Extreme farming…

The snow is mostly gone…again

Yesterday, the temperature decided to climb up to just over 40°F (5°C) and stay there for the day…and well into the night. Around midnight, it began to rain. By the time I peeked out this morning, it was back to bitter cold and frozen ground, but not before most of the snow had melted away. This seems really unusual, even for the weather extremes we’ve been having the last five years. It’s the second meltoff so far where the ground actually thawed out. Bob, who has an old school farmer’s memory of conditions going back a good 40 farming years, says THIS is the single weirdest winter he can recall…and it’s only half through. I’m not shocked. As I often (kinda… cheerfully) say to people, having started into this growing life exactly five seasons ago, crazy weather is all I’ve known! Before that, notable weather events were absolutely discrete, novelty items in my mind, there was no practical reason to connect one to the other and maintain any sort of continuous memory of conditions over the years…like farmers and gardeners do. Now that I do have a short bit of weather memory to work with, what it tells me is that, in the field, you really can’t count on ANYTHING at all, from one month to the next, and even less so from year to year. “Gone completely haywire” comes to mind. Garden accordingly… It really is tiny farming as an extreme sport!

Getting started

Lettuce and arugula started

Started the first seeds of the year today: lettuce and arugula. At night, the grow racks remind me of a lab experiment, with the plugsheets in trays, carefully labelled and sheathed in plastic under the intense white light (fluorescents up close are pretty bright). And there’s the digital min/max thermometer, keeping score. The whole set-up looks like what it is. It’s great! In the beginning, I kind of obsessively (and largely unnecessarily) check every few hours to make sure the soil mix is sufficiently moist, the temperature is above 60°F, to see if anything’s emerged and it’s time to take off the plastic. Maybe after another five or 10 years, it will become simply routine, but for now, every single plant to emerge is still cool and exciting… For this, the earliest lettuce attempt yet, I’ve started five varieties, all with maturity dates of 50 days or less. There’s Simpson Elite (a really fast 40-day) and Two Stars, both green leaf, Granada and Red Salad Bowl, both red, and Sierra, which is red tinged. As a salad mix in any combination or all together, they’re a great blend of colors, textures and tastes. The arugula, Rocket and Skyrocket, intended for the mix, is faster growing than lettuce, but I felt like starting some now (I’ll start some more, later). If all goes well, these will hit the unheated greenhouse in the beginning of March, a good three weeks ahead of last year!

Quite white

Snowy field in January

Hard to believe that three weeks ago, after nearly two months of looking like this, it all melted off and stayed clear for a whole week. Well, winter seems to be back for good, although there’s a little bit of warming in the forecast. Snow in a field is interesting for a minute, but…nothing changes. Right about now, it’d be great to have an unheated production-sized greenhouse (at least 24’x60′) , filled with carrots, spinach, leek, some parsley and kale,… One day soon. Until then, it’s this!

Assessing greenhouse clean-up

Winter-stored gear in the greenhouse

The greenhouse is small, and the layout hasn’t really changed in its three full seasons. A row of tables on the north side are where the seedlings go. On the south side, unshaded by the tables, is an open strip, about 8’x32′ (2.4x9m), where I pursue ever earlier lettuce, trying to have something for the very first farmers’ market of the year (it’s the first Saturday in May; last year’s second Saturday is the earliest so far). It’s a simple set-up. Still, every year, there’s one day when I head out there to assess the clean-up requirements and plan what to do. This year, today was that day. A lot of different gear gets stored on and under the tables. It varies each year. Here, it’s mostly floating row cover, kept up off the ground because, apparently, voles don’t like to climb (voles gnawed a hole through a good part of a roll one year…very annoying, imagine unrolling a neat row of ragged holes). Exposure to UV from the sun is not good for plastics particularly, and I do store most things in the drive shed, or the Milkhouse and barn, or under the tables, but things do get left out… Anyhow, this year’s action plan is settled: clean up!


January paperwork

Ahhh, nothing quite like a pile of blank forms, waiting to be filled in, fitted with checks, and returned by deadline. January is the month to get the market garden squared away with the various powers that be. There are renewal forms for the farmers’ market (this form I like to see every year), farm business registration (need it for agricultural property tax rates, and to generally be considered an “official” farm), organic certification (a LOT of forms for that one), and for our spot on the small farm promotional map put out by the municipality. This farm is tiny and local and sells fresh veggies, all of which exempts it from a whole other world of paperwork that comes with organic wholesale, larger scale livestock, and anything to do with food processing. Once my forms are filled in and sent out, I’m luckily able to more or less forget about rules and registrations, and turn to the big garden for another year!

Grow lights, on!

Grow racks are back in business

Grow rack lights went on today for the first time this season. They’re only for the rescued houseplants (orchids, wintergreen, heather)—I guess every plant deserves a place in the sun—but, I’ll be starting super-early lettuce soon, a month earlier than ever, for an experiment in planting them out to the greenhouse at the beginning of March. Getting the grow racks ready is another familiar routine. In early summer, I remove the fluorescent light fixtures and the chains and dowels they hang from and store ’em somewhere (last year, it was on the new Big Shelf). For spring, I dust them off, wipe them down, hang them, and a new seedling season begins!