For much of my adult life getting ready for winter has occupied more of my time than preparing for other seasons. The extensive effort to take winter seriously made sense in a world that was a winter paradise. In the snowy hills of central New Brunswick, getting ready for winter on any farm was a race against snow. It was not unusual for the snow to come in November and not leave completely until the first week of May. That tool that you dropped on the ground or that implement you forgot where you parked could easily spend the winter lost under three or more feet of snow.
However, along North Carolina's Crystal Coast winter snows are not much of a threat. If they come, they leave quickly. It would be more likely here to have a tool swallowed by the marsh than covered by snow. Still there are some similarities to getting ready for winter even if the reasons are completely different.
When we lived along the Nova Scotia coast in the early seventies, we first learned that locals prepared for winter by "stuking" their house. I have never seen or heard the word outside of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick but it was not a figment of my imagination. Most older homes were on a rock foundation and often covered in cedar shingles. The first step in stuking your house was to staple heavy duty plastic so that it covered the space between the sills of your home and the foundation. Normally you ended up with a foot or two of plastic on your house and another foot or so of the plastic on the ground. The plastic was also secured with strips of lath tacked into the shingles Then spruce boughs were placed on top of the plastic that was on the ground. The theory was that the plastic would keep the brutal winter winds from penetrating your home. The spruce boughs would catch any early snow and make your home even warmer.
Stuking the house was often a chore that was put off until it was a bone chilling experience but you needed to do it before the first snows or you would be even more miserable wading around in possibly waist-deep snow cutting spruce branches. While we do not pile boughs around our homes here at the coast, many of us do tuck pine straw around our foundations and cover our decorative flower beds with the same pine straw. The picture at the top of the post is the last pine straw that I put down this year.
It is impossible to use round bales of pine straw to prepare our flower beds and house for winter without thinking about the hundreds of one ton round bales that I hauled each fall from our hay fields to our farm. Often when unrolling one of the huge round bales I would save the core of bale and take it to the barn to feed our calves that had been weaned from their mothers. I used the same hay fork to feed the calves that is stuck in the round pine straw bale so the connection is unmistakable to me. The pine straw just does not smell as nice as good hay.
No matter where you live, if you garden, you end up doing some end of season work on your garden. In Canada where we had tractors and big equipment that meant running the bush hog over the garden to chop everything up. Then I would use to the manure spreader to put a few loads of well composted manure on the garden. Finally I would make a couple of passes with our big offset disk harrow to mix everything into the soil. Obviously our Canadian garden was a large garden.
Here on the coast, getting the garden ready for winter is all manual labor. Dead plants are cut and the ones that will compost easily end up into the compost barrels. Some plants that are too tough to compost without chopping or might have diseased leaves are bagged and carried to the dump. Then I bring around a wheel barrow full of compost and spread it on top of the soil. Sometimes I will also spread a bag of composted manure. Then I take a hoe and mix the compost and manure with the soil. The winter rains and the freezing and thawing of the soil do the rest.
While it is not as critical as it was on the farm in Canada, I do spend a few hours organizing my tools for winter. There is nothing worse than trying to find something when you are cold. I no longer spend any time splitting or hauling wood from the driveway to the woodshed. We do not even have a wood shed here on the coast. One unique thing done on the coast is that I often trim our palm trees so the winter winds are not so hard on them. Scrubbing porches and ridding yourself of mold is a big part of winter preparation here on the coast. Porches with green mold were not much of a problem in rural Canada.
When all is said and done, the feeling of being ready for winter is a good one whether you are doing it in Canada or the United States. Winter rituals might be lots of work, but they do add some structure to the seasons. The chores must be truly useful or I would not keep doing them.
One other winter ritual that is the same in Canada and the U.S. is getting together with family and/or friends. I can remember many great visits just as winter was about to snow us under in Canada. Now when we get folks visiting on the Crystal Coast just prior to the winter holiday season, it is because we are short on holiday madness and long on peaceful.