Chickadees enthusiastic about suet and seed feeder. Photo by Judy Isacoff

NATURE”S TURN: Winter’s waffle, rustic tasks and pastimes

I’ve awoken to the realization that this is a different kind of December. What are the consequences of the abnormally warm temperatures?

December 21, 2015 – January 3, 2016

The sun arrives at its southernmost position in northern skies today, the winter solstice, astronomically the first day of winter. Observe the shallow arc our star traces from southeast to southwest. Preceded by glowing pink, the white orb lifts, briefly skims the treetops and then flashes a cool, radiant farewell. 

A month and a half has passed during which it seemed every day would be the last before the ground would freeze and all preparations for winter would have to be completed. I’ve awoken to the realization that this is a different kind of December. I experienced autumn like other hoarding mammals who race to prepare a shelter and store food ahead of winter snow. As a mythmaker, I imagine a

Native coral honeysuckle beginning to blossom in late December, 2015.
Native coral honeysuckle beginning to blossom in late December, 2015.

chipmunk, or a groundhog, raising its head out of its den to contemplate whether to go back down to hibernate or come out into the mild weather. Deep pink flowers have appeared on my native coral honeysuckle vine and forsythia in bloom is widely reported. Predictions are that a few freezing nights and portentous snow flurries will continue to be followed by days with temperatures in the 40’s and 50’s, perhaps through January and, postulated by some meteorologists, through the whole winter.

What are the consequences of the abnormally warm temperatures? Flower buds that swell, bloom and are caught by a freeze will not flower in springtime, although the plants will survive. Significantly, pest insects and weed seeds will not be killed if there’s not sustained frost. In favor of the vegetable gardener, edibles that are still in the ground — cabbage family, leeks, parsnips and parsley — may be harvested as needed. Bulbs may still be planted. In the absence of snow, which is our most effective insulation, we’d best pile leaf mulch over frozen ground where crops will overwinter.

Ward’s Nursery https://wardsnursery.com/ posted a holiday mailing that includes information about how our gardens, orchards and farms will be affected if the prevailing weather persists. Included is a link to an informative article by a Canadian garden writer, Larry Hodgson, who observes, “…..when temperatures do drop (and winter temperatures closer to normal are predicted for February and March), the change may come about too quickly, before the plants are properly hardened off. A mild December and January followed by a severe cold snap in February could be disastrous for many plants…. This is because, to reach their full hardiness potential, plants need to gradually acclimate to cold temperatures.” This applies significantly to fruit trees, shrubs and canes. For details, see https://laidbackgardener.wordpress.com/2015/12/12/how-will-this-mild-weather-affect-our-plants/

Riley Waggaman, foreground, and Mackenzie Waggaman engaged in the craft of stacking firewood. Riley's stable, stacked wood columns create picturesque containers to stack against in this open-air shelter. Photo by Judy Isacoff
Riley Waggaman, foreground, and Mackenzie Waggaman engaged in the craft of stacking firewood. Riley’s stable, stacked wood columns create picturesque containers to stack against in this open-air shelter. Photo by Judy Isacoff

Of the many ways to store firewood, stacking under cover of a roofed-over structure makes for ease of access while avoiding the use of throwaway materials. This year, we are still in the process of moving the wood out of the weather. Partly covered by a plastic weave tarp, we are finding that the debris from the fraying tarp is impossible to clean up and is contaminating the environment. They should be outlawed!

As winter’s quiet envelops the countryside and we are indoors more than out, I find that a simple birdfeeder hung from an eave brings delightful activity up close to a window where it is most likely to be seen. I screwed an eyebolt into a second story overhang (out of reach of bear) and suspended a suet and seed feeder on a decoratively bent clothes hanger. In wintertime, suet cakes are most frequented, in my location, by chickadees, nuthatches, downy and hairy woodpeckers and tufted titmice.

Resources:

https://www.weather.com/storms/winter/news/january-march-outlook-2016-noaa-wsi

https://laidbackgardener.wordpress.com/2015/12/12/how-will-this-mild-weather-affect-our-plants/

www.birds.cornell.edu

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/search/?q=winter%20feeding