Friday, December 18, 2015

What Permie Farmers Do In Winter

The number one question I get asked in the winter is "What do you do in the winter? How do you keep yourself busy.. when you're not planning gardens, that is?" This is usually followed by a quip or comment that I must have a lot of time on my hands.

Here's the deal, Folks. Running a farm, especially a permaculture farm, is not a "summers only" job. It is a 24/7/365 job.

Winter is when the large heavy work gets done. Engineering, building, earthworks, etc. There are a lot of things that have to get accomplished when there aren't any plants in the ground or torrential rains flooding down from the sky. No, it's not fun trying dig in frozen ground, but it's really bad idea to dig during the summer monsoons. Your work washes away even as you're doing it.

Winters are spent with CADD programs active, because, for me, planning a garden is not as simple as doodling out a map of where I want this or that to go. I plant in guilds, on slopes, among trees and established perennials. My plans don't cover the next season's plantings; they cover the next 3-5 seasons plantings with active notations for 5, 10, or even 15 years down the road. The scope of some projects can cover up to 100 years, and I have to know what I'm doing each step of the way, and make sure everyone ELSE knows what I'm doing. After all, I don't expect to actually be here in 100 years to explain to my grandkids why I did this or that and why it matters to them now. There has to be an in-depth record.

Many things change on the farm in winter. Fences change locations. Live-stakes are propagated. Plants are divided. Ground is cleared. New swales are dug, and old swales refreshed. Runnels, ditches, and driveways are sculpted or resculpted. The carpentry shop is busy building things to be used in summer. The machine shop is busy fixing and/or servicing machinery. Tools are refurbished. Buildings are built. (Newbies to the neighborhood are often surprised to see barns and sheds going up in December and January, but cold weather is a much better time to build a barn than monsoon weather. Trust me.)

And, believe it or not, the winter crops have to be tended. Yes, I grow year-round. No, not with only the help of my greenhouse. I grow "snow plants", as in things that grow in frozen, snow-covered ground. LIke arugula, parsnips, garlic, winter breed onions, etc. And yes, there is still the greenhouse to take care of.

This year we are starting a new long-term project called the Lower Savanna. But, that's whole different blog post. In short, we're taking a mostly unused portion of land, a little over an acre, and beginning a large time-stacking project on it. For 3 years we will grow food crops for our church's affordable foods program. Then we'll be putting in pioneering trees and pants. Then begin staging in a food forest. The Lower Savanna will  act as a prototype demonstration plot that others in our area can learn from and on, then duplicate.

To sum it up, there is a lot to do in the winter. On top of this, there are those full-time jobs my husband an I have, as well as the holidays, and just trying to stay warm. 

It is, after all, winter.