Late winter farm work

Although it’s mid-February, we feel the onrush of spring breathing down our necks, all the more so in this mild winter. Indoor planting is already underway, outdoor planting will start in a few weeks, and we can tell we’re running out of time for the various projects that might or might not get done before the vegetable portion of the year takes over our lives. Here’s a quick look at some of the things we’re keeping busy on right now.

The first onions are started indoors, under grow lights. A significant project for March will be the construction of an 8’x16′ greenhouse in front of the house to ease the pressure on our planting room. This requires lumber, which requires logging & milling, the latter of which is scheduled for early March. Below is the log stack so far; some of this is dedicated to sale lumber for several customers building new raised garden beds. We’re grateful for their willingness to invest in local wood for this project; timber sales are another form of economic diversification for us.

We’re continuing to work on the orchard and other pasture-clearing projects in the limited time remaining to us. Other logging work involves cutting hardwood logs for the next round of shiitake mushroom inoculation; read details of this process here.

Joanna has been hard at work on a long-term desire, a rough 10-year rotation plan for all our growing areas that will help us manage future plantings more effectively and ecologically. This process was significantly aided by our decision to transition to CSA this year, as it makes the farm’s future plans more stable as opposed to the more fluid year-to-year reactions to market conditions and competition. With this long-term plan nearly complete, it’s possible to put together a much better 2012 planting plan that fits into the wider management plans. In future years the planning should be much easier with this framework in place, but in the meantime it’s an indoor project competing with the continued glorious weather.

Web work has also been a significant task lately, as we both continue to develop content for the new site and work on various background issues with getting it set up right and developing tools/features for CSA members. The recent egg-production debate (see here and here) has been very stimulating, but also a serious time sink. If you haven’t kept up on the comment threads, it’s well worth doing so to enjoy a really interesting discussion. While there’s more to say on both sides, we really need to move on to more profitable/directly beneficial activities. That being said, we’d be interested in any other comments or perspectives readers want to share, though we can’t promise we’ll respond directly to them.

We’ll be starting the first round of chicken breeding soon, aiming for the first hatch in about a month so the chicks can be put on pasture ASAP (above, some of last year’s birds). We’ll likely be doing several rounds of breeding through early summer, pairing different roosters with our best hens to both improve the flock and replace current hens who are getting old. This means we’ll be eating a lot more chicken than past years, likely leading to more meals such as the fresh chicken dinner we served last weekend.

We’re shifting into vegetable mode pretty quickly. Weeding has even returned to the task list; we recently spent part of a warm afternoon weeding the overwintering spinach beds. Most of our growing beds are well established, but we have a few areas that we’ll be using for the first time, and those require extra work early on. Peas will be going in soon, and we’re still brainstorming ways to keep the rabbits off of the young, tasty seedlings. We had never had rabbit trouble until the latter part of edamame season last year. The pesky critters are still hanging out near the field, so we’ll have to come up with some solution to make sure that they leave one of our favorite spring crops alone.

Sunday we hosted a CSA event for those who wanted to see more of the farm. We spent a couple hours of a gorgeous sunny afternoon on a long loop through the woods and fields, then retired to the house for some light tastings of farm food and conversation.

Here’s what we served; all on-farm ingredients in italics. Pictured above,  rosemary corn crackers (cornmeal, rosemary, yogurt, flour, olive oil) topped with pesto (dried cherry tomatoes & peppers, basil packed in olive oil, minced garlic). Not photographed but also served, goat cheddar (aged 5 months), beet pickles, fermented kraut, applesauce from Missouri apples.

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