Spring It On: As Season Arrives, Farmers Await Work Ahead

Many vegetable growers have already started seeds growing in greenhouses

While lingering snow and ice mean spring planting in Vermont is still weeks away, farmers are readying for the upcoming season.

"Spring's always an exciting time," said Andy Jones, the farm manager at the Intervale Community Farm in Burlington.

Long before the first day of spring Friday, Jones had been getting his hands dirty planting onions and other vegetables, starting them growing from seed in a greenhouse.

"What it does is it allows us to get a jump on the season," Jones explained. "If we were to wait until the ground thawed to plant things with a seed directly in the soil outside, a lot of them wouldn't be ready to do anything substantial with."

With springs in Vermont notoriously short—prone to ups and downs in the temperature, and even some years, to flooding—Jones and his team know getting going in their warmed spaces with cucumbers, lettuce, and other veggies will boost the productivity of the season. It should also give them a leg up on weeds that will be sprouting in their fields after the transplantation of crops that will have grown larger than the weeds thanks to the early indoor planting, Jones explained.

Jones said he hopes fields will be ready so he can transplant the veggies from his greenhouses by mid-late April, to pick and get on consumers' dinner tables in late May. Most of the Intervale Community Farm's produce is distributed through a community-supported agriculture, or CSA, model, Jones noted.

Frost depths in the ground grabbed headlines during the winter for the way they impacted public works departments. At a recent water main break in Winooski, city officials said the frost depth was about four feet, impacting the water lines. Other communities reported frost depths of between five and seven feet that affected water systems.

The good news for farmers waiting to get outdoors, though, is that frost depths should not be as significant in the fields. Scott Whittier of the National Weather Service's office in Burlington told New England Cable News that snow on the fields acts as a layer of insulation against bitterly cold air temperatures, protecting the soil from the deep frosts that impacted plowed streets.

At the University of Vermont's Horticulture Research Center in South Burlington, apple and grape researcher Terry Bradshaw said the hardy trees and vines appear to have wintered well.

"One of the unique things about New England and the weather in New England is you know it's going to change tomorrow," Bradshaw remarked.

Bradshaw noted the concern now is the question, "How gradual will the thaw be?" A sudden jump into the 80s for temperatures could cause buds to pop out; then a return to freezing air could damage the buds, Bradshaw said.

"The main thing that all fruit growers hate is real spikes in temperature in the spring," Bradshaw told necn.

Of course, farmers don't just watch the weather. They live it; they breathe it—year-round. And they know the unknowns can bring both challenges and great satisfaction.

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