Too Cold to Farm?

Wintertime at the Farm

Wintertime at the Farm

So, what’s a farmer do in winter?  I don’t know.  I’ve only been farming for 2 weeks, but here is what I’ve been doing:

Fencing.

No, not the fancy kind with foils, flying parrys, and lunges .  We’re talking barbed wire fencing.  The previous owners of our farm ran cattle in the pastures.    Over the years, the fence has fallen into a state of disrepair and was overgrown with brush.  Since I plan on having a few head of cattle in the spring, I needed to either repair or replace this fence.  I choose to replace it for three reasons:  half of it was already down, it was too close to the creek and did not provide an adequate buffer area to provide protection from nutrient runoff, and I wanted an electric fence. 

An electric fence will allow me flexibility to create tiny paddocks by running out a quick cross-fence of electric wire.  The fence will not do any real damage to the cow, but will remind them “Don’t go there!”  This will allow me to control their grazing and should increase the efficiency and health of my pastures.  The cows will graze one area down and then be moved within a few days to a new paddock, the old paddock will have adequate time to rest and recover before being munched on again.  In traditional livestock operations, the cows are rotated infrequently and will double-graze some areas, damaging the pasture, while leaving some areas alone to grow up in weeds. 

Or at least that’s what the books say.  It’s all a big experiment at this point and we’ll see how well I put it into practice this year.  So far, I’ve taken about half the fence down, about ¼ mile in total.  Taking down barbed wire fencing is not the most enjoyable job in the world, but I had a few days of decent weather and the fence is right next to the creek.  With the sound of water running in the background, and frequent breaks to sit on the banks and enjoy the scenery, I made due. 

Dad is coming to visit in January and help put up the new fence.  Should be lots of fun!

Garden Cart:

This summer I lost about 20 seedlings of leeks because I tried to load my flat bottomed seedling tray into a curved wheelbarrow.  The tray flipped over and out of the wheelbarrow and there went my leeks.  Leeks grow very, very slowly, so I’d been working on them for about 7 weeks.  There were only 2 lone seedlings that survived the topple.  I picked them up and threw them into the pasture as far as I could.  I considered it leek loss therapy.  That was the point I realized I needed a good garden cart.

We’re talking the square kind with two big wheels on each side.  It would have a flat bottom so I could load lots of seedling trays in it.  It would also serve as a harvest cart to get vegetables from the fields up to the shed for washing and sorting.  I needed one that was 40 inches wide.  This equals the distance between the walking paths between my garden beds and would allow me to wheel the cart up and down the rows as I transplant/harvest.

After looking around for a good cart, I came to the same conclusion I normally do when considering purchasing something made of wood:  “I can make one of those cheaper than that!”  So, that is what I did. 

There is a guy online named Herrick Kimbal that I consider to be a homesteading genius.  He has written an instructional book for building a garden cart and the dimensions were perfect for what I needed.  He calls it a Whizbang Garden Cart.  Check out his website here.  I had used another set of his plans earlier in the year to make a Whizbang Chicken Plucker (I’m not making this up, I’ll save the plucker story for another blog) and the plans worked out great.  So, I’ve built the Garden Cart and it has turned out to be a very solid design.  At some point, I’m going to try and figure out how to attach it to my mountain bike.  Who says you need a big tractor to farm!  I can’t wait to use it!

Now that's a Whizbang!

Now that's a Whizbang!

So that’s what this rookie farmer does in the winter.  When it is rainy, or too cold to work in the shop, I’ll work on the website or blog.  At night I work on my crop rotation plan or flip through the seed catalogs trying to decide what kind of tomatoes I’m going to grow this year.  With variety names like Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter, Cherokee Purple, and Brandywine, it’s not a decision to be made lightly.

There are many projects planned between now and March:

  • Build Fence
  • Build Root Cellar
  • Build Transplant Row Marker
  • Build Harvest Boxes and Transplant Trays
  • Determine Crop Rotation and Planting Schedule
  • Fill out Organic Certification Application
  • Build Temporary Greenhouse
  • Design Farmer’s Market Stand (signs, displays, etc.)

Looks like I’ll have plenty to blog about.

-Farmer Eric