The Milkweed Diaries

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


I was up early this morning, weeding the raised beds in the hoophouse. The cold-hardy greens are growing faster now, and the lengthening days are providing lots of sunlight for them to soak up and turn into green and growing plant energy.

Being away for two weeks offered me a lot of clarity, and absence definitely made my heart grow fonder of my life. I love being back to cooking on a wood cookstove, back to soaking up the sunlight and warmth in our house on winter mornings thanks to passive solar design, back to my community and my family, back to walking across the muddy fields and even back to weeding. It's good to be home.

After 12 days of cooking three meals a day for 30-60 people, it's so luscious just to make a small meal for myself and Christopher, to pull weeds, to check on the tiny spinach and carrot plants in the cold frames. These small mundane activities feel so good after being away from them. I feel powerfully, intimately connected to the land here, and glad to be back in my own homeplace, touching growing things, watching a Cooper's hawk fly low over the pastures, hearing the first Red Wing Blackbird of the season.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Dead of Winter, Promise of Spring

It's the dead of winter, and not much is growing in our gardens, but I thought I'd post some pictures of our various 4-season gardening contraptions.

Above is a simple, temporary cold frame made from straw bales and salvaged plexiglass windows; carrots and spinach are growing inside. And below are some shots from inside our hoophouse, including a close up of one of the 2000+ babies growing in there: Merveille des Quatre Saisons lettuce, a cold-hardy French heirloom.

In ancient, earth-based cultures in climates similar to ours (specifically: Northern Europe and the British Isles), this time of year was seen as a turning point. The snow is thick on the ground, but the earth underneath holds the possibility of Spring. Our bones are chilled, and we are weary with winter, but we know Spring's green shoots are coming. Pregnant farm animals literally contain new life at this time of year, the babies that will be born in the Springtime. Even when its hard to imagine Spring, we know it will come.

The ancients conceived of this time of year as the time when the goddess changed shape from her winter form --crone, hag, wizened and wise and bony old woman--to her spring form--maiden, bride, supple and fresh and pregnant with possibilities. Candlemas was the Christian appropriation of festivals honoring this transition, and Groundhog Day is the modern remnant of these ancient rites. Neopagans observe the transition as "Imbolc," but it was called by a variety of names by the peoples who celebrated the moment of turning from winter to spring. Whatever we call it, I'm grateful for this time of year -- when the bright blue sky and warm sun reminds me, even on cold winter days, that Winter won't last forever.

I'm grateful for the ways we capture the warmth and light, even in Wintertime. I mean this on a literal level: with coldframes and hoophouses and row cover and passive solar technologies. And I mean it figuratively: with the sickness and sadness in our household (see my last post on Frankie the cat), sparks of sweetness and levity are all the more precious.

In the dead of winter, there is light inside our cold frames and the hoophouse. Christopher cleaned out the ashes in our wood cookstove, and a new fire is lit. Our fridge is full of jars of seeds ready for Spring planting. Tiny carrots and kales and chards and beets and winter-hardy salad greens are growing in various contraptions throughout the garden. And we're holding on to a tiny light of hope for our beloved Frankie, for whatever may be for her.

So happy Imbolc, Candlemas, Groundhog Day, Bridget's Day, whatever you want to call it...and here's to cleaning out the ashes and lighting new fires.