Winter On The Farm

Winter is the time of year for dreams, aspirations, and setting intentions, the time when anything is possible. What will the farm grow in the summer, how much money can we bring in at market, how organized, efficient, and streamlined can our practices become? In the winter, everything is possible! And while I did not enjoy any planning or seed sorting while curled up next to a wood stove with snow swirling outside this winter, this time—my first winter in the delightful, mild North Bay climate—still nonetheless allowed for the important embryonic germination work of winter. Like all wild dreams, farm dreams must be tempered by experience, practicality, and reason, to best guarantee health and vigor through their period of growth and maturation. Introducing a few new vegetables and crop varieties is part of the excitement of a new season, but it is prudent for all changes to be strategic, incremental, and rest on the solid foundation of the work and successes of preceding years.

Much like when there’s music playing while you are asleep and the music gets interwoven into the fabric of your dream, I think the activity on the farm these past couple of months has been like background music for the farm, informing the shape of things to come this summer, while still allowing for the farm’s long, deep rest. For the past few months, most of the farm has lain somnolent under the blanket of cover crop. But during the weekends, a few areas on the farm have been abuzz with a special kind of winter time farm activity dedicated to the upkeep and maintenance of systems that will sustain the plants, soil, and community members through the long, hot, tireless growing season. The ground of the outdoor classroom and greenhouse has received fresh layers of fragrant eucalyptus wood chips. On a few Saturday afternoons, the table in the outdoor classroom has been filled with community members learning about such timely topics as immune-supporting medicinal herbs and fruit tree pruning. The beds of our two fall-planted crops, garlic and strawberries, have received many, many hard-working volunteer hands, helping keep those beds and aisles clear of the ever-encroaching weeds. The orchard is getting pruned and mulched. Compost piles are being built. New beehives and a wild swarm trap await in hope of the arrival of new, healthy colonies of honeybees.

Pockets of busy activity are here and there, but all is still relatively quiet when compared with the bustle and exuberance of summer. Most of the fields remain under cover crop, retaining moisture, returning nutrients to the soil, and adding organic matter once they are mowed and tilled back into the earth. And when I startled a red and turquoise-striped garter snake by the entrance to the greenhouse and it quickly slithered into the sheltering cover of the towering fava beans, peas, vetch, and cereals, I learned yet another benefit of cover crop on the farm—increased wildlife habitat! I love how a cursory glance may reveal less activity on the farm in the winter, but I suspect it is just as busy as ever, once the activities of wildlife, perennial plants, and microbial soil life are taken into consideration.

As the farm dreams, and farmers dream, seeds are being planted, both the real first Solanaceae family crop seeds of the season, as well as the metaphorical seeds of high hopes and good intentions for another successful year for the Bounty Farm. Come out on a Saturday for volunteer drop-in hours or a skill-building community workshop, and help turn our winter farm dreams into reality this upcoming season!

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