Dear Vegetable Lovers,
Today is the spring equinox, no matter how the snow may swirl around. We must temper our spring activities according to the spirit of the weather, the frozen ground and wet field. Yet there is also a strict unwavering sun schedule and we obey its strengthening urges to seed our first spring crops in our warm nursery.
We began seeding plants on the 27th of February and, despite temperatures being below seasonal norms, we have turned on our mini-propane heater a mere three times and burned less than 3 gallons of propane. Though this 1970’s solar greenhouse has space limitations, we are gladly working with them because of the benefits of such a tight, efficient space with so much solar mass. This year along with our black water barrels radiating the sun’s heat back at night, we have a levee of potting soil bags under our nursery tables. Electric heat mats help us to germinate the seeds. Walking into the nursery, you enter a dense tropical forest of boc choy, kales, spinach, beets, lettuce, peas, broccoli, scallions, tomatoes and more.
Lately I have been wondering ....when does germination truly happen? By the time you see the sprout – like a loop of green thread poking above the soil, poised to unfold – the plant has been busy for a good while rooting and preparing to burst into the sunlight. The first many hours, the quiet seeds that we count on so much are drinking deeply, their first water and warmth bringing all their waiting cells to life. The seed swells generously and then bursts open. I admit that I have been stealing looks at some of our seeds as I wonder and wait, especially the sugar snap peas, which are fun to dig up and check on. The first couple days they looked increasingly swollen and then I could distinguish a white bump which was the root waiting to break out and hungrily tap into the soil. The force of these germinating seeds could break glass if you put too many in a jar with some water and put the cap on.
A few mornings ago bringing water to the sheep, I heard the raucous honking of geese. Quickly I realized it wasn’t just a small fly-over V of Canada geese, but instead a whole woven-together sky-filling flock of snow geese. They were silver and glittering and looked more like fish with flashing scales as they reflected rays of the rising sun that weren’t yet touching the farm. These shining silver threads flowed noisily across the sky and it was hard to believe the sight.
Black wing-tips and white bodies, these visitors do not linger with us, but they pass through on their way to summer nesting grounds in the tundra as the sun strengthens. Some of the geese we see flying over may be headed for Greenland! They fill up resevoirs and lakes for a few days on their layovers and sometimes grain fields (where they can be destructive as locusts once in a while, snapping up the green shoots of winter wheat or rye).
And this brings me to phenology, a word for the calendar of nature, the relationship between when birds migrate and flowers bloom. I recently learned about a citizen science project where people all over the country can report on their local happenings, and was grateful to hear a conversation about the importance of watching all these indicators. It is something that many of us do without thinking too much about it, but it could be a lifetime study. And you will find that the keen birdwatchers and botanists (many farmers are these…) have very detailed mental bird and plant calendars. If you’re curious for a little more: https://www.usanpn.org/about/why-phenology
Here are some of my recent noticings ….Add your own!!
-The rattling of woodpeckers in the morning
-The distinct okra-leeee of red winged blackbirds
-The presence of robins, as though they’d always been there, on the emerging bare ground before today’s snow. Each robin claiming its own patch of earth and hopping around.
-Spring Aconite – a brilliant yellow flower – in full bloom in the mid-March sunshine, an early pollen food source for bees. And snow drops blooming as well!
-The color of willow branches turning more yellow as the buds swell and become visible. Maples, too.
-Grass greening up and beginning to grow– and the day I really noticed the green returning we had multiple escapes by one of our sheep who couldn’t resist exploring the forage options!!
-Geese flying over at night…we hear their honking and sometimes when they fly low, their wing beats
-A day of insects! One of our first sunny, warm afternoons I saw flies and insects that I didn’t identify, but the miracle was little winged creatures flying around.
Enjoy this temporary snowy magic! Spring rains, blooms, mud, and greens are soon to come.