December 25, 1997
I always enjoy taking a tour of my garden at Christmas time, both literally and figuratively speaking. Although the garden never totally shuts down, there is a sense of calm, of rest, of peace right now. Grasses which I observe in the beds this time of year don't bring about that same sense of urgency I'd have if it were summer; after all, that clump of grass isn't going to change much during the next couple of weeks.
Right now the carrots, parsnips, and beets are wonderfully sweet! It hasn't been cold long enough to really sap their vitality, yet they've had plenty of time to pump sugar into their roots. Carrots, especially, get incredibly sweet once frost hits. Unless you've experienced it for yourself, you can't possibly imagine the difference in taste.
This winter I'm experimenting with leaving my PVC hoophouse up over some of the winter beds, instead of the cloches I've used in the past. The cloches, being lower to the ground, probably provide a bit more heat during the daytime, but they've always had the adverse effect of concentrating too much humidity around the plants. Under the hoophouse the greens are all thriving! I've been particularly amazed at the way both corn salad (mache) and upland cress have kept growing under cover; they've done fine out in the open through past winters, but pretty much just sat there. My main concern was the larger wind profile the hoophouse has, but it took 40-50mph winds without too much damage; nothing I couldn't repair in five minutes.
The past two winters were unbelievably wet, even for the Pacific Northwest. This winter has been pretty dry so far. As a matter of fact, it's provided a new means of identifying migrants from other parts of the US – anyone caught complaining about this "wet winter" obviously hasn't lived here very long! In any case, it's been nice to walk in the garden this winter without mud squishing up around my boots (and I've even been able to enter the garden without boots most of the time!).
This drier winter has meant that the garden has seen more freezes than usual. For brassicas like cabbage and Brussels sprouts this is a plus. In response to frost, these concentrate sugar in their leaves as a survival tactic (chemists can tell you about "freezing point depression"). Extra sugar means extra sweetness when you eat these plants. On the other hand, I'm a bit nervous about the survival of my garlic. Normally garlic is quite hardy, but unfortunately I didn't get my cloves into the ground until November. I was counting on our usual mild and wet winter, but it started to freeze nightly within a week of the planting. This wasn't nearly long enough for the cloves to get a nice set of roots into the dirt.
What I've enjoyed the most about this winter, though, has been the extra opportunities for wandering around. I must admit to not always being a busy gardener. Much of my gardening time is spent simply walking through, looking at plants (even the weeds), bugs, and birds – totally unproductive, but totally enjoyable. Basically, this season has given me extra time to dawdle in my garden.
I hope that all of you have a wonderful and enjoyable Christmas season.
All contents © Travis Saling
This page was last updated July 9, 2011