Euphony On the Flyway

Many years ago a dear friend and fellow nature photographer, Greg Ryan, and I were invited by a nature loving Cajun friend to visit the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge near Hackberry, LA, late one afternoon. As the sun settled over the coastal wilderness, the Sabine came alive with gorgeous sounds, of which our naturalist did all he could to identify what we were hearing.

“There,” he would say, “alligator!”

After awhile, he simply gave up. Herons, alligators, frogs and all the rest turned the Sabine into an audio jungle as darkness settled over the grassy wilderness, so much so that ever since I’ve used this as the high water experience for wilderness audio moments.

By clicking on an arrow at the extreme right corner, you can blow this up and better see the number of geese inside the clouds.

By clicking on an arrow at the extreme right corner, you can “blow up” this great image taken by Rebecca to better see the number of geese inside the clouds.

Since moving to our farm, stepping out onto the porch roof or into the yard at night this time of year is a near equal. No, we don’t have alligators nor herons, nor many of the hundreds of other nocturnal denizens that created such an euphonic chorus on that humid night in the Delta, but we have our geese. Thousands of them. Just over the hills to the east and north of us, thanks to a couple of wetland sloughs neighboring farmers have generously not drained. This time of year a third “ghost” of a wetland is also found just to the west of us.

In the late afternoon sun we can watch as we cook dinner as skeins of geese ease from the sky down to the temporary lake. This means we’re basically surrounded by various species of geese and ducks that follow the Flyway and make the many wetlands all around us, as well as the nearby National Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge and Big Stone Lake, stopping off places en route to permanent homes far north of us. Of course, some of the geese are now pairing up and claiming portions of the smaller wetlands for nesting sites, but the majority are just passing through.

The darkened "island" is actually made of congregated geese.

The darkened “island” is actually made of congregated geese.

Although we can hear and see the nearly constant population of geese during daylight hours, our trees are just as likely to serve as temporary hosts to the clouds of murmurating blackbirds. Having a murmuration suddenly descend onto the farmyard isn’t unlike hearing a huge soccer or football stadium suddenly fill of fans. When one landed the other day, I rushed inside to catch the attention of Dale Pederson, who has been here finishing his work on our Taj Magarage. We both stepped outside just to listen for a moment, both of us smiling in appreciation.

Yet, it’s at night when the sounds of the geese ratchet to decibels not unlike that night in the Sabine. Though not nearly as varied and exotic, this sound is nearly as rich in spirit and verve. Many nights we will stand outside just to listen to the stereophonic chorus that surrounds us. “We live here,” one of us will say. We say that a lot, especially this time of year. bottomland2 We both take pictures, and are still hoping for a really good one. Rebecca’s image into the sun and cloud banks the other night was incredible, for once lightened just a little, the skies were literally full of flying geese. This morning, like many mornings here on our farm, clouds of geese circled over the wetland in the rising sun just to the east of us. We both had our cameras out taking pictures, and I even sneaked one in of her looking out our bedroom window.

You can see the dots of flying geese in the sky past Rebecca as she looks through the window.

You can see the dots of flying geese in the sky past Rebecca as she looks through the window.

Yes, there were hundreds of arcs and vees above in the sky, but inside the wetland an entire darkened island contained of thousands of geese. So dense that only the occasional movement of a head gave witness that this was an island of life, of birds, rather than some dense  “jungle” of aquatic prairie plants. And, of course, there was the sound. Though not as loud as it can be after dark, the songs were still amazing. 3.27.15 wetland1 As we look around in the trees and shrubs around the farm we can identify many different song and prairie birds we know are simply passing through. We see them on the feeders, too, and secretly wish some would stick around for awhile. We just took several moments to watch a bald eagle that had landed in the tall cottonwood on the corner of our grove. Eagles, though still a treat to see, are actually fairly common in our area close to Big Stone Lake and the Minnesota River. We often take a drive through the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge, and the other night as the sun was setting, Rebecca excitedly shouted for me to stop. Over one of the beautiful outcrops she noticed five bald eagles in a tree, silhouetted by a beautiful, red-tinted sky.

