Gene Logsdon: January Thaw


The Contrary Farmer

One of my favorite winter pastimes is scouting for the very earliest sign of new plant life as the days begin to lengthen. From other years, I had decided that winter aconites and snowdrops were the champions of the game called First Growth. Especially this year, these flowers bloomed on January 13th, unusual for northern Ohio. But the conditions were right: a rather mild early December and then six inches of snow on top of unfrozen ground. Then came a January thaw and the temperature got up into the 50s, even into the 60s.  The snow melted and voila! The protected yard next to the house suddenly came alive with yellow and white splashes of these two flowers. They were very cagey, however. They did not open the whole way, and so they might be able to withstand considerable cold weather sure to come again.

But, as gratifying as it was to see these early bloomers earlier than ever, they did not win this year’s championship game of New Growth. On the north side of the machinery shed, I was clearing away brush and small trees in December when I noticed lumps of moss in the building’s shade under the brushy growth, dark green from fall growth. But then suddenly in the first days of January, the dark green was suddenly overlain by light green new growth. (You can see it in the photo above. That rounded mound of moss is about a foot in diameter.) On close inspection, there were tiny reddish brown stemmy threads sticking above the new green.

This moss is common here, but I don’t know enough to identify it for sure. As I tried, Google introduced me to a sector of wild nature that is wondrously new for me. I’ve always been aware of mosses growing bright green in winter, but just sort of took them for granted. They are so beautiful that, from what I read, there is danger that they are being over-harvested in some areas for landscaping purposes.

There are other candidates for champion New Growth status. Chickweed of course, but I don’t count that because in my experience it never stops growing. The drought last summer hurt it but when rains came again in the Fall, the stuff went berserk. It is overrunning many winter fields where grain was grown last year. Livestock would gladly graze it if there were fences around these fields. With proper management, chickweed might become a great winter pasture or cover crop on cultivated ground. It won’t compete with permanent pasture sod.

Bluegrass also stayed quite green this winter and my sheep are grazing it in mid-January, a first for me. The chickens seek it out avidly as the snow melts and I am sure they are getting as much nutrition from it as from grains.

Is this all the result of global warming? Since the weather is cold again this week, I rather think it was just a typical January thaw that came along a little earlier than usual to give us a break in the cold of bleak midwinter. I love January thaws, love to hear the weather forecaster say “the temperature will be rising in the night.” And if global warming is the cause, I can think of worse things. Like global cooling.


It would be useful to know what locale this article is relevant to. Otherwise I find it irrelevant, if nicely written.