A Green Cure for the Winter Blues

Scientists and medical professionals tell us that we are in for a long, cold, COVID-laden winter. In an effort to avoid exposure to this terrible disease, most of us will hunker down in our homes, avoiding contact as much as possible with anyone outside of our household. And since most of the bars, restaurants, stadiums, casinos, etc. will be shut down by state authorities, there will be few places for us to go anyway. So the next three or four months do, indeed, look quite bleak.

But there are things we can do to mitigate some of the boredom and loneliness, and one of the best is to grow and cultivate some greenery. A few well-placed houseplants can provide some color to brighten up an otherwise dull indoors and improve the blah feelings brought on by a bleak winter landscape. You can even grow some edibles – sprouts, microgreens, herbs, lettuce to provide you with some fresh and nutritious food to offset boring stews and pot roasts.

And then, when you’ve finished all of that, start thumbing through the gardening catalogs that will soon be hitting your mailbox or peruse their websites and see all the new varieties of fruits, vegetables, and flowers that you can plant in 2021. Then get out a sketch pad and/or some graph paper and start planning out that beautiful productive garden. It may not change the winter landscape outside your window, but in your heart, snow will melt, skies will clear, and for a few minutes at least, you’ll find yourself feeling a whole lot less miserable. Yes, indeed, nothing chases away a blue mood and lightens the blackness in one’s heart like a bracing dose of green!

A Time of Change

Those foxes barking at the moon
Tell me easy weather will soon be gone
Frost is in the air
Change is everywhere, darling
This time of year, a change comes over me

― Dillon Bustin, Almanac
Slowly but surely, the world around us is changing as Earth’s Northern Hemisphere prepares for its long winter sleep. Squirrels are gathering nuts for winter food. Birds are flying south since food here will soon become scarce. And the lazy warm days of summer are turning into the cool nights of autumn, soon to be followed by the frigid snow-covered days of winter. Change is, indeed, everywhere, as Dillon Bustin sings.

squirrelmigration

 

It has been said that the only constant is change; that change is inevitable (except, of course, from a vending machine). The changes of autumn all around us make an excellent time to look back at our year and think about any changes we might like to make in our own lives. Yes, I know the tradition is to do that on New Year’s Day via the resolution. But let’s face it — New Year’s resolutions are well nigh worthless. They’re made in the heat of a holiday moment with a lot of fire and gusto that quickly gets put out by the snows and cold of winter. But carefully thought out life changes made in the lengthening cool nights of autumn have a better chance of sticking.
Fall is indeed a time of change. Let it change you too.

It’s Cleanup Time!

Congratulations to you and your garden! Your springtime preparation and planting and summertime cultivation and watering have paid off handsomely. Your refrigerators are filled with fresh produce, jellies, jams, and preserves; your cupboards and pantries are filled with canned vegetables and fruits, and your basements are brimming with fruits and vegetables that have been stored away for the coming long, cold, and snowy winter. (Note to Mother Nature: go easy on us this winter. Please?) Perhaps you even have a fall crop of greens to which you’ve been routinely consuming. Now’s the time to kick back, relax, and enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of your labors.

Uhh, not quite so fast. There is one task remaining for you — one that should not be ignored if you want to improve your odds of having a successful harvest in next year’s garden. That task is to remove the cages, stakes, and other supports, clean up the spent plants, and perhaps even apply some compost and turn over the soil.

“Oh, there’s no need to do all that now,” you say. “I’ll do it in the spring.”

No. There’s every need for that. Cages and stakes left to the mercy of the winter can rot and/or rust. Spent plants and other garden debris left in the garden can become breeding grounds for insect pests and diseases that will plague your garden from the get-go next season and leave you with a severely reduced or non-existent harvest. Cabbage worms and tomato hornworms, for example, can overwinter in the pupal stage in dead or decayed leaves and plant parts. If you get rid of the plant debris, you’ll leave theses pests with no place to hide and survive, thereby lessening the odds that they’ll chomp on your plants next summer.

cabbage-wormTomato Hornworm

Turning over the soil in the fall also has many benefits. For starters, any overwintering insect pest pupae will be buried in the soil. The moth will then be unable to emerge (and lay eggs on your vegetable plants) next spring. Any grubs that would normally overwinter below the soil surface will be brought above ground where they can be seen — and eaten by birds and other grub-eating predators. And if you work in some compost, then all throughout the three months (or more) of winter, soil bacteria will break it down. Come springtime, you’ll be off to a good start with healthy and nutrient-rich soil.

So clean up that debris and turn over that soil! You’ll find that a clean garden is a happy garden — and a productive one too!

Welcome Winter?

Blizzard

It’s 10:48 PM CST on December 21st, 2015. Winter has officially arrived! Snow! Sleet! Freezing rain! Bone-chilling cold! Thirty-foot drifts! Stalled cars! And the fun goes on and on. Note to my readers in Florida, Arizona, and New Mexico: shut up, I don’t want to hear it!

 
Like it or not, all of that will soon be upon us. And hating it is not going to make it go away. It’s only going to make you miserable. So I’m going to ask a hard thing of all of us. Let’s make friends with winter!

 
I know, I know. You’re probably thinking that I’m one cucumber short of a salad. And I’m sure it’s had to make friends with an entity that causes you to take your life into your hands every time you get behind the wheel. But if you can find it within yourself to step outside, you’ll find that winter has a beauty all it’s own. For starters, there’s the silence. Winter is the time of year when all nature takes a three month nap. Most of the birds have flown south, and if they haven’t they are going about their business quietly. There is no mating or nesting going on and no territory to defend, so there’s little need to chirp. The squirrels also are quiet — no chattering from them. Everywhere you look and listen there is nothing but silence. If you think about it, that can have a special beauty all its own.

 
Walk through a forest and you’ll see empty nests no longer hidden beneath a blanket of green leaves. What kind of nests? Well you might find robin’s nests, cedar waxwing nests, and many others. Perhaps you’ll see interesting snow sculptures created by nature around a framework of naked branches. A Canada goose landing on a now-frozen pond might provide a little amusement.

Rambling-in-winter-forest
Walk through your town or even your own neighborhood and see all of the colored lights and Christmas decorations adorning every dwelling. Artificial as it may be, there is still a beauty to it even if you aren’t a member of a faith that celebrates Christmas.

christmas-light-house-decoration
Winter is also a time to, as the song says, “conspire as you dream by the fire.” Celebrate all of the successes of the past year and plan out all of the wonderful things you want to do next year. Dream a thousand dreams about all of the amazing successes you plan to have in the years to come — and then start making plans on how you’re going to accomplish them. Note: don’t make New Year’s resolutions. You’re not going to keep them and you know it.

 
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Even in the midst of a cold, dark, seemingly never-ending season, you can find a warm bright spot that can make the season a little more tolerable. It’s there. You just have to look for it.