November dark days

November dark days.

Today, November 23, sunrise was a little before 7 a.m., with the sky getting light around 6:30. Sunset will be around 4:30, with darkness encroaching any time after 4 p.m. So, 9 hours of daylight, and 15 hours of darkness. It will only get worse until December 22, the winter solstice, when the sun reaches its farthest southern point and starts its way back north. I love that turnaround time, when minutes are added to daylight. They soon add up to 15 minutes earlier in the morning and later in the evening, then half-hour earlier and later. Almost as exciting as watching grass grow. Of course, daylight savings always has a say in the excitement, with daylight minutes getting added to mornings and subtracted from evenings around Halloween, and vice-versa in the spring.

I’m a morning person, so I welcome the “fall-back” because the mornings gain an hour, only to start slowly losing it again. I dread the “spring-ahead,” when the hour of morning daylight is lost but then slowly regained as spring approaches.

What to do with all the darkness is the question. It would not be wise to sleep 15 hours a day, so the answer for a gardener and nature-lover is to turn to books and the Internet and to study and dream the dark hours away.


November 2015 has been unusually warm, as were September and October. On November 5, a big old robin decide to bathe, see below, while an apparently younger and trimmer robin stood watch, see above. Was the watcher envious, or disdainful, as in, oh, there the old one goes, embarrassing me again. Or perhaps on watch for predators.


American robin: Journey North website at tells us that robins bathe even in cold weather because dirty feathers lose their insulation qualities. Robins bathe to keep warm, which seems counter-intuitive, but there it is. A clean robin is a warm robin.


On November 9, a bluejay stood sentinel at the tiptop of a hemlock. I seem to remember that the bluejay was issuing warnings. With all the good online sources for bird songs, I have no excuse not to recognize the songs and calls of the common birds in my garden. That is a good project for the dark days of November.

Other feeder birds in November include chickadees, tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, downy woodpeckers and 1 red-breasted woodpecker, as well as lots of house sparrows, mourning doves, and rock pigeons.

Big bird news. The dark-eyed juncos are back. I saw the first 1 on November 20. When I get new photos, I will be sure to include them, or probably write a separate post in celebration of the juncos’ return to their southern home. According to an article in the summer issue of Living Bird, a Cornell Lab of Ornithology publication, 80% of dark-eyed juncos breed in the North American boreal forest that stretches from Alaska across Canada to New England. According to the article, only 12% of the boreal forest is protected. The Keystone XL pipeline expands tar sands mining in Alberta, which destroys boreal forest habitat. 30% of the boreal forest is currently slated for logging or energy development. Of course, many species other than dark-eyed juncos are impacted by what happens to the boreal forest, but I know it would be a dark day indeed if the juncos didn’t come back to Jersey in November.

Missing from the feeders so far are the cardinals and the house finches. I hope they come back soon and claim their territories. Also absent thus far are the European starlings, but I don’t miss them so much. American goldfinches have migrated south, although last year a few remained in this area. We’ll see what happens this year. Next summer, I hope to plant many more sunflower seeds over an extended period of time. Many birds enjoy the fresh sunflower seeds, but we particularly liked watching the antics of the American goldfinches going after the fresh seeds straight from the sunflower plant.

I should mention that .75″ rain fell on November 10. On November 18, 1″ or possibly more, of rain fell. Our rain gauge is cracked, and I’m afraid my records are not accurate at this point. What I do know is that this area has a substantial rain deficit–CBS weather says an 8″ deficit. Perhaps we’ll get lots of rain and snow this winter to make up for it.


Turning indoors, it’s time to start enjoying the frozen bounty of the summer. The pantry, uh, upright freezer, is stuffed with garden goodies–tomato sauce, salsa, hot and sweet peppers, leeks, chard, and kale. Also all our favorites from Costco and Trader Joe’s. This time of year, I vow to save up some money for a generator, since it would be pretty awful to lose power when the freezer is this full.

This month, although I don’t have many photos, I have started to use the garden bounty of the freezer. First was chili, using tomato sauce, onions, and habaneros. It was delicious, as usual. Homemade tomato sauce creates dishes that can not be compared to dishes made with canned tomatoes. They are different in kind. Totally.

Last weekend, I fixed hot sausages from Costco with onions and hot peppers from the freezer. I used 1 large jar of cooked and frozen hot peppers, mostly jalapenos, as well as a medium jar of dehydrated and frozen Havasu hot peppers. Well, it was spicy HOT. But we like it that way. Served on good Italian rolls, the sausages and peppers were memorable and soon to be repeated.


I’m proud to say that we are still eating green salad from the raised beds under bed covers. Of course, the month has been warm, so we’ll see how long the greens last with severe frosts. Included in this salad are Adriana butterhead lettuce, Crispino iceberg lettuce, and Salvius romaine lettuce, as well as standard arugula and wasabi arugula, and some parsley. Other additions are Bolero carrots and Red Marble cipollini onions. Add some blue cheese, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar, and it’s a salad the family doesn’t seem to tire of.

Interestingly, the Adriana butterhead lettuce is still fine, even though it is not covered with bed covers. The Crispino iceberg lettuce, which is covered, has some slimy outside leaves due to light frosts. The inner leaves are still OK. The arugula may go through the winter, so far as I can tell. The standard arugula is covered but probably doesn’t need to be. The wasabi arugula is not covered and may go on forever.

As I have mourned in previous posts, my onion harvest was not good, mostly due to my faulty drying processes. Live and learn. I’m already buying organic sweet and yellow onions from Trader Joe’s to supplement my stored onions. I’m using the store-bought onions for chili and stews, while saving the home-grown stored ones for fresh salads and sautés.

Thanksgiving is this week. My menu is turkey breast from King’s, along with bread stuffing, gravy, sweet potatoes with chipotle en adobe sauce, corn casserole, biscuits, hot pepper-cranberry relish, and a fresh garden salad if the lettuce and arugula withstand the frost for a few more days. Also, of course, pies. Pumpkin and apple. Not too much from the garden. Hot peppers, salad fixings, and the pumpkins. Oh, and herbs–parsley, sage, and thyme. Some herbs are still in the garden. Others are in the new cold frame.

Missing from the Thanksgiving menu this year are mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and mincemeat pie. Although they are all traditional, and my mother and mother-in-law would be displeased, I just feel averse to keeping those traditions going. I’m also making the pumpkin pie with coconut milk instead of condensed milk or heavy cream, so we’ll see how that works out. Cooking is fun if I avoid ruts and try to be moderately adventuresome.

Now, I will close the shades on another November dark day and study up on more recipes to warm the cold days ahead. Or maybe take an online class with Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Or perhaps study New Jersey native species that are appropriate for my gardens. Or how about a good novel. Oh, good idea.

Then there are the Devils’ hockey games. Go Devils. With Daisy curled up beside me on the couch, I enjoy every game. I’m also partial to Eli and the Giants. I call them the Jersey Giants, since they live, practice, and play in New Jersey. Where is New York in all that.

What with the above diversions, as well as all the other non-garden stuff, of course, the dark days of November slip by. I haven’t mentioned that November is an excellent time for long walks in crunchy leaves with just enough invigorating chill in the air to keep me moving. Daisy is a fan of long walks. Also an excellent time for late afternoon naps, and long, lovely nights of sleeping and waking to read awhile in bed. Retirement is good.

Be happy. Spring will come.

Note: Temps got down to 22°F. last night. November 23. That’s the coldest so far this year. So we’ll see how the lettuce and arugula in the covered beds withstood the cold.









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