Of all the holidays, real or not, observed or not, given-a-day-off-with-pay or not; there are only two that we view as agricultural based celebrations. Thanksgiving of course is the grand, end of the harvest season celebration. Hopefully we have had a good growing season and the larder is full of food to carry us through the winter. The animals are fat with summer and fall feeding either on pastures or in the woods and are ready for winter too.
Groundhog Day is the celebration of the awakening of spring. No it’s not true spring but it is halfway through winter. Originating among many cultures around the world, they all started getting antsy halfway through the long cold dark period and began to look for signs of when it would end. They looked for natural signs that the earth was warming up and hibernating animals were chosen as the best predictors. Depending where they were it was bears or badgers, in the New World it was groundhogs.
For us it does coincide with when we begin to plant the first crops out into the field. In most winters we put out the first lettuces, fava beans and onions the first weeks of February. Soon to follow are peas, radishes and turnips but it is not until early and mid March until it is really warm enough for serious planting. Groundhog Day does mark the tentative beginning of spring/end of winter but you better hedge your bets.
The prognosticators are mixed in their forecasts this day. Punxsutawney Phil says six more weeks of winter. Sir Walter Wally (I’m sorry I’d be embarrassed to come out and look for my shadow too with that name) says it’s an early spring. Dunkirk Dave from Dunkirk, NY did see his shadow but the forecast for six more weeks of winter was invalidated due to artificial lighting.
The National Weather Service gives both the 30 day and the 90 day forecast as below normal temperatures and above normal precipitation. This says six more weeks of winter to me. They also say the groundhogs are only right 39% of the time.
We don’t even begin to see groundhogs around here until April or later so as forecasters of the weather for this farm they aren’t very useful. Looking out the window at the light rain coming down on top of the 3 inches of snow and ice left from the weekend it looks like spring is still some ways off.
So my recommendation this Groundhog Day is to celebrate making it most of the way through this cold winter with the knowledge that spring is truly on its way. Because we have an ongoing battle with non-weather predicting groundhogs we usually mark the day in North Carolina fashion with some sort of smoked pork dish!