Mid-winter farm work

As we move into January, farm work continues to balance between indoor and outdoor tasks. This is a more relaxing time, as we’re generally able to choose our daily work rather than having it choose us, and we take more evenings off and generally move at a slower pace. But we still effectively work six-seven days a week, as there is just too much we’d like to get done to continue building up this farm. Here’s a look at our general task-list.


We had set a goal of finishing our seed order by January 1st, but a very poorly timed computer issue put our desktop out of comission for almost two weeks of December. Thus we’re still working on it, and will hopefully be virtually done by mid-January. Developing a seed order is more complicated than it sounds, because it effectively requires (a) a full planting plan for the entire farm in 2011, (b) at least some analysis of our 2010 harvest & sales data in order to assess production and profitability of our varieties, (c) a long series of discussions about both of our experiences/observations in 2010 and predictions for market demand and competitor behavior in 2011, and (d) spending hours with seed catalogs to consider available varieties. This is a very long process.

This time of year also includes end-of-year financial work for the business, and the beginning of preparations for tax season, as we need to get all personal and business tax work out of the way before spring arrives. We also need to start developing our employee plan for 2011, which we’re changing somewhat to accommodate lessons learned last year. We’ll need to start looking for folks within the next month or two.

Finally, we’ll need to put together our application package for organic certification in 2011. This gets a bit easier every year as we learn just what the agency wants (they’re not nearly as thorough as we expected them to be) and what we can leave out. It’s still a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy to distract us from useful work, though.


The two core categories here are logging and fence-building. We have a number of areas in which we intend to clear trees, either pushing edges back from existing or future fence lines, or thinning out brushy areas for better pasture. Long-term we’re working toward restoring more and more of the farm to a prairie/savanna setting, establishing better grasslands with a good smattering of shade trees; each year we thin out a few more areas of overgrown ex-pasture. Some controlled burns to knock back invasives and encourage native plants are on our radar as well for spring. The logging work carries multiple other integrated benefits besides pasture restoration; the resulting timber becomes firewood (if hardwood) or fenceposts/lumber (if cedar). We also run many of the upper branches through our chipper for mulch, while selling some firewood to Goatsbeard Farm (their dairy runs on a wood furnace).

Nearly all our pastures require new or better fencing to allow for more efficient animal management. Our vegetable field fences are in decent shape, though we still need to replace the south and east sides of our smaller market garden. Mainly we need to run multi-strand tensioned electric wires on the boundaries of our main pastures. This allows us to control both predators and goats, while making it easier to subdivide these pastures for the rotational grazing that is at the core of our animal management. We won’t get every area done this winter, but have a priority list for which pastures will show the best return for the work in the short term. If I can get the top two done this winter I’ll be satisfied.


There are also many smaller side projects to prepare for the growing season, such as building and arranging new sinks and washing stations in our main pole barn, improving our walk-in cooler and other storage facilities, fixing/sharpening tools, organizing seed stocks, and more.


So through the beginning of March these types of jobs will dominate our time. By early February we start the first seedlings indoors, and begin thinking about preparing beds for planting (weather permitting), and soon enough March is drawing us into the vegetable farming for real. We’re planning a short trip away, our first more-than-overnight trip together in two years, which (while worthwhile) eats into our work. So we have less than two months to work through a long list of projects, but as I said above, the beauty of this season is that we can pretty much choose our day-to-day schedule based on weather and interest. It’s a relaxing feeling and we enjoy it while it lasts.

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