Growing the December garden. Photo: Judy Isacoff

NATURE’S TURN: Gardening on the cusp of winter

By day’s end, 15 inches of snow had whitewashed whatever we’d wished to accomplish in the garden before winter. Snow accentuated every landscape and architectural feature, creating new beauty.

December 5 – 18, 2016

Amaryllis bulb. Photo: Judy Isacoff
Amaryllis bulb. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Mt. Washington —  Encouraged by the unusual warmth of the day, we cruised along, the finish in our sights: I set out to pull scattered edibles that remained in a few garden beds that were mostly harvested – heads of radicchio here, a row of late-planted carrots there – and my sweetheart of a right-hand man completed the clearing, picking every last weed. Then I came along to rake the earth smooth and shape each raised bed to a crisp edge; he brought loads of compost. I snipped broccoli shoots off straggly, spent stalks and proceeded to dig and pull out the plants while he collected and stacked barrels and baskets and plant stakes to be stowed. When dusk gathered at about 5 o’clock, I turned the last wheelbarrow full of compost over onto its side and watched half of it pour out on the ready bed. I left it there just like that, the wheelbarrow to be righted and dumped and the compost to be spread by the light of a new day. This was the sunny, summer-like Saturday that would be followed by the blizzard that we awoke to the next morning, Sunday, Nov. 20.

Chickadee, above; red-breasted nuthatch, below. Photo: Judy Isacoff
Chickadee, above; red-breasted nuthatch, below. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Wind and snow overwhelmed our senses and shifted our focus. There was no electric power to run our water pump so we conserved water; Internet was down. The telephone was silent. By day’s end, 15 inches of snow had whitewashed whatever we’d wished to accomplish in the garden before winter. Snow accentuated every landscape and architectural feature, creating new beauty. Chickadees and white- and red-breasted nuthatches flocked to the little suet and seed feeder, winging in, taking turns. Enterprising juncos forced themselves to adapt to feeding high off the ground, awkward on the wire mesh basket.

Collard-top antlers. Photo: Mackenzie Waggaman
Collard-top antlers. Photo: Mackenzie Waggaman

As we shoveled paths, we discovered a layer of heavy, compacted, melting snow in contact with the warm ground. With the approach of evening, we readied candles and flashlights for the night without electricity. An oak wood fire glowed in the fireplace-like stove. The weekend seemed very spacious, as if it was a week long.

A few days later, I dug out the wheelbarrow and dumped its contents onto the snow that blanketed a ready plot. One pristine white block at a time, I lifted a 22-inches-deep drift off of a couple of kale plants, took hold of their stems, pulled, and twisted until they yielded their hold on the soft, dark brown earth. Three-root grex beet greens, flattened by the unexpected blanket, were still robust. I seized the moment to briefly sauté these and the kale and stuff several quart-sized freezer bags full of the scrumptious greens.

Above-freezing weather and rains have melted away the whitewash. We’ll have another chance at perfecting our life-giving ground for Persephone’s return. See the photograph at the top of this article of the vibrant garden after the blizzard blanket melted away: the garden scene includes a bed sown to garlic and mulched with leaves (partially blown away) on the left; lush though yellowing parsnip leaves in the middle; and a row of leeks on the right. Another side-dumped wheelbarrow, far right and the furry green mantle of wheat and rye grasses.

Opportunities to participate:

20161129_usdm_homeNow through April 7: Project FeederWatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://feederwatch.org/

January 14: Northeast Organic Farmer’s Association Winter Conference, https://www.nofamass.org/events/wc

February 19 – 24: Biodynamic Intensive at Hawthorne Valley, Harlemville, NY; Contact Rachel@hawthornevalleyfarm.org

https://www.organicconsumers.org/blog/six-reasons-we%E2%80%99ll-need-ramp-consumerrevolution-under-trumpism