Above the  trees looking south from our deck.

Above the trees looking south from our deck.

Spring is a lovely time on our farm. Yes, we have varied and usually beautiful sunrises and sunsets throughout the seasons, and many nights we stare through our plate-glass window in the kitchen as we sip on a glass of wine and make our dinner as the sun wanes in the west. Soon the acrobatic swallows will arrive, along with the thrashers and other birds from the annual migrations. Come fall the geese will return, but the occasional reports of the sporting shotguns offer interruptions of silence unknown in the spring. Yes, this is the season when our neighboring wetlands come to life visually and audibly. It’s spring, and a lovely time here on our farm.

Yes, we live here.

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Hope in the Water Wars

Rarely do I come home from an agricultural conference feeling as if much good has come of it since there seems to be so much negativity involved with the overwhelming crush of monoculture intent. Last winter it seemed it was all about pollinators and Bt-flavored GMOs. The year before there was a whole round of climate change fears starting with presentations by Will Steger and continuing on into last spring when a University of Minnesota forestry professor forewarned us about deciduous understory growth that is already supplanting what we know as the great North Woods. So it goes.

This year water has come to the topic table. The corporate buy up of water rights by Nestle in California, or fears that Los Angeles and southern California and even San Paulo in Brazil, two of the world’s largest human residencies, will be out of water by October. Here in Minnesota we fear for what the mining of fracking sand for the oil fields will do to our underground aquifers, and to be truthful, what horrific pollution is being caused when those same sands are pumped into the oil fields to contaminate underground water sources in many parts of the North American continent. Now there is talk of a huge, undeveloped tar sand oil field in northern Mexico … meaning we can expect even more contamination of water resources.

Though temporarily fill, drained wetlands like this one no longer allows for a recharging of the prairie aquifers.

Though temporarily fill, drained wetlands like this one no longer allows for a recharging of the prairie aquifers.

At the conference we were told of how those water friendly tensiometers that measure crop moisture stresses under center pivot systems in the High Plains began beeping like Vegas jackpot machines last summer … for all the wrong reasons. It seems the evapotranspiration rate was so high there that irrigating farmers actually shut off their pumping of water from the diminishing Ogallala Aquifer because the cost of “keeping up” was simply too expensive.

We have our own water issues right outside our windows here on the former prairie. Yes, our farmers continue to add more efficient, pattern-tiled drainage to better flush excess spring melt and early season rainfall from their fields and into the prairie rivers. But wait. Global climate change has also introduced a rather recent trend of choking droughts following the initial spring moisture feed, often around Independence Day. Meaning that in a given year a crop producer can experience both the drowning of a crop due to incredibly high moisture levels and a crop-starving drought in the same field in the same year.

Climatologist Mark Seeley said changing climatic conditions such as high spring moisture coupled with mid-summer through fall droughts will change farming cultural practices.

Climatologist Mark Seeley said changing climatic conditions such as high spring moisture coupled with mid-summer through fall droughts will change farming cultural practices.

So those drainers who can’t wait to flush excess rainwater downriver from their cropland are now tapping into groundwater and adding center pivot irrigation rigs on those same fields to sustain commodity crops like corn, soybeans and potatoes. Groundwater that’s not being recharged at anything close to its historic rate due to wetland removal and tile drainage systems. Remember, it’s a rare instance when any of the drained water is stored, and repeated efforts of attempting to have those who are installing patterned tile upgrades with water table management devices have gone unheeded. While this drainage/irrigation situation is perplexing, it is also becoming ever more common. Indeed, since the conference a friend told of receiving a letter asking permission for the wells on his rural home site to be monitored because an outside investor has purchased a farm within a two mile radius and has sunk an irrigation well onto the property for a center pivot.

“I don’t want my well monitored,” said my friend. “I just want my water.”

