Winter wasn’t so bad but then it wouldn’t leave. It’s been lurking around like that surprise houseguest who doesn’t reveal until a week in that he doesn’t really have any plans beyond crashing on your sofa, thanks. Our farmer, Chuck, whose personal thermostat is calibrated to life in Florida, has been cursing the snow-flecked sky for weeks, taking what comfort he could from the shelves of seedlings he had propped up under lights in the kitchen. He says some days he holds his face over his trays of seedlings and shakes them gently, then breathes in deep, just to get the smell of life back into his lungs.
But even after the snow melts and the ground thaws, we have to wade through mud for a few weeks before anything can really get going. It’s the part of spring we erase from our memories like the pain of childbirth, an act of self-preserving amnesia that keeps us from quitting altogether. But we’re in it now, up to our ankles, up to our shins. The willow branches have turned golden, the grass has greened up again, some early flowers are daring to poke through, but the ground itself is like a sodden sponge.
The last frost date in our part of New York, where the Hudson Valley meets the northern Catskills, is May 28th. That means that—to be safe—we should hold off on putting anything in the ground until Memorial Day. We’ve succumbed to temptation in the past and planted outdoors in April, overjoyed to watch lettuce and kale pop up in defiance of the claims of meteorologists..and then watched those bright green shoots disappear under a quilt of late snow, heavy and wet and fatal. In a way this mud that makes it impossible to plant helps protect us from that foolishness. But it’s gross, too.
So we prepare in other ways—building up raised beds in the high tunnel, where they’ll provide well-drained soil, protected from ugly weather. We’ll test the viability of some old seeds we have left from previous seasons in cloches made from gallon milk jugs. We’ll pull up weeds while the soil’s soft and their roots are weak. We turn our faces to the sun and try get our Vitamin D levels out of deficit. Chuck has our fields tilled and ready, including new ground he broke so that we can try growing our own potatoes for french fries and hash browns.