river muse

Winter sown

By CASS COLLINS
Posted 2/3/21

 

Staying healthy during the pandemic has mostly meant staying at home. In the spring and summer months, this was easy and fun. We took to gardening, building beds for vegetables and herbs. …

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river muse

Winter sown

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Staying healthy during the pandemic has mostly meant staying at home. In the spring and summer months, this was easy and fun. We took to gardening, building beds for vegetables and herbs. We even built an asparagus bed, which won’t be ready to harvest for three years, in a challenge to mortality. We swam, walked the dogs and even enjoyed a few small, socially distanced events with family and friends outdoors. We steered clear of larger gatherings, knowing our age made us more vulnerable to the virus.

Autumn gave us leaves: leaves to peep, leaves to rake, leaves to mulch and sometimes to ignore. The election frenzy kept us occupied with postcard-writing and canvassing. In a normal time, we would have taken trips to the city to see the ballet and theater, dine out with friends, enjoy museums and take in some live jazz. We would have made time to visit our grandson, who has gone from toddling to riding a two-wheeler since we saw him last.

Remembering the early phase of COVID-19 now seems like a dream of Valhalla compared to today. I know we are lucky to have been spared the virus ourselves. A son and his wife were not so fortunate. So we are happy to heed the advice of Dr. Fauci, especially now that he is free to speak without fear of reprisal. But winter in lockdown is not for the faint of heart.

The joy and distraction that gardening presents in the other three seasons have always been relegated to the browsing of seed catalogs in winter. But, no longer! Stumbling through Facebook recently, I came across a group called Winter Sowers. Started by Trudi Davidoff, who claims to have developed the process, the group has more than 35,000 members, expanding daily with gardeners like me who pine for the sight of seedlings reaching toward the light.

Taking advantage of the cold, the winter sowing method lets gardeners plant seeds long before spring. Cold stratification is necessary to many perennials that ordinarily might not even bloom the first year if planted in warm weather. Spending the winter outside, protected in a mini-greenhouse recycled from plastic milk and water jugs, gives them and their gardener a head start on big, beautiful blooms. If you don’t use plastic at home, you can harvest some from your local cafe or coffee shop, or from a neighbor.

Now, in addition to my indoor lettuce trays, I have a small garden of winter-sown seeds in jugs gathering on my deck in the thick of winter. If you think you need this kind of therapy yourself, check out the group. You will start out collecting a few jugs and buying seeds. A warning that some people get carried away ordering seeds from catalogs. To avoid the same dangerous path, I buy mine from the local Agway. Somehow, seeing the packets on the counter makes it easier to restrain the impulse to overbuy.

Along with some spinach, a good cool-weather crop anytime, and green beans, I have planted chives, lavender and zinnias so far. Another trip to an Agway across the county tempted me with poppies, dahlias and sunflowers. The dahlias, which I always thought had to be grown from tubers, are annuals but will produce tubers by the end of the season to be saved for next year.

So, although I am not a skier, I have found another way to enjoy the solitude of winter during COVID-19 that I hope to enjoy long after it is over. I hope you find a path of your own.

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