We are in the middle of winter. The water line that runs to the washing station froze solid weeks ago despite all our efforts to blow it out at every day’s end. To water our micro greens we carry buckets of water from the farm house over a precariously slick ice field to the cool cellar-cum-incubation chamber. We’re almost at the end of our CSA season now and thus far winter farming has proven to be a juggling act.
To wash our vegetables we now have to move them from the cold cellar/washing station to the mud room of the farm house, where we clean them in plastic tubs. For this move we often use the tractor. But the temperature has been well in the minuses for quite some time now and so we have to plug in the old Massy Ferguson. But there are so many details to consider, such a delicate balance to maintain and so many unknowns to face and all in our first year that sometimes the tractor is forgotten and won’t start for hours. That’s when the car has to pick up the slack. So what happens when our car or cargo van gets stuck in a tricky drive-way, one that is particularly susceptible to snow drifts? Well, everything takes that much longer, that’s all. You get the tow chain out and wait until the tractor is ready. You hope you have enough horse power to pull the damn thing up a slick hill. And when you realize you don’t, you thank your lucky stars when your country-hardened neighbours happen to show up at the right moment with just the right sort of pick-up truck and the proper give ’em hell attitude. But there goes half the work day.
Sometimes it feels like a battle. One we wage against broken systems. Systems broken in spite all of our effort to instill and maintain our efficiency. Systems broken by the sheer tenacity of winter. When it comes down to it winter gives our workaday tasks new meanings, new challenges. Nothing is easy and everything takes longer. Any one living in our climate and working, especially outdoors knows these sentiments.
Maintaining body heat is essential. Usually farmers become more insulated during the off-season. They rest and happily put on the winter layers. Working in the cold, however, I burn calories like our boiler chews up cord wood. I wear layers of wool and thermal underwear. Two pairs of socks keep my footsies toasty. We have a larger selection of work gloves strewn about our various work spaces than we do hands to fit them. I’ve taken to wearing ice grips on my boots to easier traverse the aforementioned ice field. Sometimes it feels like an expedition into uncharted territory and in many ways it is (This type of production hasn’t been done around these parts, folks!).
In that regard we’re doing well in our nascent year. An average of twenty five lbs of gourmet salad comes out of our greenhouses per week. With more hours of sunlight on the horizon that number is bound to increase as is the temperature in the greenhouses. So far we’ve registered highs of plus seventeen (air temp) and plus eleven (soil temp)!
Until spring arrives, however, bringing with it more favourable conditions we’ll wrestle daily with difficulties peculiar to winter farming: frozen row cover, rime and condensation on greenhouse plastic blocking valuable UVs, unsealed drafts, frozen tractors, snowed in lane ways, frozen water lines not to mention mastering the complex radiant earth heating system that makes it all possible. We’re getting better of course but lately we’ve adopted an old pioneer saying “we’re not out of the woods yet”.