Frozen chokes harvest

Jerusalem artichoke frozen harvest

Despite the six inches (15cm) of snow on the big garden, fieldwork goes on. Today, I harvested about 30lbs (13.5kg) of Jerusalem artichoke out of the partially frozen ground, just to be sure planting stock is around over winter in case I need it. Since we don’t have a root cellar or walk-in cooler, storing crops in the ground as winter comes along is a risky but useful alternative. There’s still lots of carrot, parsnip, and some more chokes out there. Until the ground is frozen several inches or more down, it’s possible to harvest, although too much snow can make the whole thing a little crazy. Once thoroughly frozen, I’ve found carrots get killed off and thaw to mush, while parsnip and chokes withstand freezing just fine, staying alive and available again in spring. So far, though, everything’s still cool for digging. You can see the ice crystals in the frozen crust (above), but below that, it’s all cold, friable soil and plump, healthy choke tubers…

Battery change

Tractor battery change

There’s nothing remarkable or even that interesting about changing a battery—routine maintenance on the tiny farm—EXCEPT… Today, I finally got around to replacing the battery, for the first time, on the Kubota compact tractor. It was a quick and simple operation that put instant new life into the trusty little tractor. It also made me realize how fond one can become of a MACHINE. I know this is nothing new: for example, car lovers. For me, though, it’s a first. Like, I love my wheel hoe, but it is such a simple tool, the attachment is more to the idea of it than to the machine itself. The complex workings of the tiny tractor, however, are largely a mystery to me. I can maintain it, and fix an increasing number of things, and I understand the general principles it runs on, but mostly, I simply trust that turning the key will bring it to life. And it hasn’t failed me over the years, faithfully and reliably performing its tiny farming tasks, asking little in return (it’s even good on diesel!). So here I find myself, strangely, with a deep affection for a machine… Cheers! This new $100 Mega-tron II battery is on me! :)


Snow in trees

Around here, nothing says WINTER like snow in the trees (except, of course, solid ice in the trees). Three inches (7.5mm) or so of powdery snow overnight transformed the entire outdoors with that magical winter wonderland effect. At some point every year, I’m struck by how strange and wondrous snow like this must look to someone seeing it for the very first time (the feeling does wear off…). It’s pretty, breathtaking, even, if you’re out in the woods, and great for invigorating walks. Eventually, it gets good for winter sports. It perfectly complements the endless strings of holiday lights that’re already going up in the village, completing the classic look of a white Christmas. As for tiny farming, snow moves the action mostly indoors…

Veggies in snow

Flat-leaf kale in snow

Every season there’ve been hardy veggies left to the cold and snow, and this season, it’s a record quantity, with nearly 2,000′ (610m) of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale that mostly started sizing up just as the farmers’ market finished at the end of October. It seems like a waste, but it’s only a typical garden gamble on the weather (I was trying for an extra, really late crop). The risk was clear back in August, and we didn’t get enough sun to push things along a tiny bit quicker. We did harvest a lot of the Red Russian flat-leaf kale (above), for a good four weeks, and one round of 1-2 lb (450-900g) cabbage (a nice size for a meal for one or two). And there’s been a lot of personal-use picking in November. The rest is a giant farm lab experiment, more exploration of the snow-on-veggies effect

Broccoli in snow

More than the snow, the many nights of extreme cold (-15°C/5°F) that came with it this year really blasted these guys, wilting them and burning leaves and buds. So, none of the crops are too firm or pretty, BUT, they’re still alive: for the most part, there’s good color and texture. The kale, always super-hardy, did the best from a let’s eat some perspective, with good texture and great taste. The broccoli, while a little wilty on the stems and burned on the buds, also tasted great, fresh and flavorful. The cauliflower did the worst, the heads really damaged by the freezing and thawing, too mushy for me to bother with a taste. (Eating raw was fine, but how would this all cook up? We may see…) We’d already reaped most of the filled-out cabbage, so the rest aren’t going to go anywhere from here…

Cauliflower in snow

What’s all this odd information worth? Not much, I guess, I’m not planning on deliberately planting for snow harvests. But checking things out is always fun, no experience goes to waste, and there is at least one advantage to knowing there’s still good eating out there: the laying hens will be feasting on a fabulous greens buffet for a while!

Farm gothic?

Antique tricycle, new seat

All sorts of old things are being unearthed as the entire farm gets a thorough, top-to-bottom, no-drawer-unpulled going through, something that probably hasn’t been done in a century. There are all kinds of finds, like horse-drawn plows and a farm-built chicken defeathering machine. Today’s most intriguing item for me: an old, iron tricycle (with an upgrade, a much newer seat). No-one here is sure, but the guess is that it’s gotta be a good hundred years old. Except for the plastic seat, which looks more like the last 30-50 years. It’s cool because the design and construction are soothingly simple (and easily fixable), although it looks like it delivers a bumpy ride on those solid rubber tires, especially on gravel in the barnyard. For some reason, though, I also find it mildly creepy… Imagining the squeakily-pedaling ghosts of farm children past, I guess. Yikes… :)

Bringing in the pipe

Coiled irrigation pipe

Bit of unusual fieldwork on the menu today, something we don’t do every year. Bob and I brought in about 1,000′ (305m) of 1″ (2.5cm) and 1-1/2″ plastic irrigation pipe, that ran all the way from the pond to the gate into the garden field. Why wasn’t this done in better weather, when, besides having no snow to deal with, warmer plastic would’ve been a lot easier to handle, especially to BEND? There’s no good answer, except maybe, “Didn’t think it’d be this cold and snowy so soon!” Anyhow, it got done, and probably in exactly the same time…

Tractor dragging irrigation pipe

I used the Kubota compact tractor to drag the pipe in three 300′ sections, right into the barnyard (the rope is tied to the front end loader bucket; in the pic, this is at the very end of the garden, where it meets the hay, so all that stubble is mainly long grass). Backing up down the field, I worked it from the far end for the section that lay in the unmown grass right near the fence, so that it could more easily tear its way out of the overgrowth. Then, some coiling (that’s Bob), tying off the loops every few turns with baler twine (plastic twine used to bale hay, it’s all over the place)… Easy!

Rolling plastic pipe