It's official: spring is here! Everyone is feeling that, right?
Just kidding... We still have six inches of snow on the ground, and lots of root vegetables to eat. And managing the new hoophouse and greenhouse for temperature and humidity is a pretty good challenge. On sunny days, they can really heat up, so we've been trying to get the automatic vents hooked up, which will open if a certain temperature is reached. When the vents get opened, however, that usually lets in huge gusts of cold, dry winter air. This not always a bad thing - it can help dry plant leaves so that fungus can't grow, but it can also suck moisture from the leaves and the soil.
In considering that, we have been watering very heavily, which helps mitigate both the dryness and can also help plants cope with very high or very low temperatures. In fact, if we are going to get an extremely cold night, I try to water everything in the hoophouse (the unheated one) very well, because the extra water seems to help plants cope with the freezing and thawing of their cells on cold nights.
There are some definite signs of spring I should share though. The photo above is some rosemary, flowering for the first time in its life! The plants are going into their fourth year of life, and all of them are covered with flower buds! They are in a hoophouse, protected from the extreme cold, and they seem to be doing very well. It can be difficult in this climate to keep rosemary alive from year to year, so it's really gratifying to see them thrive.
Also this week, we spent some time in the orchard, pruning out browntail moth nest. Sophie is getting a particularly hard-to-reach one in the photo above. Browntail moth caterpillars make little nests of silk (you can see one if you follow the direction the pruners are pointing in the photo). In the spring, the larvae emerge and do their best to defoliate the tree. They particularly seem to like oak trees and fruit trees. Not only do they harm the trees, the caterpillar grows hairs that contain a substance toxic to humans. It can cause blisters if it touches skin, and respiratory distress if inhaled. If you can cut the nests in the winter, and either drown or burn them, however, you can kill them without spreading the toxic hairs.
Topsham and the towns surrounding us seem to be in the epicenter of an outbreak of browntail moths. Last year was tough, because they are favored by dry conditions. We are trying to get a jump on them this year, at least in the areas on the farm where we will be going frequently. The ones at the tops of the oaks are still making us scratch our heads. If browntail moths have been a problem for you or you want to learn more, please visit http://www.maine.gov/dacf/mfs/forest_health/insects/browntail_moth.htm.
I want to end on a positive note, so I will just say this: radishes! That's right, we will have bunches of fresh radishes (grown in the heated greenhouse!) this week for sale at market. Come and get some while they last!