Watching the Gardens Go To Sleep



My definition of melancholy is putting the gardens to sleep for the winter. Sometimes I wonder if the whole holiday season came into being because people deep down in their souls felt the year’s life sort of coming to an end in the fall, and needed to be distracted from thinking about it.

​Carol just finished, in December, pulling out the last of her dead zinnias. But we started in late October, taking down the bean poles, rolling up the deer fence, removing all kinds of plant supports, the hardest being the stakes and wire that held up the tomatoes. As we did each task, I was remembering clearly the jubilance of the planting season, the soaring hope of another year, the rising creative juices of both gardener and garden. I remember the frantic work of May and June, the laying by of the plots in July with hoe and mulch, ending (sort of) the constant weeding.

​One of my last putting to sleep jobs is cutting the cornstalks of summer and making them into a shock, a ritual to honor the agrarian culture I grew up in, now mostly past except in Amish country. Then we put pumpkins around the shock. It is time for Halloween.

​We used to clear the plots of all vegetation and run the tiller over the surface so the soil would dry out a little quicker for spring planting. I’m not convinced that is necessary anymore unless there is a bunch of late weeds like chickweed on the surface. What do you think? Even then, if I had chickens running on the garden, I’d let them peck at the weeds until snow fly. My rule of thumb for old age gardening is not to do today what you can put off until tomorrow.

​The biggest job is raking the leaves off the lawns, but when you think of it as not raking leaves but storing up mulch for next year’s garden, it becomes a positive job, not a negative chore. I chop them into windrows with the lawn mower which considerably reduces the bulk, then fork them onto the pickup and make handy piles around the garden plots.

​Our garden plots are healthy brats and often resist going to bed when they are supposed to, especially this year when cold weather was late. This was greatly to our advantage. Volunteer lettuce, a tender leaf lettuce type, came up all on its own this summer, and keeping it protected from the deer, we are still eating it in December. The mystery is how effortlessly it seemed to sprout and grow. Carol had planted fall lettuce in the cold frame and it germinated slowly and did not amount to much even with all that extra care.

​The same was true of our kale. What we deliberately planted in rows in late summer had a terrible time sprouting, but seeds from the earlier crop came up helter-skelter around the old plants without any effort on our part. In fact they came up so thick, we had to thin them. Now we are eating this kale in December. And guess what. So far, the deer are ignoring it. Anytime you can find something good to eat that the deer don’t eat, you have yourself a garden gem.

​Another early winter crop we get without work is second growth cabbage heads. After you whack off the big head, little ones, about the size of tennis balls, re-grow if the weather is right, maybe three or four per plant. I find these tight little heads, especially of the Savoy variety, to be especially tasty and tender. And this year, Carol found a cabbage worm, fat and sassy, enjoying the garden even into winter. Talk about resilience.

​So, winter is upon us now. The gardens sleep and I am sad. But guess what. As I write, tomorrow is Dec. 10. What happens on Dec. 10? Daylight begins to lengthen in the evening ever so little. Already the new year stirs, ever so slightly. Nature never really goes to sleep. No need for melancholy.


Another way to look at it is the the earth wibble-wobbles in her orbit a little bit.

A poem offered about

Winter Solstice

Stop and Observe.
Discover the moments
between Winter and Summer.
Embrace the perpetual change.
The distance between
two points in time
is always

Somehow I never really get the garden to go to sleep. The garlic and onion sets have sprouted and the scallions are growing merrily, along with celery and chard. And I am amazed that the dill seed scattered when I harvested the plants not only sprouted but withstood the 28-degree weather. I just love these garden experiments! Merry Christmas to all…

Thank you Betty. I feel so much better about my chickweed now!

This has been a strangely warm December in Central PA. It tempts me to find some tomatoes to put out. I have worked the past week in shirt sleeves and been too darn close to breaking sweat while doing so. Scary. It is 48* as I write and the current forecast for Christmas is mid 50’s.

Most of the garden is in cover crop. The forage radishes are still giving greens for the table to go with the sprouts and what is left of the kale. Must admit that it is nice to not have to wait for the Brussels to thaw before plucking them.

