Because that's how things are, the thaw last week preceded the coldest temperatures of the year for this week. With both heat lamps on in the chicken house, it got down to six degrees in there; as long as they have enough to eat, they won't freeze, but they can get frostbit. Egg production has dropped a little with the cold temps, but now that we're past the molt we're getting a pretty steady dozen a day. We're in the position again of needing to find some more egg customers - we were selling three or four dozen a week last summer to a restaurant that since has gone out of business, and now our regular customers can't keep up! In the meantime, I guess I'd better get back in the habit of baking lots of cakes and making lots of pasta. One day I'll post my "how to use over a dozen eggs in one day without anyone realizing they've eaten that many eggs" menu.
January and February are considered the down-times of farming in the north, and there certainly is a whole lot less work to be done outside. Folks with livestock still have to care for them, of course - we spend some time each day bedding down the chicken coop, collecting and washing eggs, making sure they have feed and water, and turning on and off their various heating devices. The greenhouse needs to be shoveled clear when it snows, but aside from that we've got very little garden work to do.
What do spend a lot of time on is planning. Jeremy and I are in the midst of a business planning class for farmers, put on by the UVM extension service and the VT Small Business Development Center. This past week we've been spending upwards of six hours a day working on the plan, which seems to be just as exhausting as six hours out in the field. But it'll be really good to have this done; lots of farms (and lots of businesses) don't start out with a solid business plan, and having to do all this work now should save us a lot of time and energy down the road.
Soon we'll be launching into planning our plantings for the year. Since we haven't been farming on our own for very long, and since this year we'll be using some new fields, this is likely to be a pretty long process as well. We have a good sense of proportions of crops based on previous experience, but the actual translation of those ideas into numbers of seeds to purchase will take some figuring. Then for each crop we need to know whether we'll be direct-seeding or transplanting, and when we need to plant the seed to have it ready at the right time. And, of course, we can only give our best guess as to when the best time will be -- last year I planted out all our tomatoes on Memorial Day weekend, which is the traditional last frost date for our area and which followed two weeks of mild weather, and - of course - we had a final light frost two days later, and we had to cover all the plants to keep them from getting bit.
The planting planning is actually a lot of fun, even if it does seem a little overwhelming at times. It's great to starting dreaming about tomatoes and compost and to imagine what our fields will look like all covered in plants. This time of year, everything still goes according to plan, and I can see a perfect season in my mind.
It rained and rained yesterday, and almost all the snow from the winter so far has been melted away. The brown fields look a bit sad, but the chickens are loving the snow-free ground (and the snow-free compost pile!). They've been running around outside all day today, whereas usually they only venture out a little ways, and only on sunny days. For their sake, I hope that it stays like this a while, but really I'm wishing for more snow. There will be plenty of mud and muck in spring - I don't need any now!
This past week has delivered us about a foot and a half of snow, which has been great for sledding and snowshoeing (my favorite ways to stay happy in the winter). However, it hasn't been very great for shoveling. Specifically, we've been working to keep the greenhouse clear.
If too much snow builds up on the top or the sides of the greenhouse, it could collapse. We built our greenhouse with a Gothic-style roof-line, which helps it shed snow. So far, that has worked very well, and we've only had to clear the top off once. But all that shed snow from the roof slides right down the sides. After our big storm last weekend, the snowbanks on the sides of the greenhouse went almost up to the beginning of the roof-line - way too high and getting dangerous. From the inside, you could see the plastic being pressed in by the weight of the snow.
So our friend Douglas - who will be working on the farm with us this summer - and I spent the better part of a day earlier this week digging out the greenhouse. We have a snowblower attachment on our walk-behind BCS tractor (which I'll tell you more about soon), but the snow was too deep and the BCS just got stuck. In fact, I spent far longer than I care to remember trying to get the poor machine out of the snowbank I'd driven it into.
So that left us with a shovel and our own strength. Fortunately, it had been a very light, dry snow, so even though it had piled up higher than I am tall, it wasn't too hard to shovel. Even still, I was sore for three days afterwards.
The carrots we seeded back in early December haven't done anything yet. That isn't much of a surprise - it's been very cold! I'm thinking that they'll sprout sometime in March or so, when temperatures are likely to be a little more forgiving. I don't really know, though - it's an experiment! I am, however, very excited to see how it turns out.
It's 17 degrees outside, there's about a foot of snow on the ground, and tonight we're going to be eating our own fresh kale and chard. It's amazing what a little cold frame can accomplish!
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