This time of year feels like the last few days of a pregnancy- restless, ready for the change, aware of the storm of work that is about to arrive, yet not able to begin it until the time has come. The warm beautiful weather is enjoyable, we walk and feel the sun on our faces, we plant the seeds in the greenhouse that it is time for, we check our supplies, and order last minute ones, things lay in the ready, but the time to begin in earnest has not yet arrived. Soon we will look back and wonder what was so wrong with reading for a few hours or taking a walk around the orchard just to enjoy the morning. For now we are restless.
Despite the sense of waiting, it’s a joy to live on a farm and really be a part of the cycles of nature. We wait eagerly each late winter for the signs that spring is arriving. Several weeks ago, we saw the first snow geese heading north- white wings with the lovely black tips, the arrival of red wing black birds lifts our spirits with their distinctive call causing our hearts to give a joyful beat, we can hear them as we sit and seed in the greenhouse. The robins arrive and we are reminded of how they follow us down the beds after we work the soil, getting an easy meal and sticking close to where the soil is being turned. The killdeer calling its own name is a good friend and reminds us to be mindful of where they place their nests on the ground so that we don’t spoil it with the tractor. We remember the times they have nested right in our field and spent hours over the course of the nesting period, faking a broken wing to keep us away from the nest that we are well aware of already. We are holding our breath to see if bluebirds will move into one of our nest boxes again this year, as last year we scored our first brood and we glad to see them hatch and fledge successfully. Last night on the way to light the woodstove in the greenhouse, long vees of Canada geese could be heard moving overhead under the constellations. It is truly a magical time of year!
Most of the action at this time of year revolves around our horse manure hotbed. Basically manure mixed with the bedding in a frame of hay bales , the manure gives off heat as it decomposes, and we keep our seedlings sitting a few inches above it- the right temperature without the use of fossil fuels! We have used these every year that we have been farming, and this year we have answered questions from four other farmers about the “system”, we’d love to see other people get free heat for their seedlings, so it is great to answer questions about it. All of the seedling trays begin in that spot and once they have germinated, they are moved off to make room for the next batch. The greenhouse is better than half full now, and filling with more trays every few days.
there are snow drifts in this one, too, but this is the hotbed with plants being started on top.
Its always exciting to have a sunny warm day at this time of year, because you can almost watch the first tomatoes as they pop up through the soil in the light. Yesterday morning, there were about five tomato seedlings up and visible, and over the course of the day, another 50 or more popped right on through! I’m sure today many more will make their dramatic appearance, slim neck dramatically unfolding from out of the soil to ease any doubt that it knows what its meant to do.
The next step in the cycle is for the rodents to move in. Every year it happens all of a sudden we notice the tunnels in the surface of the manure, and then a few seedlings clipped off (sometimes more than a few). And then the snakes arrive and suddenly the problem is gone. The rodent social network must be faster than the serpentine one, but they always arrive eventually. Then lifting trays becomes interesting, because sometimes you’ll find your finger resting on a strangely smooth, scaly object and as the realization of what is happening hits both parties involved, it slithers rapidly away, and drops neatly down into the manure and disappears.