Delusional Groundhogs?

Royal Star Magnolia blooming since mid-January

Word on the street is that Punxsutawney Phil — most famed rodent prognosticator of them all — saw his shadow today, thereby dooming us to six more weeks of winter. The groundhog seers in my home state of North Carolina — Sir Walter Wally chief among them — also saw their shadows. However, it’s my understanding that groundhogs in New York, West Virginia, and Ohio did not see their shadows. I’m thinking those are the rodents that got it right this year.

Who are those shadow-seers kidding? Winter has been a no-show in most of the United States this year, and the plants in my yard are colorfully testifying to that fact by blooming a month or more before their usual times.

The snowdrops usually show up in mid-February, so, of course, they are at peak bloom loitering under one of my Winterhazels. The birds “fertilize” them year-round, so they are looking impressively vigorous in the afternoon sunshine:

Snowdrops at peak bloom

I took my cue from the flowers and early courtship rituals of the cardinals, bluebirds, and hawks and sowed my first vegetable seeds in my greenhouse on January 25. I started a perennial rudbeckia in the germination chamber with the heating pad on to provide the bottom heat such seeds appreciate. I normally direct-sow all my greens — lettuces, spinaches, beets — right into my garden beds, but this year’s ridiculous winter got me thinking I needed to get a jump on spring by starting some in the greenhouse.

Here are seedlings of swiss chard, two lettuce varieties, and a spinach variety (Emu) 8 days after sowing.

Veggie seedlings eight days after sowing

It was actually too hot inside the greenhouse to put these in the germination chamber. They like cool soil. So I just plunked them right down on the capillary cloth, where they germinated in three days. Today I watered them with a dilute solution of fish emulsion/sea weed mix to give them a strong start.

In the vegetable garden, I’ve already prepared the bed for the peas, which I’ll be sowing next week. In years past, I waited until the end of February to sow sugar snap peas, but my gardening instincts are telling me that if I want any kind of spring vegetable garden at all, I’ve got to imitate the plants in my yard and get going now. When I weeded the pea bed, the soil was cool, but not cold, and it was not remotely water-logged.

It’s not just the warm winter that has me worried. I’m far more worried about our deepening drought. Last night’s “rain” put 0.04 of an inch in my rain gauge — a joke. My rain gauge hasn’t seen more than a third of an inch of rain at a time for so long I can’t remember. I am deeply, deeply worried.

So I’m planting my spring garden now. Those veggies can take a bit of chill, and I can always cover them if a serious freeze threatens. I’m pretty sure if I wait, I won’t get anything at all.

I’m not at all sure I’ll have enough water for much of a summer garden, but I’ve got the seeds, so  I’ll be sowing tomatoes in the greenhouse soon after I plant my peas. If I’m going to have any tomatoes at all this season, I’m thinking they need to get started sooner rather than later.

All the while I’m forging ahead on vegetable planting, I’ll be praying the groundhogs got it right. I’ll be dreaming of deep snow — silently luminous in moonlight, softening bare branches, melting slowly, slowly into thirsty earth eager for every molecule of H2O.

Dreaming of snows of winters past

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