Now that I have allowed myself to get excited about spring, Nature has taken to practical joking. It seems that whenever I have to do silage in the morning, it is bitterly cold, my fingers going numb while I wrestle with several hundred pounds of hay, and for April Fools, they were predicting a Nor’easter and 6 to 12 inches of snow for Harlemville. We got 2 inches at the most, but nevertheless there was plenty of grumbling around the farm about the fickle nature of early spring. Despite the weather, we continued full steam ahead this week with springtime tasks—for the first time this year, we brought out the chisel plow, our primary tillage method of choice at Hawthorne Valley. Essentially, it consists of a series of curved tines mounted on springs. It is pulled behind a tractor, and the tines slice through the soil, the springs allowing them to wiggle around a bit, disrupting the surface of the soil without completely overturning it.

Chisel plow.

We use the chisel plow on all of our fields at the beginning of the season, once the ground has thawed and isn’t too wet. Next comes secondary tillage—using a rotovator, we further break up the soil and create a more even, hospitable medium for planting our seeds and transplants. Finally, we shape our beds and pathways and plant our crops (and despite this week’s inclement weather, we did our first outdoor seeding of sugar snap peas). Now that the snow is (mostly) melted, I’m continually rediscovering once-buried evidence of the resilience of plant life in the face of the elements, the desperate desire they have to live. Even in January, we were still digging for kale in our snow-covered fields, no longer growing but frost-hardened and delicious.

Overwintered kale.

Now that the snow is gone, we find that the mâche and spinach, with their blankets of reemay (a polyester row cover used to keep out pests and keep in warmth) have survived and even thrived despite the bitter north country winter and the attentions of the local deer population;

Mache under reemay.

even some of the lettuce made it through, though it’s much too bitter for human consumption.

It is easy, at this lean time of year, to slip into dreams of July, when all of our labor will finally see its reward. My thoughts have been dwelling too long on tomatoes—one day, I let it slip that I was often assigned tomato trellising duty at my last farm (others did not always have the patience for this somewhat tedious task, and I did it without complaint—I found the act oddly satisfying, cajoling the plants into standing erect, and I secretly relish any task that involves untangling, making order from chaos) and I have since been assigned the title of Tomato Queen, and have been working on tomato-oriented projects like calculating the amount of twine and number of stakes we’d need based on the number of bed feet we’ll be planting. Thinking of summertime can make the landscape seem gray and our harvests of spinach and salad mixes seem paltry, but more and more it seems that the things this season has to offer just aren’t as flashy as a ripe, red tomato. Looking a little harder, peeking beneath row covers, hunting for wild mushrooms, or tapping an unassuming maple tree, this time of thawing holds more than meets the eye.

Sugaring season at Hawthorne Valley Farm.

Quote of the day: “In the normal course of life we are awake by day, asleep by night, with dreams arising between. However, we can ask to what extent we are truly awake in the day. A little consideration will show that we are really fully awake only in our thinking. We can be so absorbed in thought as to grow oblivious to what is going on around us […] In recalling the events of a day, only what we have observed consciously in thought stands out clearly for us. Some things we recall in a kind of haze and a great deal has passed us by completely for we were simply not awake to it.”–Francis Edmunds, An Introduction to Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner’s World View


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