Wooly Girls - our Angora goats

Farm & Field: November & December

This is my final monthly review of the farm for 2014, combining the months of November and December. November starts out with a hard push to get the fields ready for winter before the rains render the fields too wet to enter with the tractors.

Canada geese in corn maze field
Canada geese in corn maze field

After a couple of weeks the workload slows down considerably, and I switch modes to winter maintenance and planning and preparing for the next farm year.

The farm closes on the last day of October, with the Pumpkin Patch, Corn Maze, Farmyard, Farmstand, and Farm Tour all set up for the last and final visitor. On the first working day after closing we start the mad rush to take everything down and put it away, prepare the fields for winter, clean and store gear and equipment, and generally tidy things up. Meanwhile the rains keep coming and the fields saturate with water. At some point we decide that we risk sticking the tractor in the mud. We hope that we have finished all the field work before that day arrives. When all is done I take the field crew out to lunch and we say our farewells until next April, when we start working on the next year.

In November our human visitors are gone, but the wildlife stays on. Mowing the Corn Maze is always a big hit with the birds, as you can see in the photograph above. In early November a bit of color still lingers here and there. Brian’s blueberries still hold on to their red leaves in the photograph.

Lavender Labyrinth in November gloom
Lavender Labyrinth in November gloom

Then the farm settles down to the mostly gray damp gloom of winter, punctuated by brilliant sunny days and rain storms. Most of the plants have gone dormant for the winter. Here in the Lavender Labyrinth the lavender and rosemary plants wait for Spring to arrive. We quite often see morning and evening fog in the valley, spreading out from the Sammamish River, just a short way away. The fog at least adds a bit of visual interest to the bare landscape.

Lucy on a frosty morning
Lucy on a frosty morning

The goats and alpacas adapt well to the change of weather.We give them shelter from the rain and wind, and plenty of food and ice-free water to drink. The goats run for shelter when the rain comes, but the alpacas stay outside except in the most violent storms. The Angora goats and alpacas have woolly coats that would keep them comfy in much colder climates than ours. The alpacas are particularly well protected. It is fun to see fresh snow resting on our alpaca’s back, insulated by his thick fleece from his body heat.

I make notes and plans year round, but November is really the start of my planning cycle. For many folks the scheduling of Thanksgiving in November may seem a random choice, but for us on the farm the choice is natural. November is our first chance to slow down, take a break, and reflect on a year’s work and successes on the farm.

Sundial Selfie on a sunny morning
Sundial Selfie on a sunny morning

December is quieter. The rains keep me working mostly indoors. In addition to the daily animal chores, I find something to work on each day outdoors, if only for a little while. It is much too easy to put tasks off for a more convenient time or for more pleasant weather. We do see some beautiful days in December. Of course the clear sky days are usually also the cold days. Here is my first published selfie. There is still frost on the grass in the shadows. I took this photograph at 10:34 am and you can see that the sundial is correct.

Our new mini-greenhouse for winter.
Our new mini-greenhouse for winter.

I have been wishing for a heated winter greenhouse. This year we build a little greenhouse inside one of our hoophouses. I added a little electric heater controlled by a plug thermostat. It comes on when the temperature drops below 40°. To keep the greenhouse from overheating, I added a small fan controlled by another plug thermostat that triggers when the temperature rises above 80°. This simple arrangement has been surprisingly effective at keeping the temperature within range. Inside the mini-greenhouse I have goji berry cuttings and tea-plant cuttings and seedlings. I also have some parsley seedlings started, just because the seeds were on hand when I set up the mini-greenhouse. The goji berry plants have just started to leaf out. Unfortunately, the tea plantlets froze in their pots just days before we built the mini-greenhouse setup. I cannot yet tell if the tea plants will recover. In any case, while the rest of the farm plantings are dormant, I enjoy having some growing plants to tend.

Some of my favorite seed catalogs
Some of my favorite seed catalogs

Seed catalogs start showing up in November, but they keep arriving into December. Here are my four most-used catalogs. Clockwise from the top: Johnny’s Seeds, Seed Saver’s Exchange, Fedco Seeds, and Osborne Seed. I order from all these. I have favorite varieties in each. I can spend hours with seed catalogs, jumping back and forth, comparing offerings, and making lists. And the best part of it all is – it’s my job!

Alpaca and Angora goats moved to new grass
Alpaca and Angora goats moved to new grass

This year before the holidays we took a week away to visit family back in Ohio. Many thanks to Teresa and Andrew for watching over the animals while we were away. When we got back we moved the critters to the hillside paddock for the rest of the winter. The ground there is drier. The grass had been killed back by earlier frosts, but there was fresh grass to be found. We like having the two different animal enclosures so we can give each a rest for a time.

There is always something important to do on the farm, but November and December are the time we take to reflect on the year, celebrate the season, and start making plans for the next year. On those wet gray days it is good to sit down with a cup of tea and think about lavender, sunflowers, and pumpkins.