The Dirt Diva

Tailoring your garden to your needs!

2012- Year of the Fleeting Winter (and how to prepare for an unpredictable growing season)


I’m trying really hard not to freak out. Yesterday I heard Red winged Blackbirds calling and today I look out the window and see this:

My Catskills backyard on 2-24-12

(Red winged Blackbirds migrate north in June, not February) The fact my cross country skis have seen no use this winter is the least of my worries, and my fellow farmers and gardeners are all wringing their hands about the upcoming planting season. Will spring come early? Some think it will. How early? A week, 2 weeks, a month? Others say the lack of snow means inevitable summer drought, weirdly timed spring frosts and a spike in the deer population, since a normal winter tends to cull deer herds.  All this spells planning headache for normal garden and farm tasks like plowing, seeding, and planting. My notes from the past 6 years will come in handy, but the timing of everything may be off. If you make your living growing food, there is no time to debate the reality of climate change, or global wierding as I call it. Its crucial to try and adjust to the shift. CR Lawn, founder of FEDCO seeds, author and organic farmer in Waterville, Maine, offers some advice for farmers in the 2012 edition of FEDCO’s seed catalog:

1-Diversify your range of crops, he says. More frost free days mean marginal crops like peanuts and yams, may be grown in the northeast.

2-Consider planting staple crops that have been neglected, such as heritage wheat, quinoa and amaranth.

3-Take advantage of extended autumn with later plantings of broccoli and greens. Increase the number of succession plantings of corn and melons.

4-Moderate the effects of extreme weather by diverting excess water into a pond where its available for droughts.

5-Plant more crops in greenhouses, hoophouses, and low tunnels, as thes mitigate the risks of unpredictable weather patterns.

6-Study phenology and sow accordingly. Phenology is the study of natural events like trees leafing out or the first robin appearing. Though not fool proof, nature’s beings can provide clues about a changing climate and what it implies for agriculture. To read more of CR Lawn’s work, visit the fedcoseeds website at

In my own preparations for the unknown, I’ve ordered extra seeds, and  I’ll be starting extra flats of popular items like tomatoes and peppers. I’ll make sure to keep extra  row cover for unexpected frosts, and more deer repellent on hand. I’ll stock up on mulch,  soaker hoses and drip tape in case of drought. Most importantly, I’ll be ramping up my seed saving efforts, so that I have a supply of my own, locally adapted seed on hand for future years.

Here’s to living on the edge-where most life happens!

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