Frigid February

As the light grows longer

The cold grows stronger

If Candlemas be fair and bright

Winter will have another flight

If Candlemas be cloud and rain

Winter will be gone and not come again

A farmer should on Candlemas day

have half his corn and half his hay

On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop

You can be sure of a good pea crop.

                             An old Scottish poem

I'm going to blame the lateness of this monthly posting to the weather, the snow and a case of Seasonal Affective Disorder. This winter season has been a brutal one for snow, gloom and cold. The snow began at the end of December and has piled up, each storm dropping more and more white stuff, with not a chance of melting in between. The result has been snow drifts unlike any I've seen for a long time. We are just now (mid-Feb) starting to see a break in the weather pattern, and it isn't a moment too soon. Roofs have been caving in here in Massachusetts at an alarming rate. My dog has figured out that she can simply walk over those four foot fences (which are now only 12")  to "get to the other side" and run amok. The chickens have only now started to come out of their shelter, enjoying the warmer days. The Groundhog did not see his shadow this year, and it seems as if his prediction might be true, as things are looking better.

The words of the poem above are supposedly one of the predictions (along with Groundhog Day) that people relied on for forecasting the return of spring. Candlemas (Feb 1 or 2) was the mid-way point between the darkest of winter and the beginning of spring. As suggested by the poem, if you had been a good shepherd, and reserved your provisions, you had a likely chance of surviving until spring, when new growth and hope abound. Other peoples called this day Imbolc, or St. Brigid's Day, which saw the lengthening of days, and early signs of spring. It was a time of weather prognostication, with the hag of Gaelic tradition - Cailleach - gathering firewood on sunny days, keeping the winter longer. Brigid (and later St. Brigid) was the goddess of healing, and associated with the lighting of candles. Candlemas undoubtedly grew out of this ancient practice, when people's hearts and minds were more tuned in to the seasons and the the natural world.

Though spring may be just around the corner (thank you, Mr. Groundhog), you must look carefully to see the emerging signs of spring. The buds of trees and shrubs are swelling slightly, the days are definitely longer. I'm pretty sure I heard a red-winged blackbird this morning - a much surer sign of spring than a robin. Plants in the greenhouse are putting on new growth - the scented geraniums, lemon verbena and more are growing taller and responding to the increasing daylight. The chickens, too, are laying more eggs, in response to the lengthening days. I've started planting seeds of perennials and some annuals, I added a fourth greenhouse late this fall, to better house the emerging seedlings and segregate them from the older plants. Heat mats allow the seeds to germinate quickly, and transplanting will soon begin in earnest.

All the snow has its good points, as well as some bad ones. The heavy snow cover has an insulating effect on the plants below, protecting them from heaving out of the ground with thaws. But it also causes damages to woody plants, snapping off branches. Some critters are able to travel under the snow in tunnels, girdling shrubs and other woody plants, and devouring bulbs. They are protected from predators such as hawks and owls as they traverse the ground searching for food. Pruning the fruit trees this year should be interesting - the snow is so high that we won't need much of a ladder. However, my burn pile is still covered with snow, and it may be quite late before I am able to actually set fire to it.

Whatever way you look at it, spring is coming. The cycle of life begins anew, and the promise of warm, sunny days keeps me going. Celebrate the beginning of another planting year by cutting some forsythia or fruit branches and bringing them inside to bloom. Make plans for your garden, and dream of spring.

Stay warm,

Karen