Ah, spring on the farm. Oh, wait. I mean midwinter. I mean spring. I mean midwinter.
It’s itchy-trigger-finger time on the farm. And I don’t mean the kind of itchy trigger finger one gets by reading NRA pamphlets about President Obama coming to take away your guns. The question is, to plant or not to plant? Is it time to throw the peas in the ground? Or are they going to freeze out? Do I gamble with my time and losing the seed cost? Or do I play it conservative and wait?
Wild fluctuations in weather, from zero degrees to 70 degrees in 30 hours, are a fairly normal thing around Missouri in wintertime. But these kinds of weeks confirm the genius of mixed-species perennial pastures. When healthy, these pastures green up during in-between periods and provide a break from stored hay and forages. Goats and sheep and cattle get to benefit from the surge in growth.
These fluctuations are also great confirmation of “new” technologies for the vegetable grower. The high tunnel, hoop house, or cold frame helps cold-tolerant greens, spinaches, and more take advantage of the warmer air and growing sunshine without the damages caused by intense periods of moisture.
Thanks be to Eliot Coleman for bringing this message to the masses of farmers and farmer-wannabes. It is with these “technologies”— both the resilience of perennial mixed-species pastures and the genius of pairing cold tolerant crops with passive solar greenhouses — that innovative farmers hope to rebuild the food system.
My main concern is that these conditions of fluctuation are growing to be more common. There’s more carbon in the atmosphere from greenhouse gases. There’s more climate variability. There’s more flux in the air. That makes it hard in winter (oh, wait, I mean spring — well, now it’s winter again) to execute farming plans.
So instead, we wait. And waiting means worrying, at least when you’re trying to figure out how to eek out a living off the land.
Bryce Oates is a farmer, father, writer, and rural economic development entrepreneur. He works with his family to raise organic vegetables, beef, lamb, chickens, goats and manage the bottomland forest woodlot in Western Missouri. He has helped to launch numerous social enterprises, including a sustainable wood processing cooperative, a dairy goat cheese processing facility, and a conservation-based land management company that incentivizes carbon sequestration in forests and grasslands. Bryce currently co-owns the Root Cellar Grocery in Downtown Columbia, Missouri, a local food store that operates a weekly produce subscription program called the Missouri Bounty Box. Bryce, along with 135 other farmers, sells his produce through this program.
PHOTO: RYANBSCHULTZ, COURTESY OF CREATIVE COMMONS ON FLICKR