Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Ann Larkin Hansen shows that typically mundane tasks like record keeping and planning can be a satisfying process that can help you reflect on the successes of the year before. Chapter eight in her book, The Organic Farming Manual, covers the importance of record keeping to maintain a successful farm. Check out this great blog post to see the successes that Ann saw last year.
The Farming Year Begins
“To everything there is a season” and January is definitely the season for paperwork. I need to compile last year’s farm records – receipts, records, and notes - into the big ring binder that holds the diary of all our farming years here. Then I’ll know what got accomplished – or not – in 2011, which is the starting point for planning for 2012.
Once all the paper is in a pile and I start putting things in order, the high points of the year play back in my mind. After 30 years of digging the garden by hand (I know, I’m crazy) I finally bought a rototiller last spring and took it on its maiden voyage last May. Wow. I love good machines.
Summer was wet, wet, wet, and the result was the most massive first cutting of hay we’ve ever had – beating our previous record by 50%! The only problem was losing a roller bearing and the internal race on a roller on the round baler. Fortunately I was able to hire a neighbor to finish the baling, and then it took another neighbor and I two weeks to figure out first, what was wrong, second, how in the heck you get 6-foot long steel tube out from under the belts at the top of the baler without killing yourself or dropping it through the inside of the machine, and third, how to get it all back together once we got the right part. This involved two old wagon tongues, some logging chains, a tow rope, and some precise maneuvering.
Our adopted miniature donkeys, Bob and Charlie, looking for breakfast
Fall was warm and dry, and we had a terrific apple crop. As always we applied a little Tom Sawyer psychology to entice all available friends and relatives out to help pick:
“Experience real farm work! Learn to press cider! And avoid bees!”
We added in a campfire and some food, and managed to get all the apples picked, a ton of cider made, and have an excellent party. In fact, this event has become quite a beloved tradition in the family. Except for the bees.
The sad part of fall was selling the beef herd. But this spring we are replacing them with dairy heifers, belonging to our good friends whose grass-fed organic dairy operation has outgrown its pasture base. This will work great for me and for them: My pastures need livestock to stay productive and healthy, and I am getting old enough where I’d like a little help in the barnyard when it’s time to work cattle. I’ve enjoyed the winter off, but miss seeing the cattle out in the pasture.
Which brings me to making plans for the coming year. This is where the farming year really gets started, in the middle of winter, with reviewing how things went last year so I can figure out what needs to happen this season. In the orchard, I’ve decided to get rid of the two pear trees since they are stingy bearers and the fruit is not very good. It was a chance growing pears this far north but I thought I’d give it a try. I guess this experiment is over. I’ll replace them with cherry trees, I think.
The fields need lime, but the soil test shows I’m okay for other nutrients. My friend who helps with haying in exchange for part of the crop also spreads all his manure on my fields, since he doesn’t have fields, and he got 15 of 30 acres covered last fall.
Lastly, the fences need some attention before the heifers get here. There are some broken wires and missing clips, a couple corner braces to re-work, and a stretch through some low ground that needs to be cleared of brush. I work on this a little every morning after chores, while the dogs check for new tracks. In the afternoons I head for the woods, hoping to get as many pines thinned and as much prickly ash cleared as possible before the spring thaw, when woods work gives way to farming.
These Rhode Island Red chickens mind the snow less than any others I've ever raised.
For more great tips on starting and running a successful certified organic farm, check out The Organic Farming Manual.