Sunday, January 27, 2013
" I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders."
Henry David Thoreau
The annual arrival of seed catalogs is a wonderful time of year.
Whatever our successes and failures of the previous season may have been, we have a chance to give that farming Etch-a-Sketch a good, hard shake and start over with a clean slate.
To settle down in a comfortable armchair with a brand new seed catalog is to be transported into a garden of boundless possibilities and future perfection.
When I was thirteen, my family received our annual Dominion Seed House catalog, mailed from Georgetown, Ontario.
This was not a catalog that would be remembered for its lavish illustrations. What it was instead, was an absolute masterpiece of copy-writing craftsmanship, generously leavened with descriptive phrases, like "deep-red tender flesh", "monstrous succulent fruit" and "powerfully delicious fragrance."
Although these phrases evoked some mighty powerful imagery in a thirteen year old boy, the most unfailingly compelling words for me were "unusual" or "unique", probably a reflection of my own awkward state in 1966.
The following description stopped me cold:
BANANA MELON. Muskmelon. Dates to 1885.
"Unique banana shaped fruit, having a powerful and delicious fragrance and banana-like flavor. Grows 18 to 24 inches long."
There it was: the whole package. That magical intersection of the exotic, the mysterious and the delicious.
My order arrived a couple of weeks later. The seeds were planted into peat pots, tended on our kitchen windowsill and transplanted with care to their prime piece of sunny, fertile garden real estate.
Their steady growth throughout the summer became exponential when the sultry, steamy dog days of late August arrived.
By Labour Day weekend, the vines had receded enough to clearly reveal a couple of dozen green to light tan colored, 18 to 24 inch long caveman club-like fruit, with a curved flourish at the handle end. An aromatic sweetness hung lightly in the air.
I picked my first fruit and carried it into our kitchen to share with my family. I was about to discover whether truth in advertising really existed or whether banana melons were going to be just like the sea monkeys ordered from the back of the Superman comic book: a bust.
In the grim world of mid-sixties rock hard 39 cent supermarket melons, we tasted muskmelon nirvana. The taste was everything that Dominion Seed House promised and more: the salmon colored interior was plush and exquisitely sweet, unlike any melon we had ever tasted before. We were sure that we could taste banana.
We ate until we burst, and my parents offered samples to family and friends, who were unanimous in their rave reviews. I was ten feet tall all week.
It remains a defining moment in my life. For one brief, delicious moment, I was no longer the kid who was struggling in Chemistry, but a rock star in the muskmelon world. How could I have gone on to do anything else but be a farmer?
And so I think it is as I fill in my 2013 seed order that I am looking to recapture a small slice of that magic from long ago.
Some years we fail. But in most years that wonderful and mysterious chemistry of seed and soil, sun and rain align in such a way to create something that is close-your-eyes-and-look-to-the-heavens delicious, whether it be sweet corn, tomatoes or banana melons.
"Ponder well on this point: the pleasant hours of our life are all connected by a more or less tangible link with some memory of the table"
Charles Pierre Momelet
We are looking forward to helping you create some wonderful memories of your own this season.
Here's to a sweet 2013!
Sunday, January 6, 2013
"I used to be Snow White, but I drifted" Mae West
It is still in the early innings of the 2013 ballgame, but this winter is shaping up to be a good old-fashioned one, meaning lots of snow to go with those colder temperatures.
Those of us who live in, drive in and shovel our snow may curse it at certain moments, however, it provides several important advantages for northern farmers:
Increasing soil moisture:
Our annual precipitation in the form of rainfall here in Gormley averages about 28 inches (71.8 cm.)
In addition to that, we also average 56 inches (142 cm.) of snowfall.
If that seems like a lot of snow, bear in mind that it takes roughly 10 inches of snow to provide 1 inch of water, thereby adding 5.6 inches to our rainfall total. Therefore, 17% of our annual precipitation comes in the form of snow!
If that doesn't seem like much, imagine your life with 17% more holidays, 17% more golf or 17% more whatever-floats-your-boat and you begin to understand how vitally important that additional moisture can be.
Many variables affect the quantity of snowfall melt water that is actually taken into the soil to recharge it with water in the spring. Simply put, a slow,steady thaw in the spring that allows the melting soil to percolate down through the soil profile is best. A mid-winter thaw with most of the melt water rushing away over frozen soil is not on our farmer wish list.
We seem to have had very few winters of late with snow that lasted throughout the winter. January thaws seem to have become the rule.
Insulating the soil:
That cozy duvet that keeps you warm in your bed works because of the air trapped in the down insulation.
Similarly, air trapped between snow provides a blanket to help protect the soil ecosytem. Our winter wheat requires at least 3 inches of snow cover to help prevent it from winterkilling. Garlic needs this protection as well. More is certainly better in this case.
Preventing wind erosion:
Once you have a thick layer of unbroken snow on the ground, the wind is unable to blow soil around. That fact alone helps me to sleep much more soundly this time of year.
Increasing soil fertilty:
Snow has been called "poor man's fertilizer" for a reason. As reported by the Michigan State University Extension service, snowflakes trap dissolved organic nitrogen, nitrate and ammonium in the atmosphere, delivering it free of charge to cold and quiet fields.
Rain and snow together will provide between 2 and 22 pounds of nitrogen per acre per year. Given that sweet corn (our largest feeder of nitrogen) requires about 100 pounds per acre, all that free fertilizer is a lot better deal than a bunch of pennies from heaven that you'd have to clean up.
Floating your boat:
Thinking globally rather than locally for a moment, consider the plight of the Mississippi river. The U.S. had their worst drought since 1956 last year. That has created historically low river water levels, so low in fact, that all shipping on the Mississippi could grind to a halt by mid January as of this writing.
Although dredging of the river bottom is currently taking place, a heavy winter snowfall upstream along with the subsequent melt waters and some timely rains would certainly help our neighbours.
So, all together now; "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...."
Enjoying powdery snow rather than powdery mildew,