When ground begins to thaw, and the smell of it is in the air, there stirs within us a peculiar excitement born of ages when seeds needed to be planted, animals to be turned out again after the long harsh winter and we feel in league with the budding trees. The weathermen are predicting rain in the coming week, but the last few snows of winter don’t seem worried. It has been so cold for the last forty five days here in Wisconsin that it dehydrated the snow. It lies like billions of grains of light sand. Impossible to pack and just waiting to envelop the legs of any creature that dares to walk out amongst them.
Those who keep track of the analemma, that infinity symbol on higher quality globes, realize that from now until mid March, the day length increases in the Northern Hemisphere at the fastest rate of the entire year. The latent affect of winter’s chill is being rousted out by the rapidly advancing Sun. The coming growth cycle that will be upon us in the next month or two is something that gardeners wait for all winter long. Even in the dog days of August, with watermelon juice dripping from the ends of our fingers, some of us remember the coddling of seeds that is best done when the frost is just coming out of the soil. Many have sent in their seed orders already, but in case you have not, remember the need for diversity and heed the call to buy open pollinated rather than hybrid seed.
Drawing up plans for the season, what will go where, the best place to put the compost, etc. will help you to keep on track when the days get longer and the work needs doing. I like taking the compost “on tour”, leaving a new section each year bare and enriched, ready to become a new bed. Frequently, there have been rogue squash that hold true to their parents traits that have sprung up from these disturbed areas that made packaged seed varieties look anemic and weak by comparison. It had something “in mind” that was written into it’s genetic code. Humans are not always that lucky. We often need a paper and pencil to guide our development.
We are the agents of change for vast acreages but each of us needs to find a way to impact managing the planet with a more compassionate hand. Since the thirties, the Federal Government has had scientific evidence that crops yielded significantly more when they grew in a zone that I call the 6x zone. Six times the height of neighboring tree lines. For instance, say I have an adolescent forest that is approximately 30 feet high. That means that increased productivity of agricultural plantings has been proven as long as plants are within 180 feet of the forest edge. The kings of the forest around my part of the world reach heights of well over 100 feet. Some, as high as 125 feet. That means that 600-750 feet away, the agricultural production could be enhanced, if trees were encouraged to grow in “rows” 1200 to 1500 feet apart. Coincidentally, many areas are already divided into forty acre parcels, 1/4 mile on a side. This fits nicely into the possibility of planning for future farms.
We have begun to change the way we think about food and how we produce it. The chance for change is no less revolutionary than what is going on in Egypt. Those who have controlled literally hundreds of thousands of acres as a group, millions of acres, have swooped on the lion’s share of farm budget subsidies, doing the wrong thing at the behest of banks, corporate stooges and elected officials. Even though corn makes cattle sick, we pay farmers to grow more of it. Even though organic cotton can be grown, some states have outlawed it. Corruption in food production is par for the course. That is why we need a further groundswell of folks looking for ethical ways to feed their families. A century ago, a farm was not complete without a few apple trees, some berry bushes, and a vegetable garden. today, farmers are more likely to go to the Pick and Save or Aldi Market for their food, even if it happens to be an hour’s drive away. as we leave behind a culture in which everyone canned, pickled and dried foods, we are also losing the time spent with family, talking about our needs and encouraging one another to achieve our dreams.
The cold, clinical way that we look at social and economic problems needs to thaw. Perhaps we can take our inspiration from Mother Earth. The richness of the soil is dependent on how we treat it. The richness that we humans can point to come from how well we meet our needs with the resources at hand. In nature, the idea of a monoculture is virtually unheard of. For those of us who study nature over long periods of time, the fact that good fruit depends on good seed, nurtured by a good culture seems self evident. Only trying to do the best we can in the short run, without consideration for future production steals from future generations and taunts historical evidence as well. It is time to nurture your own plot of land. If all you can do is grow a single tomato plant in a five gallon bucket, do it. The rewards that you get will far outweigh the cost. If you can make a postage stamp sized garden, do it. You will not be sorry you did. making positive change happen is very seductive. Soon you will find yourself looking for greater and greater opportunities to create ever greater positive change.