Shadows can be most dramatic in contrast with snow. It is one of my favorite subjects to paint. The copper colored leaves still cling to young Beech and Oak trees all winter long. This phenomenon is called marcescence. There are a few ideas why trees may hold on to their leaves through the winter.
One idea is that Beech and Oak were once evergreen trees and are still evolving into deciduous species. Other ideas suggest that the leaves are used as insulation and nutrients as they drop around the trees closer to spring time. To the observer and artist, it certainly provides interesting subject matter for winter scenes!
From my experience this past year, Rainbow Swiss Chard seems to be quite a versatile plant. It can take summer heat, as well as winter temps in zone 6a. I can’t think of many plants that can grow inside an unheated greenhouse in both summer and winter. In summer, temps in the greenhouse can reach well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In winter, I kept the plants inside a cold frame inside the greenhouse (2 layers of protection), so lets assume temps as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit at times.
Pictured here are Rainbow Swiss Chard plants harvested from the greenhouse on January 20th, 2021. The only issue is we just don’t eat as much Swiss Chard as lettuces and other salad greens. In that case, I probably won’t grow as much Swiss Chard going forward and I’ll look for other vegetable plants that can withstand similar temperature extremes, which we do eat often. Any suggestions?
I decided to harvest entire plants, instead of the cut-and-come-again method, which works well with Swiss Chard, because the plants were being heavily invaded by aphids. Perhaps I’ll try the Neem oil to see if it is effective on the aphids on the few Chard plants that I did not harvest. Either way, it is time for a fresh start. I’ll probably sow Broadleaf Endive seeds (member of the Chicory family) in this cold frame shortly and they should come up beautifully by March.
I feel like lumber is way overpriced and I hear there are shortages too. I’m not against big box stores, but I’ll avoid them if I can. Either way, I just didn’t feel like driving to Lowe’s or Home Depot. The woods behind our house seem to be nearing the end of the “Stem Exclusion” stage of forest succession. In this stage, resources, such as sunlight, become limited for certain tree species like Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), which were some of the first tree species to appear in the early stages of forest succession.
Most of the Red Cedar in these woods are now dead because they were shaded out by larger tree species like Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra) and Black Cherry (Prunus serotina). Some of the Cedar-skeletons are still standing; others have been blown over by wind. I have mixed feelings about harvesting the cedar trunks from these woods. On one hand they make a nice natural looking raised bed that will help feed our family. On the other hand, I am removing material from these woods that is essential to the detritus food web, even if just several pieces.
During winter in New York State, I start dreaming of fresh greenery as early as December. Going up to the greenhouse in winter feels like an escape to a tiny island of verdure. A mini vacation to someplace different. But not all plants can survive winter in Zone 6a in an unheated greenhouse. However, varieties of kale, such as “Winterbor”, Swiss Chard (“Rainbow”), Tatsoi, and many other “cold hardy” greens can easily overwinter in an unheated greenhouse, or even outside if the winter is mild.
The harvest shown in the photo was originally planted in August and September. The plants don’t grow much during the “dark months” (Nov, Dec, Jan), but come February and March; they can really take off and start to grow rapidly, thanks to greater amount of sun available at that time. It will be fun to experiment with sowing new seeds in February, in the greenhouse, and leaving some of last year’s plants.
Last watercolor painting of 2020. Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) is one of the first spring ephemeral wildflowers to emerge in eastern North America. The common name, “Trout Lily”, is derived from the mottled leaves, which kind of resemble the patterns on a trout. I often find Trout Lily on mesic (wet) sites.
In this painting, I try to show the viewer a mystic foggy scene with plenty of movement from the flowers as they fade into the background. Winter has barely started, but I already have spring ephemerals on the mind.