What a Farmer Does in Winter

Mount Currie is even more breathtaking in winter – I still haven’t tired of this view.

The days are cold (at least by some people’s standards) and short. Darkness comes early, and a favourite activity is to read by the wood stove while drinking endless cups of tea. That’s right, it’s wintertime.

And while farming has ceased for me in the typical sense of the word, it is not as though there is nothing to do. With about a foot of snow on the ground, fruit and veggie farmers are relieved of regular farm duties, but there is always next year to plan for – and for many farmers, the planning stage of the game is a critical part of things, giving a farmer time to think about things that went right (or wrong) and how to improve upon the year before. Things like timings of plantings, as well as varieties and amounts of veggies planted is reviewed and changed if needed or desired. Research may be done, and different farm management strategies put into place for the season to come. Seed catalogues are poured over, and after much deliberation, seeds are ordered. Such is the stuff of a farmers’ winter.

It is really quite a lovely time of year, and this year, I am also doing some planning for my medicinal herb growing venture, which, for lack of a better name but with a desire to name it nonetheless, I have called Ariella’s Herbals. And so I have perused seed catalogues looking for such unusual seeds as skullcap, or white sage – they are not quite as easy to come by as carrots or zucchini seeds, for example. I have also poured over the fantastic book I bought last summer when I started considering this opportunity, a book that has, in a way, become my guide for all things herb farming called The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer by Jeff and Melanie Carpenter, who run the successful Zack Woods Herb Farm in Vermont.

Using that book as well as my own ideas, I have been coming up with ways to keep records on the seven medicinal herbs I will be growing next year. I have charts for the planting and growing of each, as well as spreadsheets which will, hopefully, tell me how profitable each is in the end. I have been thinking about timing and amounts, both of which are, admittedly, a bit of a shot in the dark for me this year, having never grown any of these plants on a large scale before.

What winter also allows a farmer, in addition to a possible non-farming winter job, is more time to pursue other interests. In my case this year, I’ve been trying to enjoy the great snowy outdoors somewhat, despite the fact that I do not downhill ski or snowboard, and have no real intention of starting any time soon (the result of a somewhat serious knee injury several years before). Luckily, I did manage to buy a pair of snowshoes, as well as some used vintage skates that fit me perfectly. I also live with two dogs who are always keen to go for a walk and who love the snow.

And so, in between drinking tea and reading novels, researching soil health and planning for next year; in between baking and eating tourtière, drinking wine and eating chocolate; in between working at the local coffee shop and watching movies, I have also gotten outside in the frosty, snowy, sometimes sun-filled days, to engage in my first “real” winter in almost two decades!

Skating on Gates Lake with roommates and friends.



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