Thursday, March 14, 2013

Keeping Busy

What Do Farmers Do in the Winter? They Keep Busy

People often ask us, “What do you do in the winter?” After the last squash is sold and the tools are stored, what do we do until next spring?  We get asked this question so many times that we have a short answer and a long answer. The short answer is, “Prepare for next year.” If you want to know how we are preparing this winter to be better farmers, grow the business and restore the property, here is a quick run-down! 
A fresh coat of paint turned a creepy hallway into a bright living space
First (after we exhaled, washed some clothes, cleaned the house, watched a movie and had a beer) we evaluated what went well and what we can improve. We talked with customers about what they liked and what else we could offer.  We did a post-season recap while it was still fresh in our minds. Everything from seed varieties to harvesting methods was discussed. This helped us make a new game plan. (One that includes a lot more Butternut Squash and some new flowers, too!)

Do More Every Year
Then, we plan, plan, plan.  We drew up a planting and harvest schedule spreadsheet for all 50 types of fruits, vegetables and herbs we will grow next season. The plan covers germination, planting, transplanting, cultivating, and harvesting. One new approach we are trying for next season is to map out now a plan for every week of the growing season. Our goal is succession planting, so we have steady harvests of fresh green beans, squash, and lettuce throughout the summer. We will also track how long each task takes. These two tools will help us get even more efficient during the high season. Then, in January, we placed our orders for seed, rhizomes, equipment and fish fertilizer. 
Seed packets all organized for next season
We did a farm business analysis and prepared and filed farm taxes. It is the easiest thing to put off and the most important to get done early in the winter so it does not hang over our heads.  

Re-charge and Renovate
We have fun, too! We reconnect with friends and family and explore some of the great restaurants and bars this area has to offer. We went snow-shoeing and sledding on the property when the weather was right and tried to go outside as much as possible, enjoying the farm’s winter beauty. We also adopted a puppy – an Australian cattle dog/shepard mix – named Ruby – that has us very busy training. 
Fresh snowshoe tracks from an evening hike
There is nothing like the satisfaction of seeing the place come to life with a few repairs and fresh coats of paint. There are so many renovations needed on the old buildings that the list seems never ending. Last winter, the growing project list completely overwhelmed us. This year we made a rule to finish a project before starting a new one. The list is prioritized by farm/house and then indoor/outdoor categories, so we have projects for any weather. This has allowed us to get more accomplished with less stress. Activities like painting hallways, repairing tractors and sharpening tools are prioritized. Big items like building cold storage space and putting up hoop houses are coming soon. Funny thing that when a project gets crossed off this list, a few more get added. That list never goes away!
Fixing a chainsaw on a cold winter's day
Winter is our time for learning. The NOFA-NY WinterConference in January provided a perfect injection of energy and new ideas to get us fired up for the coming season. We also attended workshops and classes through Cornell on everything from cost of production to pest management.

Season by Season
Needless to say winter keeps us busy. But it is a different kind of busy than the long days of summer.  By this time in March, we are itching to be back out in the field. With the first break in the weather, we started pruning the apple orchard with our new pruners. It seems everyone is ready to mark the passage into Spring. Birds start to sing. Geese fly in their V-formations overhead. We feel so lucky that we get to watch the land wake up for another year. 
Who put 'Grow a beard' on the list?


  1. I like the beard, Rich! You'll probably want it gone in the heat of the summer, but it looks good now.

    Aunt Debbi

  2. It was great seeing you guys the other night. I love the old farm. I keep visualizing what a great B & B you could have there.

  3. I love reading about your doings at the farm! Glad to hear you save time for fun as well! Can't wait to visit again and meet Ruby.

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