Farm

Some of our “oopsie” summer lambs out in the snow.

Well, hello winter. You came so soon, just as I was admiring the leaves and the pumpkins. You arrived with your gray-skied cloak and whirling snow a month ahead of schedule. Seems like you didn’t want to waste any time to start your show in 2020.

I admit that your work has been pretty, with the white flakes lingering on the pines. Typically, when you first arrive, we can shrug off the flakes with a, “Well, it will melt soon.” But not this time. I see you’ve settled right in on the farm and made yourself at home. Would a nice cup of tea warm you up a little?

We’d been preparing for your arrival, watching the hillside for the proverbial six white horses when she comes, but a month early and you didn’t call first? The birds were telling us — they were flying south early. The leaves were telling us, turning early, but you even caught the leaves off guard. I can’t remember other years where there were so many leaves that have fallen on top of the snow because winter arrived in earnest before nature’s foliar nudity.

And, dear winter, while we’d been diligently preparing, we honestly weren’t quite ready yet. I know, we say that every year, but this timing was a bit exceptional. With that first snowstorm on the way and temps cold enough at night to insight the ground to begin freezing, our potato crop was still in the ground! Yes, the storage carrot patch had been duly covered in straw, but those potatoes would not have been pleased by your nipping bite, causing them to transform into a gooey stench that even pigs hardly enjoy.

But you were unswayed by our plight, so we bundled up and over two days dug and groped and grabbed and hauled the heavily-laden crates. Fortunately, a couple of years ago we learned how Kara could use the small skid-steer with the tined bucket to do the digging, while the rest of us scrambled about to spot and pick and golden and ruddy orbs. Aching and chilled were our hands in the cold soil, muddy and wet as the snowflakes came tumbling down around us. Our boots and pants were caked in mud as we knelt and crawled and clamored.

And yet we persisted, until two long days, 21 crates, and about 1,000 pounds of spuds were carried down into the root cellar on the steep old wooden staircase, where we laid out the wettest crates to help dry off the mud. It was one of those jobs no one looks forward to and everyone is glad when it’s finally done. Time for a hot soak and some ibuprofen!

But, you didn’t just come for a quick visit, winter. You’ve hung about the barns and coops, freezing waterers and making me scoop off inches of heavy snow from the tops of chicken tractors to keep them from caving in. You’ve danced across the pasture and made us shut tight the barn doors to keep the new lambs warm inside. I appreciate your enthusiasm, but can I make a recommendation for a nice place to vacation for a few weeks yet? I have a few more projects I’d like to finish!

Fortunately, one of the projects that was finished in time was additional winter housing for our heritage Kunekune pigs. Kara ingeniously designed run-in shelters for them built of palates, scrap lumber and tin roofs. The little porkers are quite happy in their straw-filled homes, soaking up the morning sun in their south-facing entrances and snuggling underneath the bedding at night.

I was not quite so ready, still cleaning out and preparing my winter coops. The birds are all off pasture and in the yard, but still in their airy summer homes. Brr! Thank goodness they’ve finishing their molt and have fresh feathers! So, winter, be a little kind today, as I’ll be out all day with a shovel and a broom making room for the hens and ducks to move inside. I know you’re eager to show us your magic and power, but you’re more than welcome to take it easy for a bit. I’m sure it was quite a trip from the North Pole!

And, dear winter, I know that your stay is inevitable. The snow is beautiful in its own purifying way. And if I can’t have the pretty fall leaves anymore, the whiteness helps abate the overpowering gray of what remains instead. And yet, dear winter, try not to be too excited, and let those of us with crops and animals have just a little space to butcher the Thanksgiving turkeys and dig the last of the rainbow carrots without too much hardship and travail.

I hope this letter finds you well and in a listening mood, winter. Seems odd to say I’ll see you down on the farm sometime, when you’re already here!

— Laura

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. She can be reached at 715-462-3453 or www.northstarhomestead.com.