Letter from The Publisher
February is in so many ways an in-between month when we transition from the depths of winter to, “Hey, it’s almost spring!” It can test our spirits and our resiliency, but it can also make our hearts sing with the delightful signs of the coming warmer days. On the one hand, we’re still in the middle of a Chicago winter, when we can have subzero temperatures (the record low for Chicago was -8 degrees F back in 1899), nasty wind chills and lots of snow (13.6 inches of the stuff was recorded at O’Hare Airport in the February 1, 2011 blizzard). Then again, the highest recorded temperature for the month was 75 degrees on February 27, 1975. As climate variability affects our temperatures and precipitation, the extremes will become even more noticeable.
Perhaps more obvious to our eyes, the wintery tunnel of darkness starts to pull back in earnest, the days get longer and we pick up more than an hour and 10 minutes of daylight over 28 days. For those affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the increased sunlight can help to ease symptoms (be sure to read Leta Vaughan’s article in this issue, Seasonal Affective Disorder and Vitamin D, for more information about this condition).
I’m a lifelong resident of the Chicago area and its seasonal variations, but I enjoy the soul-soothing transition as we start to move back toward our Midwest growing season. By now, I’ve amassed a collection of organic seed and native plant catalogs from the likes of Seed Savers Exchange, Johnny’s Seeds, Nature & Nurture Seeds, High Mowing, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Territorial Seed Company and Prairie Moon Nursery (plus a rather intriguingly titled booklet called Seeds from Italy—capers, anyone?). At the beginning of February, it’s time to take stock of last year’s seed packets, stop daydreaming about the huge sunny garden I wish I had, and get real about what I’ll actually be growing from seed this year and place my orders! By late in the month, it’ll be time to start the long-lead peppers and cool-weather kale under the LED grow lights (and get ready ti start checking them multiple times a day for signs of new seedlings!).
Out-of-doors, we can easily find signs of the seasonal transition that’s happening in February. If you have a garden, move aside the mulch and you’ll see hardy bulbs like snowdrops, glory of the snow and crocus stretching their thin leaves toward the sky. On some of the trees and shrubs, leaf buds start to get fatter. Perhaps my favorite February sign that spring is near is the sudden song of the male cardinal. Although these colorful red birds are with us all year, the growing daylight signals the cardinals to begin their “birdie-birdie-birdie” territorial call by mid-month, a song our weary Midwestern ears have not heard since last summer.
I encourage you to step outside this month and seek out the subtle signs of this transitional month. Revel in the remaining days of winter yet look forward to the spring. Make plans for a garden, be it a single window or patio container, an extensive backyard or your contribution to a school or community garden. Listen for the cardinal’s song and savor every day.