Sunday, December 30, 2012

Snowshoeing to the winter greens

Ok, so we didn't actually strap on our snowshoes just to visit the high tunnels, but at the end of a trek down to the back field and timber barn, we did stop in to drape additional row cover over the winter greens.

The bundles of twine hanging from the ceiling are a remnant from the summer's tomato planting. We're going to try and reuse them for this year's tomatoes. Having screwed up my shoulder during a dismount from the rings years ago, I try not to make extra work that demands holding my hands above my head.

The blanket of snow on the tunnels (and the additional row cover) kept the greens from freezing last night, despite the low temps dipping down into the teens. The plants' roots are still growing, albeit slowly with the limited day light during the short days of winter. As the days get longer, they'll pop into high gear. It looks like we'll have a decent early spring greens harvest of claytonia, mache, kale, bunching onions, and spinach.

One of the other temperature-modulation approaches we're trying is incorporating more thermal mass into the hoop house. Because of the USDA rule attached to the grant we received, we're not allowed to use any mechanical venting, heating, etc. in the tunnels. So we put a 300-gallon cube of water (visible just inside the doors in the photo below) in the north end of one of the tunnels. Despite the low outdoor temps, the tank has barely a crust of ice along the edges. This extra mass might add a critical degree or so when the outside temps really plummet.

Now that I've let out and fed the chickens, checked the high tunnels, and come back indoors for breakfast, it's time to go snowshoe down to the back fields and check a gate, or something... :-)

Or maybe I'll harvest some more brussel sprouts, if I can find them.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Farm to pan

With my back flaring up again, I took a walk down to the timber barn and actually stretched out in the hammock for a bit. Farming is tough on the back and I'm finally learning to pace myself—sometimes.

This was my view— late afternoon (just before seven deer started grazing through the field) through the south barn windows, looking over the winter wheat that Thor planted in our fields this past fall.
It makes the fields seem so lush and green compared to the mottled brown of the uncultivated pasture, even though the wheat is just getting established. Come spring, it will have a good headstart on many of the weeds. Thor's wheat often goes to Farmer Ground Flour, and some of that flour finds it way down the road to Wide Awake Bakery, and sometimes, a lucky loaf ends up back on our farm. :-)

If you will be around Ithaca the evening of the 19th, I definitely recommend checking out their open house. The bakery is really interesting, especially the huge wood fired oven. Oh, and did I mention: there will be bread!

Everybody thinks we generally eat the freshest food among our friends. How could we not, when we frequently go back into the fields (sometimes with a headlamp) to fix dinner. But on Wed. Sharon found a bag of chard in the trunk left over from last week's CSA dropoff. With the cool temps lately, the chard looked better than anything we've seen at the grocery stores. So into the fry pan it went. Mmmm. Good addition to a quick lunch. And nice to know that the rainbow chard holds up so well after more than a week being "refrigerated."

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Winter Fun

Well, not exactly playing-in-the-snow kinda fun. There's been precious little frozen precipitation of any kind so far this winter.

Instead, we've been cutting hemlocks from the back woods to build a covered wash station and doing some overdue house repairs. We even took an afternoon and sketched out how we want to debrief on this year's growing season and how to plan for next year.

Our farmers' markets are over for the year and we only have two more weeks of CSA pickup left for the year. It seems like yesterday we were tilling the fields during a surprisingly hot January, then losing all the fruit blossoms to a late frost, then hurtling into a drought -- ill prepared, to boot. But we still managed to grow more veggies than we did in the previous two years we've been farming and now the pasture is lush with young winter wheat plants that our friend Thor has planted. Despite not bearing much fruit this year, the orchard put on plenty of new growth -- including buds for the crop of 2013 -- and our winter cover crops look solid.

The farm's lead hunter just took a doe and a young buck to the butcher and we're getting ready to hunker down by the fire to enjoy a favorite all-Tree Gate cabbage/potato/onion/pork sausage dish when it comes out of the oven. We've also been taste testing a few of the winter squash varieties we tried out this year.

Butternut, Hubbard, spaghetti squash, and a pumpkin heading for the oven. Last year we read Carol Deppe's The Resilient Gardener and learned that in some cases we weren't letting our squash sit in the root cellar long enough to get sweet. Now we're more discerning about which squash get eaten first and which can hang around till the spring snows have begun melting. We'll also keep a good stash of potatoes for ourselves this year and not sell them all in early winter. Among the simple rewards for all of the hard work that went into growing all this food: We sure do eat good.