A Whiff of Spring
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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?