Winter has arrived and with it bare trees, chilling winds and a definite festive air. In this podcast we’ll be looking at what we can expect from this new season. From what’s good to eat, what we can grow, forage and slow living tips this mini guide to winter will prepare you a wonderful winter ahead.
The Winter Guide
Winter officially starts on the 1st of December. December gained it’s name from the Latin decem, or 10. This was due to it’s place as the 10th and final month in the Roman calendar. In fact the other months of winter January and February didn’t exist until later, with March being the 1st month in the Roman calendar and winter just one very long and cold period devoid of monthly definition. I find this really interesting as January and February are odd months to me. A little lost and empty in an otherwise wonderfully colourful year. January was later named by the saxons as Wolf Month and then wintarmanoth or cold month. February was rather wonderfully named as mud-month or cabbage-month in various times and I’d quite happily re-adpot these names for this harsh month of late winter.
Although Christmas remains the dominant celebration in this part of the world with red cloaked santas in every advert and shop front, Winter is actually a season for many climatic celebrations such as Hanukkah, winter solstice, yule, new years, Imbolc, St Valentines day and Chinese New year to name a few.
Winter, to me, is a time for reflection and gratitude. The darker afternoons and harsh weather pull me back into myself and are a perfect time to think back on the year past, and take time to journal and plan for the lighter days ahead. The almost constant cerebrations and feasts can be a way of being grateful to the seasons past, the bounty of harvests, the friendships of others and gently bring the year to a close ready for a new beginning.
What to do in the Garden in Winter
Although winter can get a rather bad reputation as being a rather unpleasant season for gardening there are some benefits for the winter gardener. First of all there is hardly any seed sowing or harvesting to do, which at this point I am quite glad for! A sort of overwhelm and fatigue sets on me after those busy growing seasons and Im glad for winters sudden pause. Even weeds slow down and that can only be a good thing!
That’s not to say there isn’t some fun tasks to be done whether we have a container or a larger garden. Here are some of my favourite winter gardening jobs.
Plant winter window boxes with evergreens and berried bushes for a splash of cheer.
Plant a scented winter shrub beside your door. Sarcocooa is a favourite of mine and is forgiving in shade and small spaces.
Plan. Probably my favourite task of all-grab a cup of tea and some seed catalogues and plan your garden for next year.
Make some seed balls for the birds. This is a fun one for kids too!
Clean tools and containers so they are ready for good use in spring.
If your a veg grower chit your potatoes from January onwards.
Force Rhubarb in terracotta pots.
Grow some chillies in February. Chillies need a long growing season so start early.
What’s in Season in Winter
Of course one of the best things about winter is all the feasting. Traditionally winter was a time when the pantry was full of preserved food, cured meat, and good veg and so it was the perfect time to gather together and share these delicious treasures.
As you know I am a big advocate for eating seasonally. I think this is a far more environmental way of consuming food in general but also a great way of building a better understanding of our seasons and gardens. So what should we be looking for at our local markets and shops?
Root Vegetables. It really is the season for the humble root veg. Parsnips, turnips, swede, Jerusalem artichokes and celeriac. Leeks are also good now.
Brassicas. Love them or hate them, these are a winter staple. There will be lots of fresh Brussels sprouts, cabbages and kale now.
Bitter chicory and endive are also in season now and can be a challenge for some peoples taste buds. The key is butter and salt. But don’t worry winter lettuce is also growing well too.
One of the treats of winter is the seasonal citrus fruits and pomegranates which are imported in from warmer climates but add in a much needed dose of vitamins and freshness.
For you fellow foragers keep your eyes peeled for chestnuts which are wonderful roasted and you may still be able to find some in wooded areas. Some mushrooms can also be foraged (with an experienced guide!) and finally certain pine needles can be foraged and used as vitamin C rich tea. Now I haven’t tried this yet and am aware that some conifers are certainly not edible so be careful and do some research!
What to See in Nature in Winter
Many of you know I adore my nature walks, and yes I even love them in winter. Of course there is less to see in terms of grow and wildlife but it can still be a magical experience. I love how the frosts and snow bring a whole new dimension to the countryside and is quite literally breathtaking!
If you live near the coast you may of already spotted large amounts of seals on the beach. Female seals give birth in autumn and winter and do so ashore. They feed their pups for several weeks before leaving them for around a fortnight before the pups pluck up the courage and dive in too.
While a lot of birds have left for warmer clims, our native Robin is still a common site in our gardens and out in nature and be heard quite clearly singing. Other birds that have decided to stick out our cold winters are owls, rooks and crows. And of course starlings…I’ve already noticed the murmurations of starlings in the gloomy afternoons. These murmurations are huge gatherings that occur during winter before they roost for the night. It’s really quite a site and one to look out for!
Other animals to look out for are deer and foxes which may be easier to spot in the barren landscape. If you’re really lucky you may see the white mountain hare!
By January snowdrops and catkins have appeared, adding a little joy to the garden. Slowly birdsong will increase again and by February chaffinches, blackbirds and thrushes join in with the Robins song.
So I hope that this winter guide has inspired you to embrace the winter season, eat seasonally, go for lots of nature walks, do a spot of gardening and try some seasonal produce. I know that I’m really excited for the coming months!