A couple days before the end of April the ice finally left the two biggest bodies of water in my county: Lakes Otsego and Canadarago. The departure of the frozen water occurred about three weeks later than normal. Crocuses began to pop through the ground in our front yard during the middle of April… something they normally do around the first day of spring… or earlier. Canada geese started trickling northward to the Mohawk Valley around the first day of spring.
When spring was about a month old, birch leaf buds formed, along with lilac buds, both in our front yard. Both of those occurrences typically take place in mid-March. When the birch buds appear… wherever the snow is gone… and the fields are dry enough… small grains can be planted, and so can grass, clover, alfalfa, and trefoil seed. There will be a growing season, even though it may be starting three to four weeks later than normal. There’s a useful relationship between birch bud formation and proper barley planting time. (The buds I refer to are the tiny growth points of future leaves, not blossoms.) The mindset dealing with birch bud appearance… as a mandate to plant barley… is wisdom given to us by the northern Europeans. In those countries it is generally agreed that farmers planting barley after that milestone are behind the eight ball. Folks planting this small grain before birch buds take shape are considered overly eager. In Finland growers who time their barley planting perfectly are well-respected by their peers… and apparently by Mother Nature.
On a per-acre (or per-hectare) basis, Europe grows by far more barley than does the U.S. But many regions in the northern U.S. and Canada are more like Europe in that respect. These cooler areas have a growing season more conducive to the “cold-footed” small grains, than to the “warm-blooded” big seeds like corn and soybean. A good example of that is North Dakota, which has the highest barley tonnage of any state. But starting back in 2012… in response to drought-based high corn prices… many barley growers swapped horses mid-stream in favor of the summer annual row crop. All too often for those folks, corn proved to be the square peg in a round hole. This is because the Dakotas often lack the warmth … and usually lack the moisture… craved by corn (and soybeans). Annual precipitation in those two states averages about 17 inches.
Still another growing season harbinger is the blossom development of the shad tree. Native to temperate regions of the northern hemisphere, this plant’s most unique trait is that it develops flowers before it develops foliage. This slightly off-white hue of its petals almost camouflages into dwindling snow drifts. Shad is indigenous to every state except Hawaii, and abounds in Canada. Its tiny fruits are important to wildlife. Shad leaves are deciduous and can be half-inch long. Each flower has white (occasionally pink, light yellow, or red-streaked) petals, up to one inch long. The flowers appear early in the spring, when the fish known as shad “run”, a fact which, according to tradition, gave rise to the term “shadbush” or “shadtree”. The fruit is berry-like, red to purple, to nearly black at maturity in early summer. About a half-inch in diameter, the berry’s flavor ranges from bland to pleasantly sweet.
When topsoil temperature clears 35 degrees Fahrenheit, gradually inching toward the 40 degree milestone… as if on some sort of cue… shad buds take shape. Soon afterwards when the shad blossoms first appear… and this precedes any leaves budding… this would be the time to plant spring grains, as well as grass seedings. When the shad leaves become as prominent as the blossoms, all the spring plantings should be done. Shad blossoms appear to coincide with the emergence of birch buds. This is not always an easy comparison, because shad trees rarely grow near birch. Shad trees can tolerate more ground moisture… not surprising since this tree is named after a fish. Another temperature signal, this one closely heeded by the shad fish, is the 58 degree F mark, where the fresh water of a river (such as the Delaware) blends into the ocean brine. That 58°F milestone serves as the starting gun for our finny friends’ upstream pilgrimage. This year shad tree blossoms started appearing almost explosively around May 1. Often shad blossoms appear in mid-March.
One more shad tree sign that I observe closely is the beginning of petal drop, which usually occurs after topsoil has passed the 50 degree mark, the milestone that almost all corn varieties wait for before they begin serious germination. When shad blossoms are all on the ground, soil temperature should have reached 55 degrees, the point at which, ideally, all corn should be planted. Planting corn before soil hits 50 degrees means a lot of this seed will likely become fungus fodder. Since many soil molds thrive in the 40-50 degree range, this jumping-the-gun practice helps line the pockets of ag chemical people selling fungicide.
In addition to budding birches, blossoming shad trees, flowering crocuses, nice crinkly unfurling rhubarb leaves,
The Reidhead front yard on May 8 boasted one perky, though lonely asparagus spear. Hopefully this spear will be joined by scores of others. I’m not sure what the appearance of asparagus is a sign of. Take your pick of the starting guns provided by birch or shad. Assuming that the small grains (and legume and grass seedings) have not only been planted… but are emerging with good color… it’s time to plant your corn… but only 10 to 20 percent of the intended acreage. When that early corn has emerged to form bright green rows (indicating that soil temperatures are remaining above 50 degrees), then plant the rest of your corn. Planting corn too early will bring more happiness to the black birds and crows than to the person who bought the seed.