A Whiff of Spring

February 15, 2008 at 11:53 am 8 comments

Onion seedlings 

This morning, as I pedaled into work, I smelled a hint of spring on the breeze.  You know, that musty dirt kind of smell?  Considering it’s still just the middle of February, this scent seems a little preemptive.  A couple of us at a recent meeting about farm affairs joked that Philadelphia might be re-designated as part of Plant Hardiness Zone 9, a zone typically associated with Florida and Texas.  While I don’t think we’ve gone that far south just yet, global warming is no joke as it seems to be settling in for the long haul.   We can’t kid ourselves any longer that these mild winters are just a fluke.

Seeds in the palm of my hand

I know we all enjoy the coming of spring and the sooner the better, generally speaking.  But without the cleansing freeze of a snowy blanket and many bitter cold nights, life cycles are bound to get wacky.  For one thing, disease and weeds in the soil will live to see another day, rather than succumbing to the big freeze.  This prospect is a daunting one indeed for the small organic farmer.  It’s nice to think of extended seasons that allow us to grow, and thus sell, more fresh produce, but I wonder if the price to be paid might be too high?  Although maybe it means more folks will get involved in the business of urban and sustainable farming if they don’t have to worry about long icy winters freezing them out of an income.  More urban farms would definitely be good, and with enough of them, we might even reverse the affects of global warming.  That would take more lifetimes than I have to live, of course, but it’s a real possibility.  

Tray of tom thumb lettuce just planted

Oddly enough, all these thoughts flashed through my mind as I got that whiff of spring.  There were other thoughts that followed briefly before I had to stop myself from over-thinking the problem entirely too much.  I just barely started wondering if these would-be Zone 9 Pennsylvania farmers would then put themselves out of business by the year 2200 when global warming disappeared and winter once again claimed its turf.   That’s when I decided I’d better put the kibosh on my mental wanderings.  

Tray labels for seeding

But who am I kidding?  I love spring!!!  And it couldn’t have felt more like a springtime affair than the other day when I helped plant trays of seeds for Weavers Way Farm.  Now that the 30 some trays of lettuces, bok choy, kale, broccoli, kohlrabi, asian greens, collards, leeks, endive, radicchio, and swiss chard are all tucked snuggly under a blanket of rich soil in a steamy warm greenhouse, I can hardly wait to see their tiny green heads pop up and start the cycle of the growing season all over again!  

Farmer Dave gets dirty

Farmer Dave is gearing up for the new season after a few short months of rest.  This time of year, a lot of organization goes into the production planning for even such a small farm as his.  Maps of the fields are drawn up to illustrate how the beds will be laid out and how the crops are going to be rotated from last year to make it harder for pests and disease to find them again.  Detailed seeding lists need to be made for the 75+ crops we’ll be growing this year.  Each vegetable (and even some varieties within a given vegetable type) has to be planted in a designated window of time for proper germination and hardening off before going into the ground.  Seeding is rewarding, but time consuming, and the young plants require a lot of attention. 

look closely to see the seeds in David's fingers

David S. is also busy with seeding but more so with plans for bolstering the farm’s education program now that a grant has been secured to fund his full-time education coordinator role.  There’s lots of outreach to be done for getting the word out to local schools and setting up class visits and curriculum.  He’s already started by involving a few students at Wyncote Academy (where the farm’s current greenhouse space is) in the seeding process.  I really enjoyed seeing these kids work at something quite foreign to them that will, over the weeks that they participate (as part of their science curriculum), become second nature.  I can’t say for sure if they’ll become farmers, but I’m pretty willing to bet on their increased awareness of how their food chain works. 

David instructs student in greenhouse

The air surrounding all this activity is downright palpitating with energy!  We’ve been so encouraged by the farm’s yield in 2007, its first official season, that we’re boldly proffering a goal for the farm to break even in 2008.  By general industry standards, it often takes traditional farms a decade, give or take, to do the same.  When those first lettuces take root and the kohlrabi start to bulge in April and May, we’ll be in the thick of another growing season.    But right now, I’d really like at least one thick blanket of pristine snow, please. Without it, the coming of spring won’t be as nearly as sweet.

All the trays we were going to fill

Are you starting seeds and/or planning a garden?  Tell me what you’re most excited about with the coming of spring.  Or do you miss snow just a little bit, the same way I do? 

