It happens every seven to eight years and it’s happening again this year, the year without a winter. Many long range forecasters predicted a tough winter after the Halloween snowstorm. They predicted heavy snow and cold for November and December with a seasonable January and February. It’s been an extremely mild winter through January with very little snow. January 2012 is the second warmest January on record in our area. Ponds and lakes did not freeze so no ice skating, ice fishing or snowmobiling thus far. It’s an unusual weather cycle this winter with cold weather lasting a few days then rain and warm temperatures. This persistent freezing and thawing is not good for plants. Trees and shrubs in our region prefer gradual change not abrupt temperature and weather swings. Keeping our cultivated and natural landscapes mulched helps during these weather fluctuations. This strange weather stresses plants and many fruit gardeners are concerned as flower buds swell during these warm spells. If this weather continues through February followed by cold in March and April fruit production could be greatly effected as the flower buds will be damaged.
February starts with Ground Hog Day as our local woodchucks study their shadow to predict the end of winter. Our shadows get shorter as we gain an hour and a half of light this month. February is a fickle month as the sun works north and the warm southern air starts battling the dense winter cold. It’s the classical spring verse winter snow when one day we are out pruning shrubs in the warm late winter sun, the next day we’re scraping ice or snow of the front walkway.
February is the first signs of spring in the garden and in the woods. Early spring bulbs are poking their heads through the soil checking on the temperature. Pussy willow buds are swelling and waiting for the right moment to open. Skunk cabbage is working its way up through the mud along the edge of the swamps. This year’s growing season is just getting started. Chickadees, Cardinals, Woodpeckers, Owls, Hawks and Eagles are scouting out this year’s nesting sites. They are all looking for a safe location with adjacent food plots and hunting grounds. Chickadees and Cardinals are looking through the Gray Twig Dogwood patch for tight branched area where they will be camouflaged from cats. Woodpeckers and Owls are scouting out the tree hollows that are just large enough to fit through but not big enough for raccoons and skunks. Hawks and eagles are cruising around the skies over meadows and waterways for good hunting and fishing to feed their young. In the past year I have seen Bald Eagles over Whaley Lake, the Ten Mile River and the north flow of the Great Swamp. It’s encouraging to see these birds in the trees around our waterways and meadows. It’s a good sign.
February is the hunger moon as the last full month of winter is here. Animals living in our yards and in the deep woods continue scouting their hunting grounds for a berry, bud or mouse they may have missed during an earlier visit.
February is the sugar sap flow; I’ve seen Silver Maples, Red Maple and Sugar maple tapped for syrup in our region. Sugar Maple has the highest sugar content in its sap and is the most widely tapped tree. Early sap is always the sweetest and maple syrup is one of the healthiest natural sweeteners to use in cooking and baking.
Plant life begins a new season as the sap begins to flow in most trees and shrubs by the end of February. As plant life wakes up so does animal life, a correlation we need to understand for our own wellbeing. The warm sun is welcome and not only does it start the sap flow, it also begins to get our warm blood flowing. It’s valentines season, each year at this time nature suggests we court. Let us not forget that we are part of nature and not something separate. Somewhere deep down inside us there is still a primitive instinct in place to reproduce. Catching the eye of our mate is just what the doctor ordered to get the winters cobwebs out and put us into a spring frame of mind. Happy Valentines Day with lots of love.