03 December, 2009

Beating the Winter Blues

The onset of autumn is a feast to the gardeners' eyes. Although we try hard to have colorful gardens for the entire growing season nature always socks it to us wit the blast of brilliant fall colors. It is almost as if nature gives it to us two ways. First with the palette of colors and the warning that goes with it that winter is just around the corner. Gardeners
generally have had little to look forward to over the long dark nights of winter. I sometimes wish I could hibernate along with the bears and wake up just in time for the snow drops to bloom. Imagine a nice long winter's nap just and not being woken by Santa on the rooftop! But alas we must endure until spring just hoping our green thumbs do not turn brown in the meantime. I will try in the next few paragraphs to ease our lament even if only a little bit.
Get educated this winter! I often find the best way to handle not being able to do something is to learn more about what it is you can't do. I love to BBQ. Nothing sets my juices flowing like getting on the grill and cooking up a storm. Well when there is a storm blowing outside in January it is a little hard to grill, especially at night. So I will cuddle up in bed or on the couch with any one of my ten books on the subject of outdoor cooking.
Winter is a great time to learn more about gardening as well. Local book stores will have on prime display books on gardening shortly after the New Year. They too seem to know about the let down that ensues after the last New Years' eve toast is done. The Super Bowl is still a month away and not everyone like football. A cup of coffee and a comfy book store chair make for a fine learning experience.
A better way to learn about gardening in the depths of winter is to attend seminars at local nurseries and garden centers. After why suffer the winter blues alone when you could share it with fellow gardeners for an hour or two on a Saturday afternoon. Not to mention the free refreshments often served as well.
Adams Fairacre Farms three locations offer gardening and cooking seminars from January through early March. Many of the gardening classes include organic methods or at least the least intrusive way of doing things in the garden. One seminar I teach there is entitled Organic Gardening. This class delves not only into organic methods but the logic and laws behind labeling of organic products.
The Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, MA offers classes on an ongoing basis throughout much of the year. They are also offering a horticulture certificate program in conjunction with the Mass. College of Liberal Arts. Classes run all winter long and include Ecology for Gardeners, Landscape Design and Botany for Gardeners. For more information visit their web site berkshirebotanical.org
The New York Botanical Garden offers classes this winter in Horticultural Therapy, general gardening, Garden Writing and Photography and Landscape Design. Their web site claims an offering of over 900 classes throughout the year. Their web site is nybg.org.
My favorite winter time gardening activity is actually an offshoot but closely related outdoor activity. Watching and feeding wild birds. In fact bird feeding and watching is second only to gardening as America's number one outdoor passive activity. I am not sure who it was that coined gardening as passive but that is where gardening is placed in reference to outdoor activities.
Bird watching and feeding can actually be separated into two very distinct categories. For instance bird watchers think nothing of going down to the shores of the Hudson River on Christmas Day and counting the different species of birds flying over the sometimes frozen river. Let's face it even if Christmas day arrives and the temps are above normal it is still cold and windy down by the river. Bird watchers will also think little of hopping on a plane to Costa Rica and trudge through the jungles for a chance to add to their "life list". A life list to a bird watcher is a written documentation of how many species they have seen or heard throughout their bird watching adventures.
Bird watchers seldom are bird feeders. They will spend hundreds on a new spotting scope but not a dollar on bird seed.
Bird feeders on the other hand are content to spend Christmas Day inside around the tree and watch birds at their feeding stations.  This while staying warm and cozy. In exchange for staying warm during the winter many bird feeders fork over $15 to Cornell University to in "Project Feeder Watch". This program has "bird watchers" taking a tally of birds at feeding stations and sending the collected data to the Ornithology Dept. at Cornell.
Now there is a marketing scheme waiting to be hatched. In a sense of brotherhood and camaraderie why doesn't someone build a small bird watchers' hut and take it down to the Hudson and offer the bird counters a warm place to observe from. And lets' say they charge $15 and send it off to Cornell? Bird feeders are the backbone of the bird feeding industry. Bird feeders will come out to my bird feeding seminar on a cold Saturday in January. As well the hard core bird feeder is on a mission to have the most feeding stations in the neighborhood. Number two on their agenda is having the best squirrel proofing story!
Winter is also a great time to visit your nearest garden shop or nursery and peruse the new selection of seeds coming onto the market for spring. There have been a plethora of new organic varieties added to seed racks in recent years. Burpee has added a whole panel of certified organic seeds to its consumer display racks.  Seeds of Change, one of the original all organic seed companies, not only sells only certified organic varieties but their entire collection are made up of almost entirely of heirloom or indigenous varieties.
Winter is a time to head for warmer climates for some.  Winter is also a time for gardeners to take stock of the past seasons successes and challenges. Winter may also be a time to make sure that next winter comes with a little more color. What better time to remind yourself to pot up some tulips or daffodil bulbs for winter color next year than right now? Winter is a black and white season (OK gray and white). But that sad fact should not keep us gardeners from planning ahead for our season that is everyday closer than it was yesterday.
Now if there was only some way of making the 28 days of February not seem like the longest 28 days of the year. Putting the Super Bowl on the first Sunday in February just does not go far enough!

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