April has, once again, reaffirmed her reputation as the cruelest month.
    I’m quite sure that T.S. Eliot, the poet who gave the fourth month that title, did not intend for it to be about farming. But it seems to me that he did link it to the weather and the changing of the seasons.
    Mr. Eliot, in the opening lines of his poem “The Waste Land,” wrote: “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.”
    Here in my neck of the woods in southwest Wisconsin, we’ve endured more than three weeks of April’s cruelties. Farmers throughout the state and in parts of surrounding ones have also put up with little April’s pouting, foot-stomping, hissy fits.
    April began her tantrums by dropping three inches of snow the night of April 3. There’s nothing so unusual about that. But the lingering, low temperatures have made most of the month miserable.
    Looking at the records, I see that our daytime high temperatures have been running well below normal. For instance, the high temperature where I live was all of 31.5 degrees on April 16. That was 28.5 degrees lower than our normal of 60.
    Despite the weather’s goofiness, spring is slowly arriving. Our pair of phoebes – those small, fly-catching birds that sing their own name – came back on April 12.
    April 13 (Friday) brought another winter storm warning, this one from Saturday on into Sunday. The forecast for wind, rain, snow, sleet and ice proved accurate enough. But other than that, no terrible bad luck.
    Monday, April 16 found me driving Jessica to her van that she’d parked atop the hill at the end of the driveway. Red Ranger, our old, four-wheel-drive truck, once again proved to be one of the best things I’ve ever bought.
    A few days later and we were back in the throes of winter. April 18 brought a winter storm warning that lasted until the next morning. Good, old April hit us with six inches of snow from that storm.
    This journal entry from April 19 says a lot: Twenty-eight degrees at 6:50 a.m. Six inches of snow from yesterday. No tire tracks in our driveway. We are supposed to get to 48 degrees today. I want to watch all this snow melt.”
    Reports from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) gives a glimpse of what things have been like. Here’s a snippet from an Iowa report dated April 17: “As cold, wet weather persisted yet another week, Iowa farmers had only 1.3 days suitable for fieldwork. … When conditions allowed, farmers in the southern two-thirds of the state were busy applying fertilizer and seeding oats, with isolated reports of tillage.”
    Just 12 percent of the oats had been sown, 10 percent behind the five-year average.
    In Wisconsin, according to the April 17 report, farmers were able to haul manure and apply a bit of fertilizer. Spring tillage was 2 percent completed, and 2 percent of the oats acreage had been planted.
    A visit with a nearby farm family on April 16 confirmed the month’s weird weather. Steve and Matt Achenbach told me that a year earlier, they were busily planting corn.    
    Somehow, in March and early April, I managed to collect and cook enough sap to make 300 ounces of maple syrup. Using the 40:1 ratio, I collected, lugged and boiled 12,000 ounces of sap.
    I was surprised when I made the final tally and found that I’d gotten 9.375 quarts (2.34 gallons) of the springtime elixir. It was quite a good season.
    I guess I’ve endured a rather eventful April. Did I mention that on April 7 some sort of malware, or virus, attacked my computer? It took the computer geeks three days of deep scans and repairs to find and restore my 10 years of information.
    I know I lost some data. And what was recovered is largely an unorganized mess. Folders and folder names are gone, making many items nearly impossible to find.
    Lesson learned: I’ve started backing everything up with an external hard drive. It sits atop the computer tower and plugs into a USB port.
    What else has happened? Jessica is being treated for pneumonia, and I am battling one of the worst colds I can remember.
    But Barnum and Bailey, our pair of barn swallows, returned on April 21 from their winter vacation. And this morning, I noticed that the crocuses I set into the ground a few years ago are blooming. Their saffron petals lend a welcome touch of color to the brown lawn.
    Surely, spring is slowly coming back to the land.