Think Of It As a Quickening

We rise, we rise, we rise toward spring. Day by day, the light gains. Under its frozen crust, the world wakes. Winter may still have its icy hold on us, but if you look and listen carefully, spring stirs.

Recently I came across a phrase I think describes well this in-between time: that winter is pregnant with summer. Now is a season of expectancy, anticipation, and, above all, preparation.

Think of it as a quickening, if you like, when one feels the first kicks of new life. And it’s almost impossible to talk about new life without invoking seeds. In truth, much of my farming activity this time of year centers on my preparing to sow seeds.

First, in December, I review the farm’s seeding schedule, a long spreadsheet that throughout the season tells me what to sow, and when, and in what quantities. I base any revisions on my notes from the previous season’s experiences, adjusting quantities and timings as needed.

What kinds of evaluations am I making? Sometimes a variety doesn’t perform as well as I would like. For example, the Cherokee Purple tomato, while great tasting, is too prone to cracking in our fields, so I was happy to discover the Carbon tomato, which has performed much better for us. Sometimes new varieties become available that improve on the older ones. Broccoli, for some reason, seems prone to this churn, and each year I need to revise my schedule to reflect these new varieties.

Sometimes I am forced make substitutions because certain varieties are no longer available. This year, for whatever reason, I can’t seem to get the Provider bush bean through my usual sources, so I will be growing Strike, which, fortunately, is just as good. And sometimes I just decide to try something new and different, like how I got it in my head this year to grow a bunch of French heirloom vegetables, just for the fun of it.

Once the schedule is finalized, or nearly so, I place my seed order. In the past, I have aimed to do this task done sometime in January, but the demand for seeds has been so high during these pandemic years, I made sure it was done earlier, no later than mid-December, to avoid any shortages.

When the seeds arrive, I check the packing slips to make sure I have everything I ordered, then sort the seeds according to family and stow them in airtight containers to keep them safe until I need them later in the spring.

But I need more than seeds. I also need soil to sow them in, and pots and nursery flats to put the soil it, and these also are secured this time of year and stowed safely in the barn.

And I will need someplace to put all those sown pots and flats, as well as an orderly place to work, so I make sure that all in the greenhouse is ready, too. I clean it if it wasn’t cleaned in the fall, check to make sure the air circulation fans and louver vents and, most importantly, the heater are all working properly. I see to it that the propane tank is topped off, and I make sure all my greenhouse tools are in good order.

Then, when the page of the calendar turns to March, I will enter that greenhouse, fire up the heater, dial up John Coltrane’s Love Supreme on the iPod, say a prayer, and get down to work.