Growing Magazine - February, 2014


Editor's Notes: Escaping the Vortex

I imagine not too many people will be sad to see the last of this winter. Cold and snow are pretty much par for the course where I live, but those two entities have extended far outside their usual range to wreak havoc on people's lives.

Many of us have no doubt encountered the term "polar vortex" for the first time this season. I thought it basically meant: "Burrow under every blanket you own and don't leave the house, because the end of the world is upon us, and it'll be ice instead of fire." (Thus providing an answer to Robert Frost's musings in "Fire and Ice.") However, according to (, "One of several semipermanent weather systems over the Earth, the polar vortex is an area of low pressure in the upper atmosphere, primarily in the stratosphere, the layer of the atmosphere above which most of our sensible weather occurs (known as the troposphere). To emphasize, this vortex is semipermanent. It is often in place near the poles. It is nothing new." So apparently the polar vortex is actually lurking around in the atmosphere a lot of the time, which is somehow more alarming.

Snowfall at which Northerners wouldn't bat an eye becomes a serious problem in the South, in cities such as Atlanta, Ga., and Birmingham, Ala., which saw thousands of people stranded on highways for hours on end. Workers spent the night in their offices; children camped out at schools.

I toyed with the idea of a nice Florida vacation in January. Instead, the only traveling I did was to Pennsylvania for a trade show, during what was apparently a stretch of the coldest weather they'd had in almost 40 years. I figured Pennsylvania at least had to be warmer than Vermont, but I was wrong.

Cold and snow keep shutting down schools, businesses and more in areas that aren't equipped to deal with them, but at least people have done their best to help each other out - delivering babies, rescuing stranded children, handing out food and water. A doctor even walked 6 miles in the snow to perform life-saving brain surgery at Trinity Medical Center in Birmingham.

The thing to remember is that we will get through it. Not that long ago, it seemed like there would never again be a morning where I wouldn't have to coax my car to start in temperatures in the 20s below zero (and I know that's not that cold compared to some areas). But today it's supposed to hit 31 degrees. That's practically sweatshirt weather at this point.

Eventually all this winter nonsense will let up and spring will come again. Soon enough, it'll be time to think about planting this year's crops. Head to page 6 for some tips on crop selection. Are you going to try any new varieties this year? It's also a good idea to think about your pest and disease management strategy. This month's disease control column talks about managing powdery mildew in cucurbits.

I'm no meteorologist, but I'm pretty confident this won't turn out to be another Year Without a Summer (1816). While it indirectly led to Mary Shelley writing "Frankenstein" (so says Wikipedia, anyway), its effects were otherwise utterly devastating. At least we're dealing with the icy fingers of a polar vortex instead of the aftermath of volcanic eruptions. Think warm thoughts!

Stephanie Peake