Spring is a season of hope and promise, but historically, it has also been a time of scarce food supplies, hunger and even starvation. Last week I wrote about how fossil-fuel powered shipping allowed perishable food to be shipped from areas of abundance to places without. But for most of human history, people outside the tropics relied on crops harvested in the fall and for stored through winter and early spring. When those supplies ran out, they had to scrabble to find food to feed themselves while they planted crops that would not mature for several months. An extra long winter was more than an inconvenience, it could be a catastrophe.
For the last half-century, many humans have come to take an abundance of food for granted. But since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve gotten a solid reminder that food does not always magically appear on store shelves. Climate change and now the war in Ukraine are hammering the point home, and prices for commodities like wheat and corn are off the charts. As always, food scarcity hits the poor hardest.
Despite the weather-fortunate area that we farm in — the ground doesn’t freeze, and it doesn’t snow — early spring is a lean time, harvest-wise. Almost all non-perennial crops that are planted in the fall go to seed when exposed to increasing amounts of daylight and higher temperatures. For grain crops like wheat or barley, this means that harvest season is approaching. But for the majority of vegetables, it means harvest season is ending.
Meanwhile, there are few new crops to take their place. It’s not always dry enough here in January or February to plant seeds or transplants, but even when we do, they grow painfully slowly or not at all thanks to the combination of cold temperatures and short days. Last year, the lettuce I planted on January 5th matured the same week as the lettuce I planted a month later. Spinach planted in January takes 6-8 weeks to mature, compared to 28 days during other times of year. Other crops grow even more slowly.
Thankfully, there are a few winter crops that can be harvested before they bolt to seed and then stored for weeks in the cooler, including cabbage, carrots, beets and radishes. These are not, however, the vegetables that most people think of eating when it’s sunny and warm outside like it is right now.
Asparagus is a perennial vegetable whose roots start to push up spears when the sun starts to warm the soil. And our fall-planted Onions and Garlic begin to reach a size that makes them appealing fresh vegetables that harken back to the days when people used to hunt for wild onions and ramps (wild garlic) in the woods every spring.
What we’re waiting most eagerly for is the Strawberries. Planted way back in late August, they are finally putting on a show of prolific white blossoms with a handful of little green fruit already poking out from under the leaves. Unlike some other fruit crops (cough, cough), the berries had good timing this year and mostly waited until just after the brutal hard freeze in late February to start blooming. That is very good news, because strawberry flowers cannot tolerate sub-freezing temperatures any better than peach or nectarine blosssoms. We expect to start picking the first berries in mid-April.
We appreciate your appreciation and patience for the limited harvest that early Spring offers.