Are you wondering about that “feel good” yet? Yes, it has to do with water and farming.

Jerry Hatfield, director of the USDA/ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, discussed the changing seasonality and intensities of precipitation, and suggested the time might be right for new cropping mixtures.

Jerry Hatfield, director of the USDA/ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, discussed the changing seasonality and intensities of precipitation, and suggested the time might be right for new cropping mixtures.

It happened during the recent Farmers Lead the Way conference held at the Southwestern Minnesota Research Station to explore innovative ag practices designed to adapt to the changing climate and weather conditions. I had been invited to hang my Art of Erosion show during the conference, and was invited to participate as well. In the morning speakers like Mark Seeley talked about the effects of climate change on cropping patterns, then after lunch several breakout sessions were held around the large conference room. That is where I heard Grant Breitkreutz, a Redwood, MN, farmer, talk about, of all things, cover crops.

We have both been interested in cover crops for specific reasons, Rebecca with her work with the Land Stewardship Project, and us both with how cover crops might reduce “snirt” problems that are increasingly severe and heightened by a climatic change of reduced snow cover many farmers have failed to address with crop cultural practices. Breitkreutz has, and offered some rather unexpected benefits by doing so. Ironically and by coincidence, he began toying with cover crops about the same time new drainage tiles were installed on his farm … both about a decade ago. He uses a tractor-bourne seeder, or an aerial seeder if it’s too wet, to interseed a mixture of legumes, rye grass and vegetable root crops like radishes and turnips into his row crops of corn and soybeans.

Combining the arts, including my Art of Erosion canvases, with science was an effective and interesting way of handling a touchy subject matter.

Combining the arts, including my Art of Erosion canvases, with science was an effective and interesting way of handling a touchy subject matter.

“Once we figured out what we were doing, our tiles have been dry. Meanwhile, we’re actually rebuilding our soil. Running a no-till planter through our fields is like planting into a garden,” he explained. His soils have come alive and have water holding capacity while reducing crop inputs. All without diminishing yields, and perhaps as importantly, without added machinery costs. Consequently, his soils are not blowing nor is he needing irrigation because of the increased carrying capacity of soil moisture due to the deep rooting action of his cover crop mix.

“My neighbors initially thought we were nuts. Now they’re driving into the yard asking us what we’re doing. I don’t have time to teach them all, which is why I do these meetings. Cover crops have been a total win-win for our farm,” he said.

It is always refreshing to hear a positive story, and especially one coming in the face of so many destructive resource management practices. Cover crops are likely not a panacea for every ill-conceived production practice, yet they certainly should give pause to those who have seen those telltale dirt dunes along the roadways … and perhaps even for those who are thinking of sinking hard earned cash into an irrigation rig and deep well. We can only hope.

Spring-Pong

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The skies above Listening Stones Farm have been filled with murmurations of blackbirds and cries of waterfowl on the wing. The cacophony in the slough just east of us is louder than a Friday night frat party, though it starts before dawn instead of finishing just then. Every so often amidst the hundreds of geese honking their hearts out comes the cartoonish quacking of one indignant duck.

Winter “as we know it” did in fact end on March 6th, as Paul Huttner bravely predicted. What has come between then and now wavers between something approaching summer (75 degrees a week ago) and an unwelcome flashback (high of 34 today, with s-n-o-w predicted for late afternoon). I put peas in the ground March 16th, but I doubt they’ll poke their tender tendrils into the open before the end of the month.

All this seasonal ping-pong has led to constant task-switching around the farm, as we attempt to match up what needs to get done with what the weather is doing, and is projected to do in the next few hours and days. Onions, leeks and celery are up and growing in the house, and peppers and eggplant are seeded in their germination flat, warm and cozy on top of a heat mat. I’ll check through the seed supply for something more to start today (not tomatoes…not yet).

