Climate Conscious
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Climate Conscious

Reclaiming the Seasons and Living off the Land

A guide to living seasonally and in harmony with the natural cycles of the Earth

Part of our garden and orchard (Photo provided by author)

A few years ago, we had an unseen hot and dry summer that somehow managed to directly shift into a wet yet mild winter. This upset me. What happened to autumn?

There’s no point in denying it: the concept of the four seasons as we know them is slowly vanishing, morphing into this undefinable, unpredictable lottery game of temperature mood swings. Winters are short, spring is starting in February, summers are hot and dry, and autumn just doesn’t really exist. And of course, there are more extreme weather patterns during these seasons.

Figuratively speaking, we have destroyed the concept of seasonality when it comes to our food systems. The ability to import and export foods from all over the world all year round, eliminates the need to shift our diets seasonally. Our globalized consumer needs crave oversized hypermarkets filled with exotic, imported, and unseasonal food. Who can blame the seasons for losing trust in our little blue planet?

When it comes to the actual cause of shifting seasons, the effects of climate cannot be overlooked. I would argue, though, that the sole idea of losing the seasons is reason enough to do everything in our power to reverse those effects. Let me propose an idea: let’s start a movement dedicated to the conservation of the seasons.

I suggest that the first step to take is to rediscover the seasons for ourselves. If we can find a way to start living according to the seasons again, we will be reminded of their beauty and undeniable importance. For me, this rediscovery was a direct consequence of moving back to the country.

The goal of a sustainable, self-sufficient life

My partner Griet and I traded the big city for the country almost 10 years ago. It wasn’t a hard choice. After being stuck for years in a crowded, outsourced life in a Belgian metropolis, we were longing for space and air. We wanted to grow our own food and, to a certain degree, be self-sufficient in our daily needs.

The problem was that we didn’t have any prior experience in this lifestyle of country living. So, we had to learn almost everything for ourselves, from when to start sowing seeds, to the best time to coppice wood in the forest, to the ideal timing for food conservation. In short: we had to learn to listen to the seasons.

This was something our grandparents did with ease, and often out of necessity: growing their own food, making their own clothes, building their own homes. A small-scale and local mindset was still the norm. The loss of this traditional and even folklore knowledge stands in close relation with our modern view of the world. Introducing new technologies and the conservation of what remains of nature will not suffice to reverse any problems. What first and foremost is needed, is a shift in mentality. This means conserving and embracing the values of old, forgotten knowledge and steering towards a simple and responsible life.

So, we took our time to discover, read, and observe. We took our time to learn how to be self-sufficient through trial and error. As it turned out, the seasons were our best teachers.

Lessons learned

The first year living out in the country was the most difficult. The house was old, not insulated, and in desperate need of a big make-over. As there was no central heating, we used a small wood stove to heat the living room, which also doubled as a bedroom. In winter, it would get really cold at night. In the morning we would wake up shivering, hurry to the stove, and push in some more logs to start that fire going again. Sometimes, if we had forgotten to refill the firewood the previous evening, this meant rushing outside in the ice-cold windy yard to grab some new wood. That’s what you call learning the hard way.

We were constantly being reminded that we need to have a good and sustainable firewood strategy. This meant creating a seasonal plan in wood management. It certainly was a good introduction to the seasons, and it was exactly this rediscovery of seasonal living, that made a big impact on me.

Behavioral studies on a local scale

The beauty of the seasons is that they are local phenomena. How and when certain weather events take place all depends on location. This is the opposite of a globalist vision of living, which ignores any limits and is focused on upscaling, outsourcing, and importing. It’s a system that has an unhealthy obsession with money. Here, competition is all about the battle for the lowest price or the cheapest good. More important assets like quality and sustainability are tossed aside.

This philosophy implements a lifestyle of ever-increasing speed and homogenization. The unique and individual aspects of the seasons are turned into a relic of a to-be-forgotten past; an unnecessary trouble that technology and modern science eliminates.

Meanwhile, outside…

But let’s focus again on the local scale and have a look at a possible approach to seasonal living. In a household economy, we divide labor and tasks according to the rhythm of the seasons. Climatic conditions like available sunlight, rain, wind, and temperature are the main determinants in the planning of our annual activities. This, of course, contrasts the monotonous mindset of the everyday bureaucrat, living an outsourced consumer life.

