As a true sign of spring I am writing from the front porch today and it is amazing how green everything has gotten in the past week, but two and half inches of rain and some sun will do that. And while the sun feels great, it is also kind of depressing since now I can see how much work I have to do. Raised beds need to be forked, kiwi vines need a serious haircut and then there are weeds; they’re sprouting out of every corner and edge in the greenhouse and every one of them seems to be in flower, threatening to overrun the place with their offspring.
Of course around here that means hand to weed combat (none of this chemical genocide on our watch!). Thankfully, this time of year they do come out rather easily, their roots are still short and they come out in bunches. But is it still disconcerting to see the multi yellow headed serpent known as a dandelion already lay claim to the byways by this the first full week of April.
And weeds are not the only unwelcome guests who have come visiting. With the pond only recently free of ice we have already had muskrats about the place seeking to take up residence. If you read any of these posts from the past years you would know this was not welcome sight. So far, we have greeted three of them with air-mailed packages of hot lead which, from my perspective were warmly received.
But it is good to see other signs of spring, like the “V”s of ducks and geese coming in low to the lake; hearing the valley ring with calls of their home coming and accompanied by the frolicking chorus of mating frogs. The smell of turned soil - rich, dark and earthy - it is a feast for the senses and today we get to sit back and take it all in, for tomorrow… tomorrow the work begins again.
We are in that strange period of time; Kind of like spring, but kind of not, sixty during the day, freezing at night. Soil is tilled, even have some things planted, but the world is still ruled by multi shades of brown.
But if you look close, under the thicket of dried grass, and past the tumbling leaves, you see them. With a green so dark it almost goes unnoticed; a shoot rises up from the soil blanketed by bars of tan stalks. And if you look especially close you may see a purple flower no bigger than a dime but far more precious for this is the currency of spring, the down payment for the changing of the guard.
Crocuses may seem like bribes, both out of place and unfair in such a drab world but it is a cost that must be paid. Perhaps it is a tax, if so it is the most welcome one to be sure since it would allow the scepter to finally pass to the next ruling season.
It seems like such a waste to see such beauties lost to the world of brown but we should be thankful for the sacrifice. For without such willingness where would we be?
Perhaps this sacrifice is the reason for crocuses, perhaps they were placed here for this very purpose. So then let us fill the world with crocuses, let the purple and pink, the yellow and white, let them bloom in all their splendor so the price may be paid and we can enter the glories of spring.
We got an interesting email yesterday. After meeting our daughter at the Fulton street market, a visiting professor contacted us. Apparently in 1901 a lady by the name of Emma Cole published: Grand Rapids Flora: A Catalogue of the Flowering Plants and Ferns Growing Without Cultivation in the Vicinity of Grand Rapids, Michigan. It just so happens that one of her places of research was our very own Mud Lake in southern Ottawa County. We thought we knew all the history of the area, but this was new.
Emma Cole was quite a remarkable woman. After teaching for several years, she left at the age of 31 to study botany at Cornell University, and then came back to teach again, but she also traveled the world researching plants. She worked with Charles Sprague Sargent from Harvard (and was credited with helping find 20 new species) and became vice president of the Kent Scientific Institute- the forerunner of our Grand Rapids Public Museum.
Her specialty was the genus Crataegus (better known as the Hawthorn tree to us mere mortals). Her work was so extensive she even has one species named after her: Crataegus coleae and guess what… we still have lots of hawthorns in the wilds of the valley, perhaps even a Cole’s Hawthorn?
To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of Hawthorns, they can destroy expensive tractor tires and will skewer even the thickest Coat with their long pointed thorns leaving trail of bloody pin holes on the bearer, but perhaps I’ve been a little hasty and maybe, just maybe they do have some redeeming value… at least with a historical view point.
So come this summer the visiting professor and his troupe of students will venture out to the wilds of the farm to see how much is left of Emma Cole’s West Michigan. It will be a day we may do a little venturing ourselves… ready with band aids just in case.
The time has come that some of you have been dearly waiting for; it is time for us to go back to summer lettuce quantities. This means that even though there is still snow on the ground and there is still ice on the ponds in the mornings, we have more lettuce harvestable than we are picking.
This week we had to not only open the vents but also turn on the fans in order to keep the greens from overheating. Of course, we are still limited in several other items -- with a layer of snow still blanketing the fields, kale is still a ways off -- but we should have more herbs in a week or two as they are starting to wake up from their winter’s nap.
There is something special this time of year: the sap is flowing, daffodils are reaching for the sky and a honey bee even made an appearance in the afternoon sunshine, and for me… forking up beds in the cold frame reminded me of muscles that have long been dormant.
Yes, spring is in the air. It is a time of rebirth, new plants… and for hard work to burn off my winter waist.
It has been a long winter; the super cold has been over the top as of late. It used to be a cold spell would get down to the single digits and maybe once a year it would dip into the negatives for a day or so but this year has been incredible.
To balance it out though, at least it’s been happening in late winter, and with the sun getting stronger every day we have a different type of problem; a greenhouse on a clear day is really a giant solar heater. In the late afternoon, we load up fuel in the furnaces and run them hot, hoping to stay on the plus side of freezing in the darkness of night and then, as soon as the sun touches the plastic, we turn off the furnaces and open the doors letting clouds of hot steam billow from the doorways into the frozen air.
