February 17, 2012
For example, old-timers up on this high plateau say transplant your tomatoes when the the snow has melted off the Simcoes (a nearby mountain range) and plant your corn when the buds of the oaks are swelling. Well, I'd like to offer up a new one for honing over the seasons to come: When the hens begin to lay eggs again after the New Year, begin to harvest grapes for propagation and scion wood for grafting; start to seed the solanums, brassicas, and lettuces indoors for transplant later in the spring.
For the past several years, I have used the general time-frame of "mid February" as the marker for when to start the early garden crops, take grape cuttings and harvest scion wood (and prune the fruit trees). This year, I noticed that our first egg came in around the 10th of February, and by the 16th we had two laying hens. We currently have no artificial lighting in with the hens, so they are responding only to the length of natural day light and temperature. We also did not extend the fall season with lighting at all, so these hens have had a good long rest.
While we are still under some snow, particularly in the shady areas, it is steadily melting. On sunny afternoons, prop-house is quite a warm and pleasant place to work, and so this is where I have been doing most of the mid-February horticultural activities.
Chardonnay (above) & Concord (below) grapes
The snow storm in January laid down layers of snow and ice which can be quite damaging to trees. All throughout the forest, limbs‒large and small‒ have fallen from trees because of the weight of the snow and ice. The fruit trees were no exception. A few of the fruit trees lost some branches, and so this year's pruning has been somewhat sad as I have removed good size branches that broke under the burden of the winter precipitation. Thankfully, the damage was minimal. And arguably the branches that broke were too weak‒usually because of the angle where the branch meets the larger trunk‒and so its just nature's way of setting the record straight on what is good pruning technique. As I have been pruning the fruit trees, I have also harvested scion wood from the apples for grafting later this spring.
The kitchen is once again turning into a greenhouse‒currently housing trays seeded with tomatoes, eggplant, kale, chard, cabbage, broccoli and lettuces. A sign that spring is on its way.
Finally, I'd just like to note that the parsnips and rutabagas, stored unharvested in the garden, have survived the snow and cold reasonably well. The parsnips have suffered no damage whatsoever. There have been some spots on rutabagas that were damaged by the cold, but large portions of the roots are just fine. The cold and moisture tolerance of the rutabagas is surprising to me as most of the edible root is above ground, making it more susceptible to cold. But, if it works for them, it works for me. And some of these rutagagas grew quite large. Ruben cooked one up yesterday with our Hubbard squash and kale and it was delicious!