Yeah, local food is great…but what about winter?

With the election over I figured it was time to catch you up on some of the things I’ve been working on here at the farm as I prepare our family and CSA customers for the long cold darkness of winter and prepare the gardens for next year’s planting season.

Can you see the beginnings of the grid?  Smaller beds make weeds and other work seem more manageable.

Can you see the beginnings of the grid? Smaller beds make weeds and other work seem more manageable.

I’m not very good at asking for help.  Not sure why that is.  Probably some Freudian imprint from childhood.  My father’s not either.  From what I remember of my grandfathers neither were they.  I usually do as much as I can on my own but honestly this is a subconscious decision.  Recently, one of my good friends pointed this out to me whilst twisting my arm to accept help.  Lucky me I did because with his help I was able to get our second hoop house moved, reassembled, sheathed and anchored before that autumn snow storm we had last weekend.

Now, with two of the hoop houses moved from our old headquarters to our new farm I’m running out of steam (read ambition) to move the other one.  It’s not difficult work but there are hundreds of other things to do and it’s hard to find the motivation to make it happen.  Luckily, I’m well equipped to overcome such sloth-like ambition in the case of a ten inches of snow type emergency.  Low tunnels.

Garlic and Greenhouses 017

As you can see in the photo they’re really just miniature versions of an hoop house.  There are differences, the main one being that you can’t just open up the door and walk in.  At only a couple feet high the tops of these hoops do not lend themselves well to ergonomics.  What they do accomplish is worth the trade off though.  There are six rows all planted and doing quite well under those low tunnels.  Spinach, lettuce and salad turnips all waiting patiently (that’s how I interpret the silence emitted by their soldierly ranks anyway) for their hoop house.  Maybe this week I’ll dive into that project.

After all, one of the others that I was using as an excuse not to has now been completed.  The yearly garlic planting was finished a few days before the blizzard.  Just in time!

Garlic has to be planted in the fall in our neck of the woods.  The reason being that garlic needs a long growing season to develop to full size.  Therefore, it’s best to plant in the fall at just the right time.  This allows the garlic to get acclimated with it’s new surroundings (a bed of freshly prepped garden soil and a blanket of mulch, in our case leaves) and begin to grow.  Each garlic clove, as it rests seemingly inactive beneath the leaves is actually sending out roots and then sending up a single shoot of pale green growth.  Hopefully, the garlic has been planted at just the right time to allow that shoot to just barely emerge or be just about to burst forward when the harsh cold of winter will descend upon it.  This will send the plant into dormancy where it will wait as though cryogenically frozen until the sun and warmth returns to our hemisphere in April and May.  Then, it’s off to the races with a huge jump on anything you put into the ground during the traditional planting season.  It’s not to late to plant garlic but you’re getting close.  If you wait till spring you’re better off to plan on harvesting only garlic greens and trying again in the fall.  You won’t be getting full sized bulbs if you plant in the spring.

Along with our hoop houses which keep us in fresh greens for the majority of the winter, one of the first construction projects at our new farm was the root cellar.  This age old human discovery uses the constancy of the Earth’s subterranean temperature to keep certain food fresh all winter and others fresh for a good long part of the fall.  As you can see I’ve got lots of potatoes, apples, carrots and eggs sitting in wait for the time when they’re needed.

Our root cellar isn’t traditional because I had to add it to the house that was already completed (with a complete concrete foundation). Ideally I would have a gravel floor in that part of the basement because this would allow for drainage, humidity control and also allow the warmth of the Earth to keep the cellar from freezing in January/February and keep the vegetables from getting too warm now and in March.  But I can work with what I have.  My cellar will just be more labor intensive and require more vigilance about temperatures.  I built the cellar around the existing window.  With the window I can control how much cold air gets in.  If outside temperatures threaten to overwhelm the dynamics of the heat exchange between the cement floor and the root cellar air, I can close the window and open the door to the rest of the house, thus preventing our precious harvest from freezing solid.

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Finally, all work and no play make farming a dull life.  I’ve no interest in a dull life and I certainly don’t have any interest in misleading my children into believing that farming is dull, monotonous work.  To that end I recently laid out my next project at the house.  Our ice rink!  Our daughter is quite a skater at 6 years old. She seems to have taken to it and I want to encourage that.  Plus, I enjoy skating after learning from YouTube videos a couple years ago.  (I’m not kidding. You can learn anything on there!).  But I enjoy the work of keeping the ice clear almost as much as using it once it is clear.  There is something satisfying about getting that last bit of snow from the smooth surface and leaving no ridges from the sides of the shovel.  I decided to lay out the rink close to the new (and evolving) fire pit so we can take a break from skating to warm up by a midwinter bonfire.  I can picture us now all huddled around it, a spotlight on the ice for when we return.  I’ll be reaching into the coals of the fire with some implement or another to gather up the baked apples the kids and I picked at the local family orchard this fall and set in the root cellar for just such a future occasion.  Local Food.  Eat well – be well.

Ryan Parker

About Ryan Parker

Ryan Parker is a farmer, writer, artist and musician. He currently lives in Central Maine with his wife, two children, a golden retriever, some pigs and chickens. He raises pastured and forested animals and grows a diverse range of vegetables without synthetic chemicals, pesticides, herbicides or taxpayer subsidies.