Archive for December, 2010

December 30, 2010

Decorative puppy in front of ChristmasSolstice tree


Winter Work

December 9, 2010

As I sit and make yet another “to do” list, I remember, once again, how differently the body functions in winter than in summer. In summer we get up early and hit the ground running – there’s always way too much to do and never enough time to do it. In the summer we are ruled by the forces of nature: planting schedules which must be maintained, markets that must be harvested for; pests, weeds and disease that must be dealt with. We make plans but, really, we usually just end up reacting to nature’s demands and hope to keep one step ahead of everything. Now, come the winter, we have so much more time and so few demands from the natural world (except snow removal) that we are, theoretically, able to accomplish huge amounts of work. This huge amount of work, summed up by the term “winter projects”, are conceived over the summer when we believe that the energy and drive we have in the summer will carry over into the winter. The reality, however, is that, given shorter days and fewer demands from Mother Nature, our bodies and brains slow down (hibernation mode) and, realizing we have so much time to complete the huge list of winter projects, we basically take all winter to do a few small things.

So how does a keen farmer deal with their winter hibernation mode challenges? Well, we need deadlines for projects, scheduled activities and projects with partners. Without Mother Nature to answer to, we need other people and their demands to keep us on track. I am currently in the process of scheduling the first three months of the new year (March is looking scary) and once I fill in the “must dos” on the calender, I can add the “should really get done before the summer” projects. Seeing it all written down helps to keep me focused, too, because I can see how many other things need to happen in a short window of time. Basically, the more we can get done in the winter that can be done in the winter (planting schedules, recipes for CSA, website construction, plans with partners, seed orders, input purchases, equipment repairs, construction), the less there is to do during the growing season when Mother Nature’s schedule takes first priority. Now please take note that, rather than actually doing this planning right now, I am writing for the blog. Hmm, I guess I need a plan to motivate me to get the plan going, too! Oh well, it’s only December and I still have lots of time till summer (!).

In New Brunswick we need to get our vehicles safety inspected on an annual basis. This needs to be done even with new vehicles and you don’t get on the road until you’ve passed your inspection. Well, the car passed without any difficulties (it’s only a few years old) but the 12 year old pickup truck failed it’s first inspection. The amount quoted by the garage to get all the work done to pass the truck was frighteningly high so Will decided to put on yet another hat – along with being master of construction (coldframe, steel building, goat shed), farm machinery maintenance, website design and baking gooey desserts, Will has now taken on the challenge of truck repair. He not only took on the challenge but successfully mastered it: both front brakes replaced and a rear wheel axle seal fixed. What a guy! Really, you could give Will someone with a brain tumour and a manual on brain surgery and he’d have the guy up and walking around in no time! I hope it’s not considered boasting when you brag about your amazing significant other but I just can’t resist.

One of my jobs these days involves stored food management (squash in the bathroom, onions and cheese in the wellhouse, apples in the tiny house, potatoes underneath our house, carrots and celeriac in the barn and leeks and cabbage on the porch – looking forward to a root cellar!) and today I made a map of the freezer. It all started when I went searching for raspberries to make jam. I know I have three big ziplocs full of raspberries but could only find two. So the 20 cubic foot freezer (which is filled to the top) had to be unloaded and searched (never did find the berries) and when I reloaded it, I kept track of where everything is. So now if I’m trying to find frozen basil pesto, I don’t need to unload the whole freezer, just the upper left quadrant. Managing stored food also involves checking it regularly to make sure nothing is rotting (the rotten apple spoils the barrel thing) and continually refilling containers in the house. My jam-making season has started with the raspberries and I’ll try and get all the different fruits converted into jam before the holidays (jam makes great Christmas gifts!). This will help reduce some of the volume in the freezer, and we’ve also vowed to eat at least one goat dish/week to use up some of our large amount of frozen goat meat.

I made fruitcake for the first time ever – a dark fruitcake using my grandmother’s recipe. Gram was the family dark fruitcake maker and she made enough of it every year that no one else had to. Mom has her old recipe book and I did my best to decipher the page with the recipe: very old, crumbling around the edges, faded, stained, scribbled on and otherwise a bit of an archeological adventure. I cut the recipe in half and made only 6 lbs of fruitcake (wow!) which is two loaves. There was quite a lot of brandy involved in this project (some went into the cake, too) and the cakes are now wrapped up and aging on a top shelf in the kitchen. Will and I tried a little piece and it tasted really good, though not as good as Gram’s did in August – yes, I think aging, and maybe some more brandy, is definitely the key!

I am also wading through paperwork at this time of the year: we decided to do an Environmental Farm Plan, partly to see where we did and did not comply with environmental regulations and partly (okay, mostly) to get some funding for projects. We had a guy from the Min. of Agr. come out to get us started and, will wonders never cease, not only did we go to school together but he’s pretty sure he sat beside me in Agr. Machinery class! Of course you’re all wondering whether this means we are a shoe-in for project funding – unfortunately I think we still have to fill out the 10 lbs of paperwork though at least in NB you can do it on the computer and save some pencil lead. We would like to get some funding to help us buy trees for windbreaks, specifically hazelnut trees which would also supply us with nuts. We will see how that all works out.

The NB government is also funding farmers who are newly entered into the organic certification program, mainly because NB does not yet have laws requiring those using the term “organic” to be certified, so there isn’t currently a lot of incentive to certify. We will apply to get up to 75% of our certification costs covered, as well as half the cost of soil amendments (time to stock up on compost!). There is also a program that helps farmers improve efficiency of production and we will apply to get some of the cost of our field tunnels (hoops and row cover) covered as well. All of these purchases are ones we would have made anyway, funded or not, so if we don’t get funding for something, we won’t be left in the lurch. It’s interesting that after hearing for years how farmers are always getting heavily subsidized by the government, after 13 years of farming I’m finally possibly getting me some! The total amount, if we get everything we apply for, will probably come to about $1200. I guess it would pay for the paper we print our forms on but whether or not it will pay for my time is yet to be determined!