Spring Ramble

Some words form Alex, as we wait for spring:

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Farmers’ actions, like birds, tulips, and morel mushrooms are intricately tied to
seasons. As winter snows fade and the sun becomes stronger and longer in the
sky, all of our motions – plant, fungi, and animal are activated, sped up,
rejuvenated. A spring such as this has outwitted and challenged all of us.

This past weekend, Robin and I spent two days driving and walking around the
western half of the state, observing spring bird migration and other seasonal
changes taking place. As we approached the southwestern corner of Minnesota,
there became evidence of a huge ice storm. Thick sheets of ice covered the
northern side of each shrub and tree branch. Already, thick clouds had begun
compiling themselves in the western sky, foreshadowing another icy bout. In
each small town – Bingham Lake, Windom, Marshall — branches of trees lined
the city streets and chain saws sputtered, splitting stumps. Although migratory
birds had begun to move north with warmer temperatures, they were now stalled
in their journey, huddling as huge, cramped masses in isolated patches of open
waters. Widgeons, mergansers, and buffleheads spread out in pairs or threes
across the ponds, while American coots circled trumpeter swans, feeding on
their uneaten algae. Here was a suspended spring – halted in its steps yet
teeming with life.

Stone’s Throw Urban Farm is feeling much the same in the city. Our onion and
brassica tranplants are waiting to go in the field, our walk-behind tractor and
truck have their oil freshly changed, the farm has a new office and shed space
that are clean and organized. But we are itching for warmer, drier temperatures.
As we begin another rainy, unseasonably cool week we are beginning to have a
few worries. Greenhouse starts in our hoop house are suffering from cool, damp
air, a few of them falling victim to rot from the fungi, Pythium. In general, we
may be delayed in transplanting, pushing back the starts of CSA deliveries.
Different years, the same season can bring huge differences in weather:

2012- we planted our first salad mixes on March 17th, harvesting the greens
about a month later
2013: As the 3rd week of April begins, our plots are covered under three inches
of icy slush.

The snow will inevitably melt. The ducks will inevitably fly north and disperse to
their breeding grounds. Tulips will inevitably begin to push through a snowy
seal. We will inevitably find ourselves with seeds and transplants in hand,
preparing and planting our fields for the 2013 season. A cold, tough spring does
an incredible job at reminding us farmers of the balance between the harshness
and perseverance found in nature. Harsh weather fells trees, batters the flight of

migratory birds, and prevents farm activity. Egos and expectations about the
coming season, illusions of being aided by the weather’s easy touch, all are
ridiculed and reflected upon. But we are continuing on, learning, planning and
looking forward to celebrating the sweetness of summer with you all.

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