Hunkering down until springtime

By Reeser Manley,
Posted Dec. 31, 2010, at 7:23 p.m.

What a great snow! The garden is now covered with a foot-deep insulating blanket that will protect plant roots from killing temperatures, at least until the next thaw, and birds, including goldfinches, nuthatches, chickadees, a male cardinal and an American tree sparrow, are in a feeding frenzy at the porch feeder.

The Christmas tree is now in the garden, propped up by the root system of a fallen spruce, close to the spot where I cleared away the snow and scattered cracked corn for the blue jays, mourning doves, crows and wild turkeys. It was a good tree, a fir that Lynne chose from a lot in Brewer on the day after Thanksgiving. It spent over a month inside our home, presents wrapped in colorful paper accumulating under its branches. On weekends and during the holiday break, Marjorie and I sipped pre-dawn coffee by the wood stove and the light of this tree, listening to carols playing softly in the background.

Taking down the tree always saddens me. We remove the ornaments collected together over the years, carefully wrapping each one in paper before packing them all away in boxes, then unwind the strings of lights, fir needles dropping at our feet as we circle the tree. Suddenly there is only the small tree, its trunk propped up in water that it no longer uses, and it drops a trail of needles as I lift it from its stand and carry it outside. For the rest of the day, there is the faint smell of balsam in a corner of the room.

If I lived in the city, I would never throw out my Christmas tree, leave it at the curb with cardboard and wrapping paper. I would cart it into the closest woods where birds could seek shelter among its branches, at least for one winter.

This is the message of Brad Kessler’s tale, “The Woodcutters Christmas.” A small book perfect for a winter evening read, it tells the story of a night in New York City when abandoned Christmas trees cried out and a woodcutter’s life was changed forever. Read it before you take down your tree.

Despite the cold and the whiteness of the landscape, there are still tangible connections to the garden. Buckets of compost and wood ashes need to be emptied and this means shoveling a long path through new snow to garden beds where the ashes are spread and then on to compost piles at the back of the garden. The piles are brick hard and all I can do to cover fresh compost is throw on straw, cover it with snow.

To escape the cold, there are the seed catalogs that come regularly in the mail these days, including a recent mailing from Comstock Seeds of Wethersfield, Conn., once known as Comstock, Ferre & Co LLC. I opened this new catalog to familiar faces, a photograph of Jere Gettle and family, owners of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds of Mansfield, Mo.

The Gettles have purchased Comstock Seeds and moved to Connecticut, expanding their passion for selling heirloom vegetable varieties, all non-GMO, nonpatented and nonhybrid. Their new company will focus on varieties that excel in New England gardens, including, according to the catalog, “hardy types that have stood the test of time and taste like vegetables should taste, as these old favorites were bred for flavor!”

All of the vegetable varieties sold by Comstock have been around for at least 50 years, many of them first listed in seed company catalogs of the early 1900s. I opened to the tomato section and found names such as Bonny Best, Early Red Chief, German Johnson, Golden Queen, Oxheart, Red Currant, Red Pear, Yellow Pear, and White Wax. Perusing this catalog is like taking a trip back to a time when vegetable seeds were passed down and passed around, when gardeners saved seeds from one year to the next, when taste was the all-important determinant. Companies like Comstock (www.ComstockFerre.com website will be available in about two weeks) and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.rareseeds.com) are promoting and preserving our agricultural and culinary heritage. They deserve our support.

So now it begins, the long wait for the start of the 2011 garden year. Hunker down, place your seed orders, read a good book or two, take care of the garden’s birds. April will be here before you know it!

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/12/31/living/hunkering-down-until-springtime/ printed on April 24, 2014