And, Gene, you are right to point out that not many understand how the azimuth affects the sunrise and setting. The same thing occurs around the Summer solstice but we are less likely to notice due to the abundance of light.

Have a gentle Solstice!

We have an abundance of greens in the garden. Winter gardening under agrobon 70 low tunnels. Three kales, several lettuces, green onion, tatsoi, collards, mustards, turnips, spinach, brussell sprouts, broccoli. Check out blog page… Mother of a Hubbard for great winter gardening info.

In the morning, the daylight continues to lessen and equilibrium is not reached until the Solstice. Gene

This is why I enjoy growing garlic, potato onions, and winter grains in the garden, and fruit trees in the orchard. During the seldom warm dry spells of winter I can still get into the garden and hoe and cultivate some rows, just a relaxed taste of the summer work (and the soil looks more picturesque in winter – so dark and perfect). And in the depths of the cold winter I get to prune the trees, exciting the imagination about the fruitful year to come. I have what I guess could be termed as Anti-Social Seasonal Affective Disorder – winter comes as a welcome season and I dread the short hot nights of summer.

I feel the same dread of seeing the bare garden, tomato cages in rows and dreary days. However, the garden catalogs are coming in and I am now beginning to perk up! Oh how us agrarians are eternal optimists! A new year is upon us. I even seen a brand new seed display at Home Depot yesterday! Wow! Spring is almost here.

Merry Christmas Gene and Carol and all of you that read and comment on Gene’s blog.

A most appropriate transition to the approaching holidays–nature’s vespers marking the start of the new season–as vespers are the first prayer of the liturgical day since sundown marks the end of one day and the start of the next. What better way to start a day than by contemplating that which may come to pass. Thank you.

In my garden that I work with the horses, we just disk it down and broadcast rye for the winter cover crop. But more seasonal for us is going to the woods to log. This is the best time of year for that work, although it’s been abnormally warm… When the farming is over the logging starts, appropriately. No time or need for melancholy. Happy Holidays Gene, Carol and fellow readers. ~ Jason Rutledge and F

Daylight begins to lengthen in the evening ever so little. How can that be if the shortest day of the year is Winter Solstice? I’d really like to understand that.

Hello Mr. Logsdon~ I have enjoyed the posts via email (the ones I have time to read) and your Invitation To Gardening was delightful. I am hoping that you have the inclination, now that you have the time, to discover Paul Gautschi’s method for growing maximum food with optimum soil and nutrient value while requiring minimal effort. If you have already heard if him and the BACK TO EDEN film I still encourage you to watch this video of a tour done at his garden after the film’s release. A garden of gems if ever there was one. Enjoy!

Beautiful. This really captures my feelings about December. It is a part of the year that seems sleepy to me in all sorts of ways. Not least because I often feel the need to hibernate a little myself. But this month of feasts and family and more food sure makes the melancholy bits fade away. Thank you for sharing! I may have to share this piece.

Living in north Florida we have the opposite experience. We welcome fall as the heat, rain, and bugs all diminish. Farmers chop and harrow the rank growth in the fields and ready the land for cabbage transplants and the later January planting of spring potatoes. When I was younger it was also time to pick the colorful bounty hanging in the citrus groves. The freezes of 83 and 86 put and end to that.

My deer problem is so severe I just put in a few tomatoes and mustard greens in my front yard. Actually mustards are the only thing the deer won’t eat but it is too much effort to till and water anything over in my main garden spot.

“We used to clear the plots of all vegetation and run the tiller over the surface so the soil would dry out a little quicker for spring planting. I’m not convinced that is necessary anymore unless there is a bunch of late weeds like chickweed on the surface. What do you think?”

I mulch in the fall so I don’t have to till. Cool season weeds still find their way in, chickweed, hen bit. But now I am thinking of them as a cover crop. Their roots are not very deep and they can easily be cut or pulled up and left to mulch in place. They will die before it gets very hot and perhaps they prevent worse things from taking hold? Ah well, just another experiment!

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