November 23—December 6, 2015
Mt. Washington — Short, mild days and long, frigid nights instill a sense of urgency around the stewardship of the land. The earth is on the brink of turning from friable to frozen. Will there be time to tend to the remains of the autumn garden before daytime temperatures drop to freezing? Will languishing, potted perennials and bulbs be planted before a solid crust forms over the land? In the vegetable garden, frost hardy crops are becoming vulnerable, approaching the edge between life and death. We cover them when 20-degree nights are predicted. The care we give the land in preparation for winter is an offering towards sustaining its vigor. It is instinctive, or reflexive, to follow receiving gifts with gift giving. As we prepare for winter we are providing for the renewal of spring.
While we continue to uproot persistent weeds, cut and clear dead stems and foliage of perennials and rake leaves from turf areas, we are building our compost heap. Last year’s compost, having been turned a few times over the course of the season, is delivered to the garden beds by the wheelbarrow load. Unscreened compost is a bit rough; it is turned into the soil and left for snow and ice to further break it down. Compost was also added to beds before seeding with winter rye.
Weather predictions for the mountain towns include some daytime highs in the 30’s and nighttime lows in the 20’s, with a note that suggests that it will feel like the teens. Feeling for my remaining crops, I’ve been harvesting whole plants of Turtle Tree Seeds’ Ethiopian cabbage and red Russian kale. The de-stemmed leaves are shredded and briefly steamed in a small amount of apple cider or water. Some batches are stir-fried in vegetable oil and toasted sesame oil and garlic might be added. These wonderful, vibrant green vegetables are slid into plastic bags and frozen.
I grew Lacinato, curly and red Russian kale in addition to collards and Ethiopian cabbage this year to see how their taste and hardiness varies. Will keep you posted. A few lettuce mixes have been doing well unprotected, although one bed is covered with landscaping cloth. Kale plants will be covered with large buckets or sheets when 20-degree nights are predicted. In my experience, leeks and parsnips are fine even if pick-axed out of frozen ground. See the hardiness chart published here courtesy of the website https://www.motherofahubbard.com/cheating-winter/. Go to this website for an introduction to winter vegetable gardening.
Cathy of Mother of a Hubbard offers the following cogent explanation of cold hardiness. “Cold-tolerant plants have unique adaptations that help their tissues better respond to freezing conditions. They compartmentalize freezing, by moving most of the water outside of the plant cell to freeze (which is why frozen plants appear wilted but then quickly spring back to life when temperatures thaw). They also accumulate cold-tolerance [sic] proteins and sugars (their own sweet antifreeze), which act to lower the freezing point of water inside the plant cell and prevent the initiation of ice crystals. They’ll even change the composition of the fats in their cell membranes, giving them a little more flexibility should any ice crystals form. Warm-season crops like tomatoes and corn don’t have these adaptations, which is why they turn to mush after a freeze, a result of their cells bursting as water expands (akin to a bottle of water exploding in your freezer).”
The gardener’s work may still be in full swing, especially if autumn harvests have yet to be completed and prepared for storage. Here come the holidays! Let’s pause together at every meal to celebrate the gifts received from the earth (and the Earth).
Earth who gives to us this food
Sun who makes it ripe and good
Dearest Earth, dearest Sun by you we live
Our loving thanks to you we give
–from the Rudolf Steiner tradition
The silver rain, the shining sun
in fields where scarlet poppies run
and all the rippling of the wheat
are in the bread that we do eat.
So when I sit at every meal
with grateful heart I always feel
that I am eating rain and sun
in fields where scarlet poppies run.
— from the Berkeley parents