January Thaw



One of my favorite winter pastimes is scouting for the very earliest sign of new plant life as the days begin to lengthen. From other years, I had decided that winter aconites and snowdrops were the champions of the game called First Growth. Especially this year, these flowers bloomed on January 13th, unusual for northern Ohio. But the conditions were right: a rather mild early December and then six inches of snow on top of unfrozen ground. Then came a January thaw and the temperature got up into the 50s, even into the 60s.  The snow melted and voila! The protected yard next to the house suddenly came alive with yellow and white splashes of these two flowers. They were very cagey, however. They did not open the whole way, and so they might be able to withstand considerable cold weather sure to come again.

But, as gratifying as it was to see these early bloomers earlier than ever, they did not win this year’s championship game of New Growth. On the north side of the machinery shed, I was clearing away brush and small trees in December when I noticed lumps of moss in the building’s shade under the brushy growth, dark green from fall growth. But then suddenly in the first days of January, the dark green was suddenly overlain by light green new growth. (You can see it in the photo above. That rounded mound of moss is about a foot in diameter.) On close inspection, there were tiny reddish brown stemmy threads sticking above the new green.

This moss is common here, but I don’t know enough to identify it for sure. As I tried, Google introduced me to a sector of wild nature that is wondrously new for me. I’ve always been aware of mosses growing bright green in winter, but just sort of took them for granted. They are so beautiful that, from what I read, there is danger that they are being over-harvested in some areas for landscaping purposes.

There are other candidates for champion New Growth status. Chickweed of course, but I don’t count that because in my experience it never stops growing. The drought last summer hurt it but when rains came again in the Fall, the stuff went berserk. It is overrunning many winter fields where grain was grown last year. Livestock would gladly graze it if there were fences around these fields. With proper management, chickweed might become a great winter pasture or cover crop on cultivated ground. It won’t compete with permanent pasture sod.

Bluegrass also stayed quite green this winter and my sheep are grazing it in mid-January, a first for me. The chickens seek it out avidly as the snow melts and I am sure they are getting as much nutrition from it as from grains.

Is this all the result of global warming? Since the weather is cold again this week, I rather think it was just a typical January thaw that came along a little earlier than usual to give us a break in the cold of bleak midwinter. I love January thaws, love to hear the weather forecaster say “the temperature will be rising in the night.” And if global warming is the cause, I can think of worse things. Like global cooling.


I noticed my neighbor lady’s daffodils were up maybe 1 1/2″ out of the ground, and I’ve seen dandylion blossoms froze solid in the lawn.

If you’re near to running water, there always seems to be watercress at any time there’s not ice.

janandy1988@yahoo.com January 23, 2013 at 11:52 am

When the snow melted here, we had rhubarb coming up a beautiful red and green. A few stalks were almost big enough to cut! Of course, they didn’t last long when it plummeted to 5 degrees!

Chickweed makes a great salad too. It used to be called chickbite in French (morgeline) and Italian (mordigallina) as it was favored by chicken, but its modern name is now bird’s mouron (mouron des oiseaux), with “mouron” probably derived from the old name, or a Germanic word for “hair”, as in pulling out your own hair in despair:

All these weed troublemakers gave many expressions for “to worry” in the French language, like “se faire du mouron” (from the chickweed) or “se faire du souci/se soucier” (from the marigold).

Periwinkle, violet and pansy should be around too.

Yesterday, I dug down through the leaf mulch we applied last October, and saw a green shoot of garlic coming up!

“Is this all the result of global warming? Since the weather is cold again this week, I rather think it was just a typical January thaw that came along a little earlier than usual to give us a break in the cold of bleak midwinter.”

Grounding a knowledge of global warming on the weather behind our barns is like grounding a knowledge of the moon on its reflection in our eyes.

To all the Contrary folks out there – a quote from author Michael Perry. “Seed catalogs are responsible for more unfulfilled fantasies than Enron and Playboy combined.” Just a thought before you send out those orders. As usual, love the post!

Gene, our climates could not be more different ( I’ m in the Coastal Redwoods of California), but I am also attempting to “wish” spring into existence, that I can get into my vegetable garden experiment station. I’ve many theories to prove/disprove about year-round gardening for city farmers, and only 3 decades or so left to try them out. I will say, that I do not miss the Northeast Ohio weather I left 30 years ago.the 40-50 inches of rain that we get Oct.-April, however sure feels like a winter of some sort to me. I need some sun.

For now, I scour seed catalogs, build flats, add compost, and plan great things. Hoping Spring breaks well for all you still in the frozen tundra of Ohio.

We are just as likely to see global cooling and global warming at the same time from my research on this topic over the last 40 years. Do a search on news articles on this topic over the last 100 years. The climate has either been warming or cooling depending on what year and who wrote it. The facts now indicate more CO2 is being released and is in the atmosphere. Even more dangerous is the methane being released. I do not think we can accurately predict any future scenarios with any degree of accuracy. Computer models are just that; models.

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