December’s Dull Drums

December is upon us

Other months might spring up or creep up on you or unveil themselves.

December descends. Sometimes with a splat, sometimes with a thump. Sometimes with a whammy.

This time I’d call it a thump.

Leafless upright winterberry branch with bright red berries in foreground, with horizontal rails of fence just behind, some field and unfocused farm buildings in background, and a low rising moon just above some wooded hills, darkening blue sky above

Winterberries, winter-ready with winter moon

Face it: December in the northern hemisphere (yes, Virginia, there is a southern one, where the birds are now twittering and making nests and things are getting ready to grow grow grow) is about tailor-made to give you the doldrums. Starting with cutting back on your daylight.

I’m allowed to talk about daylight because gardeners need it, right? We aren’t getting much of what we need right now, and we’re headed for less for the next 14 days. How much less, I can’t tell you if I don’t know where you live, but you can look it up for yourself with your zipcode and this handy URL:

You’ll get the skinny on today, and if you scroll on down, you can get tables arranged by month, showing times of sunrise and sunset, length of daylight, and a bunch of other things you’d have to be an astro-geek to get into. I’m a bit of a geek, but it doesn’t extend to interest in plumbing the distinctions among twilights astronomical, nautical, and civil.

Sunrise and sunset are daunting enough. Where I sit, the sun checked in this morning at 7:05 a.m. and it will check out at 4:17 p.m. That gives me 9 hours, 11 minutes and a few seconds in change to enjoy daylight.

Do I enjoy those precious, vitamin D-drenched hours? Yes. Do I go out in them? It is 32°F outside. What do you think?

The sun also rises… later

Besides, I’m in here writing a blog post. I am geeky enough to inform you that I was enlightened and sobered by studying the sunrise/sunset tables for December and January. As you probably already know, daylight will continue to get skimpier until Dec. 21, by which time I will have 6 minutes and 18 seconds less of daylight to enjoy. Then, as you certainly already know, the days will get longer.

Before you jump up and down clapping, let me hasten to point to the snail’s pace at which they will lengthen: 3 seconds, 7 seconds, 12 seconds, 16 seconds, 20 seconds. You have to wait until Dec. 27 for even one cumulative minute to get added to your day, if you’re up in my latitude. And the weird thing is that the sun keeps coming up later in the mornings until January 7.

No doubt this is the reason why people invented big December holidays. If you’re going to be stuck in the dark while you’re wide awake, you may as well have latkes and/or eggnog to keep you company. And presents to wrap and/or open. Possibly the folks in the southwestern US and Mexico (and probably plenty of others) who keep up the holiday celebrations through January 6 caught on to the sunrise issue ahead of me.

Closeup of a pile of beautifully browned potato latkes on a white plate

Latkes: December’s first consolation
“Latke Time [345/366]” by timsackton is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

And by the way: Happy Chanukah, as of sundown on Dec. 10!

Snow happens

Snowy scene with a couple of small evergreens and some bare bushes in foreground with rail fence just behind them, and in background a snow-covered landscape with a more distant fence across it, and a line of woods in background obscured by falling snow, gray sky above

December, gardening’s end

But back to December’s thump. We got snow. Not a lot of it, and most of it melted by day two. But enough snow that it panicked me into the final clearing of junk in the garage so I could pull the car all the way in.

red SUV parked in a garage, in tight quarters; tools shown hanging on left and boxes and cabinets on right

Tight fit!

I’d say I showed maximum efficiency, but that would be a lie. Efficiency would mean everything went into neat arrays with careful forethought about what I might need to get at, in what order.

This operation, however, consisted merely of a frenzied stacking of lighter things on top of heavier things with some care to make sure they wouldn’t immediately topple off. (Not with invariable success.)

While doing that clearing, I also performed some Plant Triage. As in, uh-oh, I never got that one, this one, this bunch, into the ground and it’s too late now so…. A couple of plastic pots went outside again, their residents consigned to take their chances with the elements.

Why do I emphasize plastic? Try putting plants outside in earthenware pots all winter long and you’ll know the reason why. Hint: You’ll have lots of shards handy for putting in the bottom of next year’s pots to help drainage.

Some bulbs will come indoors and I’ll try forcing them. I’ll keep you posted on that ploy.

Are we there yet?

Panic and bulbs aside, I did feel a slight sense of relief that the snow signaled I was off the hook with gardening for the year. Sure, we had snow earlier this fall. In fact, we got some in late October, and we had a few hard hard frosts in September. But snow covering your car with about 2 inches of cold wet stuff (hence the panic) in early December has a kind of finality to it. As in, we’re out of portents and harbingers and into the real thing.

I’d done some of the late chores. I got the garlic planted in one of the raised beds just after Thanksgiving, and popped one section of the obstreperous sage plant and the more genteel marjoram into the other end of the bed. I laid salt-marsh hay atop the garlic and on top of the mud surrounding the bed. Done, I thought.

