February – rest & recharge

Every winter, we brush off the artificial pine needles and emerge from the holiday season with renewed interest in spring. We begin tidying the closets, sowing seeds under fluorescent lights, and counting the days until the first spring bulbs emerge from the ground…only to be caught off guard by late cold snaps that remind us that we are still in winter’s grip. This year is no different, though we usually do not face temperatures quite so cold.

For over a week now, we have been stuck under a polar vortex that has shrouded us in days upon days of frigid snowfall and bitter cold, plunging below zero for several days in a row and setting new record lows in the negative teens. Consequently, February finds me huddled under an average of three blankets and one-and-a-half cats while anxiously refreshing the weather app on my phone for updates. Our average low is usually only in the 20s in February, but the last couple of days have boasted wind chills in the negative 20s. While we have tried to support our chickens in the winter with additional insulation, plenty of straw, and warming treats thus far, this is just far too cold for our peace of mind (and for our single-combed girl, Dolly, who began to show slight signs of frostbite Saturday morning). They are enjoying a 36-degree tropical vacation in our garage, thanks to some old cardboard, a bale of straw, and a large roll of cattle panel.

In just a couple of weeks, our nine Wyandottes will turn one year old, and what a year we’ve had so far! We didn’t know they would be our pandemic project when we picked up a box of a dozen chicks last winter, but they’ve been a delight to raise. We did not expect them to go through an adult molt until 16-18 months (next fall), but they surprised us with a molt in November & December that knocked out their egg laying for four weeks. Their production dropped significantly from November, but I’m relieved to say I finally collected TWO – count ’em, TWO – eggs today. Naturally, they would start laying the coldest week of the year (or of the past three decades, at this rate).

Every season thus far with the chickens has made me increasingly aware of the variances in temperature, the exact time and position of the sun rising and setting, the amount of moisture in the air, and even how the seasons feel. It’s an odd sensation to describe, and one I thought I only read about in books – how spring feels full of energy and excitement; summer, heavy and still. Winter is a unique sensation – the sun is far below our horizon, and its impact on our energy levels (if we slow down enough to pay attention to ourselves) is astounding. The key here, of course, is to allow time and presence to pay attention to the shifts, which is easier said than done in our world which thrives on efficiency and accomplishment.

This winter, I am trying to lean in to the heavy-lidded sensation and settle in, to slow down and use this time to rest. For me, resting is about staying grounded and staying centered, usually accomplished by staying at home and staying in the familiar lanes of routines and daily habits. I know I am motivated by to do lists and fulfilled by finishing projects, so I have shifted my focus to different types of projects that are repeatable or simple in energy. Some of my favorites are reading, cross stitch patterns, new baking recipes, or video games. These keep me active, but do not drain my energy (and can often be done from the comfort of the couch and beneath my rotating tour of felines).

As we approach warmer temperatures on the horizon and the warmer promise of March, the chickens, cats, and humans here at home are all craving some much-needed sunshine and the corresponding energy from being amongst growing things again. Hopefully, there will still be enough time to try out a new baking recipe or two before the spring gardening launches into full swing.

Plant Nursery

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It’s officially been two months since we’ve moved into our new suburban homestead! The majority of our “must-handle-immediately-because-the-dryer-won’t-work” projects are over, and now it’s time to look to our potted plants and seedlings, because fall is officially here. We planted a couple of cover crop beds (I’ll share more later this week, after some better photos) and our lovely patio is bursting with happy plants – however, our forecast calls for rain and cold tomorrow, with a low pushing 40. Some of our plants can withstand and even want to overwinter outside, but so many of our lovelies just can’t handle temperamental Kansas weather.

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When we first looked at the house, we couldn’t imagine what we would do with a formal sitting room. Our rental had squeezed in a small living room between a bedroom hallway and the garage with an afterthought of a kitchen tucked in a corner, so suddenly having a formal dining room, formal living room, a large family room, and a full kitchen to spread out amongst was daunting! Naturally, we filled it all quickly, but the formal sitting room was rather pointless. It held my grandmother’s antique spinet piano and some assorted bookcases with an old loveseat hastily covered with a cheap sofa cover, but it was not the inviting, useful front room we were looking for.

Suddenly, having a patio full of plants that needed a home and a front room that needed a purpose meant that we have a new plant nursery. It won’t be a greenhouse by any means, but in combination with a bright, north-facing bay window and some plant lights, we have a way to home our plants for the winter and maybe even start our seedling operation come Christmas.

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Evan purchased a couple of grow lights to get us started – these bulbs fit typical light fixtures, provided they have some extra vertical space to come out of the fixture (they are much taller than typical bulbs). They provide the full spectrum of light that plants are accustomed to outdoors to help supplement the low to typical light the window would bring in and provide a brighter light for plants like my gardenia or our Pixie grape plant, which will come inside soon.

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Now, to address the white carpets, I decided to get sneaky with my carpet protection. I don’t know how long the carpet will actually stay white (thank you, cats), but for now, I’ve tucked a shower curtain beneath the rug so that we’ve got one extra layer of protection if our plant trays leak onto the floor. Every plant gets a plant tray, and I’m always careful to water so very little actually ends up in the tray – wet roots lead to decay and mildew growth.

I spent nearly five years working in a floral shop in high school and college, and one of my favorite watering tricks was actually to water over the sink and only water once a week. Watering infrequently but heavily helps create stronger roots that search more actively for nutrients, which is great for encouraging those vegetables in the garden to reach down further to gain nutrient access. With our houseplants, I like to remove the plant from the basket & tray (plant stays in the main pot, just not the decorative one(s)) and hold it under the faucet until the water is running out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. At that point, I keep running the water for about 5-10 seconds longer and then let it sit in the sink with the drainage holes over the drain. If it’s still pretty light in weight after the first watering, I’ll usually water the same way again, but otherwise it should be good to go for 4-7 days, depending on the warmth, size of roots/amount of roots, sunlight, and humidity the plants are exposed to on a daily basis.

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Not many plants on this side of the room yet – this’ll change quickly come November!

For now, we have just a couple of houseplants in our new plant nursery, but they’ll be more very soon with cool weather on the way! I’m also excited for our plant room come winter because our white wicker bookshelf and the large cafe table will provide wonderful places to set up seedling operations come Christmas and New Years. We visited different farms on a farm tour this weekend, and one of the farmers we visited recommended that we do fewer vegetables as direct seed and more as seed starters indoors, so I imagine we’ll use this space quickly if we’re to try more onions and such for the spring. In the meantime, while it becomes darker and gloomier outside, we’ll brighten up our house with lots of green on the inside!