As old Irish weather-lore goes, the wind on the first day of December is telling of what the Winter will be like. Weather-lore is usually based on ancient observations of nature, especially by growers, farmers and fishermen alike. It seems as though Old man Winter has finally arrived on our doorsteps, ushering nature into hibernation and making our eyes water with his icy breath. Many of us dread the coming Winter, often thinking of it as the darkest and gloomiest season of the year when flora becomes bare and fragile and fauna lays dormant. Our gardens become shadows of their once vibrant beauty in the Summer months, Autumnal colours fade and we pluck the last few vegetables from the ground.
Yet, whatever Winter has in store for us this year, it can also be one of the most fruitful times of years for many plant life as we have learnt the past few Winters in the Moy Community Garden. Take for example garlic which we have just finished planting. Garlic is best planted during the Autumn so that it’s roots can establish properly before the first frost comes. The earlier in Autumn it is planted more time in the ground it has to grow and become more flavoursome by the following Summer.
Other frost resistant vegetables that you can leave in the ground up to Christmas include brussel sprouts, cabbage, turnips and parsnips. Indeed the flavour improves in some of these after a frost as the cold temperature increases the sugar content in the plant. Kale is also another hardy Winter green that some even leave in the ground until the following Spring when it transforms into a delicious, asparagus-like vegetable.
At the start of this year we finished our under-ground glasshouse in the community garden. The brains behind this amazing construction was Mitchell Corbett who was inspired to build it after being given a load of old windows and wanted to up-cycle them in an innovative way. He had been reading up about Walipinis (underground greenhouses) in Bolivia and thought it would be great to try it out in the garden. It turned out to be our saving grace during the late frost of Spring as where many tomato plants died, ours survived because of the slightly higher temperatures when sunken underground.
Poly-tunnels are also a grower’s closest companion. Similar to a glass-house, these transparent, plastic tunnels prolong seasons and can protect plants from chillier temperatures outside. At this time of year many growers use them for lettuce and spinach up until Christmas when the chill really sets in.
Winter growth is all around us despite our frosty welcome of Old man Winter. If we can learn to appreciate the colder months by eating seasonally and planting hardier varieties of vegetables, old man Winter might just start to grow on us.