Phenology is the study of plant and animal cycles as they are influenced by environmental factors such as day length or soil temperature. For instance, when Forsythias or Daffodils are in bloom, it is generally accepted that the soil temperature is at a good temperature for planting peas. Another widely used environmental sign is the first dandelion bloom, which signals prime season for planting potatoes. Lilac trees and bushes are also a great aide, as their first leaf indicates it is a good time to direct seed the cold season crops such as beets, lettuce, carrots, kale, chard, and spinach. When the lilac bushes are in full bloom, it generally indicates we have entered the frost free period of the growing season.
As practitioners of organic agriculture, we respect the natural world, and the natural processes that take place in that world. We have a good idea of what plants need to thrive, but plants also have a good idea of what they need to thrive as well. We put a lot of faith in the signs these plants give us. To that end, we are more than happy to take these environment cues and use them for our yearly schedules for when it is time to start planting.
Migratory animals also help give seasonal cues. The American Robin is the unofficial harbinger of spring. Typically, in this part of Northeast Ohio, they migrate back here in late February. We’re about to start the second week of March and we have not seen any Robins here yet, which is not surprising, as we are coming out of one of the coldest winters in history. Let us know if you have seen any Robins and when!
So, if you currently do not have any Lilacs or Forsythia bushes, put some in this year, other than looking beautiful, they might just help you out with your vegetable gardening as well. As for dandelions, it shouldn’t be too hard to notice when they start blooming!