For us it’s the closing, loading, starting, ending, opening and closing again each and every day. The poor plants meanwhile have their own daily grind going from having their tops freeze at night to wilting due to the heat hours later. This drastic change is hard on the plants and causes more than a few to give up their ghost, transforming them in to translucent vegetative puddles.
So it is with great satisfaction and pert’ near delight that we view the upcoming forecasts of mild temps. It will of course bring about more work once the ground is free of ice and snow, it promises long days of sweat and toil working the earth, but right now… sweating sounds pretty good.
It’s a depressing time of year. No, not the cold or the snow, although we are ready for a change there too, no this something far worse… It’s tax time. And while most are worried about having to pay the reaper his gotten gains (ill and otherwise), we have a different problem and we seem to have it every year.
Filling out the forms we find out just how poor we really are. Now don’t get me wrong, we don’t need food stamps or charity or anything like that. In fact, we really don’t consider ourselves poor at all, but living on a farm (and having a good tax man) means pretty much everything we do is tax deductible. This should leave us happy, but when the numbers come back and inform us that we live “below the poverty line”, well it kind of hurts.
After all, if you just scan the headlines online (once you get past dresses that change color and people name Kardashian) you’ll find out how important it is to make a lot of money. In fact, it should determine not only your job but your course of study in school and even your zip code if all the stories are to be believed.
Our society values people by how much they make, by their toys and by their looks. By such accounting I am bankrupt. So why do I to take such joy in my pauper’s life? I work with my best friend and play with the land growing food. Every day is new and every day is different and I…I am a happy man, in spite of the words of the tax man.
It's a new month, and the weather-people keep saying this is the beginning of "meteorological" spring. Though the weather outside isn't quite sure, the lettuce agrees. So, we will resume Monday CSA deliveries and pick-ups again.
Also, we'll be at the Grand Rapids Home & Garden Show this weekend along with several other small farms and food non-profits in a booth called "Cultivating Change". If you get a chance, stop by, introduce yourself, and say hi! Especially if we haven't formally met face to face.
And not so warm inside either; at our house we have Geothermal heating. Nine times out of ten I would crow about this as the greatest thing since indoor plumbing, but when it gets this cold it just doesn’t keep up.
Now I could turn on the duct heater, which is an electric back-up coil made just for these sorts of occasions but we’ve only tried it once in the 15 years we’ve lived here. I prefer to be a real man and chop wood and fire up the old woodstove… but my ankle has gone gimpy so now I prefer to be a real old man and have the wife chop wood (along with all her other chores) while I stay warm in my blanket and easy chair.
The lettuce is being similarly treated, while it is not being served hot chocolate with an obligatory curtsey, it is being wrapped in a (frost) blanket and having the furnaces stocked to high heaven every night- you go girl! Even though it is only February, the sun is much stronger than it was a month ago and the greenhouses will hit 70-80 during the day with even limited direct sunshine. But once it sets, Woah Nellie, it gets cold fast.
So far, we have been surviving this latest cold snap and in spite of everything, the lettuce is looking pretty good. Hopefully, we just have to make it through another week and spring will be more than a distant thought on the horizon. So I’ll sit back and order another hot chocolate as I look at seed magazines – I could get used to this.
We will again be doing deliveries on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday through this week. This has been our February schedule with the cold Mondays we’ve been having - we will re-evaluate end of this week for March, but should be ready to ramp things up by then.
We are in for another odd week here at the farm; Kris is heading back to Florida to help her Mom prepare to move after her Dad’s passing last month. So, that leaves me alone to run the farm - at least sort of. Our dear employees will be here a couple of days to keep me inline. Hopefully between all of us we can keep up to the boss’s standards.
We will again be doing deliveries on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for the next two weeks.This has been our February schedule with the cold Mondays we’ve been having, but it will also give me a chance to keep up on things.
The lettuce is looking really good… it’s a little small yet, but we are a week or two from having lots of gorgeous stuff… assuming I can keep it from freezing in the cold spell next week.
Bad news first, because it’s always nice to get it out of the way early in the story. The bad news is that winter is back for at least few days. The snow and cold from the current weather activity will slow things down again here at the farm. Therefore, we will delay Monday deliveries to Tuesday to give everything a chance to thaw. It will also result in another week of smaller lettuce as nothing likes to grow when it’s this cold.
The good news is February 3, and the number 10. On the surface these two may seem to have little in common but in reality they are linked in a very powerful way. For this is the day that we climb back over 10 hours of natural light for a day. This matters because 10 hours of light is the length needed for plants to really start growing again. Lower than that they are mostly dormant unless given a little help (aka artificial lights).
Of course we are still in winter, we still have clouds, we still have cold -- but it is one more indication that we are inching towards spring, though on days like this it is hard to tell.
...and it’s not so bad.
Last year at this time we were under almost 4 feet of snow and every day was a struggle; this year, we’ll just say we are thankful it isn’t last year. We are still overcoming the cold temps from a few weeks ago but we have a week to go till February and then well… its spring(ish).
Yeah, winter will be over and all will be right with the world (I know, I’m overly optimistic but it’s a better fault than the other one).
So to celebrate being mostly almost half way done with winter we have a new salad dressing recipe, we just had it for lunch and it is a keeper.