Winter Farm Happenings

Cait and Susan planting the first seeds of the season in the greenhouse.

January, 2024

What do you do in the winter? I hear people ask Bryce this question a lot. Maybe it’s my defensive nature, but the way I hear it, the questioner often presumes Bryce leads a carefree winter life, storing up on naps, nonnutritive foods and TV shows to sustain him during the long, hard vegetable growing season. The truth is, if he had time to spare in the winter, more house projects would get done.

Jokes aside, I thought it would be fun to ask our crew what the work is like during the “dead” of winter. Turns out, there’s not much “dead” to it.

For Bryce, a notable characteristic is the role of choice. In the growing season, “everything you do, you have to do or else.” Outside of cold weather emergencies (temperatures so low that extra layers of protection are needed in the greenhouses, hoophouses and overwintering field crops), in the coldest months of winter, thinking, prioritizing and strategizing play a more prominent role. There’s always infrastructure that needs attention, ongoing greenhouse work, and all sorts of administrative work, but more than in the growing season “I get to envision what I want the year to look like, what changes we want to make, and focus on putting those things in process.”

Cait says she’s always amazed that “one little cardboard box of seeds” arriving in the mail in winter represents “an eternity of work.” But also, farming in the winter feels like “cheating” to Cait: “the greenhouse is full of onions. It feels so good to be warm in here, planting and talking, getting new things going – flowers we’ve never grown before. The week in January that was so cold and icy, I expected to come back and find everything dead. I was shocked and relieved to come back to all this green.”

Susan admits “It’s my favorite thing, really. I love all the seasons on the farm, but this is the most exciting time. To come in each day and watch things grow…it’s hardly exaggerating to say I know how many leaves are on each lisianthus start. I am really invested in each seedling.”

Carla experiences winter as a regenerative season, with its relative stillness energizing her for the next season. There is more time, for example, to make cookies and other nonnutritive winter treats with the grandkids.

For Lothar, winter means a lot of cutting firewood for the greenhouse boiler, to keep stuff alive. There’s some relief in things being less deadline driven, but “you can’t really relax, because it’s coming to get you.” Bryce echoed Lothar’s sentiment: “Beginning in January, there is this panic of looming birth that lasts until the first frost, the first death of fall. I’ve been at it long enough to know to resist getting caught up in the panic. But it’s there in the background.”

-Anna Baumann