It’s Cold!

We’ve dropped into the teens at Leafhopper Farm! This is wonderful news, and a rough time of farming with animals. The good thing about this deep winter freeze, is that pest insects are getting knocked back, making the season next year a lot easier on our young plants. This does mean some beneficial insects will suffer too, but cold snaps are normal, and we do need them at least once or twice in winter. The bad news is- it’s cold, very cold, and water buckets are freezing, animals are stressed, the whole farm is in a stand still until things warm up again. It adds a lot of work to our plate during a time of “rest”- not a lot of growing going on- and to top it off, Liz has a cold, which does not make going out in the cold easier.

Luckily, WWOOFers are here to help, so things are not too stressful, but with more snow on the way, we’re a little worried about buildings collapsing from the weight of snow, so shoveling might start on the roofs soon. We have already had one casualty, one we knew was overdue on a structure that was already compromised…

The greenhouse was already struggling, and we had planned on rebuilding next year using metal frame to abate wind and snow. The storm this last week was enough to prove the point; plastic pipe cannot hold up in bad weather. That’s a well known fact about PVC construction, but we did get a whopping 5 years out of her, and know we do need a greenhouse, so the investment of a more complex system is now well understood, and we know the ins and outs of what the farm will need. That’s the important take away from our initial “pipe dream”.

Since we’re expecting another storm at the end of this week, precautions are being taken, and everyone now knows what snow on the farm means. Hopefully with this second snow, we go back up into the 40s and melt it all away, this will be a good thing for our pond, and great slow drip watering for all the trees, who are struggling with hot summer drought. We’ll also be watching the snow load on our other structures. Here in Western Washington, snow is rare, and a lot of buildings to not have the construction to hold heavy snow, so we’ll be watching our roofs closely.

For the livestock, this freeze is a challenge, but we’ve moved goats and sheep into the old stalls, where they will receive better shelter (complete enclosure) and a sturdy roof- for a shed! We’ll have to go directly to the well house to fill water buckets, but that’s ok, so long as the water keeps flowing at the source. Thankfully, we are small enough an operation to easily do this by hand, I cannot imagine large farms being able to keep up with this without added stress. I actually enjoy the slow down; it gives me a chance to study systems and plan for the future.

Again, we’re all fine here at the farm, and even the cats are thriving, though they are not happy about the snow on their paws. Cold! Many of you who come from much colder places may laugh at what we Western Washingtonian’s consider cold and snow, but to a temperate rain-forest ecology like this, a week of teens where we don’t get above freezing is out of the norm, and a real game changer for our overall forest ecology. If this keeps up, you are going to see major change in this region within our lifetime. Though I’ve spent a lot of time in New England, where winters are long and harsh, I chose to live here in Western Washington, and to farm, in a region that is hospitable in winter. Hopefully this is a rare continuance, and we can get back to our milder winter weather soon.

To give a final bit of reflection- last week cherry trees were blossoming and crocuses were popping up. Now we are in a deep freeze, and a lot of the young buds of Spring are dead. This might have a major impact on the spring bloom, especially our fruit trees. But that could be the new norm here at Leafhopper Farm. With smart design, and good observation, we’ll continue to evolve with the natural world around us, learning what is possible, and when to plan for the unexpected. For all those experiencing unusual cold this winter, stay safe and warm, we’re with you!

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