What follows is a short description of some of the seasonal work at our homestead, including growing and preserving vegetables and fruits, managing a forest, beekeeping, and renovating our small farm. The focus here, is living on the land, yet one only needs a little imagination to translate these ideas to a (sub)urban lifestyle.

Spring

Spring is the month of growth. At the end of February to the beginning of March we start seeding plants, vegetables, flowers. This is done until mid-May, as temperatures can still go below 0°C (32°F) up until that point. So we have to make sure that our little sown plants are kept warm inside. During this period, our living room is transformed into a plant nursery, stacked with little pots of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, etc.

Then, once nature starts to come back to life, we eagerly await the appearance of the first blossoms. These are the willows, the hazels, and shortly after the blackthorns.

When the temperature rises above 10°C (50°F), in March, the bees will leave their hives, happily dancing around, feasting on the first fresh nectar after spending several months inside. It’ll take only one more month before those hives will be bursting, full of life, and the bees will be buzzing all over.

Then, from April onwards, everything starts growing, and there’s no stopping it! Before you know it, nature has exploded, and carpets of green are taking over the barren lands. This means: weeding and then, weeding some more.

May and June are typically the months of swarming for the bees. We’ll have to drop everything we are doing at that moment, trying to catch that swarm hanging high up somewhere in a tree.

In late spring, we start planting out all our seedlings. All this preparation and work has only one goal: to have an abundant harvest later in summer and autumn.

Summer

We keep constantly sowing and planting: beets, winter carrots, all kinds of salads, and spinach. But summer also signals the time of harvest: peas, carrots, potatoes, corn, and beans, to name a few. Let the good times roll! It’s an ongoing task in conserving vegetables for winter: preparing, freezing or canning them.

During this time we also start picking berries, currants, and cherries to make jams or wines. Later in summer, it will be the apples and pears, and we’ll load kilos of them into baskets, saving them to make cider in autumn.

After the harvest, we’ll clean up the vegetable beds, preparing them for a new crop, covering them with mulch, or sowing a cover crop. As summer gets dryer and dryer, water collection is one of the most important strategies in the garden. Collecting the rain from winter and spring assures us to have sufficient water for growing our vegetables and thus have a successful season.

Autumn

The harvesting continues: root crops and pumpkins are collected and put to storage. This is also the time to make sure the beehives are winter-ready. They need to have enough honey stored in their storage rooms and be all snug and warm so they can survive winter.

This is also the perfect time of year to start to process the apples and pears, pressing them to juice and letting them ferment to a splendid, natural cider. While the trees are losing their leaves, we start thinning out the forest, collecting firewood. The art of coppicing (cutting the trees back, then letting them regrow) is one of the most sustainable ways of firewood management. It’s also an excellent technique to increase biodiversity in a woodland.

Winter

In winter nature goes dormant. A mild winter’s day is perfect for planting new trees, giving them the best conditions to grow once spring is arriving. We keep planting in our new little forest or adding hedgerows as a living alternative to wired fencings. We start planning for the year ahead, ordering seeds if necessary. But most of all, winter is a time to study, sit next to the fireplace, contemplate, read. Or even better, enjoy some of that self-made wine in the company of family and friends.

The importance of rediscovering

Living with the seasons is the opposite of a boring existence. It’s a local approach to life, full of beauty, meaning, and knowledge. It means taking back the power from a society that has been completely alienated from meaningful labor and the systems of nature. It’s at the core of a social ecology.

Let this be a gentle reminder that there are alternative options available for each one of us. We only need that little spark of imagination and a pinch of dedication to realize the possibilities. We do not need experts, politicians, or celebrities to tell us how to live, how to act, or how to be successful. What we need is a clear vision of a possible future, guided by nature, location, traditions, and yes, a keen eye on innovative, small-scale, green technologies.

If we really want to fight climate change, reclaiming the seasons might be a first, necessary step.

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Micha van Amsterdam

Micha van Amsterdam

Simple, sustainable lifestyle design, self-sufficiency and local, perennial culture.

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