From Gene Logsdon
Organic Garden Farm Skills
Spring comes slowly in northern climes like mine, and never more slowly than this year. Here it is April 3rd, as I write, and not one frog or toad is peeping in the pond yet. I anxiously watch my shrinking supply of hay, measuring it against the greening grass.
And then, this morning, came the sign I was waiting for. The sheep did not clean up their hay that I had dropped from the loft down to their mangers, but headed out to the pasture. And so I know. The first most important spring thing for me has arrived. Although the grass seems barely to grow, the sheep know. They are nibbling those first frail green blades, such a delightfully luscious change from winter fare. I can breathe easily. I have made it through winter without buying any more hay.
Other spring things that we watch for anxiously as cold weather wears on and on, have kept their scheduled appointments. I suppose the rising of the sap is the first spring thing we look for. Maple syrup time. But this year another of nature’s wrinkles unfolded. Yesterday I was cutting up a big hickory that fell in a March storm when all of a sudden I was aware of vibrant humming all around me. The honey bees were out. That meant that the temperature had finally edged above 50 degrees F. But why were they buzzing all around me? Then I remembered. Hickory sap is very sweet but never flows enough to make tapping the trees worthwhile. The bees were landing all over the wood I was splitting (you can see them in the photo of the wood rick if you look closely). I could tell by their buzzing that they were in the best humor even though it is rather chilly for bees. Not once did I hear the sharper buzz that indicates irritation, no matter how roughly I handled the blocks of wood on which they persisted in landing, evidently licking sweet sap. (It is hardly possible to split wood gently.) I tasted the sawdust and licked on the wood myself, trying to find out what enchanted them so. I could distinguish no sweetness, but obviously they could. They even persisted in crawling all over the chain saw when I sat it down, so evidently as I cut into the wood and the sawdust went flying, there must have been a very thin effervescence of sap spraying out and landing on everything all around.
The whole affair seemed so wonderfully natural and appropriate. The tree blown down by a storm was being cut up by a human who will keep warm from the wood, while the bees find on the wood something to eat in a landscape as yet bereft of flowers. The wood I burn will make ashes rich in potash and lime to put on the clover field that the bees will harvest for honey and for my sweet delight, the clover meanwhile putting nitrogen gathered from the air into the soil, and then becoming the food for the sheep when the pastures are brown. Certainly in the intricate circle of nature’s food chain there is a zillion times more efficiency than any man-made machine could accomplish.
The landscape is not totally bereft of flowers however. Even as the sap rises, if not sooner, at the first hint of thaw, the yellow winter aconites and the white snowdrops peek above the ground. Given a few even slightly warm days in February they spring into bloom, sometimes just inches away from the receding snow drifts. I daresay that these late winter blooms have dissolved homestead depression more often than sessions with psychiatrists.
Next comes the red blossoms on the red maple to gladden the heart of the winter weary. Simultaneously, (I could set a calendar clock by it) the redwinged blackbirds suddenly appear, fresh back from the south, flocking in the maples, singing their hearts out. Even earlier the great horned owls start hooting in the woods, signaling mating season. Used to be that shortly after that, the Canada geese started honking, winging their way north. Now these big birds are so common, so pestiferous in fact, that they honk all the time, flying north one day and south the next, looking for another pond shore line or golf course to despoil with their droppings.
But my favorites of the first spring things are the toads singing in the pond. How could such ugly little things have such sweet voices. So I wait, today, as I split the last wood of the cutting season, the last of the four cords I need to tide me through another winter. The happily humming bees tell me the temperature is headed for sixty and any minute now, any second, I could hear that first ringing salute of the toads to another season of warmth, the celebration of another victory over the cold. Spring is upon us bringing hope, despite war, financial insecurity, and all the disgusting machinations of human frailty. Madness may seem to have gained a foothold over winter, especially this last one, but do not believe it. All is right in the real world. The aconites and the toads know.
See also Gene’s A Grove Of Trees To Live In
Gene and Carol Logsdon have a small-scale experimental farm in Wyandot County, Ohio.
Gene is author ofThe Mother of All Arts: Agrarianism and the Creative Impulse (Culture of the Land)
and The Last of the Husbandmen: A Novel of Farming Life
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