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Embracing Winter Solstice With Native Plants and Chore Efficiency

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Providing winning solutions for horse management and the environment since 1997

Embracing Winter Solstice With Native Plants and Chore Efficiency

Alayne Blickle

Winter Solstice this year is Wednesday, December 21, and being an outdoors girl, I am not keen on the cold and dark leading up to it. But I can’t wait for the brighter days afterwards. Perhaps you feel the same way?

With the Holidays around the corner and the elections behind us, ‘tis the season to ponder our wants and needs. The answer, I think, is the same for all; we want what’s best for us, for our families and loved ones, for our animals, and for the land—clean water for us all to drink, healthy food, a roof over our heads, and the continuance of the life we love and appreciate with our horses in this beautiful world.

Shadow play: Winter solstice is a time for recharging, and for interesting photo ops in the northern hemisphere, when planet earth is tilted the farthest from the sun.

Shadow play: Winter solstice is a time for recharging, and for interesting photo ops in the northern hemisphere, when planet earth is tilted the farthest from the sun.

With these thoughts in mind, I'd like to share some of the things Matt and I are doing to embrace winter solstice and recharge for moving ahead.

This past November Horses for Clean Water had several wonderful classes in the Puget Sound region. The one I found most inspirational (and I think you did, too, because the class was full beyond capacity—a great problem to have!) was on rain gardens and low-impact development. Engineer Derek Hann from Snohomish Conservation District was the main speaker, presenting on building rain gardens and their uses in rural areas.

I presented on ways to utilize plants on farms, with ideas like:

  • Bio filtration strips down-slope from paddocks (to filter out dirty runoff).
  • Hedgerows of native plants along property lines as a visual barrier or dust screen.
  • Native trees and shrubs planted up-slope from confinement areas to reduce surface water and prevent mud.

These are all cool, low-tech ideas which can make horse properties less muddy, offer a wind screen or a visual barrier, prevent erosion, all while helping to improve wildlife habitat and make the world around us just a little better.

Native plants can be planted in the fall, all the way up until the time when the ground is frozen. During winter, plants have a chance to get roots established and take advantage of winter precipitation. Over the last few weeks at Sweet Pepper Ranch we have busily installed several exciting native plant projects.

One project is a hedgerow privacy screen between us and our neighbors, which will eventually give us something natural to look at instead of the backs of houses. The other is a native plant hedgerow which will provide a little filtration of runoff from our outdoor wash rack. In both cases, plant roots will hold soil in place and prevent erosion. Eventually the plants will provide habitat for small native animals like birds and insects, and especially bees—native pollinators being of special concern.

December is a wonderful time to think ahead wistfully to what’s going to be growing in a few months, and how we can put those easy-to-grow natives to work on our horse properties. You can find local sources that sell natives with an Internet search.

Some sources require pre-ordering at this time of the year. In my area of southwestern Idaho, our University of Idaho Extension Office is offering a conservation plant sale. We ordered echinacea, wild bergamot (bee balm), black-eyed Susan and gayfeather for our pollinator hedgerow, which we will receive and plant in March. In Washington State, many conservation districts offer native plant sales, with pre-orders beginning this month, and pick-up in late February. Contact your local conservation district or university extension office for more information.

Here at HCW we’ve got lots of other great ideas to help you deal with the winter doldrums—including signing up for the Horses for Clean Water online four week series, which begins in January. You will get weekly ideas and inspiration, plus a 30 minute one-on-one phone consult, all for less than the price of a one hour private consultation. For ideas on chore efficiency and keeping horses happy, check out HCW's tip sheets, as well as the article below.

In the meantime, the day after Winter Solstice is only a few cups of hot cocoa away!

Alayne

"The winter solstice has always been special to me as a barren darkness that gives birth to a verdant future beyond imagination ..." —Gary Zukav

Echinacea, or purple cone flower, is a wonderful showy flower that native pollinating insects love.

Echinacea, or purple cone flower, is a wonderful showy flower that native pollinating insects love.