Winter Hike

I went for a hike today on the wooded trails in Robinson Nature Center. I like the open feeling in the December woods. The sparse surroundings relieve my stress from the busy holiday season. There is less confusion and congestion and more simplicity and space in the bare woods. Only single sounds and single sights. No canopy of leafy trees to crowd me. A single bird song to listen to and try to memorize for later identification. Was it a “creekataw” or “creekachee”? A clear sound without competition. Easy to be mindful and slow down in this place. One crunching sound leads to one squirrel racing up and over a tree trunk on the ground. I could see the squirrel carrying a round orange object the size of its head in its mouth. I wondered if I could see where he would hide it. Less is hidden between the exposed trees and on the crunchy leaf covered ground. The evergreen trees stand unchanged and bold among the greys and browns. Everlasting and eternal things is where to focus. My stress melts when I do.

Turnips and Spinach

We visited our community garden plot at Howard County Conservancy yesterday. We found some treasures in the soft thawed soil.

our winter spinach

one of our many winter turnips
Turnips and spinach are growing under our row covers. Our first experiment of over-wintering our late fall crops worked!  Last fall, I planted lettuce, turnips and spinach seeds a bit late.  We did not have a good fall harvest of these crops.  In November, I covered the growing crops with row covers.   What a thrill to peel back the row covers yesterday to find green turnip tops and purple and white turnip roots, tender dark green spinach leaves and curly bright green lettuce sprouts.  I even pulled weeds out of the spinach bed.  Row covers are good winter blankets for the garden!

Frozen Peppers and Cherry Tomatoes

green peppers and cherry tomatoes from 2010 garden

Only in winter can we enjoy last year’s harvest while starting this year’s garden.  We still have about 2 bags each of frozen peppers and cherry tomatoes from our garden plot harvest 2010.  We use the frozen cherry tomatoes and peppers on homemade pizza and in soups, chili and tomato sauce.

Last summer, we had an abundance of tomatoes and peppers in our garden plot.  Along with canning, we tried freezing these veggies for the first time.  The frozen veggies still taste sweet and fresh.  I will use the same freezing method for this year’s harvest.  To freeze the peppers… chop, blanch in boiling water for one minute, soak in ice cold water, drain, dry, freeze individual pieces on a cookie sheet then toss all the  frozen pieces into a freezer bag.  To freeze the cherry tomatoes…. cut in half, roast on cookie sheet for several hours in a 150 degree fahrenheit oven, cool, freeze on a cookie sheet then place in freezer bag.

While enjoying last year’s harvest,  we started planting seeds for this year’s garden.  This week we planted King Richard Leek, Genovese Basil, Italian Parsley, and Hybrid Shallot seeds in starter containers.  In a few weeks we will plant our tomato, pepper, eggplant, swiss chard, escarole and lettuce seeds.

Trees in Winter

our fig tree

Trees in winter are beautiful!

The bare tree branches are like line drawings on the sky.   The branches on our fig tree grew a lot  longer this year.   We used to cover them in burlap for the winter, but they are too big for that now (see our fig tree post for more information about our productive tree).   Since figs grow only on the new branch growth, we plan to prune our fig tree towards the end of winter.    This will be its first pruning.  It is hard to do, but it must be done or we will need a ladder to reach the figs this summer!


The evergreen trees and deciduous trees with remaining shriveled leaves are like welcoming shelters in the sparse winter landscape.  My son likes to play “ding dong on the doorbell”  underneath them.  It is a game where I ring a tree bark doorbell to enter and visit him in his safe and cozy tree house.

The oak trees in our neighborhood  do not drop all their leaves in winter.   I learned that it is a natural condition called marescence.  Some experts believe that this protects the overwintering buds on the trees.

Trees in winter are beautiful because they remind me that true strength is revealed in adversity and new growth requires pruning and protection.

Bradford Pear Tree

Bradford Pear Tree Fruit

There is fruit growing in our garden despite the cold temperatures and one inch snowfall yesterday.  The Bradford Pear tree in our front yard finally dropped all its leaves and is now adorned with its own little ball ornaments.   The tiny pears are inedible to humans, but tasty to birds.  Last year,  huge flocks of Starlings swirled around the Bradford Pear tree like dark smoke then perched on the tree’s bare branches and pecked at its dangling pears.  We haven’t seen the Starlings descend on our tree yet this season.

One of the Nandina shrubs in our front yard has clusters of bright red winter berries.  I haven’t seen a bird munch on these nutritious red berries yet because they harvest the Nandina berries in late winter.  I am glad our garden has winter treats to attract hungry birds.  The fluttering brown, grey, red and blue feathers add life to the quiet  winter garden.

What kind of winter treats for birds or other critters do you have in your garden?