The optimism of winter

Once again, we’ve cycled through another year. This past year is – like any other – not one to forget, but not one especially grand. I suppose in the overall balance, the good and bad canceled each other out and we’re left with another year that is fairly normal, and usual for anyone simply living their lives in the best way they possibly can. A lengthy illness followed by a death, another completely unexpected illness followed by surgery and extended recuperation, a couple of new additions to the extended family, and in between all of that the constants in our lives: food, family, work, gardening, animals, and moving forward.

Many people find nothing in particular to be optimistic about in winter. After all, it is generally bleak, cold, and there isn’t a huge amount of activity going on in the garden. The snow peas are hanging tough against the wildly fluctuating weather we’ve had (going from teens overnight and the next night in the 40s, which must be terribly confusing), and the almost fifty pounds of garlic we planted doesn’t seem to care one way or the other what’s happening, snuggled under its blanket of hay. Beyond that, nothing is growing – not in the garden, at least.

In my head, it’s a different story. The best thing about winter is that the seed catalogs begin to arrive, until I have a nice large stack of them by my side. By far, my favorite for actual reading is the Fedco catalog simply because of the commentary and stories scattered about the listings. I’ve also received Johnny’s (another favorite, and from whom I tend to order a great deal), RH Shumway (from whom I’ve already ordered up 200 June bearing strawberry plants, as the old everbearing we had ordered from somewhere else a couple of years ago never gave us enough at any one time to be satisfying), Gurney’s (already ordered a couple of almond trees for mom), Vesey’s (a Canadian favorite – or should that be favourite? – from last year, due to exceptional germination rates on the things I ordered), Bountiful Gardens and Territorial Seed (who always have some fascinating items in addition to things I see in most catalogs), Totally Tomatoes (which is not, despite the name, only tomatoes), and of course, Burpee (who always have some interesting hybrids). It’s fun to spread out nine catalogs, all open to tomatoes, and figure out what I want to plant. Ditto for beans or peppers or brassicas or anything else: there is much fun in the initial kid-at-Christmastime looking.

From there, it’s a matter of paring down and when two or more have the same thing, picking one to get that item in my order. I figured it up a few days ago, and I have about 2200 square feet, not including the garlic area, for planting. The past couple of years I’ve never really filled out the space that was available completely, and of course last summer was a complete bust with everything going to hell because of my surgery. This year, though, I intend to fully utilize all the space out there in some fashion.

That, my friends, is where the optimism of winter comes in. It is at this time that all avenues are open to the gardener, that no possibility is off the table, and that the grand dreams about growing things that have failed in the past still take root (so to speak), holding you with the force of the promise of what could be. When the wind is whipping around, and you’re out turning on the taps and covering the wellhead and bladder against freezing, you can look at the rows of empty frames and picture five foot high okra, beds of luscious tomato plants, cucumber vines meandering up trellises, mirrored by beans doing the same in another area of the garden, sprawling squash plants and zucchini that hide until they’re big as baseball bats and know that the winter will eventually end, moving aside for the sake of spring and summer.

That is certainly cause for optimism.