We spent Friday morning, which dawned clear, calm, and slighty moist, pulling and burning brush on the south lawn as fast as we could, knowing the wind would come up in the early afternoon hours. We stopped adding branches at noon, but I still had to douse, and douse, and douse again to get the pile safely under control as the breezes started to build an hour later. It made the low 60’s early that afternoon, but the wind that came up soon swung around to the north, and before nightfall it was back down into the 30’s. Cue unhooking and draining of all the hose I’d used earlier, so it wouldn’t freeze in the night.

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Calm weather and close containment are key when you’re burning in an open area.

Last weekend, on a gorgeous 65-degree Saturday, John and I cleaned out the extremely deep litter of the chicken coop. I’d assembled a 5x5x5 bin the night before, using scavenged u-posts and woven wire from around the farm, and by the time the coop was empty, the bin was full to mounding and overflowing, and we were both exhausted. The next morning I moistened the whole thing, inserting a watering wand with the rose taken off into the center of the pile.

By Sunday night, it was steaming like crazy, and it was still steaming (though more subtly) this morning–almost a full week later. I added another wheelbarrow-full of rakings from the ground around the bin, and even with that, the level has sunk down below the top of the wire enclosure. I would love to stick my 18″ probe compost thermometer in there if I could find it, but I did find a bunch of other stuff I’d lost while looking for it!

Vega inspects the coop compost

Vega inspects the coop compost

Along with finding things I wasn’t looking for, the other thing weather ping-pong does is kick my farm-induced ADD into high gear. I don’t know if it’s a diagnosable illness, but it can work to advantage if you let it. There is just so much to be done that it’s hard to waste a day even if you only accomplish part of each of the fifteen tasks that you had on your list.

That was yesterday, when I hauled the tractor battery out of the basement where it has lived since the night of our first snowstorm last November. I opened the goat barn (a process in itself, as the doors are rickety), opened the tractor hood, and connected it. No luck. So, I pulled the battery, hauled it back to the mudroom, and hooked it up to the charger. Ten percent. OK, I’ve got time to run eggs to the co-op and take the dogs for a walk. Twenty-seven percent. Well, I can finish pruning the apple trees, and while I’m at it, that branch on the black walnut tree that snatches off my hat every time I walk under it. Forty-one percent. Huh, I can pick eggs and move that pile of rotten wood and branches by the chicken coop. Sixty percent. Hmm. I’ll re-walk the areas I intend to mow and look for potential obstacles.

Seventy-two percent! I’m going for it! I pulled the battery off the charger, hauled it back to the barn, wired it up, and backed right out–knocking over an enormous pile of bamboo stakes in the process. Ahh, well. I’ll pick those up later. Off we go, down the yard to mow that snarly old raspberry patch! And now to the sunflower and broom corn stalks in the lower…uh-oh, too wet! Almost stuck! Back up to high ground to tackle the tall grass by the crab apple trees!

I was making good progress when the Very Bad Sound came. The Very Bad Sound is known to anyone who owns an old farmstead with lots of tall grass and grove areas in which one hundred years of previous owners have tossed various things they had no use for. Or, maybe they just set the thing there fifty years ago and wandered off in a fit of farm-induced ADD, and they forgot about it, or they couldn’t find it (kind of like my compost thermometer). By the time I got the PTO switch flipped and the tractor shut down, I had a long section of heavy-gauge wire wrapped around two out of three of the mower blades. I should add it was the two out of three mower blades that were hardest to reach.

So! Guess I’ll let that sit until John gets home and tells me where the jack is hiding! Off to turn under the winter rye cover crop in the raised beds!

Joe Pye chews on a raspberry stalk while I turn the winter rye cover crop.

Joe Pye chews on a chunk of raspberry cane while I turn the winter rye cover crop.

I eventually got impatient with waiting for John, and propped up the mower deck with broken pieces of pavers in order to reach underneath. Another half an hour rolling around on the ground on alternating sides of the tractor and the wire was out (I made a special trip to stow it where it can do no more harm) and I was back mowing stalks in a small area where the grove meets the prairie, and which has a particularly nice stand of nettles. They’re already poking up, so now it’ll be easier to get back in there and harvest wild spring greens.

