Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Post Super Bowl Post

Roll out those glazed, dazed, crazed days of springtime
Those days of phone calls and emails and sun
Roll out those glazed,dazed, crazed days of springtime
It’s still winter, but those days will come!

Head's up!  It's February!  The Super Bowl is over, thus paving the way for the most welcome words of the winter, "Pitchers and Catchers report!" Baseball, beckoning us all with visions of green grass and sunshine.

February!  This week we will look for the very first tender tomato to unfurl, pushing up through the chilly potting mix into the artificially long days under the high intensity lamps.

 By next week, it will be time to sweep the winter's debris from the seeder, time to plant the early vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage.  These hardy seedlings don't mind a week of cloudy days; they need no coddling, just an assurance that wee mousies and opportunistic sparrows leave them be. This is a week we relish getting those boxes from FedEx, anxious to plug the little cuttings into their new homes, water them in, and watch the hanging basket lines fill row by row and bay by bay.  We breathe deep the welcome scent of spring, a sneak preview of April: the combination of water falling on soil.  Even in February, the winter sun can raise a sweat; farewell to itchy dry skin and hello to the cuts and scrapes of cheap plastic pots and hanging basket wires.  Aveeno lotion and over the knuckle Bandaids are our sponsors.
The frame of "number 16" February 1, 2016
February and there's an unfinished greenhouse.  It's not the first time we've looked at our prospective spring business and said 'Whoops!'  The heavy snow forecast for last weekend lent extra urgency to the business of finishing the frame and getting all the tools under cover.  The doors are in; the endwalls wait for exhaust fans and vents; the heaters will arrive this week.  There is still lots of work to do, but getting this far in the middle of winter leaves us optimistic.  More than once in the past, the last heater is still being wired as the first plants are being wheeled into one of these 'overflow' greenhouses!
Smoothing the ground for an overflow greenhouse January 2006
Rarely do we escape into March without a few snow days.  While the disruption can be anything from inconsequential to a considerable hardship, the first snow day is always kinda fun. The kids react as if it were the first day of summer vacation; helping the adults is still a novelty and not the drag it will be when the days are warm and they want to play outdoors.  Some of my favorite winter memories are snowdays with the grandchildren at work and at play in the largely vacant greenhouse.

With the work comes the worry.  Up til now, bad weather meant no more than bad roads.  Now, there are plants to keep warm and wind brings the constant risk of electrical outage and damage to the layers of plastic that constitute the roofs of the greenhouses.  The alarm system, aka the "little man", the computer generated voice on the other end of the unwelcome nighttime phone call, is that guy you don't want to talk to.   We just picked up a small but mighty piece of electronics to repair that vital part of our safety net: the generator.

The greenhouse, like the farm, is built on a bedrock of immutable seasonal truths: rain and snow, day length, frostfree dates. To believe greenhouse production is immune from the vagaries of weather is to be disappointed.  A sunny February or March can cut a week at least from scheduled production time blessing us all with the upturned faces and sweet fragrance of adorable pansies.  Dull cloudy cold days mean the propane truck comes to call more than once a week and we water sparingly to protect new and fragile roots from nasty rots and fungi.  Who says people are the only victims of Seasonal Affective Disorder? 

But the vagaries of the business extend beyond the weather.  February is the first time some customers call us with their plans for the coming spring.  Some, especially those landscaping for their own clients, won't call us with their orders until late in the month. It does no good to tell these folks that flowers must be grown and some kinds take two full months to grow to salable size; they are at the mercy of their clients and doing the best they can.  From year to year, we don't really know what we are going to grow in our greenhouses, a situation that makes us flexible...and gives us indigestion too.  Small businesses all: Thy middle name must be Nimble.

I think I planted our first tomato seedlings in spring of 1979 in a homemade greenhouse we later moved to Tarkio.  We didn't use a stick of treated lumber, and the structure it pretty well melted after just a few years.  My first tomato seedlings didn't fare any better; we went to church one cool and cloudy Sunday and left the door closed to keep the little plants warm.  Yeah, that's right: the sun came out while we were at church; the greenhouse did its greenhouse gas thing; and the tiny tomatoes wilted and cooked.  I was a sad earth mother, but learned a vital lesson about greenhouse growing: don't rely on fallible humanity for climate control.  
 The cyclical nature of growing makes it easy to wax nostalgic.  We commemorated in photos nearly every greenhouse we ever built; there are plenty of pictures of our kids from toddler to teen, at work with their parents...like a sundial, we record only the smiling hours. 

There are even more pictures of the next generation! There's little Aaron helping pick up fall pansies;
Little Lizzie and Abbie splashing about in their rubber boots;
 Gabe lugging four hanging baskets like a big kid; 
and Josh, who doesn't need any help picking out pots.

Speaking of seasonal.  Let's not forget the holiday at the end of this week.  I went searching my scrapbooks and found the delivery note for a single rose to Julie Renken, 401 Conley, Columbia from Blake way back in 1977.  One flower nearly four decades ago....acres of flowers now!  Happy Valentine's Day, dear!


  1. I like how you documented each greenhouse. Sweet memories.

  2. Wonderful memories and great lessons learned. Thanks for sharing over at the Country Fair Blog Party!
    Laurie - Country Link