Many trays of seeds in the greenhouse

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. taylor  |  February 15, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    Go little farm! I wish Dave, you, and the whole farm gang best of luck this year.

    I’m supremely jealous of the greenhouse. Starting seeds in your house is a royal pain in the ass, and the reason why I buy most of my veggies as starters.

    Oh, spring! Because I grew up in zone 8/heat zone 9, I’m hardwired to think that Spring starts in mid-March (it does, but you know what I mean). I nearly had a shit-fit when I moved up here in March and learned that most seed’s don’t even get started until the middle or end of March (for those not getting a major head start).

    Don’t let a few warm days fool you, if you’ll recall it snowed last April and was horribly frigid that month. I love Spring, but not Philly spring. PA took my beloved March of blooming azaleas and dogwoods away from me!

  • 2. rachel  |  February 15, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Before I even got to your question I was going to comment right along those lines. This post is exactly where I am–excited about the new season, but not quite ready for it yet. We really need some weeks of frozen ground, and I’ll glady take some nice snow, enough of the ice! But it’s med February and I did just spent close to an hour this morning circling choices in seed catalogs. 🙂

  • 3. Nif  |  February 15, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    I grew up in MA, in zone 5, so getting used to zone 7 here has been quite an adjustment. I don’t think of March as spring, I think of it as one of the starkest and muddiest months. As a child and adolescent it was a time of snowstorms and roads rimmed with melting ice that was oh so satisfying to crack.

    For me, spring in Philadelphia is amazingly lush. And lately, disconcerting. I’m constantly seeing daffodil shoots or swelling magnolia buds in January, or even December, and telling them “Shush! Not yet! Go back to sleep!”

    However, as a gardener I’m definitely taking advantage of the longer growing season. This year I’m hoping to start some things outdoors in March. I saw the first sprouts of the seeds I’ve started indoors today.

    We do need some snow, however. Among other things, it is good fertilizer!

  • 4. Jennie  |  February 15, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    Taylor – Thanks for the well-wishes! 🙂 I gotta say having a greenhouse is a HUGE advantage, if only because it’s a heck of a lot easier to mix the soil and fill trays when you don’t have to worry about getting dirt all over the place. Yea, I remember that snow in April but somehow those wacky spring snows just aren’t the same. It’s spring arleady by then, in my mind at least.

    You’re just never going to get over having moved North, are you? 😉

  • 5. Jennie  |  February 15, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    Rachel – Yep, ice is just not the same as snow. Let’s hope we get a real snow storm before it’s all said and done for this winter. So what seeds are you circling?? I found this really great new online organizational tool you should use (I’m just starting to test it out but plan to put it to good use starting in April…). It’s call MyFolia.com. Let’s you keep track of all your garden plantings and tasks.

  • 6. Jennie  |  February 15, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    Nif – You made me giggle with your shushing of the daffodil shoots. 🙂 I do the same thing! I have five or six of them coming up (almost 4 inches now) in my front flower bed and I’m really wishing they’d pull their little heads back down under the ground. What seeds did you start? I hope to see ours coming up by next weekend…

  • 7. gintoino  |  February 15, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    Well jennie, living in southern Portugal (that’s zone 10) I really don’t know what a cold winter or snow are. Nevertheless this is being an abnormal warm winter even for us. Plants haven’t gone into winter dormancy and I’ve had blooming plants in my garden since September. It’s our driest winter since 90 years ago and if it doesn’t rain until summer arrives we will have a severe drought.
    But for the time being i started sowing for my (first) vegetable garden. I’ve sowed lettuces, tomatoes, diferent types of brassica, squashes, cucumbers, aubergines, peppers, and edible flowers. I’ve also planted jerusalem artichokes, strawberries, blackberries, redcurrants and I plan to plant sweet potato.If all goes according to plan I will have loads of fresh vegetables for summer.

  • 8. Jennie  |  February 18, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    Gintoino – woops, almost lost this comment in the flurry of activity. 🙂 Zone 10 where you are – I am so jealous! I noticed on your plant blog that so much of your garden is still blooming. You are planting your first vegetable garden?? Congratulations!! 🙂 I will look forward to lots of reports about how your crops are doing. I wish we had red currants grown here – perhaps someone does grow them locally, but I don’t know of them…yet. 🙂 As for edible flowers, we’ll have to share what we find grows and tastes the best as I plan on having a whole section at the farm dedicated to edible flowers this coming season.


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