The Garden in Winter: Five Things Gardeners Can Do to Beat the Winter Blues

| February 2, 2014 | 2 Comments

Confession time: At the height of the harvest in early September, I am praying for the peace and quiet of February.  My kitchen counters are groaning with produce that needs to be chopped, blanched, canned, frozen, dried.  There’s not much room for anything else, to be honest, and so it sometimes sneaks out into other parts of the house.  A bowl full of tomatoes magically appears as a centerpiece on the dining room table.  Giant zucchinis double as doorstops and baskets of potatoes sit curing on the garage workbench.  And I feel frazzled and guilty simultaneously – there is not enough time in the day to get it all done.

Now that it’s February, though, I go a little cuckoo-monkey.  Here at 7800 feet, without a greenhouse (yet), we are 4-6 weeks away from being able to get a shovel into the ground, at least two months from even the earliest outdoor seed planting.  I look outside and it looks like this:


Pretty, huh?   Notice the garden fork?  That was from me, last week when it was 50, in an aborted effort to see if I could just, you know, fluff things up a little. Now it’s frozen in place. My bad.

If I lived a few zones higher, I could be doing something useful out there, but here in the deep freeze of zone 4, we’re still waiting.

So here are some things I’m doing to cheer myself up, and get out of the winter garden exile period.

Seed catalog porn and seed research.

Gather your garden seed catalogs and start dreaming (also known as “making a plan” if you write it all down).  This can be an activity you undertake with other people who garden, who are also itching to do something now.  Bring all your catalogs, gather at a local coffee shop, pile them in the middle of the table and share.

Seed catalogs can be wildly different.  Some are more useful than others, offering tips on hardiness, days to maturity, disease resistance, etc.  Others leave out those pesky details and just wax poetic about flavor and prolificacy (my first time using that word) and leave it to you to do your homework.  And still others are pure, unadulterated garden porn.  If you have never seen the catalog, you are missing out.  Gorgeous, centerfold-quality photos of heirloom tomatoes, exotic squash, velvety purple beans.

Whether you use this as serious research or just enjoy the beautiful possibilities, it’s a great activity for those dark days of winter in the Northern climates.

Have a seed swap: get some and give some.

I have a vial downstairs in my seed box that contains easily two thousand tiny seeds for Georgia Southern collard greens that have been adapted to the cold over several generations.  They produce like crazy, and we have greens in the freezer all winter.  But I don’t need two thousand plants.  Others get a zillion carrots, twenty different kinds of lettuce (because they all look so good), a packet of onion seed from which they plant a tiny pinch, and can’t use the rest.

Get together with other garden types in your community and have a seed swap.  It not only can increase the diversity of your garden, but it is a great opportunity to hang out with kindred spirits and swap both war stories and success stories.  If you don’t know of other gardeners, try visiting the Gardenweb Seed Exchange and trade what you have for what you want (there are no sales allowed).

Gathering materials for an early start.

I have a place in my garage where I’m organizing the things I need to get started as early as possible.   (My husband would roll his eyes at the word “organizing” but that’s okay.)  I have some short pieces of rebar, some 5-foot lengths of irrigation tubing, and a new roll of greenhouse plastic to put together as a low tunnel full of early salad mix.  I have a small roll of freecycled fencing for pea trellises, and have started a collection of straight tall sticks for bean teepees.  I found myself really wanting some burlap last year, and so have a collection of coffee sacks liberated from the local roaster, as well as a big roll for larger tasks.   My seed trays are ready to fill and put under the lights.  I have ordered some biodegradable black paper mulch, too, as a green experiment this year.

In other words, I’m taking this time to get ready, so that when the time comes to get my hands in the soil, I can just dive right in.

Assess your last year and prepare to do better this year.

Last year, I messed up properly.  I planted melons too late so they didn’t bear fruit before the first frost.  I didn’t plant enough basil, and so we didn’t get to enjoy pulling cups of pesto out of the freezer for very long.  I didn’t plant enough tatume squash, which, as it turns out, keep on the kitchen counter until December (ask me how I know) and when stuffed and roasted, make for a dinner so delicious it made me weep that I only had four.

Take some time to think about what you wish you’d done differently last year.  What can you start in a sunny window a couple of weeks earlier?  What do you want more of, less of, NONE of?

Seek out and seize opportunities for getting smarter.

Our local botanic garden and adult education outfit each have classes all winter in a variety of gardening-related topics.  One that came up last week was around the best tomato varieties for our area.  Another is about growing medicinal herbs, which is of great interest to me.  Plant nurseries, community gardens, community colleges, and local garden clubs are also a great resource for learning something new.  If there’s nothing in your area, have your library order you some stellar new gardening books that interest you.  Starting in December when I’ve recovered from the harvest season and the garden’s put to bed, I almost always have a nightstand full of books on everything from bokashi composting to growing berries to identifying wild plants.  Even if I can’t do anything, I can rest, regroup, and learn something new that will make the coming year even better.


Happy winter, everyone.  If you live somewhere warm and sunny, send a little bit to the rest of us, would you?



Category: DIY, Food, Garden, Home, Leisure, Mental Health, Sustainable

Comments (2)

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  1. Sue says:

    Gee, it certainly looks cold over there! We snow here maybe once every 5 years for about 5 minutes!

    • greenhedonist says:

      Sue, our growing season is about 90 days long, so we have to be very clever about our growing methods 🙂 But when it’s lovely out, it’s truly lovely – mountains all around, lots of wildlife, etc.

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