The Soil & the Stars & the Spring Equinox

We are looking forward to the spring equinox on Saturday, when the earth tilts enough for the sun to be coming our way again. With it will come more chances to grow more vegetables, in due time.

Whoever thought it was a good idea for our nation to arbitrarily change our clocks twice a year was obviously not a farmer. Not seeing daybreak until 7:45 am is ok on those shortest days of December when there’s not much going on, but there is a lot going on at the time of the vernal equinox. Springing our clocks forward means morning chores start in the dark and afternoon chores/projects make for a late supper, and that makes it hard to get to bed early enough to get up and do chores in the dark again the next day. 

Domesticated animals only know sunrise and sunset and seem a bit confused when suddenly morning and afternoon chores don’t line up. We still do chores first thing to get them done so the project of the day can get started and to change plans if something happened overnight, like new lambs. 

I’m an early riser, but what used to feel like getting up early suddenly feels like the middle of the night. It does afford the opportunity to do some nice stargazing when walking to the barns. To think humans have crafted a machine to land on one of those white specks and send back photos and scientific data fascinates me to no end. We have come a long way since Copernicus, Galileo and others figured out our rotation around the sun using handmade instruments. Are we really the only sphere of mass that has evolved from primordial ooze to life as we know it? Maybe others did it a few million years ago, others a few million years in the future, but our time is now. It seems important to take care of our little speck.

We are doing our part by employing regenerative farming practices. You are doing your part by supporting this regenerative local food system. Building soil takes time—not like the Colorado-River-gouging-out-the-Grand-Canyon time, but decades anyway. The combinations of seeding, grazing and cultivating crops feeds soil bacteria and fungi that mineralize rocks, releasing their nutrients and organizing them into self-replicating structures. With this forethought, we can produce food for people for the foreseeable future without the use of toxic chemicals, rendering salt-forming fertilizers unnecessary.

Now that soil conditions are right, John did just that last week. He lightly tilled the top couple of inches of topsoil to uproot and chop up the lush green cover crop, mixing it with the soil, which will absorb all those nutrients to feed the spinach, beets, carrots and peas he then planted. It looked like he also tilled the field where early leafy greens will go when the soil warms a bit more and there is less risk for a severe cold snap. 

Each crop has an ideal seed-germination temperature range and preferred growing conditions, so we have target dates for when each planting should happen. Looking at long range forecasts, we have to make decisions to go a little early or to hold off until the next opportunity, as the weather rarely lines up just right. 

This time of year, the windows of opportunity are related to soil moisture. Working the soil while it’s too wet can destroy life-yielding soil structure. John is one of the few farmers I have ever known who has a three-point hitch and PTO on both the front and back on several tractors, allowing for cultivating cover crops and planting in one pass. This ensures the field prep and seeding can be done while the conditions are right and also saves time and fuel in having to make a second pass. 

We are looking forward to the spring equinox on Saturday, when the earth tilts enough for the sun to be coming our way again. With it will come more chances to grow more vegetables, in due time. The return of the sun was a big deal to the ancestors who built the Sphinx to be aligned with the sun on that day as a signal of spring. In fact, most every culture since the dawn of man has celebrated the beginning of spring.

Yes, you can balance an egg on end on the vernal equinox, the day when the whole world has an equal amount of day and night at the same time. The truth is you can do it any day of the year, though it takes diligence and patience. 

I don’t know how long it took a team of smart men and women to design and build and wait for a fancy machine to get to Mars, or just what the collective we will get out of it, but they seem pretty stoked, and I’m proud of them. Meanwhile, I’m glad to have my feet firmly planted in the soil we are building here on Earth. Maybe I will celebrate the arrival of spring this Saturday by waiting until daylight to start the day. If the chickens are aligned with the spring equinox, as well, they might even appreciate it just this once. —Mac Stone

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