A raised bed filled with soil, shown lengthwise with a couple of stumps of transplanted herbs in the near end, and an area covered with straw at the other end, the entire bed surrounded by more straw

Garlic and herbs, believe it or not

Photo shows cover of book by Charlie Nardozzi, <em>Month-by-Month Gardening: New England</em>

10 pages of December to-do!

But now I have made the mistake of checking the December part of Charlie Nardozzi’s Month-by-Month Gardening: New England, one of the books I mentioned in my last post. I’m not off the hook, it seems. Nope, Charlie N is chock full of ideas to keep me busy this month: planning, planting, watering, fertilizing, yadda yadda yadda.

Fortunately, a lot of that is for indoors—but not all of it. Even peeking at the book’s December section reminds me that I could and therefore should still deal with some small things outside: weeds to pull while they’re weak, mulch to spread out from its dumped piles, protective stuff to spray on the boxwood and pieris evergreen leaves to prevent outdoor freezer burn. Hoses to bring into the garage (yikes! rearrangement of garage again!). Deck chairs, ditto (yikes, ditto).

Will I regret it if I don’t do all of those? Probably. But regret would wait till March or April. Will I actually do them? I promise to report back. (Don’t be surprised if the answer is no.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch house…

My fancy has turned indoors. Not to say that it has been unmitigated bliss in here. I have already killed the cyclamen. Pffft, it went, only a couple of weeks after I brought it home. It didn’t even stick around long enough to get its picture taken.

I brought in one woebegone basil plant and my perennial rosemary (the latter in its permanent pot). They, at least, seem thus far to be faring better than they were outside. That probably has less to do with my green thumb and more to do with the fact that it doesn’t snow inside.

But (sound of fanfare) I got my fancy schmancy Flamenco Queen amaryllis bulb planted. In the nick of time: it’s already sending up big fat shoots. Then there are the narcissus and grape hyacinth bulbs to try to make a go of indoors.

tall thin brown glazed pot atop a white plate, with top part of large amaryllis bulb showing, two green shoots already coming up; part of a potted rosemary plant in earthenware pot in background

Amaryllis: high hopes!

In fact, I have come to the realization that I need a big space for plants next to the sliding doors, just about the only spot in the house that gets reasonable amounts of light during the winter months. A shelf unit for plants! The month-by-month book suggests microgreens. And I could plant more herbs. Maybe even mount a gro-lite or two.

Making a tiny little paradise inside while winter rampages outside—who could fault such a notion?

And yet at the same time, even while my to-do list sprouts items like holiday cards and gift-dispatching, I cannot help but notice what else is going on outside. I grieve for the country as Covid-19 cases and deaths rise alarmingly, with even worse predicted before some sanity is restored in the nation’s government. California has gone into shutdown again. Others may have to follow suit. It’s going to be a long, hard winter for millions in this country and beyond.

In the midst of so much hardship and sorrow, planting stuff seems puny indeed. But I tell myself that green growth serves also to sustain hope. It’s a reminder that, when given the right elements, rebirth and renewal will come. I do wish there were a way to plant seeds of truth that could flourish into full growth by spring.

Now your turn:

Please post comments liberally below:

  1. When do you think is a good time to retire our Biden-Harris yard signs?
  2. Have you had much luck with indoor growing of herbs, or forced bulbs, or something else? Tell your tale! Share your secrets!
  3. Tell the truth: what have you been happy to have winter preempt you from doing in your outdoor garden?
  4. Feel free to share your latke recipes. Or eggnog. Or both.

If you’re commenting for the first time with a particular email address, your comment has to wait for my clearance (spam-thwarting at work there). If you’ve already had an approved comment using that address, your next one should go up automatically. If you’re concerned about privacy: you don’t need to include your surname, and I am the only one who sees your email address.

By the way, I heard back from many of you, dear readers, by both email and comments after the previous blog post, and the hori hori seems to have generated more enthusiasm than any other single thing I’ve blogged about yet. Was it my eloquence or that wicked shiny blade?


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9 Responses to December’s Dull Drums

  1. Pingback: Your holiday grab-bag - Inconstant GardenerInconstant Gardener

  2. Susan says:

    I am fine with the December thump as long as it’s not the December TRUMP!!!

  3. Emily Lackey says:

    Getting the latke recipe from my mother-in-law today! I’ll share when it’s my greedy (soon to be greasy!) little hands.

    • Kateri says:

      Oh, great, Emily! I’d love to see the recipe, and it would be great to hear about results, too. Yum yum yum!

  4. Hillary says:

    I never get a break with the garden living in the ever temperate South of the U.S.

    • Kateri says:

      I suspect that there are compensations, Hillary–but I do sympathize that there isn’t a single month that lets you off the hook!

  5. Dori Ostermiller says:

    Can we have the recipe for the Latkes? 🙂

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