Thursday, December 4, 2008
Winter greens for the winter blues
Have you ever wondered why the winter holidays celebrated by Northern cultures involve evergreens? When deciduous trees and shrubs drop their leaves and flowers are long gone, when daylight disappears and nights grow long, when the soil itself freezes and snow mantles the ground, we need a reminder that life will indeed continue. Hence the evergreen Christmas trees, wreaths of fragrant fir and pine, ivy garlands, and holly centerpieces with shiny leaves and bright red berries.
Those are things I love about Christmas--especially the resinous smell of pine and fir sap, a fragrance that reminds me of sun-warmed summer days even as icy winds blow down the valley and snow dusts the peaks.
But when I find myself feeling the winter blues, I need more than the fragrance of evergreens or the shine of holly berries. I need fresh greens to eat. There's something about ingesting crisp leaves full of chorophyll, the green pigment that plants use to capture the sun's energy, that lifts my winter mood. We live less than a block from the local grocery store, so it's easy to go buy a box of those organic greens from California. But I'd rather eat greens I've grown with my own hands here in my own soil. And although we plant spinach and market greens in fall, and manage to keep some of them alive over the winter, they grow so slowly once the day length drops below 10 hours and the night's lows drop below 10 degrees that the harvest is occasional and tiny.
So this year Richard and I decided to experiment with growing fresh greens inside. Our house is designed to capture the winter sunlight for heat, which means it's got lots of windows facing south and thus can function as a decent greenhouse. In mid-November, long after our last real garden harvest, I planted one flat of spinach seeds (Catalina, my favorite variety from Rene Shepherd) and another flat of Rene's Paris Market salad mix. The Paris Market mix started sprouting in less than a week; the spinach took a bit longer. They're putting out their first real leaves, and looking a bit leggy, so I've taken to moving the two flats from our bedroom where they get sun for less than eight hours a day through the 8-foot-wide sliding glass door, to the living room, where a 16-foot-wide bank of windows occupies one whole wall. If my experiment works, we'll be eating fresh salads in the New Year.
And that--along with a spicy-smelling piñon pine tree cut to thin our overgrown local forests--takes care of my winter blues.
(Thanks to local artist Rod Porco, maker of extraordinary sculptural baskets and talented woodsworker, for the wreath above and for our firewood and Christmas trees!)