Early Harvest

March 29, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Vera Videnovich

“How did your (name your vegetable) produce so early?”

Swiss chard

Swiss chard

It’s usually me asking that questions at the farmers’ market. My little farm in Michigan is a little cooler in the spring than farms on Illinois’ prairie. We’re only a mile inland from the lake, which is a little cold this time of year, and those winds on Friday coming from the northwest were a little nippy.

Curly Kale under a frost blanket

Dwarf curly kale under a frost blanket

I pulled back the frost blankets I laid last autumn on the curly kale and rainbow swiss chard to discover beautiful baby greens. I harvested them, rinsed them in cold water, then spun them through my five-gallon salad spinner (from a restaurant supply store). I packed quite a few bags and stored them in a cooler for Saturday morning’s farmers’ market at the Pilgrim Church in Oak Park.

Curly Kale

Dwarf curly kale, exposed

Back in the garden I dug up as much garlic plants as I could. Though most of my garden was dry enough to rototill the garlic is planted in a low, mucky spot that I can’t work in the early spring. It’s a crop that should be planted in autumn so they can form larger bulbs for the next year’s harvest. So there I was, my boots making a slurpy noise with each step, digging with my pitchfork and gently pulling the tender garlic plants out of the ground. A quick wash with the hose and a quick trim of the tendrils coming from the roots (and frozen fingers in the cold water and air) I counted and banded as many bunches as I could before the sun went down. Carefully placed in a bag and into the cooler. I took deep wiffs of that wonderful garlic scent, imagining customers making pesto, stir-frys, or soups with those delicate baby garlic leaves.

Saturday morning at the market as I set up my display, including the remnants of my winter hand-spun yarns that were selling slowly with the warming weather, a fellow farmer vendor from Illinois asked me how my garlic grew so large. Garlic greens on his farm, he explained, were half that size. A lot of customers and vendors also asked if I used hoop houses or a green house. No, I answered. I just planned for an early spring by leaving frost blankets on the cold weather crops last fall, which also extended my 2008 growing season by a month. Here I’ll admit I’m a little baffled that the row cover worked that well on the kale and chard. On top of that, the garlic was exposed to the elements.

Usually the colder springs in Michigan mean I’m a week or two behind Illinois farmers and gardeners. Daffodils, for example, come later for me. And lilacs. I love lilacs and am impatient for their scent.

This week I will take those fruit tree trimmings and force them, in water, to bloom. I’m looking forward to the gentle scent of apple blossoms. Anything to distract me from the sore muscles I’m developing from farming after a too-long winter and ignoring my cardio-machine.