Archive for February, 2013

A New Year

February 3, 2013
A handsome winter visitor

A handsome winter visitor

We are well into 2013, yes, even into the second month and on the downhill slide of winter. The weather has been crazier than ever this winter season with too many days of the sort of cold (-40 degrees C with wind chill) that freezes water pipes, then two days of West Coast mild (high of 13 degrees C) and now back to cold again. We lost almost all our snow in the last melt phase and hoped, during the accompanying high winds, that our row covers, straw and other protective crop covers did not blow away. We rely on the snow for many thing: soil moisture and re-charged watersheds in the spring, an insulating blanket on perennials in winter, entertainment for otherwise house-bound farmers and the sheer enjoyment of the winter wonderland. The site of white glittering snow-covered fields on a cold, sunny winter day really helps beat those mid-winter blues. Shovelling snow is good exercise and helps keep us fit for the physical challenges of the season ahead and driving on snow and ice doesn’t wear our snow tires out as quickly as driving on asphalt and gravel. All in all, winter on the east coast requires snow in order to truly be “winter” and our current lack of it is quite sad.

Snow woes aside, our winter is progressing nicely with Will and I working on the planning and organizing part of farming. I got to enjoy a couple of days in the Annapolis Valley, NS, at the start of January, visiting friends, meeting other farmers and exchanging knowledge and experience on different vegetable varieties and crop planning systems. I arrived home recharged and ready to get down to the big business of planning our planting schedule for the season and putting together seed orders. In the past I had always done the planning part more or less in my head, using the previous year’s records and notes while leafing through seed catalogues for inspiration. This year I actually put it all down in spreadsheets – with calculations! – so anyone can follow the rationales that went into determining how I chose to order 1/4 lb of Detroit Dark Red beet seeds. This year we actually had good sales records from last year’s farmer’s market to help me plan what to grow for market and CSA this season. We also have one more year of experience under our belts and this makes planning move a little more into the realm of possible and away from the realm of fantasy (fantasy: wouldn’t it be great to plant a 200′ bed of carrots and harvest 1000 lbs of carrots?). I am still dicing with fantasy a little bit because I am banking on getting higher yields in most crops than we did last year. I am also hoping that, once we start preparing beds, another four 200 foot long beds appear where before there were none. Actually, I think this is possible if we get our early crops off and the beds cultivated quickly: we just may be able to grow a late crop of cabbage where we had an early bed of spinach.

Will spent a bit of time recently building a lovely storage unit (hutch? shelves? pantry?) for the kitchen. I still remember moving into this house and wondering what we would ever find to fill all those cupboards. Well, we filled them and then some; one of the hazards of becoming self-sufficient in food is that you need a lot of storage space and in a small house without a basement, we need to get very creative in order to squeeze in many baskets, jars and bags of goodies. Neither Will nor I likes clutter and we both really groove on bare surfaces, so more storage space needs to be created and it has to look nice. Fortunately, baskets of garlic and hot peppers and jars of tomato sauce and jam have a great deal of artistic appeal and the new, well stocked shelves, look great in our kitchen!

Will has also been working on our financial records, learning the joys of depreciating assets, and also has been participating in helping develop the curriculum guide for ACORN’s Grow a Farmer program. This season will be the first for the program and we have offered our farm to host people interested in learning to farm. Sarah was our apprentice guinea pig last year and we think things went quite well with that experiment. Hopefully this season will see us with another keen, eager to learn individual – we call them “young farmers” but really they can be any age. We also applied to SOIL – an organization that helps link farmer wanna-bes with farms – just in case Grow a Farmer doesn’t get enough applicants.

I start teaching my Eco-nutrition course next week and am looking forward to it. It’s nice to do something different from my usual farming jobs and it’s fun meeting new people and sharing the things that make my world go ’round: sustainable farming, supporting local businesses, working cooperatively, environmental responsibility and defying greedy corporate mobster-types (like Monsanto). I’ll be teaching my organic gardening course soon as well and in no time at all it will be time to start mixing up potting media and planting seeds. The goats are due to kid in mid March and they are all looking truly pregnant except Snowball who is still looking a little too svelte and I really hope there is a kid in there.

So we have another month of true winter, then we start to head into spring and if the last three years were any indication, I have no idea what to expect. All we can do is try to be as prepared as possible for anything and deal with whatever arises. My modest goal this year is to grow some really nice tomatoes, something that many farmers do with little effort but has been beyond my abilities these last three years. This year I have a new strategy so we will see how it goes….