! I also followed the link to the seed envelope instructions and they are brilliant.



salviadorii said...

Well one things for sure I can tell the days are getting longer.
In my neck of the woods we are having our January High-as in high pressure.It seems like maybe spring has arrive(2 small snow crocus,old fashioned violets blooming,and the bees bringing in pollen from they only know where)But winter is not over.Freezing daytime temps(it is still freezing at night)and snow can still be expected.And hopefully more rain ,this is a desert after all.Thank-you for the icebox helper and the fingerless gloves.Both right up my ally!

Kate said...

Jessica, I know the frustrations of a wannabe gardener living in an apartment. You do what you can. I hope you get your plot this year, and eventually your own piece of land. Good luck!

Ali, you're definitely making productive use of your indoor time. I wish I could say I'm doing the same. My motivation is flagging a bit after a good start to this month. Glad to hear the recipe index is useful.

esp, I'm pleased to hear you'll give it a try.

teekaroo, I can only imagine a Wyoming winter. Brrr! We have 12+ inches on the ground now but it really isn't all that cold. I didn't even manage to get my bottles to freeze last night. Maybe tonight; it's supposed to drop a bit later on.

Michelle, good point! I love seeing all the tracks in the snow. Some of them are downright puzzling. Glad you liked the seed vault idea. Hope it works for you.

Janet, I agree that El's seed envelopes are the bee's knees. They're much better than what I was using before.

Salviadorii, true, the days are a bit longer. But January and February are still our coldest months. Hope you get plenty of precipitation to keep your garden going. Glad you like the tips in this post.

cherise said...

Thanks for a fresh perspective on winter. We've just spent 2 hrs digging out from the Southeastern PA snow we've gotten. I too welcomed the respite from intense gardening this summer and am now anxious to start up in just a few weeks again with new varieties and old favorites. I will be expanding the garden and offering a 5-share CSA to friends and family. So exciting!

The next thing I'm looking forward to this winter/spring is tapping the 4 maple trees on our property. It will be the first time we have tried this and I love that it happens in February before any real gardening begins. My father tapped his last year and the 1 cup of syrup he got was amazing – mostly because he did it himself. I'm sure I'll feel the same way with ours even if I only get enough syrup for one helping of pancakes!

Olivia said...

I live in Atlantic Canada where the winters are l-o-n-g. Today we are having another nor'easter: so many this year I have lost count.

However, last year I started snowshoeing. We live in the country right beside the Confederation Trail - part of the Trans Canada Trail that traverses our entire country. I usually start out on that and then veer off into the fields and woods. It's lovely. So peaceful and quiet - a great way to get out and enjoy winter.

We don't have much of a spring here - it's really "mud season" - and, with our bright red mud, very messy. Planting won't begin around here until late May or early June if we are lucky and it warms up enough. Yes - we have a short growing season but the beauty of this little island surrounded by gorgeous sandy beaches and warm waters makes it all worthwhile.

Hoosierbuck said...

Winter for me is a season of putting away all the gear and clothes I pulled out over 3 months of deer hunting, an occasional coyote hunt, and getting back into the swing of my fitness routine after hunting season. While I love to shovel snow, I admit I sometimes wander into the shed and look at my tiller and the mowers and tools, just to let them know it will soon be time to go to work!

sam said...

The winters in Portugal are fairly mild. I could not freeze water overnight as we only get the occasional hard frosts. For us winter is a time to clean up the land and burn off the branches pruned from the olive tree earlier in the year. Too much of a fire hazard in the summer otherwise. We keep on with chopping the firewood and in this house with 2 small children lots baking and cooking.Looking forward to the start of the next growing season. Good luck.

Kate said...

cherise, we're in your neck of the woods then. I think a mini-CSA is a fabulous idea for those gardeners whose garden a bit bigger than the ordinary, but not quite farm-scale. Congratulations, and good luck with the project!

Olivia, that sounds lovely. I've never done any snowshoeing, but it sounds like a great way to get exercise in winter.

Hoosierbuck, I love the image of you whispering sweet nothings to your garden equipment! Our shed is a mess, but there's always this year to get things better organized and more functional.

sam, your winters are quite different from ours then. It sounds like you make good use of them. Good luck with your growing season as well.

Jennifer Montero said...

Kate I learn something new everytime I look at your blog. Where do you learn all this stuff?!?! I'm going to try the iceboxing idea asap. I don't think it will offset the haemmoraging of heat from our ancient metal-framed windows but every bit helps.

I can't fill the gaps but I do use heavy old curtains over windows and doors to hold in some of the heat. A technique I learned from visits to old drafty castles!

Jennifer Montero said...

Oh and I use the cold and dry weather to get on and repair chicken houses and kennels, and reproof the wood ready for our wet spring weather.

Dmarie said...

wow, I love that tiny tip!! and I get along with winters...every time it nips at me, I try to think "fewer mosquitoes come summer"

Kate said...

Jennifer, I am a scrounger of ideas par excellence. I come up with a cool idea only very rarely, but I know a cool idea as soon as I see one. I love the idea of wall tapestries being revived to keep down drafts in winter, and the return of a functional four-poster bed would be a great thing too. Good for you, making good use of whatever benefits the season offers. That's pretty much what it's all about, as far as I can see.

Dmarie, is that the way it works? Harsher winter ==> fewer mosquitos? We never seem to lack them in our area, despite temperatures that fall way below freezing every winter.