Hurry Up and Wait: Meditations on Patience

We farmers sure are an optimistic lot. We order seeds and plants sometimes before we have sold the current year’s crop. We work on ongoing projects and to-do lists that are rarely caught up on or finished. We often must literally do believe that the sun will come out tomorrow.

A popular internet image among gardening groups during March snowstorms shows a person working among flower beds despite a blanket of snow. A paraphrased caption reads that she wanted to garden regardless of the late snowstorm. I appreciate the determination and admire her enthusiasm, but the frustrating truth is of course that it’s better to just wait. Wait until the days are longer and the time is right to work the soil. Find another way to use your energy and enthusiasm.

Patience is so important. Working a field that hasn’t dried out enough can be extremely destructive to the soil, as well as a waste of time.

Much of our work is time sensitive. We cannot delay our seeding schedule without suffering a gap in production and at the same time, most crops don’t allow us to “preplant” which is to say, we can’t sow too early either, no matter how much we want to. We also can’t close up the greenhouses earlier in the day if it’s still sunny, we must wait until it cools a bit for fear of cooking our plugs.

I remember hearing Grace Lam from Five Forks Farm describe soaking anemone and ranunculus corms as “pulling the pin on the grenade,” and she is so right. Once you start the growth in motion you need to be ready with a place to plant and weather that cooperates.

By the same token, maybe we want our flowers to bloom earlier, so we sow our zinnias two weeks earlier than normal. I have played this game, and rather than early and abundant blooms I yield overgrown plants suffering as they languished in the trays because the overnight lows are too cold to plant those babies out. Caring for overgrown plants is frustrating, and takes up valuable bench space.

This past winter and spring sure have required both our optimism and our patience. Cold temperatures and lack of sunshine delayed spring crops in our area by about 10 to 20 days, especially notable around the Mother’s Day holiday when very little had started to bloom. I had enthusiastically written to new designer customers with projections based on last year’s harvest dates and volumes, but our lack of sunny days leading to delayed bloom forced me to cancel their orders. Those are humbling messages to write.

I’m looking around my farm and at other operations as we each evolve, expand, or adjust our investments and trajectories. I see some plantings of shrubs and peonies I established about 8 years ago and they are really taking off because I prepared the soil properly and bought the correct number of plants for my space. I see some other plantings I made hastily (yet enthusiastically) 3 or 4 years ago and I see that I planted too soon. I hadn’t taken the time to grow a cover crop to improve the soil and/or tarp to kill the grass. I should have waited and instead I will abandon some beds of perennials and move some peonies and clematis, all at great expense.

I think sometimes we tell ourselves we just need to get something (anything!) in the ground so we can get started. And then we plan to make some adjustments later. I have told myself that I will weed and then mulch really well to reclaim patches I was losing to weeds. Realistically that doesn’t seem to move from the to-do list to the done list. I heard a presenter at a conference once speak about growing blueberries, and common mistakes folks make. People often tend to get so excited to order plants and put them in the ground that they tell themselves they will adjust the soil pH later. Sound familiar?

I so wish I had waited to buy my plants until I knew I had space prepared. I am learning the same lessons many of you have already learned. My wise mother says that readiness must go hand in hand with patience. When the field is prepared and weather window is right, you must be ready to plant.

By now, of course, most of you have planted most of your main crops and are hopefully harvesting like mad. Wishing you an abundant summer from our farm to yours!

Carolyn Snell

Carolyn Snell Designs

Carolyn Snell Carolyn Snell Designs [email protected]