Winter storage

Farm gear stored in hoophouse

[Backpost for Dec-14-2009] Snow’s here—it’s definitely overwinter storage time! Winter storage is a little different every year, as needs, facilities, and plans change. This time around, a fair bit of gear is in the 20’x32′ (~6×10 m) hoophouse, with its full sun exposure and fairly extreme temperature spread (from double-digit subzero at night, to 80-100°F/25-38°C on a sunny day!). Sooo, you don’t want to be storing just anything in there. Anything that’s damaged by freezing isn’t a good idea. And plastics that aren’t UV-resistant will break down, fading and weakening (really, most plastics not meant for constant outdoor use should probably be kept out of the sun whenever possible). Here, it’s mostly wood—extra rough cut cedar from a project a couple of years back, tomato stakes, tables, farmers’ market display trays—which is OK, and I’ll get the plastic items under cover. Except for checking the snow load on the hoophouse after big storms, that’s all she wrote until early spring. The outdoor part of veggie farming in our growing zone will now take a bit of a snooze…

Snow pile

First snow bank

A familiar season-marking sight for anyone in snow territory, this is the start of what may turn out to be a growing, winter-long snow bank. The mini-blizzards of the last couple of days laid down at least 7-10 cm (3-4″). Road clearing mixes up dirty snow in hard-packed windrows, and driveway clearing creates mini-mountain piles. Will it stay or will it go? The indoor part of tiny farming veggies in a cold climate begins…

Front yard farming!

Front yard veggie garden

Often heard about, never before seen first-hand, this is front-yard tiny farming in action—late fall edition. I’m at the home of Andrew and Sue and Margo, in a town of 70,000, leaning on the front porch rail on a residential street lined with single homes on small lots. Typical front lawns all along. Except here, where the grass is gone, replaced by an eclectic collection of veggies and herbs. Beets, carrots, tomatoes, corn and several other crops are already gone for the season. Still up and struggling along in the cold, there’s colorful Swiss chard in a couple of spots, parsley and sage, and a few other things that need a closer look to ID. Andrew also mentioned native edibles, like ostrich fern (fiddleheads), wild ginger and wild leek. And more. The keyhole path set-up comes from permaculture methods: minimum path for maximum access to the growing area. It’s a front-yard revolution! After a season or two of sidewalk-side veggie abundance for all to see, I wonder if this alternate land use will start to spread up and down the street! Urban agriculture. Pretty cool!

Last of the chokes

Last of the Jerusalem artichoke

Digging up the very last of the Jerusalem artichoke, this is pretty much the final harvest of the year, besides a little kale and maybe a last few tiny cauliflower and cabbage. The few remaining feet of the original 50′ (15m) double row yielded about half a bushel. Not bad. Plenty for spring planting, and some to experiment with in the winter kitchen (I still haven’t fully figured out the eating part of chokes, I’ve steamed and roasted, the texture is nice, the taste mild, but the JA’s true culinary delights have yet to be revealed to me).

Anyhow, despite many freezing nights, the ground is still perfectly soft, and the harvest is all just pulling chokes, with the digging fork around only to turn the nearby soil in search of tubers that strayed from the conveniently compact root ball. Quick and easy, and the season in this field is suddenly…done!

Digging for chokes

Bigger gear…

Antique sickle bar mower

Thanks to the comments on yesterday’s blog post, this piece of old farm gear, lying abandoned in the field for who knows how long, has been ID-ed as a sickle bar mower. Yet another in a long line of bigger equipment I’ve seen but not used in my tiny farming career. I suppose the main job of this mower was in making hay, something I’ve barely considered. Why? Because it belongs to “another scale” of farming. There’s small-scale—tiny farming, on one or two or three acres—and then there’s mid-size, and then, BIG.

This idea of SCALE has been on my mind quite a bit, lately. More and more people these days seem to want to get back to the land and start farming, and the farming they want to do is usually of the tiny variety. Like what’s pictured on this blog. Small-plot growing is understandable, accessible, hard work, economically tough, genuinely community-building, fun…all of that stuff. Big tractors and combines and other imposing (and EXPENSIVE) machinery don’t figure into the picture. In my few years of market gardening, I’ve only ever driven my Kubota compact tractor, and I know nothing practical about larger scale growing gear.

This is interesting for the simple reason that, if  “we” (referring, at least, to Canada and the US) are going to change what we eat, where it comes from, on any sort of large scale, it’s difficult to imagine our part of the world, with its convenient supermarkets and complex food chain, suddenly fed mainly by hundreds of thousands or MILLIONS of postcard tiny farms. Gathering food for tens and hundreds of millions of people from all those tiny farms would be…complicated. So it seems to me, there’s tiny farming and mid-size farming, and figuring out how they fit together. Hmm…

Second snow, 2009

Second snow of 2009

Around 8 am, just getting light, and it’s the second snow that’s sticking around for a while. Here, I’m standing in a weedy area right beside the barn, looking south-west over the south-facing slope, with the chickenhouse just out of sight to the right. (That’s a so-far unidentified piece of antique iron farm gear with wheels, sticking up on the left.)

Winter isn’t coming in as hard and early as it has in the last couple of years, the temperature is supposed to stay above zero for the next few days at least. We shall see!

Every year, the feeling on first seeing veggie production land disappearing under snow I find kinda cool and interesting. It’s not really sad or anything like that, but there’s definitely an “it’s really over now”, wiped-out thought-sensation-emotion thing going on. When you’re growing stuff, the snow and the cold really send a message. This is obvious, but still…worth noting. :)

In the cold garden

Nero di Toscana strap kale

The star by far of the last planting of brassicas, that mostly didn’t size up in time for market or CSA, is without at doubt this unusual Nero Di Toscana strap kale. This Italian heirloom, apparently from Tuscany, is hardly better looking than the cold-beaten rest of the motley-looking crew: tiny cauliflower, mini savoy cabbage, some collards and this kale. But it’s growing back—been picked twice since October—and it’s amazingly, distinctively tasty. In the post-freeze veggie garden, looks aren’t everything! I’ve had the seed for a while, but grew it for the first time this season. It’ll definitely be back.

Last of the brassica in late November