It is the season of slowness, both internally and externally. The urge is strong to spend my days inside, reading, writing and watching the grey winter days slide by. Outside my windows the garden waits, pleading for love and attention but it’s cold out there, and windy, and the pickings are slim.
I got my winter brassicas in too late, after a bout of wild weather destroyed my little plastic greenhouse and the green shoots nestled within. Unseasonal warmth at the start of winter confused things: one of the apple trees attempted to flower and the potatoes I missed in the harvest sent up floats of green leaves just in time for the frosts. My leeks, beets and carrots failed to germinate (I suspect the blackbirds). The kale, my winter staple, got powdery mildew while I was away and hasn’t really recovered. Dandelions will be a bigger part of my diet this winter than the last…
I have rocket though, and a small but steady supply of sprouting broccoli. The salad burnet just keeps on giving and makes a nice mix with nasturtium leaves and the tender shoots of the sweet peas that came up in the warmth. The tatsoi in pots is slow-growing but tasty: the plants in the garden perform better but I have competition for the harvest from the brown rats that have set up home in the neighbour’s wood-heap. Too smart for their own good, they ignore the baits the neighbours have laid and the tasty morsels I place in my big steel trap (I have ethical issues with using poisons: I don’t think anything deserves that kind of horrible death or the chance of such nasty things getting into the food chain). Strange rats, they prefer to graze on my vegetables and decimated my winter lettuce crop.
I had to get the oca in a little early after they discovered the tasty tubers and started nibbling. Some things I’m not prepared to share. Now I have 2.5 kg of this delicious Andean staple to keep me going through the cold months, and just as well, since the June warm weather sent my stored potatoes sprouting despite dark storage. Not a bad effort for a new-to-me crop, grown from a half-dozen donated tubers thrown into a hastily-dug garden bed and largely neglected for nine months. I like plants that grow themselves.
I did motivate myself a couple of weekends ago to re-edge the garden beds in an attempt to keep the grass out and the mulch in (as much as possible when there are blackbirds…) and was pleased to discover that, for the most, the soil was in good condition, rich in humic matter, retaining moisture and alive with worms and insects. Given the dry, compacted wormless dirt that was here on my arrival I’m pretty happy with the improvement. It’s amazing what lazy composting, liberal applications of manure and enthusiastic mulching can do!
Mostly though, I like to sit at my table, taking my time over a pot of tea, looking out over the winter landscape and watching the birds. There are crescent honey-eaters in the banksia hanging over the fence, and they sit on the house wire, chirruping their cheery call, “Eegypt! Eegypt!”. The little friarbirds are a rarer visitor during the cold months, but I sometimes see them perched high, surveying the scene. Flocks of cockatoos wheel way up overhead in the afternoons, on their way across the river to roost. Some winter days flocks of silver-eyes flit among the brassicas, feasting on the aphids in a rush of tiny feathers.
On cold, clear mornings, fog glides down the river as the sun rises. On clouded afternoons the sunset paints pale pastels across the sky, and on crisp winter nights the stars shine ever so bright as I peek out through the curtains, the cottage warmed by the wood heater. Best of all, though, are the days when the raindrops ping and trace patterns across the glass, when I can stay inside, reading or writing and drinking my tea without any guilt, knowing that nature is providing exactly what my garden, and I, need right now.
I have slowly been getting my life back in order and recovering from a little souvenir illness I brought back from Peru. After so many weeks away or otherwise indisposed I feel like the world has got away from me a little.
Still, the list of things to do is – very slowly – getting shorter, as are the days. Although it’s technically still autumn, winter arrived here in Hobart a few days ago. I’ve been enjoying the frosty mornings, cold blue-sky days and crisp, starry nights. Having the wood heater going really does help with enjoying the cooler weather, I must admit, and I’ve purchased another load of ‘sustainably-harvested’ firewood.
Meanwhile there’s always work to be done in the garden, no matter the time of year. I’ve harvested the last of the beans, tomatoes and potatoes, plus the surprise Jerusalem artichokes (thank-you former tenants). While I was gone the lettuce went to seed, so at some point I need to dig the seedlings out of the lawn and find a better place for them. The winter brassicas are coming along nicely too, with staggered plantings of broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussel’s sprouts and tatsoi to get me through the coming months.
Really though I’m looking forward to the slower pace of winter; to quiet nights in front of the fire, slow cooked meals, sleeping in and time spent with good books. The challenge now is making that happen, with everything else I want to do, and still finding time to research and write.
Somehow, though, I always find time to stop and appreciate the beautiful world around me.
What do you like best about winter? Tell me how you celebrate the cold season.
Lake Pedder in winter, Tasmania
“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
― John Steinbeck
Frost on buttongrass, Cradle Mountain National Park, Tasmania.
Consider the gifts each season brings: winter’s coming, with her frosty beauty and steaming breath.