As of 4:40 local time on March 20th, it’s official –Equinox, marking the official start of Spring. Both Spring and Fall Equinox mark the time of the year when the day and the night are an equal 12 hours long. It’s a time of new beginnings and fresh starts, and has been celebrated around the world for centuries.
We sell a lot of wheatgrass at this time of year. Equinox is also the Persian New Year celebration known as Nowruz, and members of our community originally from the part of the world that includes Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq stop frequently at our booth at the Old Strathcona Market to remark upon, and purchase, the wheatgrass that we sell year-round. Nowruz marks the first day of spring, and the beginning of the Persian calendar, which starts on Spring Equinox. Haft Sin, or the “Seven S’s” is the traditional table setting for the celebration, and includes wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish, symbolizing happiness and rebirth. Last week, we planted and sold almost three hundred round containers of wheatgrass to a Persian grocery store in Edmonton, and it feels good to know that our work is contributing to many families’ celebrations. We’ll also be bringing in more decorative bowls and baskets over the next few weeks so our customers can take a little bit of spring home with them over the next few weeks, as well as for Easter celebrations.
Here at the farm, spring actually started several weeks ago, in the last week of February, when we fired up the wood burning furnace that heats up our greenhouse. We finally learned that the system we use, with underground pipes filled with heated water running under the beds we plant in, is actually called a “Hot-Bed” system. Dawn was at an Organic Alberta conference a few weeks ago, and one of the books she came home with talks about the system. We knew we weren’t the only ones doing this, and I personally, as a true word-geek, love that there’s an actual term for the system we have in place.
We’re a couple of weeks away from being able to start bringing in produce from our hot beds. Spinach was the first thing planted in one of the beds, as well as our delicious mixed lettuce. Both are cooler-weather crops that don’t require a ton of light to grow. We have to wait until the last week of February to plant in there, not because we can’t keep it warm enough, but because until that week, there’s just not enough light to allow the plants to photosynthesize and grow. As we move from the darkest of days around the Winter Solstice, our available light starts to extend, really picking up speed. Right now, we are gaining over four minutes of daylight a day, and by the time we reach Summer Solstice in June, we will have daylight here for almost 17 hours a day.
After a long and dark winter, it’s sure nice to be able to work in the greenhouse, where the temperature is several degrees warmer than it is outside. We’ve been keeping things well-watered in there, so the heat, combined with the moisture makes it feel like an entirely different world. Growing things in the hot beds allows us to focus our time and energy more on what we call the ‘shoulder seasons’. During the summer months, the market becomes somewhat saturated with products. All of the other farms are growing at full production, which increases the supply. Add to that the fact that several other markets open throughout the area, which decreases customer demand at Old Strathcona, and the summer months are actually not our most profitable. Knowing this, we put up a second greenhouse last fall, and our plan is to really hone in on the available sales during the spring, when we have more energy after a lighter load of work during the winter.
The baby carrots that were so incredibly popular last spring have been planted, and while they will take much longer to grow than things like the spinach, lettuce and radish, we are really looking forward to bringing bunches of those orange beauties in to the market by mid-May or so. The kale, beet and chard seedlings that we planted weeks ago were transplanted yesterday (they grow much better if they’re given a head-start in plug trays instead of being direct-seeded), so our baby greens are on their way in a few weeks, too.
Happy Spring everybody! This being Alberta, we have of course been hit with another snow storm, and there’s bound to be another cold spell, as well, but when that happens, you’ll find us all hanging out in the hot beds.