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  (Climax, Michigan)
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Feels Like Spring Today and Other Ramblings

March in Michigan seems to be a month of extremes, weather wise. I call it mud season. It can be cold, snowy one day and sunny with 60 degrees the next. Yesterday and today were very pleasant days when we didn't have to bundle up in order to spend some time outside. The rain will be moving in tonight though.

Most of the snow piles are gone with just a few tiny piles left over from where it was piled when we plowed. Snow storms were heavy early this winter and we did have an actual blizzard. Not the worst I remember, but still a blizzard.

The ground has thawed, allowing the puddles to drain. Now instead of plowing snow out of the driveways, we're fixing the pot holes, a never ending task. The other never ending task is picking up sticks from the yard. Since we had a couple of ice storms recently, there are lots of limbs to clean up, as well as branches. Still just a nuisance, nothing like other areas have seen. We're high enough here not to flood, although there are areas nearby that do, along the rivers. Lakefront properties can flood as well, but that's more of a "high water" issue that pretty much remedies itself. We have some low spots on the farms that will have standing water periodically, but for the most part our soils drain well. We only have one farm that has any tiling on it, but we also have county drains that run through or near the farms. Other parts of Michigan are totally dependent on tiling and drains, and you'll see rather deep ditches along the roads in those areas. If we flood here on the Climax Prairie, we're in a world of hurt, as they say, since we are at a much higher elevation than the communities in the Kalamazoo River valley.

We are still heating the greenhouses and cutting wood this time of year can be a challenge. The cutting crew heads out early in the morning while the ground is still frozen and before everything turns to mud. The wood burner keeps the boiler pumping heated water into the root zone heating in the tomato house. Got to keep those tomato plants nice and warm.

We're just starting to seed flats for the gardens. After ordering seed, it's the next period of excitement for the coming growing season. We start most of the plants for the gardens and high tunnels, however since there is a very large bedding plant industry in the Kalamazoo, Portage and Comstock areas, we know lots of greenhouse operators. A friend who runs one of them will start some of the standards for us. He can do it very cost effectively because they're doing thousands of flats, compared to us doing less than a couple of hundred. We fill flats by hand while they have fillers. They have automatic waterers, compared to us with a hose. There is also a greenhouse co-op and they purchase in bulk. Germinating mix prices have gone up again, so every little cost savings helps.

Just a reminder, that this is National Agriculture Week. You can learn some fun Ag Facts at www.agday.org/education/fun_facts.php






First It's Spring and Then It's Not

It's the second week of May and the thermometer reads 42 degrees. And it's raining! It's a really good day to work in the office, getting caught up on things and perhaps even get a little ahead before the next wave of crazy outdoors (yes, I'm probably dreaming). Fortunately, rainy weather has keep us from working outside in the market gardens planting because two nights of freezing temperatures this week wouldn't have done new plantings much good.

The "tomato house", as we call it, actually the hydroponic greenhouse where 1,660 tomato plants are warm and cozy, is looking good. The bumbles (bumblebees) are busy pollinating. Now these aren't the big, fat bumbles one might find in their backyard, but rather a very docile, smaller variety. They very rarely sting, unless they get pinched under someone's arm or something, and are very efficient at pollination since they know exactly when the blossom is ready. We use bumbles rather than honeybees because unlike honeybees the bumbles orient to their surroundings when they come out of the hive, then fly "low and slow" staying within the canopy of the tomato plants. Honeybees on the other hand would just fly out the roof vents. Hives are replaced about every 6-8 weeks.

The "lettuce house" where we grow salad greens hydroponically is in transition from old crop to new. A good cleaning and it's ready for the summer months.

Both high tunnels (unheated hoop houses) are full. The oldest tunnel is full of salad greens, Swiss chard, collard greens, radishes, salad turnips, broccoli, basil, cilantro, kale, and parsley. Since our Saturday farmers market started the first Saturday in May, we can move some of this product. The second high tunnel, which was built just before the ground froze last year, is full of all the plants we have started for the market gardens. The high tunnels take lots of watering on sunny days, when they warm up very quickly.

Our Friday Farmers Market starts next week Friday. It's a new market in Vicksburg and we are looking forward to it. There is a great core group of vendors and volunteer management from the community. At the beginning of June, all the other farmers markets start so we will be loading trucks on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday until the end of October. Now you know what I meant about the next wave of crazy!

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