Posted by: Bill Stoneman | September 10, 2009

Looking forward to a productive new year

Happy New Year! We’re starting the 2010 growing season today in our backyard in Upstate New York.

Sure,  the calendar says the new year is three and a half months away. And we understand the raised eyebrows about planting as the days get shorter, the nights get cooler and memories of snow drifts return. Our new year, however, starts today.

More specifically, we’ve sown spinach seeds with the expectation that we’ll get hardy plants going before it’s really too cold, we’ll protect them in cold frames over the winter, we’ll see growth resume in mid-February and we’ll be harvesting in mid-March. And we’ll get a few other hardy salad greens in over the next couple of days.

We know from last year’s experience that this can work.  We still have plenty to learn, however, before we can claim that it makes economic sense.  At the hands of unskilled carpenters who waste lumber with each mistake, cold frames cost about $25 in materials.  It remains to be seen how many seasons they’ll last.  We added piles and piles of organic material to our heavy clay this summer in preparation for this day. But perhaps more would have been better.  The spot we picked gets a pretty lot of sun. But more certainly would be better.  Having neglected to procure more seeds until calling an expensive mail-order place the other day, we’re starting with seeds left over from last year. They may still be fine. But then again, they may not be.  And although we’re starting two weeks earlier than last year, still earlier might have been better.

The challenge is getting the most out of soil where growers can’t count on more than 120 days between the last frost in the spring and the first one in the fall. Success would mean a bit less reliance on an energy-intensive agri-business system that damages the environment with its heavy use of fertilizers and that sells us produce containing pesticide residues.  The difference may be tough to quantify, but getting ourselves outside and eating locally and organically grown food ought be good for us and our surroundings.

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