But today…well, spring greens harvesting is not in the cards Mother Nature is dealing. After a morning where the skies did not seem big enough to contain the geese in them–a morning of stowing tools, tarping equipment and re-securing the barn doors–we’ve ping-ponged back into winter with the swirl of airborne waterfowl replaced by swirling snowflakes.

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Time to settle my farm-induced ADD inside for the afternoon. I might try looking again for that compost thermometer. Who knows what I’ll find instead!

 

It Begins

Paul Huttner, Minnesota Public Radio Meteorologist Extraordinaire, wrote on the Updraft Blog recently that, “winter as we know it will end Friday afternoon March 6.” That’s a pretty bold statement from a typically conservative forecaster, and one that might compel him to go into hiding if it’s wrong.

But winter this year in these parts has been mild. We’ve had little snow, and the ground has gone bare on multiple occasions due to the lack of precipitation and periodic melting of what we have gotten. I’d say we’ve been spoiled, but I was really looking forward to using my snowshoes more than once this season, so it feels more like being cheated.

But, what’s weather for, if not to complain about? It’s pretty much a universal sport.

With warmer days, and the possibility of temperatures in the fifties (Fifty! Fifty Degrees!) on Monday, my feelings remain conflicted. Regular readers know about the terrible soil erosion in our region caused by farmland being left bare over the winter months, and no doubt you’ve seen the snirt both in images on this blog and on the landscape anywhere you’ve traveled over the past few months.

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One of John’s many snirt images from this winter.

But aggressive snowmelt in the next week is when we’ll be flushing the shame of poor management practices down the drain. If we warm as quickly and aggressively as Huttner predicts, hundreds of tons of topsoil that have coated ditches and streambanks–that have been left exposed to the elements on hilltops and in open fields–will go running over the top of the still-frozen ground and into our rivers, streams, and ditches, settling into our lakes, and flowing down to the Gulf of Mexico.

With the Des Moines Waterworks suing three Iowa counties for nitrate runoff and Lake Pepin being nicknamed “Lake Willbegone” due to erosive ag drainage tiling filling the waterway with mud, it makes me wonder when the lawsuits will start hitting closer to home. How close does the reckoning have to get before individual farmers will change their ways? Maybe this close:

Gov. Mark Dayton stunned but delighted Minnesota’s leading conservationists Friday by announcing that he’ll push for a new law this legislative session that would require every lake and river in the state to be buffered by a wide strip of natural land, a significant step toward protecting both water and wildlife.

“I recognize this will not be well received by some private landowners,” Dayton said Friday to a packed room at the Department of Natural Resources’ annual meeting for conservationists. “The land may be yours, but the water belongs to all of us.”

Minnesota has required buffer strips on farmland for years, the only state in the country to do so, but the law is often not enforced. Demand for enforcement has risen in recent months, from hunters, anglers, beekeepers and environmentalists worried about precipitous declines in wildlife and rising agricultural pollution in the southern half of the state. [Marcotty, Josephine. “Dayton wants tougher water and wildlife protection law.” Star Tribune, updated 17 Jan. 2015]

And now, just today, there’s this disheartening story from MPR News about the state of waterways in one corner of the state: “Study: Pollution leaves no swimmable, fishable lakes in southwest MN.” If you read the related story, you’ll see that there is a new coalition of legislators who think the best way to deal with the MN Pollution Control Agency’s bad news is simply to change the standards. Sulfate from mines above the levels determined hospitable for wild rice? Well, that sounds expensive for our mining companies! Let’s let the legislators rather than scientists determine what the wild rice can take! Farming methods causing nitrate pollution and sediment? Change the definition of pollution! It’s really just “nutrients,” and we know those are good for us!

