and now may we rest in hope
While darkness does its work”
So far this winter in Eastern Ontario can be characterized by its long deep freezes, lack of sunshine, freezing rain and heavy snow. Thousands have suffered through power outages, burst pipes and cars in ditches. I hear a lot of people praying for spring already or wishing they were somewhere down south. I see signs of cabin fever setting in and the gardeners I know are getting twitchy as their seed catalogues start to arrive.
I like to approach winter with as much equanimity as I can muster, but flipping through my foraging books in February can make me antsy enough to go out and dig under the snow looking for the first appearance of stinging nettle shoots. So I’ve developed a few strategies over the years to move more smoothly through the long dark season of winter.
Something I look forward to every winter is planting seeds. I’m not talking about starting my leeks and onions indoors in February or March though. I like to winter sow. Winter sowing is a technique of sowing seeds in covered containers and leaving them outside in the winter to be exposed to the elements and cycles of freezing and thawing. This method is particularly well suited to plants that require stratification or cold treatment for germination. Many wild plants and medicinal herbs do well under these conditions and I have my seed packets and recycled containers set aside ready to be planted in the next couple of days.
A new experiment I’m trying this year, is to grow a little bit of food inside under lights. An organic sweet potato sprouted on me in the fall. I took the sprouts and rooted them in water and planted them into pots, where I’ve now got them under lights. The lights are on a timer set to be on only during off-peak hours. The plants seem to be thriving and the edible leaves should be ready for a harvest very soon. I also planted a couple of beet tops and an onion that had sprouted some leaves. I don’t expect to get more than a meal or two out of it all, but it’s fun to think of having even a little bit of fresh, homegrown food for the table in the dead of winter. It’s a meal I’m really looking forward to.