A week can make so much difference in the garden, especially in the transition between winter and spring. On the farm, paying attention to the unique movement of each and every season is as important as paying attention to the date on the calendar. Every year is different from the last, and a good farmer knows to watch for the signs around the farm and within nature to help adapt to coming change, to take advantage of conditions, perhaps to be patient until better weather comes or to prepare for a cold snap.
Phenology is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycles and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate. In the garden and in nature pay attention year to year to the dates of the first occurrence of biological events such as emergence of shoots, leaves and flowers, when migratory birds arrive, when different “volunteers” germinate, activity and lifecycle of insects, etc. Signs of spring that I anxiously watch for include; the first crocus opening, the first stinging nettles, the arrival of the robins, the sound of frogs in the pond and daffodils. I also watch for the greens to go from barely growing to vigorous, fresh growth.
This is my favorite time for farm salad, which is always so precious and sparse through the winter. I find I crave the foods that spring brings, more than any other season. Big salads, nettle soup and kale florets are the stars of the spring table.
Keeping track of these events is a valuable way to get a sense of the seasons and how they can change through the years. Mary Alice keeps a great farm journal. She buys a notebook with over 365 pages with dividers. Each day of the year has a page, so through the years, a page will contain information from subsequent years. Every day, Mary enters information such as weather, first and last frost dates, farm work, first/last harvests of crops, phenology details, etc. As well, she reads back to see what was happening in subsequent years. A wealth of information is contained within the pages of that journal.
The seedling tables are constantly full this time of year. We have transplanted into the greenhouses the first batch of lettuces (most of which will be for seed), as well as spinach, green onions and mizuna.
We got our first outside crop of broad beans in the soil March 16, into the recently cleared winter carrot bed. It was pretty clean after the carrots, just needed a quick forking to loosen up the soil (it was too wet to till and the bed didn’t need it, anyhow). We will take out a couple more winter crop beds next week (leeks and parsnips) and plant with early shelling peas and potatoes.
Seeding continues. Getting the last of the tomatoes seeded, peppers, eggplant, tomatillo and cape gooseberry are also being seeded. Always more greens to seed. We’ll start our first batch of cukes and basil soon.