Of course, not all legislators think they make better scientists than…well, scientists, and not all farmers leave their land barren and vulnerable to erosion that causes pollution. I know many, many good stewardship farmers who implement conservation measures to keep the soil in place whether on their own or with help from government programs.

But there aren’t enough of them, and there hasn’t yet been a clear and pervasive message from all sectors of society (including and especially from fellow farmers and everyone else in the agricultural field) that if you don’t conserve your soil then, no matter how many bushels per acre you harvested last season, you are not a good farmer. You are not a skilled farmer. You are a wasteful and negligent farmer, and farmers like you are the reason that voluntary compliance is turning toward strict enforcement.

If you want less “government intrusion,” the answer is not to elect people who make up their own “facts” about the severity of the pollution; the answer is to operate in a way that minimizes pollution and saves the soil you depend on for a living. It may not be the most convenient or most profitable way to operate (that is, until enforcement and fines make it so), but it’s the right way to operate, and IT’S JUST NOT THAT DAMNED DIFFICULT. At the very least, leave the stalks in the field overwinter. Follow the law that’s already in place about buffer strips; grass (and maintain) the waterways. How hard is that, really? There’s plenty wrong about farm policy as it is, but it doesn’t help lighten the load of regulations when some farmers don’t even do the bare minimum to keep their soil, nutrient, and chemical in one place.

Stepping off my soap box and kicking it aside along with my pissed-off mood (sorry, but from where I sit, I can actually SEE a brown-tinged miasma of snirt-clouds rolling around the horizon), I’m still glad that winter as we know it is coming to an end. We’ve got runoff control and water-saving measures to implement here, too, and the warmer weather will help set those plans in motion. The cautionary statement overshadowed by Huttner’s pronouncement about winter’s end was that this could be the year our spring rains fail us, and that is a sobering thought amid the excitement over shedding layers and feeling the sun’s warmth return.

Is there good news? It seems like this post just keeps getting gloomier, but never fear: seed starting season is here! Last weekend, I cleaned out a tray in my vermicompost bin and re-assembled the light shelf, which are the first steps in a three-month-long orgy of planting, nurturing, and rejoicing (hopefully) over the emergence of green and growing things.

Peat moss goes in...

Peat moss goes in the vermicompost tray…

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Black gold comes out!

Seed starting medium was assembled during the first part of the week; in addition to the usual spaghnum peat moss, the aforementioned worm compost, and a little sand, I’m using a new component for my starter mix this year: PBH, or par-boiled rice hulls. They are a substitute for mined perlite (those little white styrofoam-like “pebbles” you see in many commercial mixes) and add loft, pore space, water-holding capacity, and drainage.

I continue to use peat moss (about 4 cu ft/year) as the base for my seed starting mix and as a base for my worm bedding because I have had good results with it. I’ve read a few articles suggesting that coir (coconut husk fiber) is a viable and more sustainable alternative to peat, but I’ve also read otherwise. I’ll take a small risk with trying out rice hulls (which are about 15% of the total mix), but changing out the entire base component doesn’t seem wise considering what I’ve read. The time may come when a substitution is either viable or necessary (or both), but the time has not yet come.

Last night, I went through my seeds and pulled out those items to start 10-12 weeks before the last frost. I was beginning to get panicky because it was already March 3rd, and I didn’t have anything started yet!

Actually, I started my first seeds on the exact same day last year.

Actually, I started my first seeds on exactly the same day last year.

Yeah, I probably was panicking last year, too. So, I seeded Blue Solaise leeks, Mars celeriac, Conquistador celery, and Talon F1 yellow storage onions, which are still the best storage onions I have grown, as evidenced by the fact that I still have about forty pounds of gorgeous, sound bulbs from last year’s crop down in our cold storage room.

I’m growing fewer storage onions this year, though, because I’m only growing them for us. Last year I put in about double what we needed, and lugged a 70lb crate of them to the farmers market each time I went. I sold maybe ten pounds total, in quantities of 1-2lbs.

