Saturday, January 22, 2011

Winter Productivity

Many people believe that farmers have it pretty easy in the winter. After all, isn't all of the work done during the summer when things are actually growing? Well... not really.

Winter is the season of site-prep and equipment work.

There is a hedgerow which needs to be reclaimed. It is a lot better to work on this during the winter when all the stinging insects, snakes, etc are not an issue. Cutting it all back is the easy part. Keeping it from coming back is the bigger challenge. Right now we are using a few different techniques. Once everything is cut back, we lay down cardboard to block out the light - this will help keep the weeds from popping up immediately. Then the mulch goes on top of it, as deep as we can stand, to keep the cardboard from (a) looking too tacky and (b) blowing away. Pretty soon the cardboard will start breaking down and becoming one with the soil. The hard part is putting in all of this work and having to wait until spring to see how effective it is. High-stakes gambling - farm-style!

There are also garden beds to be designed and built. We subscribe to lasagna-bed gardening. Keep layering the organic material on there and let it keep decomposing. For us that means more cardboard and lots of old rotting straw. Today a friend call Jen and said, "I'm shoveling s#*$ and I thought of you." So we went and hauled off a bunch of cow manure-soaked straw. Its great! Mulch and fertilizer all in one. Just spread it and let it compost in place to nourish the soil.

This is also the season for equipment. We just re-vamped the set-up for our grow lights. The grow light stands we acquired a few years ago... cheap! So we rigged our own system for hanging the lights and can hopefully start some seeds pretty soon. The chicken coop I built for Jen in December is holding up well. Chickens are happy which means Jen is happy. Soon it will be time to try getting the chickens into new portable pens so they can enjoy fresh grass. That means building new "chicken tractors". As hard a winter as we've had thus far, I'm scared to think about how many of our honeybee colonies may be dead, though. Either way, in the next week or two it will be time to start cleaning old hive equipment and building new hive equipment. I have already ordered two packages of bees for this year. Have to make sure they have a nice home ready when they arrive.

Winter is decision season. Decide how many bee colonies I want to try managing this year. Choose what is going in the veggie garden. Determine whether or not this is the year to put more fruit trees and a few blueberry bushes in the ground. Figure out how to rescue those two poor, old grape vines.

So if you have to work this hard in the winter as well as in the summer, is it worth it? Wouldn't life be so much easier if there was not so much work that always needed doing?

In Proverbs 14: 4, Solomon says, "Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; but much increase comes by the strength of an ox."

Yes, the work is worth it. Without a mini-farm (in development), there might be less work and more time for leisure, but there would not be the same harvest of joy and less satisfaction from our labors.

For all of the work that happens even during winter, winter is also the time when we get to enjoy the fruits of last year's labor. The wood we laid up is keeping us warm through a hard winter. My sweet tooth is still being kept happy by the honey our bees produced. The blackberry wine we made (from a kit) is still a nice treat about once a month. We just re-discovered a jar of blackberry syrup from the berries we picked this past July. Our now-mature chickens are still laying about a half-dozen eggs a day.

Definitely worth it.

This is what generation upon generation of people have understood. Last year's labor is what sustains you today even while you work for tomorrow. Hard to imagine in a society filled with mortgages, car loans and credit cards - all of which are based on the future sustaining you in the present. By God's grace, Jen and I have been blessed with the ability to do it the old fashioned way. Praise God for it. The work is worth it.

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