What does a farmer do during the winter, anyway?

 

A photo from a few years ago at Loutet! No snow yet this year...

A photo from a few years ago at Loutet! No snow yet this year…

For the past few years, the arrival of winter and the changes it brings has been bittersweet.  I go through a range of emotions: from deep relief at the prospect of a break for my body, to a sort of sadness at the loss of bright flowers and the full bounty of vegetables, and right back to excitement for the opportunity to reflect and plan how to do the whole thing over again, only better.

Winter is chock full of opportunity on the farm – if you’re a gardener, I hope you’ll find some of these ideas helpful for managing your own green space and keeping the garden love alive year round.

One important thing I’ve learned is the value of “re-setting” the farm over the winter.  There is usually a whole list of chores and random repairs that weren’t a priority during the summer.  This involves making sure infrastructure, tools and equipment are clean and in good working order and that supplies are replenished.

An organized shed is a happy shed

An organized shed is a happy shed

You can use this time to organize your shed, give away some of the things you haven’t used in a few years and finally install some gutters to drain into your rain barrels.  Okay, maybe that last example was a bit specific to Loutet, but you get the idea.

Winter is the perfect season to be proactive and get yourself a good head start for spring, when you’ll be busy enough without realizing halfway through a chore that your wheelbarrow has a flat tire.  

It is the best time to turn your compost pile, mulch your garden beds and prune your fruit trees and shrubs.  Take some steps to help the soil revitalize and rebuild nutrients.

Expand your growing space by building a lasagna bed or apply some extra compost on an area that wasn’t growing well over the summer.  If you’ve never heard of lasagna beds or sheet mulching, there is a simple overview located here, or if you’re the visual type I found this video to be thorough.


You can build one of these beds now and it should be all set for spring planting.  

These colder months also tend to be full of great workshops, forums, webinars and courses related to growing food.  For me, it is invaluable to check in with the farm community and explore what challenges and innovations have emerged in the field.  

I’m personally excited about this free Introduction to Beekeeping course this spring; you can also check out the GardenSmart workshop series we offer in collaboration with North Shore Recycling Program and the Lynn Canyon Ecology Centre.

If you need some cozy indoor time, there are seed catalogues to browse, crop plans to dream up, end-of-year reflections to ponder.  The timing is perfect to go over the past year and figure out what worked in the field and what could be improved.

I like to revisit my notes from the summer and brainstorm solutions with the Edible Garden Project team.  This might lead to a few more winter projects, like building a new trellis for peas or tomatoes.

If you’re keen to make farming or gardening more of a lifestyle than a hobby, the slower months are great times to check out upcoming volunteer opportunities or job postings.  Emily just finished interviewing our 2015 intern team for their feedback on the program and it is already time to think about next year – the posting for the 2016 season can be found here.   

Winter veggies at Loutet! Kale, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and more.

Winter veggies at Loutet! Kale, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and more.

I can’t forget to mention that this is the Pacific Northwest and we do have a pretty mild winter.  That means I still have a variety of crops growing at Loutet, both in the hoop houses and out in the field.  If you’re up for it, you can learn about how you could keep your green thumb happy over winter at a GardenSmart workshop next summer.

If you didn’t plant a winter garden, or just like taking the winter off, sign up for the Fresh Sheet to be one of the first to know about our online veggie sales this winter.

Until then, I hope you all enjoy the best of this season and take some time to relax and do what you love.   We’re looking forward to a wonderful new year and seeing folks out on the farm when the days get longer and warmer.

Happy holidays to all!  And please feel free to share some of your winter gardening tips and tricks and let me know what you love to do in the gardening down season!

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    One Response to “What does a farmer do during the winter, anyway?”

    1. Marco Antonio Murillo January 6, 2016 at 3:53 pm #

      Grrrrreat advice Holly, I need to read it again, it is dense but concise.

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