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Early Spring Makes for Early Local Season

How about that March weather? I skiied with my kids at Tyrol Basin on the 2nd and 3rd, and it was great! My youngest’s birthday is March 15th. He turned 4 in 2011, and we skiied the weekend of the 19th. This year, it was 82 on the 15th, and he was asking if I could set the sprinkler up under the trampoline.     

It’s fairly common to get a couple of “teasers” in March—those warm sunny days in the mid-60s when you’re tempted to dig out your shorts and pull out the grill. It’s the opposite of the August mid-60s where you feel like you need your winter jacket. The strange thing about this year is that it just wasn’t a couple of “teasers,” and it wasn’t “spring-like;” it was downright summer for the better part of the month.

Actual low temperatures were often higher than average highs by 20 degrees! It was a record-breaking month, and a quick end to winter, not that we had much of one to begin with.

On the Farm
Overall, the warm weather has been good for the local farmers supplying goods to the Co-op. We started the 2012 local season early with spinach in March, and ramps, watercress, green garlic, and over-wintered parsnips and sunchokes in early April, all several weeks ahead of schedule. The warm March weather really put the heat units into the ground to get rid of the frost and stimulate growth. Growers were anticipating local asparagus and rhubarb to be ready in mid-April. Generally, they hope to have enough volume to start shipping by Mother’s Day.

Farmers we’ve spoken with are about a month ahead of schedule with their perennial crops. Successive plantings of cool season crops such as peas, radishes, turnips, mustards, spinach, carrots, beets, and parsnips were done in March and early April. Steve Pincus of Tipi Produce and Richard de Wilde of Harmony Valley Farm both mentioned incredibly fast and high rates of germination for these early plantings due to higher than normal soil temperatures. Steve Pincus writes, “Right now this looks like an advantage—we’ll have veggies to sell a week or two earlier than usual, and we’ll get an extra planting of some spring crops like radish and turnip. Of course, a really cold spell could change the outlook; these seeded crops are pretty tough and will handle very cold nights while young.”

Tipi also reported they are not advancing on plantings of warm, summer vegetables: “They could be damaged by just one cold night in mid-May, so we’re staying conservative.” So much for an early crop of tomatoes.

The biggest concern for farmers are their fruit crops. As Richard from Harmony states, “The potential problems are with fruit. We and others had to uncover strawberries very early, which will produce blossoms early, like three weeks early and may be vulnerable to a normal freeze which would damage fruit set. Any other fruit—apples, plums, pears—are even more at risk because they are harder to protect from a frost.”

We’ve heard from a couple fruit growers who supply the Co-op with a number of items. Ellen at Future Fruit in Ridgeway reports the apple and pear trees are looking good so far. Dan Barnard of Healthy Ridge Farm in Door County says he’s lost almost his entire sour cherry crop, and about 20% of his sweet cherry crop. His strawberries and peaches looked good at the end of March, but, who knows what kind of weather April will bring? As I’m writing, there are statewide frost warnings for the weekend of Easter, and into the following week. Fruit growers will be taking extreme measures to protect their crops by building fires in the orchards and using large fans to keep the air circulating. We’re wishing them the best of luck!
And what about a morel season? We didn’t have much of one last year, and who knows what will happen this year. Although March was warm enough, the end of March and early April have been dry. There are reports of a few here and there on various morel websites, but nothing significant. I’ve been out a couple of times, and what we have found has been small and drying out. We’re hoping this is a sign that a few “popped” early, and the rest will be coming when they normally do.

Your Willy Street Co-op Local Forecast
Because we enjoy locally grown seasonal vegetables as much as you, we’re really hoping for the best for all the growers in the state. We understand the many values associated to a sustainable local food system, one being a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Regardless of whether our unseasonably warm spring can be attributed to global warming, your support of locally grown fruits and vegetables is a step towards prevention. Weather patterns are becoming more severe, making a risky business like small-scale farming even riskier.

It’s difficult to say what the local forecast will be. Stop in and see how the remainder of spring played out for the local growers and what’s available locally. It’s likely to be crisp, green, and delicious.

Tamar Zick, LPC

Prana Electric LLC

Skupniewitz Painting & Wallpapering

Huntington Learning Center

Monona Grove Nursery School

Dentistry for the Health-Conscious