Farmers seem to talk about the weather a lot; this winter has given us a whole lot to talk about. The Ontarian in me adores the snow, and misses it here on the West Coast. My soul has sung more than once upon waking up to a fresh dump this year. I love the sight of snowy firs against the grey-purple colour of snowstorm clouds, the way the snow sticks to trees and fences, the way it muffles sound, sparkles in the sun and crunches underfoot.. But I’ll admit, this last dump and snow lingering into March has me longing for the crocuses and snowdrops to show their faces, and itching to get to work in the field.
Living Dangerously (a.k.a leaving the farm for a month)
Given that the cost of taking a small boy over the pond to England goes up considerably when he turns 2 this spring, we decided to take him to visit Sam’s family this winter. Unexpectedly, we found some wonderfully cheap flights over Christmas and New Year, so jumped at the chance to spend Christmas in England. Taking the cheap flights on either side of the holidays meant that we were away from the farm for a full month.
We left in a whirlwind in December. In the never ending rain of last fall, we kept putting off planting the garlic, thinking the rain had to stop soon, and hoping that waiting for a dry spell might mean we lost fewer cloves to rot. But it didn’t stop raining, and finally, our hand was forced. There were some late nights the week before we left getting all the garlic out and mulched. The last beds were planted by headlamp in the falling snow – better than the rain I guess?
Between the scramble to get everything done before we left, and worrying about what we might have forgotten or what might happen while we’re gone, we left feeling more than a little apprehensive. Hunter was having a dog holiday on another property, so we were nervous the deer might take advantage and figure out how to beat the fence, or the ravens might have a go at the chickens. We worried that things might blow away. Or freeze. Or die. Or collapse. Or…. And it was a real nail biter watching weather reports from 7500km away – snow, and night after night of sub -10 degree temperatures.
But we needn’t have worried, as we had a top notch farm sitter and a little luck on our side. Our farm sitter defrosted a frozen well head (more than once) and lugged buckets of warm pig porridge and liquid water to the pigs and chickens daily, hugged the cats and generally kept everything under control. We had lovely visits with family and friends in the UK, and came home to a warm house, running water, all buildings and fences intact, and a gaggle of happy animals. Even most of the overwintering carrots and onions somehow managed to survive under collapsed hoops and only a single layer of light weight row cover. Plants are magic.
All of the Snow
While there was a bit of snow while we were gone, there thankfully wasn’t enough to endanger our hoop houses. The big dump politely waited until we were back. And dump it did. We got more than a half metre of snow in 2 days, followed by more snow in the following week – unheard of in these parts.
It was glorious. We played and went snow shoeing. We took Bernie the farm truck through her paces getting us (mostly Sam, on volunteer fire service call-outs) around an unploughed island. Hunter zoomed around, rolling and hunting for mice, and Mort, the fluffy cat, was in his element. The chickens were less convinced, as the snow apparently hinders their depth perception, so everyone except Joseph (our golden rooster, who is a total badass) elected to stay in their house all day. The pigs faired better, making tracks through their transformed run in single file and doing hockey stops (perfected during the cold snap while we were away) as they ran between troughs during feed time. Luckily, they respected the memory of the fence, since it was entirely buried and shorted out by the snow.
The snow was still beautiful but became a little less glorious as it kept falling and persisted through it’s second week. The temperature was hovering around 0, making the snow wet and very heavy. The hoop houses needed clearing several times, roofs needed shovelling, and the air was filled with the bangs of trees giving up under the weight. We were lucky – our hoop houses, buildings and fence all made it through. A tree fell along the pig fence, but managed to miss all but one post – which we were able to straighten. The biggest snow annoyance for us was not being able to get the truck into the back of the property to load the pigs until the day before they were scheduled to go to Gunter’s. This didn’t leave enough time for them to get used to the ramp and truck, making for a nerve wracking day trying to convince five pigs that a truck bed full of dry hay and food was worth braving the unknown. But, everyone got in the truck in the end, and so what could have been a bigger upset (if we hadn’t been able to get everyone in, the next date Gunter’s had available was a month later, when our pigs would have been too big) turned out to be just a little blip. We are incredibly grateful to have made it through the snow with so little trouble, as many of our good friends and neighbours were not so lucky, and face many thousands of dollars of expenses to repair damage and replace infrastructure.
Learning and Planning
Since our return from the UK, we’ve been busy with work (Sam off-farm at Corlan Vineyard, Emily on her thesis, and Wilf at daycare) and planning, but also taking advantage of long nights to do a bit of hibernating. Wilf has obligingly been an epic sleeper and napper of late, so we’ve been getting lots done and taking advantage of the odd early night and lie-in to 7am. It feels blissful.
We’re also investing some time in learning and networking. We got the fantastic news over Christmas that we were accepted to the Young Agrarians Business Mentorship Network. As part of the program, we have participated in some top notch webinars on Crop Planning by an author of Crop Planning for Vegetable Growers and on Finances by Chris Bodnar at Close to Home Organics. We’ve been meeting regularly with our farm mentor, the DeLisa Lewis at Greenfire Farm – so much valuable learning and reflecting. And, we met a whole pile of farming colleagues in January at the Young Agrarians Mixer. We feel so entirely lucky to be connected to and learning from these entirely inspiring, knowledgable, outstanding people.
Crop planning is done – a bit faster this year,despite having to remake all our spreadsheets after a combined hard drive and backup failure, because we were able to just tweak last year’s plan. Next year should be a breeze. Our seed order has arrived and the first seeds are in. We’re talking with potential customers – including a potential exciting new opportunity to work with friends right here on Denman, The Very Good Butchers. Things are ramping up.
One more month before the season starts in earnest. We’re feeling the nervous anticipation that seems to come this time of year. One more month to digest all the things we’re learning, implement as much as possible, make sure we have everything we need, organize and generally get all our ducks in a row. Or at least roughly in the same general area. Now if the snow would just finish melting so we can get out in the field..