Casaubon's Book

First Things

The season cycled over the weekend – officially it is not quite spring, but in fact, spring now has a toe hold. Even if it goes back to chilly or even snows, the ground is too warm for it to last, by the end of an unusually warm week the grass will be green and the soil dried enough to move forward. That doesn’t mean my (optimistic) plantings of peas and bok choy, spinach and sweet peas may not stagnate or my fruit tree blooms get caught by frost (we can’t even say a late frost, it is two months to my last frost date, and anything can happen in upstate NY and usually does), that the boys in shorts and t-shirts might not go back to cords and sweaters – but you can’t turn the season around.

This is the earliest spring I’ve ever seen in upstate NY, after the warmest winter – a friend recently moved from California confided she was pleasantly surprised by winter – it really didn’t seem that bad. I don’t think she believed me when I told her that the greening of spring is often a full month from now.

The peepers began their peeping on Friday, and yesterday, at Eli’s 12th birthday party, we found garter snakes sunning themselves, frog eggs and minnows awakening. The crocuses are blooming, More than a dozen happy children from two to thirteen swarmed the creek, climbing trees, dancing back and forth across the fallen log that serves as a bridge, building short-lived dams and dipping toes into cold water. No one could bear to go inside the house – except when filthy and exhausted they trooped in to drain glasses of lemonade and devour their weight in cake before revisiting the sun and water.

Spinach, kale and leeks all have overwintered without cover here – not that unusual, but something that only happens one year in three normally. In a week or two there will be spinach to harvest, and the kale leaves will size up yet at as well before they bolt (I hope ;-)). While saving spinach seed is no real challenge, biennial seed saving is always a challenge here so a good warm year with a mild winter is quite an opportunity.

The rhubarb is up an inch, the sorrel a bit more – it will be a week or two before we have any real harvest here, but the hope lingers. We’ve crossed the rubicon into spring, and it is only a matter of time now. That it is a spring that really belongs to a place 400 miles south of me is worrisome – but it is hard not to glory and kick up our heels.

Dandelion greens will fill the pot soon, and nettles. Sorrel will mix with tender spinach and bitter dandelion, tossed with the abundant eggs of spring. There’s a reason why they used to say that nothing is as sweet as that first mess of greens – there’s something in our bodies that with the return of sunlight calls out for sour and bitter, sweet and mlld together. There will be frittata and omlets as the season of greens and eggs comes together. Bibim Bap made with wild greens and a broken yolked egg dusted with sesame seeds will make an appearance, and gnocchi, delicate and creamy green. The first sprigs of rosemary, mint, chives parsley and and thyme will make a sauce for duck eggs, mixed with lemon and spring onion.

Later there will be rhubarb sauce and asparagus, eventually there will be strawberries. But first there will be greens to go with the already abundant eggs, and it is the greens that call to us with the siren call of spring.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Claire
    March 19, 2012

    Here in St. Louis, the redbuds are in full bloom, the plums and peaches already past bloom. I picked a pound of asparagus yesterday. It’s *only* been 25-30F above normal temps here, unlike farther north where it has been 40F or more over normal. Still, we are at least two to three weeks ahead of where spring usually is at this time of year. It’s historically possible we won’t get another frost – last frost has been as early as March 9 here – but the average last frost date is a month later than that. Like you, I can’t help but wonder what this means for the upcoming summer, but at the same time I am enjoying feeling warm enough for the first time in five months.

  2. #2 Kate Mc
    March 19, 2012

    Here in MI we went from mild winter to summer. Our highs are in the upper 70′s to low 80′s and our lows are in the 50′s. I am concerned that we will get a cold snap and we will lose the cherries again. This is just too weird some days.

  3. #3 Minnesota here
    March 19, 2012

    Any tips for protecting fruit trees? Some are 5-8 years old and they’re budding out as fast as they can, some are already starting to leaf out.

    I’m very worried we’ll see frost and I don’t know if I just loose a season’s worth of growth and fruit or if I’ll be looking at a dead tree. Everyone here is focused on “to plant or not” without helping us fruit tree people.

  4. #4 DennisP
    March 19, 2012

    Here in central Wisconsin our temperatures are running 25-40 degrees above normal for both days and nights. It occurred to me this morning that IF the differential were to be sustained thru the next 6 months, we would be looking at summer temp’s in the 100s to 120s. I doubt that I would have any garden harvest. More importantly it would be a public health crisis, a situation that I wonder if our public leadership would be prepared to handle. Can you imagine the draw on power by A/C units? And the numbers of people subject to heat stroke, etc.?

    Now I’m NOT predicting this situation, I have NO reason to think the temp differential will be sustained. But if it were, it would be a really scary situation.

  5. #5 Stephen B.
    March 19, 2012

    @Minnesota here,

    Fruit trees are at their most vulnerable during bloom. Much of any frost during the period when the flowers are open often freezes and destroys the reproductive parts of the flower, namely the pistils and stamens which freeze easily due to their very small, delicate sizes. Once frozen, said flowers will not pollinate or bear fruit that season. Past bloom, however, and the tiny, fruits are a bit more frost and freeze resistant.

    With this in mind, most growers run sprinklers on trees overnight when frosts and freezes threaten trees in full flower. Often, the water freezes first, sparing the flowers from damage.

    One would think that the tree would pick up a heavy ice load and loose branches overnight, but I haven’t found that to be the case, though I suppose it could happen, especially to a tree that has leafed out and has more ice collection area, but by then most trees are past bloom and, as I say are less vulnerable to cold weather at that point.

    Overnight sprinkling also works to protect strawberries that suffer the misfortune of blooming during a frost.

  6. #6 Stephen B.
    March 19, 2012

    One more thing about using sprinklers to protect plantings in cold weather – If you set the sprinkler and hose up ahead of time, during the day, either turn it on early or make sure the sprinkler(s) and hoses are dry inside, for if they have water in them, you might be surprised how quickly they freeze up after sunset, which I assure you, will be very irritating :-}

    During the night, the water flow will keep the equipment from freezing.

  7. #7 Minnesota here
    March 19, 2012

    Stephen – thanks much. Don’t own sprinklers but am thinking the investment might be worth it. :D I’m wondering if the heatwave will last just long enough to get everything blooming, people that have called me names around my lifestyle are now saying “huh, maybe there is something to this global warming” I just shrug and say, I hope I don’t lose a fruit tree or five.

    Grew up with well water and wood stove heat and in the cold cold parts we’d leave water dripping to keep it unfrozen. Thanks for the head’s up, it’s an excellent reminder.