Monday, February 13, 2012

2011 Review - Winter is for Resting, Preparation and Reflection

Chicken tractor in a winter garden bed
Winter is a much-needed break for us, as I imagine it is for many of those who grow food in general.  For us, winter means ramping up remodeling activities on our 19th century one-room schoolhouse, managing dried produce cleaning and storage, managing fermented foods, the daily firewood routine, chickens and chicken tractors and the glorious lacto-fermented sourdough bread.

The daily routine of the chicken tractors is a challenge as the days and nights grow colder and often windier.  The concrete blocks used to weight down the tractors are always close by for threats above 25 mph, which have been more frequent in winter 2011-2012.  The routine of moving the tractors a width, once or twice a day moves to the gardens and chestnut grove as we use the chickens to till down the seasons growth, fertilize and prepare the beds for the following year.  This is the fourth winter for the flock and they are distributed in 4 tractors.

We used house wrap this winter to take the edge off the from the wind, instead of wrapping tarps, and it worked well.  Trying to maintain a deep bedding in the coop, we transitioned to pine needles, which can be collected from the small pine grove we have at the back of the property.  We collect them when they are at their driest and store them in a utility shed until they are needed.  There isn't much of anything in them of interest to the chickens and they let them lie for the most part.  Hay or straw gets scratched out daily if they are used.  A small success.

A quiet snow

Firewood is another consuming winter chore, since we both heat and cook with our wood cook stove.  The first 100+ year-old sugar maple we have had to take down, provided enough firewood for winter 2010-2011 and part of the following year.  We had to take down the second of three this year and have started using it as well, although it could stand to season out another year.  As I personally get older, I'm realizing that splitting wood by hand should be left to necessity and a younger generation, if possible.

Dad and Dean splitting firewood
Firewood in the greenhouse.  This manual splitter is my favorite, so far.  The maul and wedges are progressively creating some joint degeneration and this is mostly low impact
We've realized for some time now that working part-time in the garden and using hand tools exclusively isn't entirely practical, if we wanted to increase coverage over all the ground that's available to us.  We're probably cultivating over an acre.  Looking at the BCS product line for some time, and realizing the investment is too much with a home remodeling project ongoing, I discovered the old Gravely walk-behinds and purchased a 1959 model with accessories not far from here.

Our current working Gravely two-wheeled-walk-behind with  a sickle-bar mower

I purchased it from a farm north of Butler, Ohio.  The scene in 'Shawshank Redemption' where Morgan Freeman retrieves the cache left by Andy Dufresne was the next farm up the road.  It's interesting that the movie was filmed in Mansfield, and the surrounding area and we've met people involved in the film.  It's unique that it's popular locally and most fans of the film recognizes our last name, as a result.  Interesting you never heard 'Doo-fres-knee' in the film.  

The Gravely needs a lot of work.  In order to get the attachments you need ultimately, you end up with more Gravely's...I spend a lot of time in 'repair mode,' and 'parts-vibratory-ejection' monitoring.

The second 1940's era machine, which came with a blade, sickle bar mower, rototiller , sulky and a 30" mower.

We were primarily interested in the sickle-bar mower.  We've accumulated 4 so far, with several successful cuttings and lots of broken parts...

This cutting will provide mulch, winter coop bedding or compost material
 We let the 'pasture' (most of the lawn) areas grow and use our scythes to harvest the grasses for mulch, bedding and compost layers.  The sickle bar would/did make quicker work of it, but the success was brief.  Hopefully I'll get one working for 2012.  Dede is set up with her own scythe this year.  Our very own on-site 'Scythe Girl', although she won't entertain the barefoot skimpy-dress flaming-baton-twirling style I'm so fond of.

Dede scything.  My phone camera tends to be smudged a lot, but it lends a certain 'angelic' effect...
The asparagus bed is coming along.  2012 is the official harvest year, as we're in our third year.  Can't wait.  Seventy plants.

The new asparagus bed

This year we tried three additional plantings of potatoes with new techniques.  Two vertical cage plantings and a late planting in rows of leaf and chestnut hull mulch with large additions of compost.  The first trial went well, until we mistakenly created a composting environment and brought on too much heat.  The cages recovered somewhat with a good harvest from the very bottom.  The late plantings showed promise and I'll repeat again this spring.

A new compost screen for the chestnut
hull compost, especially.

We started using soil blocks for seed starting this year with great
results, especially with the onion starts.

A good garlic harvest in progress...

Brassicas and onions
Low-tech compost tea station

Tomatoes, tobacco and peppers
More tomatoes, with ground cherries, tomatillos and tobacco.
Tobacco makes a great diversion crop for tomato worms.  I
don't see many, but they prefer the tobacco plants.  Hummingbirds
surprisingly love the blossoms on the tobacco, as well

Salsa ingredients!

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