Early preparation for spring rituals


January 17, 2000|By Douglas Lamborne | Douglas Lamborne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ONE OF THE FEW joys of January is the arrival of seed catalogs amid the tax forms and usual postal detritus. Spring will come, they tell us -- time to start rolling in the dirt.

Bill Morris of Churchton figures to get as many as 20 catalogs, which he will put to good use. He goes rolling in 10 acres of dirt and -- perhaps improbably on a plot so small -- makes a living at it.

January is no time for him to hibernate.

"There's work on the house. I couldn't do it in the summer," he said. "Machinery to be worked on. Work in the greenhouse. It's time to buy supplies, go to agricultural meetings. Farmers like to meet other farmers, learn new technology -- we all learn from one another."

Farmers always find tasks to do. Morris has been doing this for more than a half-century, almost all of it on the family farm. He earned two degrees, both in agriculture, at the University of Maryland.

He stays ahead of the curve by raising what he calls "specialty crops -- raspberries, blackberries, nectarines and white peaches."

When he appears at the Anne Arundel County farmers' markets in Annapolis and Severna Park, he also offers his "heirloom" apples, rarities such as Cox's Orange Pippins or Roxbury Russets.

"Customers appreciate quality, and that's what we bring," he said of the markets, which offer only locally grown food. "At chain stores, produce has been in the pipeline a week. With us, you're buying produce that's been picked within the past 24 hours. My raspberries are picked Friday afternoon and my customers are eating them Saturday morning."

He says he listens closely to what his customers say and will make adjustments.

"There are a lot of different ethnic groups around Annapolis," he said. "This means you might want to think about growing more hot peppers, for example. You try to find niche crops, stuff that people can't find in chain stores."

Morris rises about 7 these days, something he won't do several months down the road. "In the summer, I'm up at 5: 30. You have to get things done early before it gets too hot. And you work in the evening, usually to 8: 30 or so. It's seven days a week in the summer. Vegetables have to be tended, you know."

What about the recent oddities of weather, summer's droughts and mild winters? "We have a million and a half gallons of water stored in ponds," he said.

What about these signs of spring that seemed upon us? Daffodils have been sprouting, a neighbor's crocus announced itself the other day, and a flowering plum down the street went into full bloom -- all months premature.

"This weather isn't good," said Morris. "Flies are out, deer ticks are alive and well. We had a mild winter last year and what this meant was that my raspberries, for example, came to life weeks ahead of time. And then a hard cold and snow hit them in March and killed the top 15 inches of my plants.

"We need the chilling hours. All these things should be asleep right now."

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