Mise en Place: Winter Prep for Spring Success
Mise en place is a noun, but perhaps more importantly, it is a state of mind in professional kitchens around the world. This French culinary phrase means “putting in place” or “gather,” and in short, the concept embodies all the preparation that is needed for a well-oiled kitchen to be successful — especially through a frenzied cooking rush when time is of the essence. Through the lens of horticulture, it is easy to envision Spring as our impending dinner rush, with the endless lists of tasks to be done and spare moments hard to come by. What then is Winter if not our time to prepare and get our mise en place in order?
Currently in Pennsylvania (where I'm located), the trees are bare except for the evergreens, the perennials are tucked in and awaiting Spring, and the crisp Winter weather is settling in nicely. With the perennials dormant, I often field questions from those outside the industry inquiring if this is my slow season. What exactly do horticulturists do in these Winter months?
It’s easy to see where this question comes from. In the Spring and Summer months, the work is very tangible. There are fields full of seedlings to walk in order to select the best ones to advance to the following year’s trial. There is a sea of containers that includes all of our trial lines, which gradually start blooming until they reach a crescendo. This necessitates a frenzied pace of data collection and photography to determine the best of the best for us to add to our assortment. Then there are the customer visits, tradeshows, and trial tours — so many friendly faces to catch up with and talk to about the best plants in the pipeline. It’s a time of sunglasses and sunscreen.
So, what happens after the trials are put to bed for the season?
One of the things I love most about horticulture is how the job changes with the seasons. While there is decidedly not a slow season, there is definitely a shifting of gears and a different type of work that dominates the Winter months.
The Fall and Winter months are the time to wrap up one season while making the preparations for the one to follow. It is a time of projects and planning, of presentations and spreadsheets, as well as a time for creativity and brainstorming. Information for our newest introductions needs to be entered into databases, production forecasts need to be set, and catalog and tag content created. Next year’s trials have to be planned variety by variety. What needs to go in-ground? What needs to be in containers? Which commercial varieties should be ordered as comparisons? Tradeshow grow outs have to be scheduled and ordered. What varieties need a bigger marketing presence? How much grow time does each variety need to be show-ready for MANTS versus California Spring Trials versus Cultivate?
Moreover, do we have a process that needs to be streamlined? Now is the time to dig in and problem solve. Want to try something new next year? Now is the time to gather the team and get creative!
Then there is the greenhouse, a lovely green oasis where you can escape the frost-filled landscape outside and delight in the thought of the longer and warmer days of Spring to come. This is where the unrooted cuttings and tissue culture plantlets begin trickling in to build inputs for all of our trials and projects until the benches become a sea of young plants. This is undoubtably my favorite place to go in the Winter months. Really there is not a better respite (aside from a tropical getaway) than a heated, lighted propagation zone in the midst of Winter where you can be quite content in a short-sleeved shirt, and the growing plants never fail to keep Winter blues at bay.
So what are you doing this Winter? How is your mise en place coming along? If you're pumping up your production knowledge over the "dormant" months, check out these production education videos.
May your Winter preparations be thorough, and the upcoming Spring rush go off without a hitch! Wishing you all a bright and successful 2022 season ahead!