One of the most common questions I hear from people visiting Common Ground is “What do farmers do in the Winter?” While I’d love to say “We go on vacation to warm places!” this is only sometimes true. The Winter is a great time to take some well deserved time off, but more often than not, it almost feels as busy as the Summer.
Having animals is one of the main reasons farmers stick around in the Winter. We spend a lot of time making sure our animals are warm, fed and cared for even in cold weather. Our Ducks, Turkeys and chickens have fat and grow in extra down feathers to keep themselves warm. Although chickens can get frostbite and respiratory issues, if they have good ventilation in their coops to keep down dust and moisture, they are usually pretty comfortable in cold weather. We’re still getting chicken, duck and turkey eggs everyday!
Our sheep obviously have nice thick winter fleeces, but our goat, Stuart can get cold. He’s older and his coat isn’t as warm as sheep wool. All goats do grow a little cashmere (maybe you own a cashmere sweater?). Some are bred to have more of it though, and Stuart isn’t one of them. We give him a little help with a stylish winter jacket. Many people who raise goats and sheep have three sided shelters, so they stay warm, but their shelters are open to the air. To keep them warm, we make improvements to their shelters by laying down thick bedding, and making sure they have heated water troughs that won’t freeze when the temperatures get below freezing. Our animals can’t feed themselves, so we are there everyday, no matter the weather, to make sure they have fresh food and water.
While most of our field is resting under the snow for the Winter, at Common Ground, we still have food growing in our High Tunnels. High Tunnels are unheated greenhouses that keep the air a few degrees warmer than outside. There’s spinach, lettuce, kale and more growing very slowly that we harvest in December and February for our school cafeteria and kids field trips.
In December and January, we break out the seed catalogs and look back at our records to see what did well and what we should change for the next season. I like to get my seed orders in by February before things sell out and while last season is still fresh on our minds.
Winter is also a time for educating ourselves and planning for what we will teach others. We take the time to research tricky crops, catch up with fellow farmers and go to conferences. A crew of High School Seniors started planning what they want to teach our underclassmen in Animal Crew this Spring. We’ve also been sitting down with the folks from The School Garden Resource Center to plan a really exciting day of Farm and Garden Intensive Workshops on April 7. Stay tuned for details!
Interested in other learning opportunities? Check out the Solid Ground Farmer Training being hosted on our campus by The UCONN Extension and their team of professional farmers. New Haven Housing Services is also offering it’s popular Grow It! Gardening Series which caters to gardening enthusiasts of all experience levels.