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Published April 08, 2014, 10:03 AM

Spring planting goes on amid snow at Northland farm

At Hoffbauer Farm in Minnesota’s Midway Township, you’ll find 3 feet snow over most of the place. Where there isn’t snow, there are 3 inches of squishy mud that is pushing slick ice and pooling against snowpiles towering over your head.

By: Mike Creger , Forum News Service

At Hoffbauer Farm in Minnesota’s Midway Township, you’ll find 3 feet of snow over most of the place. Where there isn’t snow, there are 3 inches of squishy mud that is pushing slick ice and pooling against snowpiles towering over your head.

But before more visual evidence of the extended winter can get you down, Lois Hoffbauer leads you to her hothouse.

Here, you’ll find a measurement worth applauding: 3 inches of spring in the form of fledgling tomato, cabbage, pepper, kale and flower plants.

“Days like today, I’m believing spring is coming,” Hoffbauer said.

She was watering plants inside the steaming structure.

Tromping through knee-deep snow were husband Doug and son Jesse, collecting sap from bags strung up on maple tree trunks.

Lois pulls out a lettuce plant from its plastic flat sheathing. She fingers a dull point of roots outgrowing their space.

“These roots are ready to go,” she said. “They need a home.”

That will be in the two unheated “high tunnel” shelters 50 yards away where the Hoffbauers get a jump on the outdoor planting season. After another slosh through even muddier mud, you could spy Peggy Sobczak pulling last season’s dried tomato plants out of the ground in one of the tunnels, getting it ready for the new plantings.

Planting began March 1 in the Hoffbauer’s basement with seed trays under banks of grow lamps.

“I’m sure the whole neighborhood goes dim when we turn them on,” Lois said.

The fruits of the Hoffbauers’ labors are sold under the Farmer Doug name at area farmers markets like the one on 14th Avenue East in Duluth. It opens May 3, less than a month away.

Lois pointed out several flats of plants in the starter house that will be part of the inaugural “Growing For a Cause” program that puts produce on the shelves at Second Harvest food banks. The farm is providing seeds, transplants, compost, black plastic and training on how to grow broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers and green beans. Those who sign up agree to donate produce.

On Monday, for the first time in their lives, the Hoffbauer men were walking tree to tree dumping sap while wearing snowshoes. Last year’s snowy April meant a similar slow start to running sap. This year, they hope the maples don’t get running too far ahead of them before they can reach them through the snow and get them tapped.

The Hoffbauers have 400 trees to tap and they’ve only got 60 rigged up. Those are right around the farmstead. The trees farther away are not accessible with deep snow protecting them. There was some thought Monday about renting a snowmobile to create paths. Doug and Jesse instead took off again on their snowshoes to try tapping 200 more trees.

It’s hard work made harder — and more time-consuming — by all the snow.

“You don’t do this to make money,” Doug said. “But it’s a nice day to be outside.”

If the sap season goes late — trees ran until early May in 2013 — they’ll have time to collect the sap.

“We’re hoping we’re not missing any,” Lois said.

After planting the start-up broccoli, lettuce and cabbage in the tunnel ground Monday, the plan is to plant the tomatoes by the end of the week. Lois titters at the irony inside the unheated, plastic-shrouded houses that are surrounded by a sea of snow.

“It’s so hot,” she said as the temperature neared 80 degrees under a clearing sky. “It’s hard to get work done.”

For many, that’s a good problem to have this time of year.

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