On the Farm, the months of January and February are customarily the quietest time of year. Although there are the normal chores that need to be done – feeding animals, putting hay out, maintaining equipment – there just isn’t much to be done. The garden is sleeping, waiting for the spring sunshine to wake it up again. The harvest from the past summer has been canned, and is lined up on the shelves. Firewood is cut and stacked, ready to be added to a warm and cozy fire.
I love these two months, in spite of the cold and wet weather. It’s the time I spend catching up with paper work, doing a bit of deep cleaning and planning for the rest of the year. We spend a good bit of time just talking and deciding what to plant in the garden, and after we have narrowed it down to the most important, the seeds are ordered. I then spend time mentally planning out a planting calendar, and checking to see if I have all the supplies I need in the greenhouse. This year, with the added plan of growing and selling vegetables and herbs, I am looking forward to having my greenhouse overflowing with flats of seedlings. Spending time out there is one of my favorite things to do – it’s quiet and warm, and gives me time to be productive, yet still offers me the opportunity to think uninterrupted.
Winter is also when I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, stretching my wings with learning new recipes and improving some of my skills. This year, my goal is to finally learn to make a great sourdough bread – with the best possible starter. So far, I’ve gone through two, and I’m thinking that I am going to stick with my dad’s version. Today I will do yet another loaf, and hopefully it will turn out. Once that is perfected, I am going to experiment with a Biga – a different type of starter that is used in Italian breads. It’s almost a dough consistency, rather than the more liquid version of the standard type of starter. If both succeed, then we’ll have plenty of fresh baked bread to go with all the soups and stews we eat this year, not to mention loaves of French bread to go with our pastas and gumbos.
It’s during this down time that I spend a lot of time reading, researching and contemplating new ideas for the farm. We are in desperate need of a new square baler, but to find one in relatively good condition at a price we can afford requires constant searching. I like to stay ahead of the game with new products for our value-added items, so you will often find me buried in recipe books and online at canning sites. It’s also when I have enough time to measure warp and dress my loom for a new project, or grab those knitting needles and choose some yarn from my stash. And it’s also the time I have to implement and try out some of the ideas I had while working in the garden or stringing fence during the past summer.
I think my favorite winter past time is sitting and reflecting on what we have accomplished over the past years, and determine if it’s time to change, improve or just move on from the way we’ve been doing things. The biggest change we’ll make this year is the garden. Since Randy has progressively picked up more summer hay jobs, we have decided to scale down the vegetable portion of the garden to a size that I can manage on my own, and plant the rest in something that doesn’t need quite as much maintenance – corn, peas, beans, and if I get my way, a few rows of sunflowers.
Regardless of how our winter is spent, we relish the fact that it is a time to slow down and to be able to hear yourself think. On any given day, you have just one or two things to do, and don’t feel yourself pulled in a hundred different directions, trying to determine on the fly what needs to be seen as a top priority. The constant busyness of the summer chores and jobs won’t allow you to sleep past 5:00 in the morning, and keeps you from even considering going to bed before 10:00 at night. In the winter, it is well on its way to being dark at 5:00 pm, and even the sun is taking advantage of being able to sleep a little longer in the morning. So we follow nature – we slow our steps, take time to think and reflect, and relish the tiny accomplishments we make. It may be cold and wet outside, but inside its warm and cozy – and not just inside the house, but in our minds, our bodies and right down to our very souls. Go ahead, Old Man Winter. Take your best shot. I’ve got it covered.