I do love living in one of the temperate stripes of the planet that experiences true seasonality. Four seasons are the given. Living here on a farm, however, I count six! Let us start with spring. Spring, summer, autumn, mud, winter, then mud.
We are in the second mud season of 2013. My rubric is a simple one for determining it: is the ground slippery, do your heels sink in, and are those hoses frozen? Mud season. 2012’s second mud season began in November! This mud season switches to winter when it finally gets cold enough to hang the windows on the chicken coop. (No frozen combs on the biddies please.) It was mid-January when that happened, a final dip in cold accompanied by our usual snow…a never-ending, sometimes-melting, never-warm-enough-to fully-thaw snow which ended (at least I think) this week.
(This year might have the herald of a seventh season. We tapped our maple trees for the first time on 10 January, for a quart of nice and dark syrup. An aside.)
Many naturalists divide the seasons up further, looking for signs of things starting or ending (phenological signs) like the return of the whooping cranes and red-winged blackbirds (my own signs of spring) or the juncos (winter). Gardeners can be even more discriminating: I live for a first shoot of asparagus, a first ripe tomato, or even the first godawful squash bug. Gardens have about 25 seasons by my estimation.
But yes, we had an actual winter. Albeit it was a wee one, lasting maybe 8 weeks, still, it was long enough to keep me out of the gardens proper and fishing for sustenance in the greenhouses and root cellar only. I have been able to hobble along with the basics for, what, the 5th winter in a row now, not needing to shop for vegetable staples like carrots, celery, broccoli or Asian cabbage; these things, though quite ugly and slug-slime-trailed, were still unequivocally edible in the greenhouses.
The skies were sunny and and it was warm a week ago Sunday, the last scrim of snow sluishing away, and you could find me in my boots with a hoe and a shovel, making dams and channels and trenches to speed the meltwater’s flow hopefully THROUGH said outdoor garden. (Read about my perimeter garden trenching adventures here. Yearly I now “only” need to get the garden’s water out and gone.) Let us just say that clay soil needs help from its gardener, and no raised bed is too high, no path-borne swale too dippy, tripping hazards aside, in my quest for a puddle-free growing area.
There were four chicken backs (am I alone in having bags of these things in her freezer? My husband always seems to draw the short straw when he goes down to fetch a chicken meal to thaw and almost always grabs a bag of these stock-making backs) bubbling on the stove inside, so I spied the ragged greens of carrots, leeks and turnips poking through the snow, and figured they’d be great to add to the finished stock for soup.
I am always shocked by the starch-to-sugar conversion process a vegetable undergoes after a trip through a deep freeze. I mean, really. The same seeds were used for both the indoor greenhouse carrots and the outdoor frozen, snow-covered carrots (and turnips and leeks) and my goodness those outdoor examples are like eating CANDY. Seriously. I had to up the acid content of the soup by setting out a shaker bottle of our verjus (green grape vinegar) to bring it back to dinner and not dessert palatability.
It happened again tonight when I found a couple ugly muddy garden kohlrabi: my secret stir-fry what-is-THIS-morsel sucking up the sauce but imparting some shocking sweetness of its very own.
So though I cannot really abide Mud Season, it does hand us a few edible benefits.