Late Frost?

March 25, 2012

Thornapple CSA members who have been in the neighborhood of the Thompson homestead after dark may have noticed a glow coming from the basement. It’s not Paul down there, putting together model airplanes, nor is it Diane doing a late load of clothes. We’re starting seeds in the basement and we’ve got an elaborate set-up of grow-lights so that Thornapple CSA members will be assured of getting their summer veggies at the earliest possible moment. Of course, given the way things have been over the last ten days or so, you may wonder why we are bothering to start seeds in the basement. Get those boys outside like everyone else in town.

Although the date at the top of the page says “March 25”, the weather in mid-Michigan has been distinctly un-lamblike. Not that it’s lionlike, either, unless one is referring to Leo, the astrological sign for early August, rather than the feline that March is generally said to come in like. Everyone is talking about this weather, but contrary to the saying, there may be few people doing something about it. That would be farmers out there getting their crops in early.

Of course, there are also farmers sittin’ there on the porch whittlin’ sticks, shaking their heads over all this commotion in the fields. They know that 4 out of every 5 turns of weather like we’ve been having here in late March, early April brings another killing frost. Or even sooner (like tomorrow). So they’re biding their sweet time. Maybe they have some seeds in the basement, too.

Then there are the tree farmers, and we’ve got a lot of ‘em here in Michigan. The apple trees, peach trees and cherry trees (not to mention the blueberries) all tend to make up their own mind about such matters. And these girls are blooming. There was a bit on the news about early cherry blossoms in Washington DC. These blushing beauties have put kind of a dent in the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, which wasn’t scheduled to begin until today. Next Tuesday is the centennial anniversary of Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo’s gift of two trees to the city of Washington.

I can attest that the cherry trees in Portland, OR (where I’ve been spending some sabbatical time) have been blooming for over two weeks. As for our own Michigan cherries, well the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau says they bloom “as early as May 5,” so maybe we’ve got a while to catch our breath. We Midwesterners don’t have cherry festivals when the trees are merely blooming, by the way. We wait till they fruit. We know where the business end of the cherry tree is.

Well, the TCCVB notwithstanding, the trees have a mind of their own. They get out the buds and hit the road for spring whenever there is a reasonably long spell of warm weather. And as the main thrust of this blog indicates, that would be now. For this year, at least, there’s not much that a tree farmer can do about the weather. They’ll just have to wait and see about that late frost, and maybe use this warm spell to catch up on their whittlin’. They’re thinking about it, to be sure, wondering if the horticulture folks down at Michigan State have got any ideas about frost hardy trees. And maybe if these early springs really are a permanent fixture, they’ll get down off the porch next year and put down some fertilizer.

Now in the spirit of genuine edification, I should probably remind both of my readers that not everything you read in the Thornapple blog is strictly true. Whether there’s another frost coming or not, this is actually a pretty good time to do more than think about the annual pruning. So there’s probably not all that much whittlin’ going on among the tree farmers, but it makes a good story. We call this “adaptation”. File this blog under “climate ethics.”

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

3 comments to Late Frost?

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  • Richard E Thompson


    Bloggers are today’s pamphleteers, right? Good heavens. Dragon software got pamphleteers right on the money. It is mining me much better these days. Well, there’s an example when it is not


    Darn right! I have never written anything that was not “adapted.” Only I call it, article writers, or pots, or columnists… License

    I believe the title of David Brinkley’s book… Everyone is entitled to my opinion.

    When your basement Garden Grove, please send okra. Growth should be grows.

    Growth should be growth… Oklahoma. Well…

    Loveand with respect and admiration to your colleagues,