December 21 marks this year’s winter solstice. In the Northern Hemisphere, it is the shortest day of the year. As Deborah Byrd from EarthSky explains, “The solstice is an astronomical event, caused by Earth’s tilt on its axis, and its motion in orbit around the sun… At the December solstice, the Northern Hemisphere is leaning most away from the sun for the year.” This same tilt and motion causes our seasons and affects what we grow in our gardens and when.
For tens of thousands of years people have noticed the movement of the sun and moon. Stonehenge in England, Machu Picchu in Peru, Woodhenge at Cahokia Mounds in Missouri and the Sun Dagger site on Fajada Butte in New Mexico are examples of the many ways human beings have tracked the sun’s path across the sky.
The winter solstice this year occurs within hours of the new moon. There are several planets visible in the night sky, too. Look for Venus just after sunset, Mars in the early evening and Jupiter from late evening to dawn. For you early-risers, look for Saturn in the southeastern sky just before dawn.
We’ve been busy this month raking leaves to use for compost and mulch. They’re great in the garden, and they’re free! Someone also donated some goat manure, so we layered it with leaves and will turn it several times to burn up any weed seeds or pathogens. Click here to learn about hot composting. We’ve also been gearing up for spring. The next couple of weeks is the perfect time to decide what to plant and order seeds.
We have friends who celebrate this time of year with a solstice party. Click here for some fun party ideas. My sister-in-law makes a hearty hunter's stew every year. It’s a holiday tradition, and I can’t wait to dig in next week!
Merry Yule, y’all, and happy (frosty) gardening!