Friday, February 27, 2015

Winter garden

I’ve lost track of how many years it’s been since I’ve been growing red bell peppers and tomatoes in my living room. At least a decade now.

This practice arose from three things: (1) a very short growing season, (2) learning that peppers and tomatoes are perennials in tropical climes, and (3) having a south-facing living room wall that’s all windows.

So one spring, when I bought transplants for the garden, I kept one tomato and two peppers inside and planted them in big pots. They have provided produce year-round ever since.

I also tried dragging one of my EarthBox containers inside at an early frost, just when the red bell peppers were ripening for harvest. (Kitty helped.) They produced into December.

For the year-rounders, all I give them is water and occasional refreshing of soil. The plants have always been brittle, since they don’t grow against wind and rain, and each year they give more leaves and fewer, smaller fruit. I cut them back every few months, and they crank up again.

Finally I killed one from too much sun and/or too little water and/or cutting back too severely. So I replaced it the next spring, and on it goes. The longest-lived one has been about seven years. All would go indefinitely if I treated them better.

So this season, I upgraded my ritual to include twice-a-month feedings. Too soon to tell what that will lead to. I’m looking forward to spring, when I can replace the tomato with a bush variety that will not take off across the living room and up the walls.

Even with sparse output, you can’t beat having fresh tomatoes and peppers when it’s ten below!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A big winter

Here in Vermont, in our peculiar dip between the northern and southern ranges of the Green Mountains, where the Taconic Hills peter out, we define winter as the non-growing season when it’s probable to have snow on the ground. This can last three to seven months, averaging four to five.

Some years we have a cold winter. Others, a dry one. A snowy one. An icy one. A wet one. Pick your dominant characteristic.

This year we’re having a big one: big snow, big cold, big ice, big wind. It started in November and looks likely to run into April. Most everyone is going nutty, because when we have the big snow—great for skiers and snowmobilers—it’s often too bitter to go outside. When temps moderate, it’s too icy to do anything requiring traction. When it’s cold enough, long enough, to make good lake ice, there’s a solid mass of snow atop it. The mix and match get out of sync, leaving the effect of just...plain...yuck.

It’s been a big winter, too, for other areas. Our region may be renown for the season, but this year other areas are getting the worst of it. Our two feet of snow has been three—four—five—somewhere else. In the worst ice storm, we lost power for three days while others suffered for a week. When we’ve gotten winds that ripped covers off woodpiles and shattered plastic storm windows, others have had roofs ripped off or tidal surges that destroyed their coastlines.

If you’ve got to have winter, it pays to be rural. We get to see the beauty. Sensual, unbroken white across the countryside, turned surreally blue under moonlight on the rare clear night, during which we can also see the Milky Way and constellations. And wildlife keeps reminding us that the season is marching on. Chickadees, for instance, have been making their “spring” call since December. A few weeks ago, the ravens began their courtship dances. This month the owls start theirs: invisible in the dusk and dark, but louder and louder with their monkey-like whooping and cackling. Then, because there’s no competition from artificial lighting, we can see the extra minutes of light added to every day.

This serves, of course, to make us chafe against the unrelenting weather. But at least we have assurance that it will end, which always seems to come sooner than we expect.