As spring nears, vegetable seedlings showing up at market

Mar. 15, 2014 @ 11:48 AM

With the spring equinox coming up this week, our local farmers are itching to get into their fields to plant their spring crops.

It has been a difficult couple of months for farmers around the Triangle. This winter has been incredibly wet and cold in comparison to recent years. Between the rainstorms, snowstorms, ice storms and below-freezing temperatures, farmers have been working overtime to keep tender plants warm, both in and out of their greenhouses, they have had to clean up damage from the storms, and when the fields are extremely wet, they have had to postpone preparing their fields for spring crops until they dry out.

Nevertheless, farmers are a tenacious bunch. They have worked through the difficulties that the weather has presented and there are hopeful rumbles around the Durham Farmers’ Market that spring will arrive soon, especially when the market day coincides with a warm sunny day!

Last week, the first spring vegetable seedlings started showing up at the market.  The arrival of vegetable seedlings is always a sign that spring is almost here! Through the winter, most farmers start most of their crops from seed in their greenhouses. A bunch of them make sure to plant more seedlings than they will need on their farm so that Durhamites eager to get their hands dirty can have high-quality vegetable starts for their home gardens.

Our farmers choose to start their plants from seed for several reasons. First, they get to choose the varieties that they plant. This means they can plant heirloom and other odd or obscure varieties to which they might not otherwise have access. Second, they can ensure consistent quality among their plants and reduce the risk of common plant diseases that can kill the plants before long before harvest.

Another reason, they can time their plantings in order to have successive plantings and ensure regular harvest. Finally, it is definitely more cost-effective for them to start their seedlings. Purchasing established vegetable seedlings from a distributor is costly and those don’t come with the benefits listed above.

Are you one of the many people itching for springtime gardening? Here is what you can expect to find at the farmers’ market in terms of seedlings in the coming weeks. Lots of greens -- lettuce, kale, collards, cabbage, swiss chard, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower and arugula.  You’ll also find strawberry and raspberry plants. After the threat of frost passes, around the middle of April, summer crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, squash, cucumbers and watermelon will start to become available. Also, while you are there, don’t hesitate to ask your farming professionals for gardening advice. Our farmers are always happy to share their growing knowledge.

Erin Kauffman is market manager of the Durham Farmers Market, open winter hours 10 a.m. to noon at 501 Foster St.  in downtown Durham.