AgriCulture: Spring Awakenings

Spring, the season of rebirth and regrowth, is almost upon us. Winter’s last full official day is Sunday, March 19. But Spring is an insistent force, and will be restrained neither by the calendar nor by cold wintry weather. If I needed any proof of this proposition, I found it yesterday evening. As Eric and I drove east east from Germantown, where the little snow we had this week has largely melted away, to the higher elevations of Northwestern Connecticut, where my friend George spent part of the week snowed in without power, we saw in the middle of a lawn in Lakeville, surrounded by deep snow, what appeared to be a large forsythia bush in bloom.

Here in Germantown, it’s easier for the season to show itself in full force. The little white snowdrop flowers that have been blooming for the last couple of weeks have been joined by six inch tall daffodil leaves, with buds that seem on the verge of opening. I even saw a couple of phlox leaves emerging near the house this afternoon. And fuki buds are popping out of the ground, it seems everywhere I look.

A fuki bud emerges Photo by Eric Rouleau

Fuki, also known as Japanese butterbur, is a plant with flat round leaves which can be massive, a foot or more in diameter — heart shaped, large, and coarse. The leaves appear at the end of stalks that begin at ground level and stick up about six or eight inches. People often mistake fuki for rhubarb. The stalks resemble a thin reddish celery stalk. The buds, which look like tiny greenish cauliflowers, appear right at ground level in early spring.

The fuki here was planted in a fit of landscaping enthusiasm some twenty two years ago. It was located in a shady damp spot east of the driveway in order to quickly cover a lot ground with something decorative. I’ve come to view the plant as a horrible invasive scourge because, through sending out underground runners, it has been appearing opportunistically everyplace it can reach, sometimes areas not so shady and mucky. Unfortunately, in the height of summer, whenever the weather turns hot and dry, in all but the shadiest, wettest spots the plants wilt, and so does their beauty. The leaves dry up quickly; the stems turn a brittle brown. Because they have shaded out all competing growth, the fuki patch looks like the remnants of a forest fire. Spring landscape beauty becomes summer’s desert. I would like to do everything I can to limit the area covered by fuki.

Fortuitously, it turns out that fuki is regarded as something of a delicacy by the Japanese, a “mountain vegetable.” The buds, known as ” fuki noto”, are harvested by hand in early spring and used in a variety of preparations. I’m thinking about doing a fuki noto tempura tomorrow. From my research today, it seems the stalks are also quite edible when they’re young and tender. Parboiled in salt water, followed by an ice water bath to take out some of their signature bitterness, they may then be added to soup or transformed into a vegetable dish served with miso paste. My hope is that if I harvest enough buds and early stalks, and even convince others to eat them, that I will keep this rampant scourge under control.

I assure you , this is not a general instinct of mine. Confronted by the first growth of spring, I do not generally try to beat it back. Indeed, I encourage the life force in all its manifestations, be they vegetable, animal, or human.

Take Spring Fever. I have the impression, from my social world, that there is a pandemic of this condition already well under way. Various of my friends are falling into various stages of infatuation and outright love right about now. I’ve always been a love junkie. There’s rarely been a period in my life when I wasn’t in love with a mate or potential mate, regardless of season. But to see friends who previously proclaimed no interest in becoming part of a couple suddenly changing course and considering mating makes me suspect there’s something in the atmosphere that has freed up that particular human need and desire to express itself fully.

Is it disconcerting to have friends disappear from your radar as they focus on bonding with the objects of their awakening affection? Sure, but I remind myself that I’ve similarly disappeared from their radars at similar points in my life, sometimes repeatedly. And there is a countervailing joy in knowing that they are being animated by what seems to me an expression of the life force that matters most.

There is a culture war being waged right now against being “woke”. I will refrain from expressing my feelings about a state of being I can’t define. But I do, in these balmy days of life and love erupting, most emphatically cast my vote in favor of “awakening”.

grasses on fire 2
From fire, regeneration Photo by Mark Scherzer



EGGS ARE BACK! Nature destroys but it also regenerates. Egg production is back in full swing. Choice of rich concentrated young pullet eggs or regular size eggs, either way $6/dozen

TIME TO ORDER LAMB Order a whole or half lamb, cut to your specifications, $7/lb hanging weight. Lambs go to market Mar. 20, so you need to get your cutting instructions in now.


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