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Garden Update: Winter’s Hidden Work

It may seem like not much is happening in a garden in winter. To an untrained eye, the garden may in fact seem a mess this time of year. You will see one bed bounding with kale, a couple of sprouts here and there, and dead leaves.

What you can’t see are the worms that have started making their home under our leaves, the gardener snakes that are hibernating under our logs and the leaves slowly releasing nutrients into the soil as they decay.

Due to the cold, winter tends to be more of a time for preparation than anything else. If we tried to plant spring seeds too soon, a freeze could ruin the defenseless sprouts. We are also preparing pots for sprouting. This way we can sprout tomatoes and basil a week or two earlier than when we could plant them in the ground. By the time it warms up we will already have toddler plants ready to be planted in the ground.

We are also preparing fertilizer “teas” that are needed when our plants first sprout and when they first flower. We make our fertilizer teas with a combination of worm castings and banana peels.

Another reason we are hesitant to plant anything in the ground that the upcoming construction on the garden may begin sooner than expected. It would be very sad to watch our cherry tomatoes flower and then never be able to harvest the sweet, juicy fruit. God willing, the improvements to the garden will be done quickly and we will be able to finish the year with a beautiful harvest.

Something that surprised me this semester was our students’ perseverance in the cold, and their creativity with the tools they are given. If it is over 40 degrees, you will find us in the garden. This is considered too cold by most Houstonians.

Despite this struggle, our little gardeners have complained very little and easily find joy in nature during their winter work. Last week, I had them spreading out leaves around the garden, which quickly turned into a leaf party/”snow” ball fight. On Thursday, the upper elementary students salvaged some fallen branches and wood to make fences and boundaries to each of their own plots.

The following poem by Robert-Louis Stevenson reminded me of being in the garden the past  few weeks, morning frost often covering our field.

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.

Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.

Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.

Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding-cake.

-Robert-Louis Stevenson, Winter Time*


Photos by Elizabeth Lewis
*Stevenson, R. L. (n.d.). A Child’s Garden of Verses. New York City: Avenel Books.

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