“Don’t worry and fret about the crops. After you have done all
you can for them, let them stand in the weather on their own.
If the crop of any one year was all, a man would have to cut his
throat every time it hailed.
But the real products of any year’s work are the farmer’s mind
and the cropland itself”.
from “Prayers and Saying of the Mad Farmer” by Wendell Berry
Early spring for a farmer is the season of dreams and visions, the time for picturing grand plans laid out in neat rows and regular schedules, the hopeful season. Seeds ordered in the dimness of winter have arrived, and they’re stirring now in the warm dark soil of the greenhouse. Lambs are here, new ones every day, and undelivered ewes swell with faith and expectation. The cover of snow is rolling back a little every day to reconfirm that the land remains, ready to receive us again. The ground itself is softening, and patterns frozen in the barnyard all winter now change with every passing, recalling the touch of the plow in the turning summer soil.
Experience tells us that these dreams, hatched in the dark of winter and sustained by the spring light of longer days, will mostly not come to pass. Circumstances will change, there will be too much rain, or too little. Blight will come. Sickness will come. But beyond those troubles, things will simply change, and unfold in ways that we cannot imagine from these hopeful heights of spring. In the spring, I’m reminded of baseball, and the notion that just about every team, regardless of any metric, dreams of making the World Series while they’re still safely at spring-training. In a similar way, this time of year, every farmer’s spring fantasies of the growing season to come can still sail gently above the challenging certainties we should know are coming.
The strength of a farmer, and of a farm, is it’s ability to adapt to the whims of the season, to take hurdles in stride, and to find opportunities for growth. We prepare as well as we can in the winter, with careful plans and calendars, with oaths, vows, and dreams, and then we sail our ship out onto the sea and keep as close as we can to course we’ve laid out. But, like a sailor at sea, we’re facing forces in the natural world far beyond us.
Juxtaposed to this, of course, are the gifts that nature gives to a farmer, and the partnership between the farmer and the natural world that allows everything to grow. Farmers must find the balance between planning and acceptance, between holding firm to their own vision, and recognizing the limits of their influence. There is no amount of knowledge or preparation that will make it rain.
The Farm School is deep in mud-season at this point in the spring thaw, and our driveways, paths and yards have become treacherous to navigate. The farm trucks are more brown than anything else, with only fleeting patches of their original color up top. Firewood production is still going strong, seedlings have started to emerge from their little cells in flats in the greenhouse, and maple sugaring has joined the daily routine. The mystery of sugaring is in the sap flow, and we spend countless hours discussing the seemingly endless variables that contribute to a good run.
“What causes the sap of maple trees to flow in the spring? During warm periods when temperatures rise above freezing, pressure (also called positive pressure) develops in the tree. This pressure causes the sap to flow out of the tree through a wound or tap hole. During cooler periods when temperatures fall below freezing, suction (also called negative pressure) develops, drawing water into the tree through the roots. This replenishes the sap in the tree, allowing it to flow again during the next warm period.”
From Cornell University, on Sap Flow