Marlene loves the cold and the snow. Winter—in spite of her name—doesn’t so much. My friend T* got a great shot of the girls riding the horses across her pasture this morning—I’ll see if she’ll let me use it on here!

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I had no idea the kitchen window was quite this dirty until I looked at this picture!

The snow is shrinking, evidently melting from below. It’s supposed to be 55° this weekend with rain, so I suppose we’ll be rid of it then. It has been pretty, though—all 14+ inches of it!

It’s a dark night, sang the kettle, and the rotten leaves are lying by the way; and above, all is mist and darkness, and below, all is mire and clay; and there’s only one relief in all the sad and murky air, and I don’t know that it is one, for it’s nothing but a glare; of deep and angry crimson, where the sun and wind together; set a brand upon the clouds for being guilty of such weather; and the widest open country is a long dull streak of black; and there’s hoarfrost on the finger-post, and thaw upon the track; and the ice it isn’t water, and the water isn’t free; and you couldn’t say that anything is what it ought to be…

–Charles Dickens from The Cricket on the Hearth

I was up at three this morning to see the lunar eclipse, but we had a dense cloud cover, so I just had to have faith that it was up there. I must admit, my disappointment was balanced with relief that I could get back in my warm bed!

This is turning out to be a pretty funky winter, though nothing like last year. At least this year we’re getting breaks between the spells of bad weather, as opposed to last year’s relentless battering. I was able to plant a few things in the garden a week or so ago, right before this latest round of nastiness hit. I managed to get garlic, potato onions and fava beans in the ground. I’ve also been working on preparing a pea bed for February. A lot of years we get a pretty good thaw in February, and I’m hoping to take advantage of it by having a sheltered sunny bed all ready to go, and presoaking my pea seeds.

Speaking of garden stuff, I’ve been enjoying a most inspiring new book. I read about it on the Chelsea Green website and thought it sounded very interesting, and then Ran Prieur gave it a glowing review and I was sold. I’m working my way through it very slowly—which is unusual for me—and savoring it and the feeling of inspiration I have from reading it. The book is Carol Deppe‘s The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self Reliance in Uncertain Times. She has a ton of information, which she presents in a very readable and engaging way, and although the title sounds very doomer/survivalist, it really doesn’t read that way at all. She addresses climate change, personal hardship and emergencies, and ways to safeguard your garden, so that it is still able to produce. She also focuses on five main crops: winter squash, corn, beans, potatoes and eggs. With these crops you can produce plenty of calories and nutrition, and no matter what your weather conditions any given year, something is probably going to do well.

Anyway, this is the most inspiring book about gardening I’ve read in decades. I’ve been ready for a hit of garden inspiration these last few years, as I’ve become both bored and discouraged with my gardening efforts. Last year’s repeated flooding and washing out of the garden certainly didn’t help, and I must admit it was beginning to seem like a pointless effort. So it’s great to be feeling a sense of optimism and motivation again. My afternoon of planting garlic helped, too: I was astounded at the wonderful fluffy black soil in the beds. You may remember that this spring I had to almost start over from scratch—the soil was heavy and waterlogged and seemingly completely devoid of humus. Digging them was as bad as the first year—maybe worse. But with plenty of well broken down manure, and a thorough digging, and our secret ingredient—diluted raw milk—they seem to have made a recovery.

I moved our little flock of chickens from the chicken tractor into the greenhouse for the next month or so. Last year was so unpleasant trying to care for them in the chicken tractor, and now they’re warm and dry and very contented, though not laying any eggs. That usually picks up with the increasing day length, so hopefully we’ll start seeing a little production here soon. They’re a pretty elderly flock, so if we don’t start getting eggs, I guess we’ll have chicken soup instead. We’re thinking of trying laying ducks after reading  Carol Deppe’s book, so that might be this spring.

All the other critters are doing well. Pearl is giving a gallon to a gallon and a half a day of milk, which we’re delighted with. She’s very healthy, and is keeping a decent amount of weight on. The sheep are fine—they’re so much happier this time of year than in the summer. I suppose they’re all bred except for this spring’s lambs, who are probably ready to be bred, but ED wants to hold back and let them get bigger, which means not until next fall. We can’t tell if Dixie the pig is bred. If nothing happens in the next month or two, it will be time to put her in the freezer. Especially since she’s the ringleader of piggy jaunts around the neighborhood.

So all is well this Midwinter Day. Happy Solstice to you all!

Just reminding myself that winter can be beautiful…