Thursday, January 15, 2015

Unity Farm Journal - Third Week of January 2015

The third week of January is generally the coldest, most bitter time in the New England winter season.  Temperatures dip to the single digits, snow/ice/winter mix cover the barnyard, and shoveling manure requires an ice chipper.   Eggs laid overnight in the chicken or duck pen crack when they freeze solid.   Every creature gets extra food to keep their internal furnaces stoked.

The ground is frozen and all the outbuildings are below freezing inside.  Even the plants in the hoop house are need to be protected by row cover blankets.   Nothing will germinate at below freezing temperatures.

Much of the work of the farm slows.

Now is the time of year that all that firewood preparation comes in handy.   The house fires burn several hours a day, taking the chill off the evenings.   The cold weather makes cutting hardwoods like maple more difficult.   However, splitting is easier since the frozen wood tends to shatter.

There is one woodcutting opportunity that is only possible at this time of year - cutting fallen trees near the wetland.   I would never do work in environmentally sensitive areas when water is flowing and the wetland would be disturbed.  But at 7 degrees, all moist areas are a solid ice chunk and I can remove the broken branches and fallen trees that are likely to topple in an uncontrolled fashion, causing damage to surrounding flora and fauna.

Part of this woodlot maintenance includes taking down widow makers - dead trees that have fallen onto other trees and are hanging space.    They are called widow makers for a reason.   Do not try this at home!    After 20 years of experience with a chainsaw, I will take down selected widow makers that are at an angle/configuration likely to fall in a predictable way.    Of all the things I do on the farm, taking down these partially fallen trees is the most dangerous activity.   I leave the large ones and the complex ones to professional firms.

On particularly cold and stormy days in January, spending more time indoors to develop the spring planting schedule makes sense.    Last weekend Kathy and I decided that in 2015, we’ll grow cranberry beans, beets, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, japanese eggplant, mibuna greens, lettuce, pak choi, peas, daikon radishes, spinach, swiss chard, tomatoes, and turnips in the hoop house.    We’ll have 3 major planting dates - March for root vegetables, April for the greens, and May for the cucumbers/tomatoes/peppers/eggplant that we’ll transplant from seeds started indoors in April.  We’ll plant our outdoor squash beds in May.   In June, our new permaculture plants - chestnut trees, pawpaw, and rice (yes, rice) will go into product.   The rice planting is an experiment that will require me to do some engineering creating a rice paddy.

Here’s a handy germination/planting/harvesting guide we use for our planning.   The 2015 hoop house plan is also pictured below.

The joy of winter in New England is that the Spring planting season is that much sweeter.   It’s like hiking in subzero temperatures for 2 days and having your first hot meal.   Food never tasted so good.

As every day passes on the farm, we build less and maintain more.    After this planting season, we’ll have set into motion the trees, perennials, and permaculture ecosystem that can be handed off to the next generation when our time on this earth expires, 30 or 40 years from now.

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