Monday, December 6, 2010

Cold Weather Remedies

Winter is an exciting time for some people. People like my husband, who like to ski and grew up in places where snow is on the ground more often than not, look forward to cold weather. I am not one of those people. I like snow enough when it’s falling. I like to stomp around in it for about 10 minutes. After that, I just want to eat warm foods, drink tea and curl up with a book in front of the fireplace, waiting for spring. 

Since full-on hibernation isn’t possible, it helps to find a way to carry on the gardening spirit indoors. We’ve all heard how much fun it is to rifle through seed catalogs; but we need something to DO between looking at the pretty pictures, waiting for the goods to arrive, and starting the seeds in late winter. 

On a brusque day, leaf collection might energize the spirit. If temperatures are below 50 degrees, that would be my husband’s spirit, as he becomes one with our new leaf mulcher. I’ll help lay down the newspaper and cardboard on our newly cleared lawn so that we can cover it with leaf mulch. This can be accomplished fairly quickly, which means I can then retreat inside to plan new landscape possibilities. Meanwhile, my husband will stay outside and clear brush, sweep the patio, fill bird feeders, check the mail again, change outdoor lightbulbs, and identify multiple pressing tasks that I would not and could not have thought of. Winter is his season. It is an important time, a time of many opportunities. I recognize that. Thank goodness for people who stand up in winter.  

Keeping things growing under a cold frame is one of the small pleasures I endure in winter.  It requires little to no effort on the coldest days, and the goods can be snatched quickly for indoor consumption. We have our fresh greens. We have our radishes. We have our broccoli raab. We have potatoes, garlic, and onions stored in the larder and a freezer full of tomato sauce. These will all come in handy for our number one cold-weather remedy: stew. 

In the winter, I prepare dinner in a crock-pot almost daily. Not only does it slowly cook just about anything to perfection, crock-pot stew scents the whole house with the aroma of warmth. It makes the toughest cuts of beef melt in your mouth; it melds the delicate flavor of beans with tangy garlic so you don’t quite know which is which in your mouth; and it melts tomatoes in wine with a touch of cinnamon so that pasta night becomes a time in the past and the future, rather than just a thing that happens once a week. Crock-pot meals require little preparation, other than chopping. Most recipes recommend browning meat before adding it to the crock-pot. I hardly ever do that. Just throw it all together, cover with broth, wine, or water, and let the stewing begin. 

Another winter delight for terminal gardeners is bulb forcing. Ever cut a bulb in half? I did this recently with some pre-schoolers, and we were all amazed to see the little green “baby plant” resting between the layers inside. When you split them in half, daffodil bulbs smell like fresh grass, with a tinge of onion. They need a cold, dark period before they can bloom, but you can wake them up long before April with very little effort. To force bulbs, place them root-side down in a shallow dish or pot filled with pebbles or soil. Leave the top third of the bulb exposed, above the planting medium. Place them in a cold, dark area, such as a garage, porch, or refrigerator for several weeks. When you see green sprouts emerging, move them to a well-lit, warm window. In a few more weeks, the blooms will open for an early burst of spring. 

So winter isn’t so bad after all, as long as we can work some magic with roots, shoots, and leaves.

my favorite crock pot recipe book:


  1. Your husband sounds a lot like mine. He loves to ski and doesn't mind the cold. I prefer curling up with a good book or an old movie when its chilly outside.

    He is outside tending to the plants right now and he has also been cooking a lot of nice warm dishes with fresh greens and herbs from our garden.

    We are both lucky to have such sweet men!

  2. Indeed! I foresee my husband picking up some cooking skills in the near future. Hint, hint.

  3. Another pressing task you may not have thought of is turning off the outdoor spigots to avoid frozen pipes.