Springtime rekindles the legend of the swan

The swan can be difficult for some people to see, and from some vantage points the neck already seemed broken in March when this photo was taken.

The swan in the snow on Grand Mesa is a local planting guide legend, although most experts warn that it may or may not be accurate. According to the legend, it’s safe to plant warm weather crops like tomatoes and peppers once the swan’s neck breaks. According to local experts, a pattern in the snow isn’t a fail-proof predictor of freezing temperatures.

“It’s always been something that people talked about,” said Don George, owner of Mount Garfield Greenhouse and Nursery. “The old timers… they won’t plant a thing until the neck’s broke.”

George grew up on an apricot orchard and remembers hearing about the legendary swan when he was a kid. So does Howard Mizushima, who grew up on a farm on Orchard Mesa.

“We didn’t adhere to it,” Mizushima said. “We went by the amount of snow on the Uncompahgre. We don’t get cold fronts coming from the east.”

Orchard Mesa is usually colder than Palisade, but warmer than Fruita or Loma. Likewise, people whose gardens are in residential areas in town might have better frost protection than an open field on the top of Orchard Mesa.

While most people remember hearing about the swan, most people don’t know who started the legend. Some say the legend comes from the Indians, but the Utes generally weren’t farmers and they certainly didn’t grow tomatoes, peppers or watermelons in the Grand Valley.

“We don’t look at a swan in the mountains,” said Florence Hatch, who grows the best-tasting melons in Colorado out in Loma with her husband, Dave, at Hatch Haven Melons. “We wait until the ground is good and warm. We don’t usually plant melons until after May 15.”

Although town gardeners get anxious to get their garden planted, waiting an extra week doesn’t hurt anything or even delay the harvest. Most warm weather plants, like tomatoes, peppers and melons aren’t going to grow well until the weather’s nice and warm.

The general consensus seems to be that while the swan’s neck may be a good story, it’s not much of a guide.


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