Yesterday and today we received the first accumulative snowfall since December 8th. The whole winter thus far has been filled with unseasonally warm weather, often with highs in the 40s and 50s with only occasionally dips into the teens and a two day stint with lows below zero Fahrenheit.
This means that we were able to harvest leafy greens outdoors until the beginning of January (in Columbia County, NY). More recently we have been picking large rocks from the Corner Garden fields, sometimes loosens them from the frozen earth with a few kicks, and spreading compost by shovel and bucket on these same fields to build up their organic matter for a second growing season.
Picking rocks and weeding have also been favored tasks for the solar and plywood greenhouses, leaving us with nearly weedless stretches of spinach, mache, mustards, arugula, and pea shoots, in gravelly, but not severely rocky soil. Additionally the solar greenhouse is already home to newly sprouted seed plug trays of hearty greens and radishes. Greenhouse days are refreshing on days when the outside air temperature has dropped below freezing. I enjoy watching the plants thaw from their overnight chill and feeling the condensation droplets thaw and drop on my head on their return path toward the soil. But, these greenhouses have been well cared for and do not need much more nurturing for the time being, so our winter farm effort will be shifting soon, perhaps toward readings for the apprentices and seed ordering for the garden manager.
The animal world holds more steady in its daily rhythm through the seasons. Morning and afternoon milking, barn chores, and animal feeding (pasture, hay, grain for the cows; whey, milk, food scraps, grain for the pigs) must take place 365 days a year. What shifts is who is responsible for each of these tasks.
Right now all of the full farm apprentices are learning to milk. I arrived one month earlier than Parker and Zach and am therefore farther along in this learning process, but we are all responsible for milking in a rotational schedule throughout the week. The milk room is tended by the lead milker at each milking, be it the livestock manager, herdsman, livestock assistant, or full farm assistant. After morning milking and returning from breakfast the apprentices are still responsible for feeding the dairy herd, dry cows, heifers, and steers and providing water for the calves, but our other morning responsibilities of barn chores and pig feeding have been shifted to the Visiting Students Program interns and students three days of the week.
With the large winter work force this has been a wonderful training period for getting to know the cows and the rhythms of the farm. It has also been a time in which the daily schedule is easily accomplished and we can often work with a greater ease than other seasons. Additionally it has been a time for completing many of the projects that have been pushed aside in warmer months or perhaps for years. These projects include renovating the farmer office, cleaning the pasture fence lines of multi-flora rose, harvesting and chopping wood, creating a recipe data base, and doing online research projects to improve the farm. Since the workload is smaller and the new crop of apprentices have all arrived at nearly the same time it has also been I time of short classes where we learn about herd handling, milking protocol, and more. This next week we have to vegetable orientations.