Monday April 29, 2013 | 01:00 AM

Without fanfare, the Portland Outdoor Farmer’s Market opened for business on Saturday in Deering Oaks Park.  The trees were budding, the grass was green and the ruts from mud season were nearly gone.

About 20 vendors showed up  opening day at the Portland Farrmer's Market

Thirty-Acre Farm's klimchi and other fermented vegetables remain popular throughout the year

By mid morning the temperature was hovering around 55 degrees, but that’s still not warm enough to promote any meaningful vegetable growth.  Greens growing in the wild, like fiddleheads, are, however, coming to market.  I’m not a fiddlehead fan but they’re a sure sign that ramps and local asparagus—of which I am a big fan--are not far behind.

Gaining popularity at the indoor markets this winter was the idea of “fresh dug”—root vegetables that had wintered over in the ground and dug up after spring thaw.  With parsnips, that’s nothing new, as they are prized as a spring-dug vegetable that  grows sweeter after hibernaton.

Washed and peeled these will be as good as new

But now farmers are treating carrots similarly by letting them winter over and dug up after the ground thaws. These  are noticeably sweeter than the storage crops and not a bad alternative until seasonal ones arrive plucked from spring beds.  

The meat, poultry, dairy  and egg vendors were out in full force, too, and there’s still plenty of canned food around as well.  By late spring I stop buying jars of last years pickles, jams and other put-up stuff. A year is long enough for these items, and it’s best to wait for the new crop of canned goodies to appear in the summer. 

For now you can still get plenty of honey, jams, jellies, relishes and preserved vegetables

Increasingly farmers are growing greens during the winter in their hoop houses so that we’ve been able to have local spinach, lettuces, chard and kale throughout the winter. 

Arugula and kale are plentiful now from hoop-house crops

Green Spark Farm, for instance, told me that they had erected huge hoop houses (12 feet by 144 feet) in their fields and had a bumper crop of arugula and salad greens most of the winter.  Olivia’s Garden began growing greens hydroponically and their chard tasted field fresh all winter. 

Mostly  the big deal at the markets now are flats of seedlings, flowers and plants for sale  and buckets of freshly cut daffodils and a tulip or two next to pansies and Johnny jump-ups. 

Seedlings and starter flats are in abundance at the market

Besides this farm's cheeses, baked goods and a pig or two are for sale

Soon enough vendor stands will be bulging with produce, but we’ve got at least another month before the heft of summer harvesting begins.  Still, I can’t wait for new potatoes, shell peas and baby carrots to arrive--a locavore’s heaven. And by the time strawberries and summer fruits bear witness they’re outdone by tomatoes in the field and the height of summer has arrived. 

There has to be at least one cute puppy at the market
 

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John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.

In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.

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