Farm Musings ARCHIVE . 2017
'Twas the Night Before Christmas (on the farm)
'Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the garden
Not a creature was stirring
The soil had started to harden
The shovels were hung away in the barn with great care
The firewood stacked, the garden tilled bare
The chickens were nestled all snug in their coop
Deep bedding helping to control the smell of their poop
And me in fuzzy socks and Scott in his knit cap
Had just settled on the couch for a much needed nap
When what to my wondering eyes should appear?
Why, the new seed catalogues are already here!
Now carrots! Great peppers! Lots of zucchini and greens!
Oh tomatoes and eggplant! Just look at those beans!
I hopped off the couch, my eyes ready to pop
My nap forgotten, I was ready to shop
"Hold on a minute, dear" Scott said with a smile
"I thought we were going to rest, take it easy for a while"
He was right about that, our bodies were wrecked
We could use a good rest, work kinks out of our necks
We did so much this year, dug a market garden by hand
Added blueberries, planted apples, cleaned up parts of our land
Raised broilers and layers, they grew up so fast
Tried raising guinea hens, but they didn't last (predators!)
The farmers market kept us busy, though it was our first year yet
Putting up fencing, mowing pasture, oh and the bees, don't forget
A new septic and water system, we cut up all those trees
It's time to relax, enjoy some free time just as we please
Back on the couch dressed in sweats and fleece
Drinking hot cocoa with marshmallows, dog at our feet
Fire in the woodstove, resurface next month we might
'Til then, Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!
There is something about fall that has always been exciting to me. I'm not sure if it's because fall was associated with a new school year or because the coolness in the air was a welcome relief from the stifling heat of August. Well beyond my school years now, fall brings me a sense of slate-clearing, of packing things up to head inside for the winter. Like the squirrels and chipmunks in the woods behind our house, I feel the need to prepare, stock up, hunker down, nest. In New England, we have the added bonus of the fall foliage as the trees give us one last gasp before retiring to their winter slumber. It's like they too need to pack up and hunker down.
This year, the fall brings a sense of relief as the outdoor farmers market season ends and I can take a break from tending the market garden on a daily basis. Our first official year as a farm has been challenging and exhausting but I look ahead to next year with a renewed sense of excitement and purpose. Before we take a long winter's nap, however, we have some work to do to prepare for the busy spring season. The work we do now will make getting started in spring a lot easier so it's worth the effort regardless of how tired we are.
As I write, the market garden has been tilled under to reveal a blank slate. We've chosen to till it all up so that we can re-orient the beds for better drainage. Too much time was spent this past spring pumping out water from between the garden beds as the snow melted and the rains continued to come. We are hopeful that the new set-up will reduce this problem. With the new orientation, there will be more rows and more growing space in our fenced in market garden area. As I measured out the spacing for the new rows, I was both excited and slightly daunted by the extra space. Just think of all the new things I can grow! Wow, that's a lot of rows to plant, tend and harvest! We made the decision to purchase a BCS walk behind tractor, a la Jean Martin Fortier, The Market Gardener, to help with building and maintaining the raised beds and we are very excited to use it. The previous garden beds were built by hand – my husband and I spent many hours digging, adding compost, raking, and removing rocks to build the previous beds and we are done. DONE. The rotary plow attachment is our Christmas gift to our backs and our sanity. Once we have the beds made, we will tuck them in under tarps for the winter. In lieu of cover crops, which we may use in future years, tarps will protect the soil from erosion and help warm it up quicker in the spring.
In this all too short fall season, we also have to construct a winter home for our laying flock. Our New Hampshire Red hens are a hardy breed and will do fine in the cold but no chicken likes to have her feet in the snow. We plan to build a long hoop house and will pull the chicken tractor up against one end. The flock will be inside the hoop house on deep bedding all winter, out of the wet and snow and wind. In the spring, we will rake out the bedding and put it in the compost pile to cook for future garden use. There is a bit of pressure to get this project underway quickly as the New England winter can sneak up on one at the most inopportune time – usually when one is in the middle of an important project. We have all the parts needed and now just have to get to it.
As we rush around getting ready for winter, I have to admit that I am most looking forward to that first snowstorm signaling the end of fall. I've already got my game plan in place: Head to toe fleece, wooly socks, a blanket, mug of tea and one of the pile of books stacked on the end table waiting for me to read. The dog at my feet, a cat or two lurking nearby and a fire in the woodstove. I'll nestle into the couch with a view out the window at the blanketed market garden and dream of spring. And nap.
So here it is, after Labor Day, and I'm just posting my first entry into what I hope will be a regular series of musings about our farm and its growth into a productive homestead. This past winter, as I worked with my dear friend Kim to design our website, I had quaint ideas of sitting down to write flowery dissertations once a week, fitting it in between sowing magical seeds and harvesting picture perfect vegetables. Then reality hit:
I am not a writer.
Farming is really... really... hard work.
Now these were not revelations that suddenly hit me once the first seed was planted in our acidic, rocky soil. I've never been a writer, preferring chemistry, botany and all things science to poetry and prose. I also did not enter into this farming thing on a whim. My grandparents were farmers so it must be in the genes, right? I spent years reading and researching, visiting farms and farmers, and growing vegetables for our own use. We raised chickens, albeit a much smaller flock than we have now. I knew farming "for real" would be hard work. I was not prepared, however, for the sheer enormity of the workload required to make our little run down parcel of New Hampshire woods and overgrown pastures produce the colorful vegetables and poultry products of my imagination.
Being a small-scale farm, or more accurately a small market gardener, means much of the work is done by hand. Anyone who has worked a bit of New England soil knows all too well the Sisyphean task of picking the rocks out – it's why there are so many stone walls. Add in the deer that must be fenced out, acidic clay soil that must be amended, weeds that won't quit, those darn flea beetles, not to mention actually planting, tending and harvesting and the list of tasks is overwhelming. I haven't even mentioned the chickens or the endless house and property projects. Sitting down to write anything when it was all I could do to remain upright by the end of most days was not going to happen.
I'm not complaining. Really. Despite feeling every one of my not quite 50 years, exacerbating arthritis in my neck and carpal tunnel in my wrists, and needing a winter of yoga, massage and chiropractic adjustments to repair my aching body, this first season as a farmer has been so gratifying. I've learned a lot about growing things and doing tasks more efficiently. I have a long list of things I will do differently next year. The improvement in the condition of our property from two years ago is significant. More importantly, I finally feel like I'm doing something that matters, to us and to our community. I feel a simple joy when a customer comes to my booth at the farmers market and says they enjoyed my salad greens or the peas were amazing. When I look out over the still developing market garden at the lush vegetables, the weeds, the powdery mildew annihilating the squash, the still unpainted chicken tractor, I have to smile. I realize it is a work in progress, this homestead and farm business. It does not all have to be done this year and next year will be better. So, as I continue into the last month of the market season with the craziness of spring and early summer behind me, I can finally sit down and wring out this first of many insights into this crazy farming life. I hope you will join me as I explore the pleasures and frustrations of trying to make a go of a dream I've had for a long time. It will be an exciting journey.