Warm weather means early greens

Since winter took an early leave this year, local produce will be close on its heels, and the Carbondale Farmers’ Market near the Murdale Shopping Center will open a week ahead of time Saturday.

The unseasonably warm weather and the late date of the first Saturday in April made the market’s early opening a good option, said market manager Ann Stahlheber.


Shari Sweeney checks on lettuce starters Monday in the greenhouse next to her home in Carbondale. Sweeney said the unseasonably warm winter is unlike any winter she has experienced. isaac smith | Daily Egyptian

Without a particularly cold winter and the early onset of spring, certain plants are ready to be harvested, she said.

“Our greenhouse is just bursting,” said Stahlheber, who also runs Southernwood Gardens.

Stahlheber said she predicts a full market Saturday with plenty of vendors.

Steve Smith, of Hollow Pumpkin Farm, said he will be at the market Saturday selling beets, chard, lettuce and other crops that were able to grow during the warm winter.

He said he’s been farming in the area since 1978 and hasn’t seen a winter like he has this year. The closest thing was an unusually warm March about four years ago that proved problematic when a cold snap in April damaged early crops, he said.

Overall, with early budding trees blocking light to his greenhouse and the possibility of cold weather returning, the warm weather has not necessarily been a good thing, and he said any time the weather is abnormal, there can be problems.

“I’m wondering how many people are not believing global warming now,” he said.

Shari Sweeney, owner and operator of Greenridge Farms, said she’ll be at Saturday’s market too and has a lot more to sell this time of year than she usually does.

The weather, the likes of which she hasn’t seen before, has caused some of her crops to bolt, or go to seed, Sweeney said.

The unseasonable weather could also inspire some inexperienced gardeners to jump the gun and start planting too early, she said. She said she’s not worried for her own garden because she knows what not to do.

Sweeney said she hosts workshops at her farm to teach new gardeners, and she’ll be doing one Saturday following the Farmers’ Market about spring planning and planting.

She said what she really wants to see in the area is more people starting their own gardens.

“The more farmers we have in the world, the better off the world’s going to be,” Sweeney said.

Local produce is healthier, requires less fossil fuel and gives people the opportunity to get to know their farmer, she said.

Smith concurred, and he said he’s had the chance to watch not only his crops grow but also the families of his customers over the years.

“It’s a way of following a bunch of people’s lives,” he said.

Though she recommends it, farming isn’t necessarily easy, at least when done on the scale that she does it, Sweeney said.

She plants 250 varieties of seeds on her 4 ½ acres and in-ground greenhouse, she said. To keep up with all of the crops, she hires three to four people to help. That number will go up when she plants another five acres on her property, she said.

She said her farm is non-certified organic with no pesticides or chemicals used in its decades-long history.

And even though she has a small tractor, she’s just as likely to use an old-fashioned wheel hoe.

Sweeney, who also teaches at Unity Point School, said she works once she gets home to 10 p.m. every day during the week and all day on weekends.

She said it’s a labor of love and serves a greater cause.

“If everybody grew their own food, we’d be in better shape,” she said.

 

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