We are often asked at this time of the year about what we are going to do now that the frost has come. It is a question that is loaded with the insinuation that somehow farmers are left to sit around the farmhouse all winter with nothing to do. After all the markets have closed and the tomatoes are dead so it only seems logical that there is little to do on the farm. This however cannot be further from the truth.
Now there are those who have winter jobs other than farming, and thankfully we have someone in our family with another job. However for those few of us that are trying to make a go at farming as an actual career, full time JOB, there is plenty of work to do. So lest you think I am lounging by the fireside all winter counting all my money I will try to give you an idea of the late fall, and winter on the farm.
First we have to get the garlic in the gorund. This is a crop that can be planted in spring but does much better and is really designed to be planted in the fall. We also are busy digging any bulbs or tubers we want to save such as potatoes, carrots, or the hundreds of dahlias and tuberose that we save each year. At the same time we are trying to get all the old plants ripped out of the ground and plant cover crops in their place in time that some growth is achieved before the really cold weather settles in to the valley.
With all of our greenhouses we have lots of work to do in there. Since late August we have been planting greens such as bok choy, kale, chard, spinach, lettuve, arugula, radish, broccoli raab, and other cold hardy greens. So there is the regular weeding, irrigating, harvesting, processing and selling of crops going on until at least Christmas which is when we seem to of harvested most everything we can grow. But the more greenhouses we add the more continual our harvest can be throughout the year.
Of course there are still a few crops in the field too such as broccoli, cabbage and napa cabbage. At this point they do not require much except a spray here and there and occasional watering, harvesting and processing for sales. Although when the temperatures drop below 25 we begin to cover with a heavy remay, so that means covering and uncovering each day. When it looks to be going below about 18 then we will harvest all that is left for storage and sales.
Then there is all the inside work. Often the office and paperwork has been let go of during the craze of late summer and early fall. So there is a lot of catch up to be done in the office. The moment that we are caught up it is time to being ordering any plant material we may need for the following season. We begin to get catalogs around about July and ideally we have everything ordered by December at the latest and some things need to be ordered by October. So there is not a real down time in terms of supplies coming in to the farm.
The single biggest thing we do in the winter is to calculate how much of what we are going to plant where we are going to palnt it and therefore how much seed to we need, how many transplants will we need by when in order to make it all happen. This requires sitting down and deciding on what grew weel, what sold well, what actually made us money and what deserves more space. The hardest part is that the new seed catalogs to not usually come out early enough. So we get a rough idea and then update as we find new varieties to trial, and plant. Luckily we have managed to get all of this in to a huge data base that we will be using for the second time and so will hopefully be making this chore faster and more exacting.
Then there is all the machinery that either needs to be put to bed, and we start in on the maintenance of each piece of equipment so that we are ready to go again by spring. In the ideal world this is all done by the middle of March, but so far that has never happened for me but his year it is my goal to actually make that happen. Someday I will have a heated shop which would make that chore more appealing in the darkest days of winter, when there is more time.
Finally there are the animals which still need food and water and love throughout. We will begin to kid in early February, so that is a busy time. And in general we are dumping frozen water and feeding twice a day, checking bedding and making sure that they are surviging the harsher weather successfully. The animals are in this way the heart beat of the farm.
Now do not get me wrong I make plenty of time to ski, sit by the fire and read and generally recuperate after a long season. And the days of working 14-16 hours a day are finished for a while, but there is plenty to keep us busy on the farm. We try to make a couple of escapes to see family and visit a beach to truly recuperate since if one is on the farm there is always something that needs to be done.