Is is tulip time already?

An early spring wasn’t limited to 19th-century Minnesota. This photo of tulips poking out of the ground along the south side of Oakland Avenue was taken in March 2016.

There’s an old saying that if you don’t like the weather in Minnesota, then wait until tomorrow. I don’t know if this statement is true for other regions of the United States, but up here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, our weather is a proverbial rollercoaster. What other state can have an 80-degree afternoon in April, followed the next week with below-freezing lows and light snow flurries? Only in Minnesota, I guess.

Extreme weather swings are nothing new to hardy, lifelong Minnesotans, but it wasn’t always that way. Back in the 1800s, during the time when settlers were pouring into the state from all over the United States, the region’s newcomers were not always accustomed to our weather patterns. Many of those early folks came from out east, where although the weather goes through seasonal changes, its day-to-day swings are nothing like what we see in the North Country. In the winter of 1877-78, those who were newcomers to Minnesota were in for a rude awakening.

Late autumn of 1877 was mild. Farmers, many of whom were new to the region, were afforded great weather conditions in which to harvest their late season crops. The mild weather continued into December, and many were able to plow their small crop fields as Christmas came and went. In January, as the calendar turned to a new year, the mild conditions continued. The conditions persisted in February and frost had yet to set into the earth. With warm conditions lingering well into the winter months, and with spring right around the corner, Minnesota farmers, green in the ways of our northern weather changes, were beginning to think that 1878 was the year that winter never came.

It wasn’t long before farmers began contemplating the risk of planting their crops early — some going so far as to say that the mild weather was a gift from heaven, allowing them a couple extra months to help them along. Several farmers in McLeod County, as well as those in the surrounding region, decided to sow spring grain early and anticipated that the weather would continue to warm.

I’m sure you can guess what happened next.

There’s no doubt that winter weather in Minnesota is volatile, and the unfortunate farmers who gambled on the weather came up short. As February ended, Old Man Winter decided he was done sleeping and would no longer hit the snooze button. The cold weather came, and with it was the killing frost, albeit the first since the winter before. Any early seeded crop that sprouted was frozen to the ground several times. It was a hard lesson for newcomers to learn, but one they would never forget.

When spring, the real spring that is, came around, the crops needed to be replanted. Many were “out” the seed they’d sown as well as the labor it took to do so. As an experiment, some farmers left small plots of the early seeding stand. Surprisingly, some of the crop did sprout and ripen, yet it was so light that come threshing time it was basically worthless; however, it was said that the quality was exceptionally good.

The newcomers who lacked experience with Minnesota weather learned a valuable lesson in 1878. They learned that in the North Country it never paid to let temptation rule the planting cycle, that experience is the wisest counselor, and that if you don’t like the weather in Minnesota, then just wait until tomorrow.

Brian Haines is executive director of the McLeod County Historical Society and Museum, 380 School Road N.W., Hutchinson. The museum is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 1-4 p.m. Saturday and by appointment. For more information, call 320-587-2109.