Customers usually ask,
"What do you do during the winter?"
Well, the work pace slows, but we keep going. Our berry crops need to be bundled up for the winter,
Strawberries get weeded before the first frost and covered with straw after the first light frost, when the ground is frozen enough for the wagon to roll through with the mulcher but before the frost conditions that would harm their growth. Gary, the farmer, says it only takes a couple years before you start to feel when the timing is right for certain steps on the farm.
Raspberries and blackberries have to be pruned and mulched, meaning when that first bitter air starts biting and your brain disassociates from your digits, the tougher ones, not me-as I found out, keep one loader filling the wagon with mulch and driving the pony tractor, as it is too small to be taken seriously-but fits between the berry bushes just right, while the others unload the mulch with pitchforks, shoulders moving in not-so-synchrony as the steam of rotting wood, a beautiful smell, rolls over the wagon's edge, sinks, and disperses along the ground.
Apples have extended our market hours through almost the full winter. We finish harvesting the last varieties in November, spending a couple of weeks running them through the mechanized grading line to be washed and buffed and sorted by hand at the end of the conveyor. During this time we start cider production, a fresh batch every week. Our un-pasteurized cider means better flavor, but also fastidious sanitation of the equipment before and after clean-up. When we run out of apples in March or April we close the market for a bit before strawberries mid-May.
After the holidays comes respite to breathe, and create. Winter is a time for most farmers to pick up a second job, or craft. For Gary, woodworking takes a creative turn with reproduction of historic furniture; and mentoring workers who express interest in the opportunity to learn or hone the craft. For me, making jewelry is immersive, while adding a small extra income during the winter months. However, we take advantage of warmer days to prune the apple and peach trees. Every tree on our property will be managed many times throughout the season. In the winter they will be trimmed to preserve the coming fruit buds that pop on two year wood, while removing some vigorous upstart-one year wood- and the blockier unfruitful branches to let in more light and give space for harvesting and tractor access. While each variety presents itself differently, after a couple months your eyes and mind align and see the negative space necessary while preserving a balance of fruit dispersion on the tree for the coming season.
Happy New Year,