As Autumn Arrives We Shift Our Focus
We are still pleasantly surprised that we haven’t had our first frost. We came close last week when “frost warnings” were issued. But no killer frost … yet.
In fact, our thermometer hit 80-degrees on Wednesday! Knowing that it would probably be our last “summer” day, the entire ATF staff (and some friends visiting us) actually took a day off from field work and enjoyed an all-day swim in the river!
An old-timer recently offered his perspective on the current warm spell. He's convinced that the moon has an influence on weather patterns, and since we didn’t get freezing weather before the last full moon (10 days ago), we will have a few more weeks before the first frost hits!
But today is the first day of October, so with just a few weeks of harvesting left, we're following nature’s lead. Along with preparing the farm for the quiet weeks of winter, we're putting things in place so the garden is ready for planting with minimal work next spring. Yes, spring will be here before we know it – with its buzz of life and activity – so properly “tucking in the garden” will help us get a running start next season.
We have plenty of work to do and will be happy if the first big cold snap is that late in coming. We will just have to wait and see if the old farmer's prediction is right!
Garden Plants Are Growing Slowly – But Still Growing
As long as the days remain warm, the garden crops will keep growing, and we'll keep harvesting. Although the first signs of autumn are here -- some trees are beginning to change colors, and leaves are beginning to fall -- we see the first signs in our garden as well.
The crops we planted weeks ago are still providing plenty to harvest, and we think it is important to provide you with freshly-picked food as long as we can. Otherwise you'll have to eat the bland stuff at the grocery store that has been shipped from hundreds of miles away. Since our plants are still working hard, so are we.
In fact, we already have our low tunnels deployed. We use them to create long “tents” that can cover various crops. Not only do they capture the sun’s heat and energy (which keeps the soil and plants warm) but they also provide protection from chilly winds or the event of a frosty night.
By using them, we can keep things growing a little longer so we can provide our customers, members and friends with fresh-picked vegetables deeper into autumn.
Colder Can Mean Sweeter
If you like sweeter veggies, then the arrival of colder nights should make you happy.
You see, cold weather causes a natural bio-chemical process in certain crops that produces more sugar. Maybe you have already noticed that our carrots, turnips, kale and spinach are getting sweeter. These late-season vegetables should taste extra delicious as the temps keep dropping!
Pivoting To Property Projects
Last fall, our move to our new property was a considerable challenge. We had to finish the season on our old farm before we could shift our farming operation to the new property. While we could move some of our household items gradually, not so with our “farming stuff.”
Almost everything needed to remain at our old farm to the end of the season because it is used on a regular basis. Our garden tools. The washstand. Hoses. Baskets. Our greenhouse. The high tunnel. Work tables. Wheelbarrows. Storage containers. Fence posts and wire. The list goes on.
But this fall, without all that late-season chaos of moving, our work schedule allows us time to tackle end-of-season projects that will set the stage for next spring when it seems that everything has to be done all at once! Getting some done now is really, really helpful--its nice to NOT have a move on our to-do list!
One project we've already started is repairing the high tunnel that was damaged by high winds last spring. We were so overwhelmed with prepping the new garden beds, that the damaged high tunnel has remained untouched for months. Thankfully, it should be ready to house our laying hens before the first winter storms.
Looking ahead, we have several other important projects on our ‘to-do” list:
Winterizing the bake house so it is protected it from the harsh weather.
Roofing the gravity-fed feeding bins (they only have tarps covering them now).
Chopping several cords of firewood to help us keep warm all winter.
Clearing the saplings and ground shrubs that “invade” our pastures (they are sort of like “big weeds” that take over if left unattended).
Repairing the mobile chicken pens so they are ready early next spring.
Cleaning up the brooder so it is ready to receive the first batch of chicks.
And it’s time to cart away all the rocks we have “harvested” from the garden. They get tossed to the edge of the field all summer long, and we need to make room for next year’s rocks!
As the temperatures drop overnight, you don’t need to worry about our cows and chickens.
The cows are just like big outdoor dogs. As the winter approaches, they grow their own winter coats. As they acclimate, they just begin to look shaggier. Warm or cold, rain or shine, they just keep eating the grass and clover which they transform into some of the tastiest and nutrient-packed beef you can buy.
Of course, our chickens don’t have fur, but they do automatically grow more down feathers to keep warm. As long as they can find protection from any cold winds, they adapt to the changing seasons as well. Does their egg production suffer from the cold? Not all that much. It is more affected by diminishing sunlight. Shorter days means less laying. After we move them into the high tunnel, we can provide artificial light to try keeping their egg production higher.
But then... keep the chickens laying steadily has proved a tricky thing this season--its never a simple trick!
As for our great garden team, the cooler mornings and evenings sometimes require us to add a sweatshirt or light jacket. But we don’t grow our own coats, we just take ‘em off the rack in the back hallway! Thankfully, there is usually some warm sunshine as we finish our fieldwork and stop for dinner, so the darkness hasn’t affected our work either.