Most people don’t grow onions from seed (if they grow them at all) because–I don’t know–because they think it’s hard? And also probably because onion sets are so readily available. Onion sets are crap, in my not-so-humble opinion, because when you plant a little tiny onion in the spring, it has to expend its energy making a root system and top growth before it can start making a bigger bulb, and often will form a seed stalk, which creates a hollow core that makes the bulb rot more easily. Onion plants are better, but they aren’t as available, the varieties are limited, and often they are dried up by the time they arrive in stores.

Growing onions from seed is not hard; it just takes time. I start them (and leeks) in the first week of March, so that by the time I need the space on my growing rack for other things, they can mostly hang out on the porch or outside hardening off, at least during the day. I give them regular “haircuts” in their flats, so they don’t get too spindly and fall over. I transplant them in blocks of four (that’s how I plant them) instead of rows, so they’re easier to hoe around. And I get to try different varieties, grow them with care from day one, cure them sufficiently, and produce the best damn onions money can’t buy (well, it could at the farmers market last summer).

But most people don’t worry about running out of onions, and I guess they don’t need to because there onions at most stores, and they’re relatively cheap. Onions don’t tend to have heavy pesticide loads, so even conventional ones aren’t terribly tainted. They’re always on the Environmental Working Group’s Clean 15 list of the least contaminated produce. But, you know, if you have cool storage space in your house and you’d bought storage quantities of onions from me last year, you’d still have some really nice, cleanly grown onions. At least you would if you hadn’t eaten them all!

While I’m on my onion soapbox (my onion crate?), I don’t understand why people want to grow or buy massively huge onions. Besides making a few onion rings once in awhile (and I grow enough big ones to more than satisfy this need in our household), big onions don’t store as well, and they’re hard to use up in one dish for a small number of people. So, then you have a stinky partial onion sitting in the fridge, which for some reason no one remembers to use even though you can smell it in there every time you open the door. (Oh, you have a plastic onion-keeper? Congratulations. I bet it stinks like onion.)

As you might’ve guessed by now, I much prefer a small to medium-sized onion for daily use. Just use the whole thing, and no leftover onion bits migrating to the back of the fridge. Next day, grab a new onion from the bowl you replenish periodically from cool storage (or from the grocery store), and use that one up, too.

Anyhow, I started (24) 4-packs of onions. Every cell in each 4-pack has five seeds in it (with the goal of a block of four onions), for a grand total of 384 onions. Barring utter disaster, let’s say I end up with somewhere between 300-350 storage onions. That’s around an onion a day, six days a week, for an entire year.

OK–maybe I will have a few to sell! We’ll see how it goes. I also have a row of perennial bunching (green) onions transplanted last fall (descendants of those I started from seed 10 years ago now), and I’ll start a few red Italian torpedo onions when the seed arrives. Those I don’t mind selling because they’re a fun specialty item, and they don’t really keep. Leeks went well at the market last year, so I’m starting about twice as many and will force myself to actually sell them rather than hoarding them jealously, as I tend to do with my blue-flagged beauties.

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I love leeks.

Otherwise, I’m planning the seed-starting schedule for the next couple of months, and I finally submitted my last seed order in the past couple of days (See! I am behind!). That one is mostly cover crops (oats, buckwheat, field peas, and tillage radish) and a few supplies, though, so it’s not really anything to panic about.

Except that there are potatoes in that order, too, and with winter being over on Friday, well, who knows? I see that last year I planted peas, spinach, and arugula out in the raised beds on March 30th, and the arugula was up just about a week later. The year before, on the first day of spring, I wrote that there was no thaw in sight–two weeks later we still had plenty of snow, but a cold rain was slowly eating it away.

When will digging-in-the-dirt commence this year? Paul Huttner won’t say, but just like every year, I’m sure I’ll know it when I feel it (and when my soil thermometer tells me). Until then, there’s plenty of (inside) planting, a little panicking, and a lot of planning to keep me occupied.

It begins!