Batten Down the Hatches

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This post is a bit overdue.  Winter hit big time about 8 days ago.  We had about 4 inches of snow, but the big story has been the deep freeze around here.  Early December lows are uncharacteristically low.  We have had nights in the single digits.  What does that mean for the farm?  It means it is time to batten down the hatches.  Here’s what I mean:

Chickens have been shut into the barn.  If the days get in the 20’s we go ahead and let them circulate in the “common area” of the barn, but keep them closed up inside at night.  We use two stalls and attempt to get one rooster and approximately half the hens in each stall.  Stalls have been equipped with hanging feeders, metal water founts sitting on warmers so the water won’t freeze, and heat lamps–2 per stall.  They also have more roosting areas thanks to Paco and fresh straw.

The goats have been brought into the barn as well.  The goats are quite hardy and have their nice fluffy winter coats on.  We brought them into barn for several reasons.  First, most of their natural browse is gone.  Multiple hard freezes and snow cover have left them without green stuff to munch.  Second, we could not get the outlet in the lean-to to work and therefore had no way to keep their water from freezing over.  Third, we like to keep them in the barn through the worst of winter for their health and comfort but also because it makes it easier for us to do chores if the goats and chickens are together.  So, the goats have their own stall with hayrack and their water has a float in it to keep it from icing over.  The goats, at least for now, have the run of the common areas as well as their stall.  We are giving some hay but also supplementing with alfalfa cubes as well as their usual “granola.”

The goats and chickens keep good company, but we do make it impossible for the goats to enter the chicken stalls. The chickens can join them in the common area, but we have to keep the goats away from the chickens’ feeders.  The goats would happily eat every shred of grain we give the chickens.

The dogs have the entire milking room (was a tack room) of the barn to themselves.  We got their plug-in water bowl set-up for them, put in a heat lamp,  and are keeping the barn door closed.  They have a doggie door entrance.

The high tunnel is a different matter altogether.  Since this is year one, I consulted an experienced friend when we were facing the first night of arctic temps.  I had already pulled lightweight row cover over the beds a few weeks prior.  I added to this by pulling heavy weight row cover over the tops of the more susceptible crops.  I think we did pretty well.  Looks like most of the lettuces are gone as well as the broccoli, but kale, swiss chard, carrots, onions, beets, parsley, cilantro, spinach, and mache are all struggling through.  We are supposed to be warming up starting today (highs in the 30’s and lows in the 20’s) and them plunge back down on Sunday.   I plan to let things in there defrost thoroughly and harvest as heavily as I can.  Because of the very short days, there is very little growth.    What is there is about all there will be until late February/early March.  I have been told that the even if lettuces and other greens die back, they will resume growth in a few months.  It sure has been amazing to have fresh salads and greens in our stews right through the freeze and snow.  I dread the days (which are right around the corner), when I will be forced to supplement our meals by buying fresh veggies.

Yesterday, I pulled the last of the broccoli plants out and tossed them into the common area of the barn.  The goats, as well as the chickens, feasted happily.  Such a lovely reminder of the usefulness of just about everything on the farm.   It brings me joy to experience the cycle of life so intimately.  In those moments, I know that I am living an honest, balanced life.

More Snow…and Onions

Nearly two weeks of bronchitis/asthma and a very busy time at the restaurant coupled with tax time have me really short on time.  BUT I wanted to post a brief update.  I have lots of stuff started in the indoor greenhouse. 

Indoor crops: lettuces, tuscan kale, and micro-greens (all nearing harvest)

Phase One: Starts to be moved out into small hoophouses (yet to be built!)—kale, romanesco broccoli, waltham broccoli, mixed japanese greens, evergreen bunching onions, mache, romaine, chard, strawberry spinach, broccoli raab.  New territory to me to try to get such a jump on the season and I am excited about it.  Hubby and I will be using pvc to make removable hoophouse tops in three of the raised beds.  Greenhouse plastic is one the way as well as some wax paper “hot caps” for added protection.  We’ll see how it goes.

Phase Two: 2/15/10 started crimson bunching onions, newburg onions, siskiyou sweet onions, and white lisbon bunching onions as well as Grumolo Biondo Golden chicory. 

Here are a few pictures taken on 2/13/10.  We had two spectacular early morning shows of snow and glittering frost on the trees. Truly amazing.  I have spent my drive time this winter marveling at the beautiful silouhettes of winter trees–often standing alone in a field.  Easily as lovely as they are in summer, if not more.

The Big Freeze

Obviously, frigid temps mean that precautions have to be taken to keep the goats and chicken safe and sound.  We brought the goats into the barn when the pasture had frozen and they needed to be on pure hay.  They were upset by the move, but are very happy to have a new place to explore and some chicken companions.  Two adjoining stalls house the chickens, and the goats are in a third stall.  On days with above freezing temps, we open the three stalls into the fenced inner “yard”.   Probably the biggest consideration for winter is the need to keep water from freezing.  Both chicken stalls have metal heater bases that the metal waterers sit on top of.  The goats have a floating heater in their water crock.     

Despite our precautions, poor Jethro, our rooster, froze part of his comb and wattles.  The damage is more extensive on the wattles. The frostbitten parts are turning black.  Eventually, these will fall off but we are monitoring for infection.  There seems to be a lot of conflicting information about the risk of infection.  Also, the frostbite may cause temporary infertility.  It is supposed to be very painful, but he is feeling well enough to act normally.  I hope he is not in a lot of pain, but I imagine he is.  It is a very common winter affliction and it is supposed to be worst the first winter.

We are continuing to get about a dozen eggs per day.  We also have White Pants back on a nest of eggs.  She has been brooding since Dec 2.  Who knows if she will got he distance or whether she will be successful, but she is resolute.  She should have about a week to go.   She has had as many as 8, but some have disappeared and she has 5 now.

Here are some winter farm pictures: