Reflections on the winter solstice

Did you notice today was the winter solstice - the shortest day of the year (for us in the southern hemisphere, that is). It's a great time to 'observe and interact' with where the sun shines ... and doesn't. And for how long. Not only is the sun at its lowest height from the horizon (zenith) today, it also rises a fair bit north of east and sets north of west (azimuth). It's a very different proposition to the long days of summer, with the sun high in the sky and far more southerly aspects at dawn and sunset.

It gets me thinking about things like: the amount of sun on different parts of the garden (and plant preferences for sun or shade); food plants that need the lengthening days to ensure their development (think onions, for example); and even how we can maximise winter sun to warm our homes (or just provide a pleasant outdoor spot for a cuppa) and other passive solar features.

We've had a crisp, clear sunny winter day here in Albury and I've been making the most of it to record where the sun and shadows fell. I took photos as a shorthand way to record this information (conveniently marked with the date and time by my camera). But you could also mark the shadows on a sketch of your place or just describe in words. Yes, you can have clever programs do this sort of modelling for you (yup, I'm into that too!) but I find wandering around and looking at the actual lay of the land is more stimulating for my 'design muscles'.

I like to repeat this process around the summer solstice and the equinoxes too ... and because we keep changing things around at our place, I try to do those each year. 

It doesn't matter if you don't 'hit' the solstice for such observations. If it's overcast, I wait for a sunny day; or sometimes work or other things need to be allowed for. But I reckon taking a good look around at about this time of year can be a fun and informative exercise.

 Photo: Some sun reaches the front bedroom and living room windows for most of the day, but not as much as we'd like! Take a guess as to how we try to maximise its impact (hint: they are not shown in this pic).

Photo: Much of the back vegetable patch is in shade virtually all day this time of year, thanks to the south aspect, steep slope and buildings being at the highest point. [Shot is taken looking down]. We're fussy as to what is grown in the sunnier spots. The up-side is it doesn't get frost and some plants are happy with a shady aspect. And also that our front, north-facing raised/wicking beds offer alternatives for food production plants that prefer more sunshine. Hmm, and that the protection is welcome respite in a long, hot summer!