A Real Winter on the Farm

farm in winter 2014

Finally, a real winter! By which I mean a winter like the ones I remember from my childhood in the ’80s, with plenty of snow that stays on the ground for a long time. Enough for skiing and snowshoeing, enough so that you work up a sweat when you’re shoveling.

queen of the snow hill!

“So…what do you do in the winter, then?” I’ve been getting that question a lot in the last month or so. I like to answer, “Catch up on the weekends I missed during the growing season.” But really, there never seems to be a shortage of things to do.

The most urgent winter work on the farm is selling and delivering or shipping the beans and grains we grew during the previous season. This also means keeping the grain in good condition, climbing up to the top of the bins on nicer days to test the moisture and using fans as needed to move air through it.

We didn’t get all of our commodity-level grains sold before the snow came, which means we spent quite a bit of time preparing for truckers, and then plowing again (or having someone bigger plow) when the weather changed and they couldn’t make it.

preparing for grain shipment
Thank goodness for our farm supply co-op and their giant payloaders!

Whenever we could get out to the farm, we would spend some time checking on our crops and “livestock.”

wheat in march
Can you see the green of the winter wheat beneath the layers of snow and ice?

hives in winter
We shoveled out the beehives a couple of times, but only as much as necessary, as the snow acts as a nice insulator. Fortunately we had left an opening at the top of each one so that the bees could get out to do their business.

We also spent some time learning from experts, including a soil science seminar put on by Midwestern Bio-Ag, a webinar about dry bean production, and a talk by Seed Savers Exchange co-founder Diane Ott Whealy.


The MOSES Organic Farming Conference in LaCrosse at the end of February is always a highlight of our winter, and this year was no exception. Molly attended workshops that shared new research on perennial grains, heirloom small grains, and dry bean breeding. John delved even deeper into soil science, weed control, and equipment options.

These sources of inspiration carried us through the more hum-drum paperwork of winter. Taxes, cost accounting, budgeting, crop insurance, farmers’ market applications, organic certification, grant-writing. When we needed a break from those, we shoveled some more.

some perspective

Or moved some compost, ordered seeds, or shopped for “new” (used) equipment. We also started compiling a reading list on our website, partly for us and partly for you.

I was honored to be invited to participate in a panel at the Good Food Festival & Conference in Chicago, which had a focus on Ancient Grains this year. The lineup of speakers on my panel was pretty impressive:

ancient grains panel 2014_1

Andrea from Hazzard Free Farm (left), Vicki Nowicki, a long-time Seed Savers member, me, and Terra Brockman (right), founder of The Land Connection and author of The Seasons on Henry’s Farm.

Along with paperwork and shoveling, this “real” winter also gave us time to rekindle our seasonally-neglected friendships. A friend recently organized a Soup Swap get-together, where each person brought several quarts of frozen home-made soup and traded them for others’ soups. Trading took an entire evening and several bottles of wine, and I came home with a freezer filled with a lovely variety of soups for every mood and meal.

Continuing with the soup theme of the winter, I later cooked up several gallons of soup for one of my favorite events in Chicago, Soup and Bread at the Hideout. It’s a free soup dinner, open to everyone, at an unassuming bar in a funny little corner of the city. Any donations received are directed to a local charity, usually one related to food or hunger.

The theme for our soup night was “Mac vs. Cheese,” so I made a soup I called Grandpa Mac’s Minestrone with all the local ingredients I could muster, including our red beans, pasta made with our wheat, and a bunch of storage vegetables from our garden.

Grandpa Mac's Minestrone 2-5-14
Grandpa Mac’s Minestrone – photo thanks to Inspiration Corporation, the beneficiary of our soup night.

farmer talent show 2014

An upstart group of local farmer friends got together last year to start the Band of Farmers, a coalition of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms who joined forces to educate folks about CSAs. I worked with them through my side job as the coordinator of Earth First Farms’ organic apple CSA.

The group ended up creating a Farmer Talent Show, which I can assure you is just as awesome as it sounds. This year for the Second Annual talent show, I once again coordinated the Farmer Fashion Show act and modeled my quilted lined coveralls.

Some years we have done our frost-seeding in January or early February, but this year the snow didn’t melt until March, so we squeezed it in just before the warm weather hit. We’re also a bit behind our usual schedule on seed starting, but the onions are up and the slowpoke heirloom peppers are next on the list.

onion sprouts

The good news is that spring is on the way! But we sure have been enjoying having a real winter on the farm.

winter flooding

– Molly

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