Even though the calendar and accompanying thermometer insist that it's still the dead of winter, the foreshadowing hints of spring are already peeking out from under the blankets. Garden seeds have long-since been in hand (though a few keep trickling in along the way) and a shipping date has been set for the seed potatoes a mere 6-weeks down the road. Days are growing longer since the winter solstice – by minutes, to be sure, but lengthening, and already enough to encourage the chickens to lean ever-so-slightly in the direction of more active egg production. In the wake of a couple of farming conferences we have begun to reconceive our garden layout for a massive overhaul that would enable a completely different (and hopefully more companionable) cultivation practice. More and more convinced that we are squandering a valuable opportunity by keeping them separate, we have made conscientious plans to create a workable access integrating the chicken yard more functionally with the garden. In recent days we took advantage of the milder weather to make needed repairs to the wind-whipped deer fence, re-securing the garden perimeter for the nearing days in which something is again inside to protect. Half of the fruit trees have received their winter pruning.
And over the weekend we brought home 45 bags of organic compost and potting mix from our Wisconsin supplier. Seventy-two cubic feet of “stuff”. Now neatly stacked in the barn, the compost will eventually benefit the fruit and nut trees and flower beds, with any leftover heading for the garden. The potting mix will be transformed into soil blocks -- brownie-sized cubes that will host the variety of seeds for their first season of growth in the greenhouse.
And then it all accelerates from there -- the watering, the transplanting, the weeding, monitoring for insects and disease, and, with any luck, the harvesting. Sitting here comfortably on the sofa before the glowing fireplace, it seems a bit of a mirage – the ephemeral flickerings of a possible reality yet a long way off. And in some ways it is. Between now and spring’s actual arrival there will almost certainly be snow to shovel and blow, insulated overalls to keep pulling on and off, ice-broken branches to gather and stack for later feeding to the chipper, more workshops to attend and a greenhouse to ready.
But the process is starting. It's time to sharpen shovels and blades and make sure everything is in working order. It's time to inventory the rest of the tools to determine what needs replacing and simply needs to be brought closer to hand. It's time to start conceiving which crops will need to rotate to where.
All of which already begins to sound like work.
But last night, nestled squarely in the middle of January, rummaging through the freezer and drawing out greens and peppers and apricots from last summer’s bounty while considering options for the last remaining potatoes, we savored again a few of the reasons why we do it, and why we already looking forward.