Winter's End So Soon

Though the temperatures are still freezing and there is still snow on the ground, early January is when I begin to feel that winter is over.  It’s not that I feel warm or that I’m itching to go play outside.  It’s that I don’t even need all my fingers to count the weeks left before the first greenhouse planting of the year.  And there is still so much to do before I’m ready for planting!

Seed orders are top on the list.  The first step in that process is to figure out how much of each crop to grow.  This year I have a little advice from those of you who completed the end-of-year survey.  Some of you suggested getting rid of the sweet corn.  It takes up so much space on our small farm and still we never get enough of it, so I am taking that advice and dropping sweet corn.  Others of you asked for melons.  Though we have not had success with melons in the last few years, we did have a couple of seasons with beautiful, plentiful, and delicious melons.  My plan is to use the time and energy we save on corn to invest in more melons.  I will also be making some other changes including decreasing peas a bit, increasing onions, trying out a new trellising system on tomatoes, and fiddling with the potato planting dates to make sure we get a potato crop this year.  All I have to do is feed all this information into my spreadsheets, do some magic calculations, and soon enough a completed seed order will come out the other side.

The next thing that needs to happen before planting is finishing our greenhouse.  The most important factor there is designing and building a germination chamber.  Since our new greenhouse is passive solar (meaning it is only heated with the sun), it can get quite cool in there at night.  In order for seeds to germinate well, they must be held at a fairly constant 70 to 80 degrees.  The germination chamber will be a protected place that will keep the seeds warm and moist and happily sprouting.  After germinating, plants can be moved into the less stable conditions of the greenhouse and actually benefit from those cool nights.  Once the germ chamber is done, all the greenhouse needs for a successful planting season is a soil mixing station, growing benches, and a hardening off area.

There are plenty of other things on my to do list this winter, but probably the most important one is hiring a new farm employee.  When I started the farm in 2001, I worked only 20 hours per week and served just 14 CSA members.  Now Jake and I both work full time and the CSA membership (including both types of shares) is 160.  Plus we have thriving sprout and herb businesses, a new business designing and installing vegetable gardens (which Megan manages), and a growing farm internship program.  Not only are we ready for a new staff member, we really need one!  The job is posted and I am hoping to have a new farmer on board by early March.   If you know of anyone who might be interested, please let me know and I will send the posting along directly!

Though January is the first harbinger of the end of winter, the organic farming conference in LaCrosse actually closes the season.  I will attend that conference (the largest farming conference in the country) at the end of February anxious to improve my farming skills and ready to come back and start planting.  In the short bit of winter we have left, I hope to hear from all of you as you renew your CSA memberships we start looking forward to the first salads of spring together!


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