Spring finally showed up for real mid April and when she arrived it was with determined intensity. All the snow collapsed into big messy slushy piles during the warm sunny afternoons.
A robin, perched on the perennial garden fence, sang a morning song as I walked from the greenhouse to the house with a shovelful of burning coals. We have not been having a fire in the house lately as the morning chill usually passes quickly. But the ducklings are pig piled today under their brooder warmer and I thought they would appreciate the extra warmth. Since there was already a fire going in the greenhouse, the glowing coals make a quick and easy fire inside. A short while after the fire was going they were busy running around.
Ah, ducklings…they are one of my very favorite things about spring. Our eight bundles of fluff hatched in an incubator on top of our propane refrigerator on the 29th of April. Though we were moving the greenhouse across the yard that day, we stopped often when our daughter let us know another one was about to come out of the shell. It is always amazing to me to watch how they uncurl from within the shell and then stretch out, exhausted, and already trying to walk. The next day the cycle of voracious eating and playing with water begins (and never ends!) Eat, drink, sleep, repeat.
The big ducks spent the winter in the greenhouse until spring melt flooded it out (hence the moving it across the yard…), then in the old empty pig pen which was clean and dry under the roof, and then in the pallet duck house that we had to wait to put back together once the snow had melted back enough. I let them out the other day and when I went to shut them in for the night they were no longer in the yard. We found them swimming happily in Sandpiper bog, the little slough adjacent to our lake and not inclined at all to head home. One swamp water filled mud boot later, they were waddling home through the woods. Putting up a duck fence is now on the to do list. The ducks are a new but necessary part of the farm providing eggs and amusing company but most importantly, slug eating tendencies. The introduced non-native and invasive garden slug has no coevolved local bacterial or fungal foe or native predators. In addition because they are hermaphrodites, every single slug is able to lay eggs. Beside manual removal, rotating the ducks through our lawn and gardens is my only hope of controlling the slug population.
Break up started in earnest April 12 for us. Just two days before on the 12th, the morning temperature at 7 AM was negative 21° F. April is not my most favorite month. March is the best of winter with snow, ice fishing, sunshine and frozen rivers to explore. May is soil, leaves, nesting birds and wood frogs singing in the evening. April, however, is mud over frozen ground, soggy snow, dog turds and runoff. It is the frustrating time of transitioning from winter to summer. The permafrost melting under my perennial garden has created a low point in the yard that collects all that run off into a brown, murky April pond that lasts until the ground thaws enough for the drainpipe to work. With all the snow this year and then the rapid switch to 50 degree spring days, the spring garden pond filled rapidly.
Last November we moved the greenhouse (a homemade 10 by 20 foot gothic frame) to a temporary location next to the perennial garden fence by the lake with three sleds full of dunnage and a snow machine. I needed to be able to use it this year but have it out of the way so I could do dirt work and start building a bigger and better insulated greenhouse that could be used earlier in the spring for a propagation house. We are a family of four in a pretty small home that gets overrun with plant trays every spring. With the kids both homeschooling, it can feel even more cramped. Once the April days get warm, the plants move outside during the day and inside at night but by the end of the month we are shlepping a lot of trays. I have to prioritize what I can start because I am limited by space. The farm desperately needs a prop house. As we brought trays in and out this year to where we had set the greenhouse up in November, now with break up run off and uneven ground, I realized this would not work for the season. I could not heat the greenhouse with the large gaps from uneven ground and with the impending arrival of ducklings (and meat chicks due to arrive in a few weeks) that need inside space, we had to get the plants out of the house to make room for raising this years birds. This time we used a 4 wheeler, an old low homestead trailer and our backhoe with forks to move it across the yard to a flat graveled area on the pad behind the house. Much better! The plants all moved out permanently that night and with the greenhouse fire perking along every night, they are growing rapidly. Our house always feels inordinately larger than before without the tables of plant trays. The only downside is that I have to get up at 3 AM to stoke the fire.
I had to build another screen table to be able to hold all the trays and luckily had enough hardware cloth left in the roll from the two I built last fall for a 9 foot table. With the way lumber prices have skyrocketed, Tim is calling this my $500 table.
With the greenhouse sorted out, my priority projects this week are catching up on seeding and then finishing spring pruning before anything starts to leaf out. After that I really need to mix potting soil for my tomatoes and peppers and then get my low tunnels planted and set up for some early greens. It is wonderful to be working outside again.
The snow is almost completely gone and the lake ice is becoming rotten.
The bugs have emerged from their winter slumber. I had a bumble bee trapped in the greenhouse that I relocated to the garden. I fed a caterpillar on my currant bush to my favorite chicken. The mosquitos have arrived in force to pester our evenings outside. And many many more flies, moths, and other creatures are flying around in the warmer hours of the day. The soundtrack to my days outside is no the longer deep muffled silence of winter but bird song as they make their nests, frog croaks as they search for mates, buzzing insects, and running water.
I do love spring poetry units and the writing assignments! My daughter often writes about things I love dearly. Lucky me!
She lands on a Plant
Coating her legs in Pollen
Soaking up the Sun.Sylvia Nelson
From my garden to yours, I wish you happy growing!