Hunkering Down for Winter

Winter decided to come early for us in upstate NY this year–probably in a lot of other places too. Part of me is still not ready to accept it. I haven’t even turned on the furnace yet, just been using space heaters. But today I will finally fire up on the old gas monster; there’s just no way around it anymore.

henbane flower 113014 smallEvery year, I actually look forward to winter. I like snow; it changes the way we see our surroundings and it usually makes things quieter. I like winter activities–no, not skiing or sledding, but reading and watching old movies and my favorite, planning out the garden for the following season. People have told me they don’t like winter because things are dead, but most things aren’t dead–they’re just waiting: seeds deeply asleep in the soil, roots of perennials resting from the work of storing food all summer, little critters hibernating in their burrows, all waiting for the return of the Sun. When I look out at a “dead” landscape, this is what I see: life abiding. It makes me feel hopeful.

This winter I’ve got a bunch of mandrakes growing under lights in the basement. I’ve done this a few times in the past but never have had this many. I like going down there every morning wth my cat Blackie. I check on the plants, clean and groom their leaves, water, fertilize, adjust the lights. There’s a silence around them while Blackie does his own work, checking his perimeter to ensure that no other cats have managed to slither through the tiny hole in the door, sniffing around for field mice invading from the yard, and then rolling in the dust on the concrete floor for the sheer pleasure of it. I’ve got three large plants that I hope will flower in spring if they do well over the winter. For the past several years, I’ve focused on harvesting the roots of these plants instead of encouraging them to flower and perhaps produce fruit. Now I want to do both.

henbane Moon this one smallMeanwhile, I’ve already purchased all the seeds I will need for next season’s garden. One of the most pleasant things for me in the winter is plotting out the garden. I use GIMP, an open-source image manipulation program (free but hard to learn, IMO), to make a grid of my yard and have labeled squares for all the different sized plants. I like doing this at the end of December best, when there is a kind of lull after Yule and you can almost feel the Earth tipping towards the Sun again. I’ve been having such success growing plants in large pots in my yard that I will greatly expand this way of growing next year. I love my yard full of trees and shade, but the soil here, already problematic because it is so full of rocks it does not even qualify as topsoil according to the Cooperative Extension, is absolutely full of tree roots. Even my belladonnas were losing the battle with them, especially compared to the belladonnas I grew in pots. This year I dug them up and will grow belladonna in pots from now on.

As my own personal winter approaches (or I guess I have already entered it at 61), I prepare for a different way of working, one that will allow a lot more leeway for creaky joints and the health issues of getting old. I’m going to be focusing more on providing baneful herbs, especially to shops. This is a good niche for me, I think. I love growing belladonna, henbane, and mandrake anyhow, and growing them to harvest and dry for sale should allow me a small income to supplement Social Security down the line. It also encourages me to get off my butt and get outside in the garden. I’m not going to be closing Alchemy Works any time soon, so don’t be concerned about that. I’ll keep it open for at least several more years. I hope I will be writing a bit more, stuff that is less challenging than the herb book I am trying to finish now–books composed of the recipes I have developed over the years for oils, incense, and other witchy stuff. But I would like a bit more focus on things I grow myself instead of items I must purchase from far away, for one, and for another, these plants give me strength. They build in me the sense of wonder and amazement at the natural world. I think we all need those senses to have a good and happy life.

And the other thing that gives me strength? My art. I haven’t been blogging, but I have been painting, as you can see. These are for the book–henbane flower and henbane pods in moonlight.

3 comments to Hunkering Down for Winter

  • JennM

    Good luck with your Mandrakes! My three parent Turcs are blooming early this season. I’m not sure if it’s the vicious drought we’ve had in CA this year or if it’s because I transplanted them into better pots this summer during dormancy, but they have exploded in foliage and are producing more blooms than I’ve ever seen them put forth. Hoping for lots of seeds by early Spring.

  • Marlon Hartshorn

    I had mostly all my plants potted in sandy soil in Biloxi from 2007-2012 and they did quite well. I now only have 1 rosemary and 1 oregano, both doing nicely with weekly watering and attention. The idea of shoveling snow and all makes me feel crazy, maybe I’m too accustomed to the Gulf Coast weather. It does sound like a cozy arrangement though. I hope you get a lot of painting done and excited for you to finish that book. It’d be great also to read more of your inward thoughts about all things.

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