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Winter in April… What does it all mean?

Well it’s now mid April and we still have some snow on the porch this morning with a balmy air temperature of 33 degrees. To go along with the cold we have had nearly 4 inches of rain, most of which I am pretty sure fell in a 30 minute stretch back on the 3rd. Although our last frost date is still a month away the season is off to a sluggish start to say the least. So it begs the question, what does it mean for the spring as well as the entire growing season.

You know the saying about the best laid plans of mice and men….well if you’re a farmer it’s even more tricky. “Turn up the heat” you might think – and believe me, we have. The farm sounds like an airport with the engines idling as our jet heaters work to keep things alive. When it comes to growing though- it just isn’t as easy as turning up the thermostat.

Plants and insects/diseases respond to the extended accumulation of warm weather, which protects them from temperature shifts during the dormant season. One warm day or even a warm week will usually have very little effect on the rate of growth. This accumulation of heat is usually calculated by tracking the “growing days” each day. This is done by taking the average temperature for the day and subtracting the baseline temperature for plant growth, this time of year, 50 degrees. This time of year we would expect to be accumulating 7-10 growing days of temperature each day. This raises soil temperatures and that combined with increasing daylight leads us down the path of spring.

As we plan and adjust our plans for the season this is one of the key indicators of exactly where we are in the growing process. So if you feel like it has been cooler than normal, then you are right. We typically have had around 175 growing days by this time of year, in fact last year we had 292 by this date. This season we have had a whopping 61, quite a shortfall to normal and a huge swing from last year.

Simply put, crops are going to be slow to start and some may not perform at all especially if we swing to higher than normal temperatures in May. On the bright side, fruit trees will be slow to bloom which should offer some protection from a late frost which can really hurt the crop. This is true of strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and the like. Each season is different and honestly that is one of the exciting parts of this business.

As for us, we have been able to plant pretty close to schedule although things in the field are not growing very fast. I noticed that the Snap Peas are breaking through the ground this morning and all the cool season crops are up and ready for those growing degree days to take hold. So far the potatoes haven’t rotted in the ground and the greenhouse is getting busier by the day. We planted two new varieties of blackberries, two new black raspberries, three new types of strawberries and new asparagus beds this week, as well as the next group of beets, spinach, cabbage, carrots, and radishes. We are looking forward to the start up of our buyers’ club, as well as farmers’ markets which begin in a few weeks.

So hang in there, the 10 day forecast looks very nice, see you all soon!

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