Now that I’ve discovered it, my connection to nature is something that I can’t live without. Spring mornings preparing the soil for new growth, summer afternoons snacking on cucumbers straight from the vine, and early autumn evenings telling stories around a campfire; these are the moments I live for. And, as a heat-loving creature, the shorter, cooler days can leave me feeling like something big is missing.
Fortunately, there are so many ways to stay connected to nature in the colder months. As I find myself revisiting these traditions, many of which I cultivated in my life for the first time just last year (or even this year!), my heart is joyful. I am truly looking forward to the slower, more restful months ahead, and to filling my days with the things that will keep me grounded until spring comes again.
Here are ten of my favorite ways to stay connected to nature in the colder months.
1) Nurture an Autumn Garden
Gardening doesn’t have to stop when the days become shorter and the temperatures fall. There are many crops that will produce right through the winter months in many climates if they are planted at the right time and given the right protection.
By “the right protection,” I don’t even mean a greenhouse. You can learn about simple and relatively inexpensive options like cold frames and low tunnels in one of my favorite gardening books, The Four-Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman.
By sowing seeds in late summer or transplanting seedlings in early autumn, you can nurture and harvest frost tolerant crops throughout the winter. Consider things like kale, mustard greens, leeks, parsnips, and carrots (which actually become sweeter in the cooler months). We grew broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts through snowy weather in North Carolina last year, and while our harvests weren’t the best, I loved every minute of caring for those plants.
To be successful with a four season harvest, you do need to plant things early enough that they can grow and get established before the temperatures really cool off (seriously, read the book, y’all — it’s good stuff!). But, if time got away from you, there are still things you can plant, as long as the soil is workable. We know a farmer who planted garlic seed as late as January in North Carolina, and they had a beautiful harvest the next summer.
2) Overwinter Perennials
Did you know that you can actually transfer your pepper plants from the garden to containers for the winter? I had no idea until this year. It’s called “overwintering” and you can do it because peppers are actually perennials.
3) Cultivate Cover Crops
Growing cover crop in autumn and over winter is one of my very favorite things. Throughout the year, the garden provides so much to my family: play, nourishment, exercise, education, mental health. So it feels good to grow something in the garden with a sole purpose of giving back to the ecosystem and all the creatures who depend on it.
This year, we purchased three different types of cover crop from Sow True Seed: Overwinter Mix (pictured below), Raised Bed Mix, and Winter Rye. Everything growing in our garden this winter will improve soil fertility, prevent soil erosion, and reduce the need for tilling come spring. Plus, it’s just a beautiful habitat. You can learn more about the benefits of cover cropping here.
4) Spotlight Locally-Grown Ingredients
Winston-Salem, NC has a vibrant farming community. There are so many local farms of various sizes and specialties who grow food throughout the year. They are one of the best parts of living here.
Our diet is made up mostly of foods grown by these farmers. As much as we can, we cook using local ingredients. The result is that autumn and winter literally have distinct flavors. And I don’t just mean pumpkin spice and peppermint.
I mean apples, sweet potatoes, kale, chard, carrots, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, dried beans, and homemade bread baked in the oven my husband begged me to stop turning on all summer. It’s stews by a fire or under a warm blanket. It’s warm and delicious and grounding and keeps me connected.
5) Visit Farmers & Their Farms
Whether it’s visiting a pumpkin patch to find the perfect Jack-o-Lantern, an apple orchard to pick fresh fruit, or a pine tree farm to cut down your Christmas tree, there are plenty of opportunities to meet local farmers in autumn.
We had the pleasure of visiting Plum Granny Farm for a potluck last weekend. We participate in their community supported agriculture program and the fun doesn’t stop when the harvests slow down. We got a hayride tour of the farm and the kids got to learn about all the things the farmers are working on this season.
6) Meditate with the Elements
I love to start the day with a quick meditation, especially on mornings where I’m headed into the office. It helps me stay aware of how I’m feeling and what I need to focus on, and it provides an outlet for me to let go of things that I have no business carrying with me throughout the day.
When I started spending less time outside as the weather cooled down, I felt called to create space in my morning meditation routine for the four elements. I gathered natural items from the garden representing earth, water, fire, and air.
Every morning, I spend at least a few minutes reflecting on each of the elements. The practice helps me feel connected to the garden, even when I’m reluctant to spend quiet time outside.
7) Make Leaf Art
Autumn leaves are one of the best parts of the season. The vibrant and varying colors remind us that there is beauty in every season of life. We don’t rake up and dispose of our leaves (we leave them as a habitat for birds and other wildlife), which means we always have plenty to play with.
I was so excited to see blog posts and images shared on social media of people making art with autumn leaves. In fact, I was so excited that I decided to give it a try with my kids. We had so much fun gathering and sorting leaves by color before artfully arranging them in the shape of a cartoon chicken.
The movement and exercise we got running around the yard searching for the perfect leaves kept our bodies warm as we worked in the cool autumn weather. And the memories that we made warmed our hearts long after our backyard flock had destroyed the cartoon leaf version of themselves we created.
8) Read Books & Listen to Podcasts
Autumn and winter are perfect seasons for learning about gardening techniques, exploring new concepts, and getting inspired for future growing seasons.
I love spending full days curled up on the couch with a view of the backyard, listening to audiobooks like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, perusing books like Trowel & Error by Sharon Lovejoy for information on pest problems we couldn’t crack the code on the prior year, and catching up on episodes of The Joe Gardener Show podcast.
9) Draw Garden Scenes
Before I began gardening, I thought I couldn’t draw. Actually, “thought” isn’t a strong enough word. I knew I couldn’t draw.
In my adulthood, I’ve come to realize that we can all be artists. In fact, I think we are all artists, but we each have our own unique mediums. As a child, I compared myself to other kids in art class who had a lot more talent than I did and assumed that I just wasn’t an artist. I didn’t have a knack for it and my creations weren’t as beautiful as other people’s, therefore I shouldn’t create.
I’m glad that I realize now just how wrong I was. Whether or not you pursue something for yourself shouldn’t be contingent on whether or not you’re better at it than other people. Creativity isn’t a competition. Drawing scenes from the garden or musing over my backyard flock’s life in chicken comics is a fun creative outlet for me, so I do it. End of story.
10) Plan Next Year’s Garden
If you’re a planner like I am, this one might be your favorite of the list. There’s nothing better, in my opinion, than having a clean slate upon which to dream and design.
Winter is the time when seed companies release their catalogs for the upcoming year, so it’s the perfect time to start thinking about the space you have available, the things you want to grow, and how you’ll arrange them.
I won’t spend a lot of time on this one, since I did a whole blog post on the topic last year. Check it out.
So, tell me in the comments: how do you stay connected to nature in the colder months?