The dormant season

January wanes, yet we are only a third of the way through winter. The coldest and snowiest periods of the season still lie ahead. The ten-hours-of-daylight milestone that farmers Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch have found to be the minimum length needed for plants to shake off dormancy and begin to grow won’t be reached until February 5th.

A perfect time to think about gardening! I’m bringing the Garden Plot back early this year for several reasons. The day-to-day chores of market gardening drop off dramatically once the snow is on the ground and I have time now to write a few paragraphs that can be posted later. Starting earlier will also give me a chance to bring up topics at a time when changes in the garden involve an eraser, not a shovel.  And I’m betting that there may be some other slightly cracked folks like me out there who enjoy discussing gardening any week of the year.

Narcissus root developmentSo, what is going on in the garden at this time of year? Not much, really, but until the temperatures dropped below the mid-30s F (or 3 degrees C) spring flowering bulbs were busily sending out roots, preparing for top-growth when the soil warms up. In fact, the cool weather of late fall is the most productive period of root growth for daffodils, tulips and other flowers that bloom early, before their leaves have had much time to pump energizing nutrients throughout the plant.

Garlic is another bulb that benefits from fall planting. A forest of roots spreads out beneath each individual clove, providing the resources for a full bulb to form during the next season. You can watch the roots proliferate over a week in this time lapse video.

In his book The Uses of Enchantment (1976), psychologist Bruno Bettleheim theorized that long periods of inaction in fairy tales (think ‘Sleeping Beauty’) were metaphors for internal growth:

In major life changes such as adolescence, for successful growth opportunities both active and quiescent periods are needed. The turning inward, which in outer appearance looks like passivity (or sleeping one’s life away) happens when mental processes of such importance go on within the person that he has no energy for outwardly directed action.

This idea has always comforted me during stretches when I have had little to show for my efforts, and seems to reflect how the garden marshals its reserves in the cold months, ready to burst into new growth when the time is right.

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