Spring Is Here!

By Farah Masani

It’s finally Spring. We’ve endured a harsh winter; forty inches of snow, high winds, and bitter cold – a true New England winter some would say, but Spring is finally here! These “real” winters have their benefits, although I’m sure you’d disagree. To me, the most important benefit of a harsh winter is that it prevents harmful bugs from overwintering. Overwintering is the process where bugs find a place to hibernate – in the soil, under leaves, etc. They suspend their growth until the next growing season, and when they wake up, they eat and destroy the crops. Harsh winters freeze the soil for prolonged periods of time, preventing bugs from surviving (and eating my crops!).

The greenhouse at Sport Hill Farm. Photo courtesy of Patti Popp.

However, this harsh winter has slowed down the start of spring and the outdoor growing season. By this time last year, I’d already seeded arugula, radish, peas, kale, collards, chard, spinach, and a few hardy, cold-tolerant lettuces. By the first week of April new potatoes and turnips were in the ground. Only time will tell when the soil will be warm enough to start outdoor seeding this year.

Spring is the time of the year that farmers’ greenhouses are bursting with plants. Seeding indoors in late winter is a great way to get a head start on the planting season. By the time the ground is ready and warm enough – you should have plants that are about 4- 6 weeks old.

This past winter took a toll on many farms’ greenhouses. I personally know of a few farms here in CT that had significant greenhouse damage because of the storm’s high winds and heavy snow. Patti Popp from Sport Hill Farm in Easton, CT and Haley Billip from Eddy Farm in Newington, CT both lost their greenhouses to mother nature. These are expensive structures to replace and are the “birthplace” of most farmers’ crops; losing one is a huge setback. But life must go on and it does…take a look at Patty’s greenhouse today!

The signs of Spring are creeping in. Take a look around you. There are green crocuses poking their heads through. In my case, the garlic has begun to show signs of life. Soon, fiddleheads, ramps, nettle, field garlic, chick weed, wild watercress will also be available for foraging. I especially look forward to the wild edible greenery in the early parts of the season, as they have a nice earthy flavor.

Potatoes ready to be planted.

Spring is the time to clean up the fields, turn over the soil, fill in ditches, fix fences, repair raised beds that are bowed out, put up trellises, and top dress the fields with healthy soil and compost mix. It’s one of the busiest times of the year for farmers – but then again, a farmer’s work is never done.

Farmers aren’t the only ones busy in the Spring. All of the farm animals and wild animals are busy too. Chicks and duckling are hatching. Bunnies, lambs, and piglets all are coming into this world. This is an exciting time.

A pig family.

You can hatch your own chicks at home by incubating fertilized eggs in an incubator for about 21 days. Monitoring the temperature and moisture of the incubator is most important, because you’re simulating the environment of a mother hen sitting on her eggs. While it requires a lot of monitoring and precise rule following, it isn’t hard to do. I know a lot of farms that increase their flock by incubating eggs and hatching their own chicks. One year I incubated 120 chicks!

Ducklings in a brooder box.

Another way to increase your flock is by “mail order” catalog. Freshly hatched chicks can survive without food or water for up to two days because of all the nourishment they have gotten from the yolk of the egg. The actual chick comes from the white of the egg. This makes it possible to ship chicks in the mail. The U.S. Postal service has been doing this for over 100 years.

Ducklings just delivered from the post office.

Right here in CT, My Pet Chickens is the place to go to get your baby chicks. There are larger hatcheries as well, but Derek and Tracy have a great thing going and I would highly recommend them. Check out this video about them.

I just got my ducklings in the mail from McMurray Hatchery in Iowa. I got a mix for egg laying ducks and meat ducks, Kaki Campbells and Pekins respectively.

Another activity that takes place in the spring is sheep shearing. Peter and Carol of Sepe Farm in Sandy Hook, CT specialize in Connecticut-grown lamb and sheep wool. They raise their sheep on pasture in stress-free environments for meat and wool for blankets.

Farah feeding a bunny.

Shearing the sheep in the spring keeps them comfortable in the hot summer months. It helps the sheep stay cool and dry right before birthing season, another spring activity.  Taking off the fleece right before birthing season starts assists the young lamb in nursing as well, making it easier to find the udders.

I recommend visiting a farm near you to partake in these celebrations of Spring first-hand. To get started, take a look at this CT farm map.

I wish you a happy Spring, full of life, sunshine, and fresh food.

Farah Masani is a farmer living in Wilton, CT who, in addition to farming, is on the staff of Barcelona Restaurant Group where she is responsible for local sourcing. In July she launched the Barcelona Farmigo CSA program to provide the restaurant’s patrons and greater community with a convenient and flexible way to purchase more sustainably grown local food. Farah previously worked as a farm manager at Millstone Farm in Wilton.

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