As promised in yesterday’s blog posting, I want to focus on the vernal equinox (also known as Ostara and portrayed in the picture above). Specifically I want to talk about the sun. I have posted “tributes” to the moon, the rain, and the earth—now it is time to give sunlight its due—and what better time than the first full day of Spring.
Sustainable agriculture has a number of rock stars or celebrities—one of whom is Maine’s four season farmer, Eliot Coleman. There is not a sustainable farmer around that does not own his now classic The New Organic Grower. There was a year or two during my earlier farming career that I felt like an Eliot Coleman groupie-he was a keynote speaker at the PASA Farming for the Future Conference, at the Hershey Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Growers conference, and even a “dessert” lecturer at Longwood Gardens—I went to them all. The crux of his lecture was about being able to extend the season well into the winter months, no easy feat for someone farming in Maine. His thesis, so to speak, was that we had ample sunlight here in the Northeast; we just had to provide a little protection (high tunnels) to cold tolerant vegetables from the worst of the winter cold, no outside heat was necessary. Coleman lives near the 44th parallel, and if you follow that latitude across to Europe, you can see that he enjoys the same amount of sunlight as the south of France. Here in southeast Pennsylvania we are closer to the 40th parallel, our latitude runs through the middle of Spain and the very southern tip of Italy. Pretty heartening when you think about; in sun quality, it is as if we are living on the Mediterranean.
Coleman’s original inspiration came from the historic (mid-late 1800s) maraicher of Paris (market gardeners) with their early forms of cold frames, straw mulching and glass cloches. Another early proponent of covered gardening was Philadelphia seed house founder and florist Henry Dreer in his book Dreers Vegetables Under Glass Handbook written over a hundred years ago. In a timely related story NPR ran this piece today and my favorite source of all things tool and seed related, Johnny’s Seed posted this blog.
Coleman sites the “magic” number of sunlight hours needed to sustain or start growth as 10 hours, usual occurring around the beginning of February depending on your location (thought to be the reason behind celebrations like Imbolc and Groundhog Day). Once again the Johnny’s Seed blog has some great links to this fact-Johnny’s works hand and hand with Eliot Coleman. The equinox indicates that day and night are more or less equal; hence we should be enjoying about 12 hours of daylight at this time, plenty of sunshine to get your plants growing. To find out the day length for your location on any particular day check out this handy Solar Calculator from NOAA.
So there you have it, lots of reasons to celebrate the sun (no matter the weather outside). I leave you with a video set to the great new recording from Spinning Leaves and Hezekiah Jones-You Are The Sun. I actually got the inspiration for blogging about the moon and then the sun from local music lover Steve Brun’s posting of this video on Facebook. Enjoy.