Winter time at the farm
We have been pretty quiet over here at the farm but as we slowly emerge from our winter cocoon, we wanted to answer the age-old question, “What do farmer’s do during the winter?”
Well, every farm is a bit different but one thing we all have in common is rest. Most farmers that run small-scale farming businesses work pretty damn hard during the growing season and it can take a real toll on our bodies. After about 8 months of 7-day work weeks and 10-16 hours of very physical work days, our bodies need time to heal. We sleep, go for walks, catch up on any movies or shows we don’t have time to watch during the growing months, and for the first few weeks after the season wraps up just try to do as little as possible. The other thing I know for sure about all farmers is that after a few weeks (if you really love your job) you can’t help but start thinking about the next growing season. Try as we might, that little hamster wheel in our head just starts turning…conveniently about the same time as the seed magazines start filling up our mailbox. If you put any other magazine in front of me, I have zero interest in flipping through it. But seed magazine time is a special time. Chris and I spend many hours poring over each detail of each new variety. We start daydreaming of what we are going to grow and what the future of our farm will look like.
This daydreaming inevitably leads the way to the dreaded desk work. As boring as it sounds, most of what farmers do in the winter is computer work. We use spreadsheets to keep our seed orders organized, to figure out all of our seed starting dates, and for field planning. Every year our crops get rotated in order to reduce pest pressure and disease. Some plants grow well beside others and some do not, so we plan accordingly. We calculate our succession plantings, meaning which crops can go in after another crop gets removed from the soil. As a small-scale farm this is a very important part of our planning. Because we grow in such a small space, we need to be able to ‘flip’ a bed very quickly. This means taking one crop out and then planting another one as soon as possible after. In most of our permanent beds on the farm we grow 2-3 crops per season. And it’s allll planned using Excel spreadsheets!
Our computer work also includes preparing all of our content for the next season’s CSA program. We pre-plan what we want to have ready for each basket, calculate planting dates, research and plan recipe ideas for our newsletters, and update all of our online content. This year we are excited to have our spring CSA membership available at our new farm. Because we were so busy getting settled here last year, we skipped it, but this season it means an earlier start and learning how to navigate our new farm micro-climates and hardiness zone. It’s a little nerve-wracking but we feel (relatively) confident. As we learn more about growing in unheated tunnels in this particular hardiness zone, we may even start to expand our growing season. But doing so takes careful planning ahead of time since we run our farm on a system where we have no external heat source (burning wood or propane).
Along with all of this desk work we also put a lot of time into our advertising. With a CSA basket sales stream there are always changes each season so we can never assume the same customers will return. The average rate for return CSA customers for most farms is about 25%. This low rate can make it difficult for farmers relying on the CSA direct sales method. We are very fortunate to have a pretty awesome community of farm-ily members and our return rate is about 60-80%. With the changing market these past few years and our farm no longer attending a farmer’s market, advertising and word of mouth have been two very important ways to get our farm name out there so we kick it grassroots-style and do some postering, put postcards in mailboxes, and have a few printed ads here and there.
As for on-the-farm stuff there’s still always lots to do in the winter. There’s always plenty of equipment that needs repairing and of course the fun task of snow clearing. This winter has been particularly snowy where we are and that makes clearing and shoveling am almost daily occurrence.
Small renovations on our house, the barn, and the greenhouse are slowly getting worked on. Chris built the chickens some beautiful new nesting boxes in anticipation for some new additions to the flock that we are getting in the spring. Don't worry CSA members, more eggs are coming!
The barn is getting lots of patchwork done and the inside is getting a few new animal stalls built soon.*wink wink*
This was our first winter with barn animals and the very first winter for the goats! It was pretty hilarious seeing how the girls interacted with their first snowfall…they hated it. They absolutely refuse to go outside when it’s snowing but luckily, they have a pretty sweet set-up inside the barn and lots of room to run around.
Now spring is just around the corner and our days of winter relaxation are numbered. Our CSA memberships are open online and our seedling sale will be opening soon as well. We have started to seed a few things inside the house and hope to get the greenhouse up and running in a few weeks. Before we know it, we’ll be waking up at 4am, in shorts, and trying to beat the heat. So come on 2023/Season 2 at the new farm. We’re ready for ya!