Winter is a strange season in the temperate climate of the wet coast. Despite predictions of one of the coldest winters on record, so far this has been quite a mild one. We’ve had many frosty, icy mornings; many nights we’ve brought the chicken’s waterers indoors overnight so that we can replace the frozen ones in the morning. But we haven’t had any snowfalls materialize as yet, and we’ve had many weeks of dry weather. The fall was so dry, in fact, that I actually started to worry about whether our ground would get saturated enough to get through the summer drought!
The shortened days of December were tough; it’s a tiring time of year for me. But it was brightened by the fact that we were still eating 90 % of our food out of the garden and out of storage, and I made it though the darkest night of the solstice.
As we hit the middle of January, our produce habits have reversed–I’m down to my last few small onions, the potatoes are already sprouting (not in a cold enough spot), I dug up the last turnip today, and the Skipper came up with what he thinks were the last 2 parsnips earlier in the week. The chickens finally got underneath the row cover veil that has kept the salad greens safe for the last few months, and they demolished the last of the arugula and spinach in a matter of hours! I didn’t begrudge them their opportunity for a last real feast of greens; I’ve resigned myself to the reality that our own foods have become the supplement to the store-bought staples for the next few months.
But as the days steadily get longer, marked by the extended times that the timer to the automatic door of the chicken coop get set to, the spring chores are looming, and the countdown to the planting season has begun.
I’ve done my seed inventory (taken stock of what I have on hand from the previous 2 years), and made my list. Thankfully, this year my list is quite short–I just need to top up a few veggies that gobble up seeds like peas and spinach and add some of the crops we want to expand, like everbearing strawberries and asparagus. I’m thinking the most efficient way to meet my needs this time might be heading to a local Seedy Saturday rather than paying shipping charges for just a few seed packets. Although I love the idea of the big seed swap meet-up, I found the one in the city way too big and overwhelming a place to actually buy seeds the year I went. But I needed a lot of everything then; now I’m just looking for a few specialty items.
The sun shone today, and I wandered around the yard trying to assess everything that I want to do. There is lots of pruning to get to, lots of clearing out and digging up. We want to take out a couple of trees, and there are some large trellises that are falling apart that we will likely just take down as well. I have a feeling that those large moves will change the whole feeling of the garden’s space so much that I’m reluctant to plan any more until I actually see the new layout. It’s exciting to get really stuck in and feel how much space we really may have here, but it’s a dauting amount of work, too, especially tucked into weekends.
So it’s an odd time, winter here; not really a season for rest–though there is a month or so of that, thank goodness!–more of a time of a delicate tension between indoor work, eating lots of soups and slow-cooked meals from the foodstuffs in storage, and feeling the pull of spring just a few weeks away. Our first year here, February was really fine, as it can be, and I planted peas under cover in the first week! I likely won’t be that eager again, but at the turn of the month I will need to get digging out anything that needs to be moved, spreading manure and compost, and starting the early seeds on the heat mats in the greenhouse.
With 2 years under my belt, I feel like I’m settling into the seasonal cycles more fully. I’m no longer disappointed to be eating from the grocery store, as I know with some more practice that will become less necessary. I can feel that window of dependency shrinking each year, and though I know we won’t be fully meeting our needs again until May or June, the fresh food will start to creep back into our diets much sooner than that. Asparagus, chives, parsley, rhubarb, nettles…there’s so much to look forward to in the coming months.
We culled a rooster last weekend, and that felt like a primal winter thing to do as well. As the core flock settles in for the winter, we’re also thinking about what broody hens the spring might bring! We have no specific plans for chicks, but we’ll see what happens…our neighbour today was talking very soundly about allowing the hens to hatch out whatever chicks they like and then using the results either for replacement layers or for meat birds. Which means strategizing about our space again…Oh to have 3-5 flat, green acres! 🙂
So here I am, in the dreamy paradox of a west coast winter evening. We’re warm by the woodstove fire inside; the chickens have their feathers puffed up and are snuggled up together in the coop. We’re measuring out the winter staples for a few more months, while wishing for a few warmer days in the coming weeks so that we can work outside getting ready for the burst into growth that’s just around the corner.
How about you? Can you smell the spring yet? Or are you in one of those strange places that has yet to see winter yet?