“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, the winter weather has descended upon us at a shocking rate. My lack of a suitable winter coat or boots have become apparent as well, and more importantly, the fewer vegetables that can grow in this weather. Winter on a farm can be a harsh time and is often just as much work; while not as much is growing, protecting the crops becomes much more of a priority and a job. Some farmers use row covers, some use hoop houses and green houses, others harvest everything and then store the produce that will last, some farmers that have livestock are still caring for their animals and preparing for babies to be born. I got curious and decided to research what farmers around the country are doing in the winter and found these musician-farmers in Maine and insight from 5 different farmers around the country about their travels, extra reading time, or workshops and tours. But alongside farmers with multiple jobs, we have farmers who are working hard throughout the winter. I called several of the farmers that we work with to hear how this cold snap has affected them and what they focus on during the cold, winter months.
When I called Vernon Britt he was out in the fields in his tractor checking on his crops. I asked him how the cold snap affected his farm and what they were doing to deal with it and he chuckled and said: “we’re doing what we can.” But that is just modesty, they’ve been covering all 6 acres they have in production with row covers to protect their crops. Row covers are rolls of fabric that you drape over crops and secure down to protect them; there are many different kinds of row covers but Britt Farms uses spun-bond polyester row covers which allow rain and sun in but not pests. It takes quite a bit of labor to put out 6 acres of row covers, secure them, and then take them up when the weather warms up. No crops really love the intense cold that we have experienced this past week, but generally kale and collards do well in the winter; both get sweeter after a frost.
I then spoke with Robbie Cox to check up on their beloved chickens and how they survived the freeze. Fortunately their produce has been harvested and is in storage so they didn’t suffer any loss in the cold. They are focusing on their chickens, on preparing for the next season, and on staying warm. The chickens seem to be enjoying the cold weather and Robbie has been keeping heat lamps on their water so it doesn’t freeze. On this past Saturday they were already sowing pepper and tomato seeds that will be ready to transplant in April. It seems that the summer is not too far away knowing that tomato seeds are going into the soil, we truly do have warmth to look forward to.
Gary Wise currently has 25 acres of winter production, so this cold weather has forced him to be especially innovative. He is also using row covers but only covering up some of each crop (except kale and collards) because he has so much in the ground. He had just been going around his farm and checking on the crops when I called, and discussed how much labor goes into laying out the row covers. He then likened this cold snap to a hot spell in summer, “each season has its own challenges”, in the summer you have irrigation and weeds and in the winter you have cold snaps. Once the temperatures drop to the lower 20s it is time to put the row covers on and they can come off in a few days. Gary uses a very thick kind of row cover that needs to be taken off after a few days because it blocks the sun. But after looking at his crops he did say that the ones under the row cover looked great. This next week is supposed to warm up a bit and rain, which will be good for the greens. The cold weather dries up crops similar to the way it dries up your skin, and cold rain will revive them. The winter for the Wises is not so harsh as you might imagine.
This time of year definitely has a toll on the farmers, but they’re ready for it. Next time you eat something from one of their fields remember how much work they put into making sure it was protected from the weather. Fortunately there are always things around a farm to warm your spirit even when your toes have lost all their feeling. Take these cute farm animals in sweaters for example:
I would save this link for a day when you can’t shake the cold creeping into your bones.