Imbolc is the time of the light maiden Brighid, a virginal Goddess that appears as the returning light. Quite noticeably the days are getting longer, by a few minutes each day. It is still the midst of winter and yet, if you look carefully, the buds are swelling. Some precocious winter flowering plants defy the odds. Here and there some particularly perky wildflowers are peeking through the snow or old leaf litter: snow drops, winter aconite or dwarf crested irises, perhaps. Deep within the Earth, the life-force is stirring, the seeds are soaking up the waters of the thawing snow and begin to germinate. The wheel of the year is turning. Slowly the sap begins to rise once more.
Imbolc, or Candlemass in Christian terminology, is the festival of growing light, of cleansing and purification. It augurs the time of Lent, traditionally a time of abstinence and fasting to purify body and soul.
In the olden days, people would fast or restrict their diets in order to cleanse the body of all the residues of heavy winter foods. To practice a little self-care in this way is to prepare body and mind for the new season.
It is a also a time for scrying and divination, for visualising in your minds eye the possibilities that lay ahead. Take a little time out to prepare yourself for the challenges and opportunities yet to unfold. Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses, on good and bad habits, and on making a commitment to your soul journey. What kind of nourishment do you need to feel fulfilled? What kind of meaning are you giving your life (or want to give your life)? Are you walking your talk?
Imbolc is a good time to charge the seeds that you want to flourish with intention and to foster your inner flame. Take care of that light through the dark of the night. Soon the sun will soon rise again.
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seeds and Gardening Jobs in March
March is the busy season in the garden. As soon as the sun comes out, and it is warm (and dry) enough to be outside, every gardener itches to get their hands into the dirt again. But where to start?
Preparing the vegetable beds
Once the ground is no longer frozen, nor too wet, you can start preparing the beds.
Remove the weeds early on (especially perennial or biennial ones), which will make it less troublesome to keep on top of the weeding later on in the season.
If you haven’t done it yet, continue deadheading and clearing the garden, but beware that butterflies often overwinter on the old stalks of nettles and such (nettles support some 40 species of insects and butterflies!) Fresh, young nettles also make a wonderful early wild vegetable, so unless they are really in your way or growing in the vegetable beds, maybe consider leaving them standing. You might find them quite useful!
Dig in plenty of good homegrown compost into the vegetable plots and prepare the soil to get a fine crumb. This will make it easy for your seedlings to break through the crust.
What to sow in March
What you can sow in March will largely depend on your growing zone. In milder climes, it is possible to sow hardier, early veggies out in the open in March. More frost-sensitive plants do best when grown under cover, or in the cold frame. In colder your growing zone the more important it is to start your seeds indoors early, on the window sill. That way, they will get a bit of a boost. They will have developed into little plants that are more resilient than seedlings by the time you will plant them out. And their growing season is that much longer. For warmth-loving plants like tomatoes and zucchinis, early indoor cultivation is a must. Sow them about 4-6 weeks before the last expected frost.
Onion sets can be planted out in March. Other hardy veggies that can be sown directly into the well-prepared beds from mid-March include beetroots, Swiss chard and lettuce, (also Asian lettuce) and peas as well as rocket, radishes, and nasturtiums. By the end of March/beginning of April, the soil should be warm enough to plant out Jerusalem artichokes.
Indoors or under cover
You can sow tomatoes, peppers and fennel, broccoli, kohlrabi, cabbage (early varieties), Savoy cabbage, Malabar spinach (late March), New Zealand spinach, carrots, autumn leeks, and celery either in the cold frame or indoors. Tomatoes, fennel and pepper are always best started indoors in an environment of about 20°C.
Make sure to open up the cold frame on sunny days so it does not get too hot under the glass. The plants need air and the untimely heat would promote early bolting (or withering).
Whatever you do, make sure your seedlings don’t dry out once you have sown them. Water is their life-blood. They cannot grow without it.
Bulbs and Perennials
March is the perfect time to plant summer flowering bulbs such as irises or dahlias, as well as summer and autumn flowering perennials.
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Winter is a tough time for foragers stuck in a northern climate zone. Leaves have fallen and are buried underneath the snow (or, in the mud, at any rate). Berries, if there are any left on the bushes, tend to look wrinkled, blemished, and listless. Nuts have long been gathered and stored for later use. Those that have been left on the ground are now riddled with worms. So, what is a poor northern hemisphere forager to do?
Well, she might make a beeline for the pantry, where hopefully, she will find jars filled with delicious preserves. Jams, pickles, and chutneys will bring back happy memories of happy foraging days spent roaming through the countryside. Picking the gifts of the Earth for drearier times to come – like these drab old winter days.
Each mouthful of these treasures will lead you down a dreamy trail, not just reminiscing about the summer past, but also of the one to come. Winter Solstice has passed. Although it does not seem like it, spring is nearer than we thought. Three months down the road we’ll be off again, picking the first salad herbs and enjoying the first gifts of spring.
Those who do not live in the permafrost zone may be lucky enough to find a few green things hardy enough to withstand the winter. Cresses, for example, have no problem surviving a mild winter.
Take Wintercress, Barbarea vulgaris – a typical cress, easily recognizable by its typical rocket-type leaves and flowers. This tough little plant can be collected throughout the winter. It can even stay green beneath the snow.
Wintercress is rich in vitamin C and A and was valued as an ‘anti-scurvy’ plant until vitamin C became readily available throughout the year, even in northern climate zones. If you have trouble spotting its large-leaved, deeply lobed rosette during the winter months, you will probably notice it as one of the first herbs that pop up in the earliest spring days.
The leaves are best while they are young and tender, before the plant starts to flower. Young leaves can be added to salads much like rocket (arugula), which has a similarly tangy flavor. As they age the leaves turn tougher, rougher, and rather bitter. If need be, they can be used as a potherb, although it would not be the most palatable one. Boiling the herb in several changes of water may reduce the bitterness, but it would also destroy its texture and diminish its nutrient value. Better just to use it sparingly and in combination with other, less flavourful herbs.
The cress family includes quite a number of herbs that are of interest to the forager. They all start to sprout early in the season. Here is a good page to help with watercress identification: Barbarea vulgaris ID
Blend the egg and the mayonnaise to make a paste, add the onion, wintercress, salt, and pepper. If you don’t like mayonnaise try crème fraiche, instead.
Wash and chop the wintercress. Sauté with the minced onion and spices with just a little butter. Add a small amount of bullion if need be.
Chop up the wintercress, slice tomatoes, mince the onion and garlic and cut the mozzarella into cubes. Mix well and serve with a simple vinaigrette.
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