Today was more typical of Oregon than this winter has been so far. Cold rain. That’s what I have come to expect on a daily basis from Nov- May here but for most of this winter I have been pleasantly surprised with sunny warmish days through December and January. Today it was back to normal. Sideways intermittent rain and hail. The perfect weather to pick carrots in.
An order came in from my free ranging chef pal Jonathan Hoffman for a private dinner he is preparing for 12 folks. Since our overwintering carrots have been under row cover in the lower field and have slowly kept growing and becoming sweeter due to the frosts, I recommended he get some. Of course that meant I actually had to suit up in my rain gear and drive over to the lower field to examine what condition the row covers were in and find some carrots growing under all the happy chickweed (which is just loving the protection of those low hoops.) The 140 ft row of Napoli ( the Elliot Coleman’s famed candy carrots) were in decent shape. A bit weedy and some had been snacked on by hungry critters (voles?) but there were still plenty of nice orange carrots in there. They were started late- about the beginning of September, and I was curious to see how they would overwinter and if they would just get bolty and bitter. Perhaps they will in a month or two- but I intend to start selling them off now to make room for other plantings. The carrots did require some loosening with a shovel because Napoli tops are not as strong as other varieties and my clay soil can hold onto carrots, but the row covers had kept the soil much drier and easier to work. I will use this less rain drenched soil to my advantage for some early planting once the carrots are out. The row covers will remain on until we are ready to work up the beds as they will continue to dry and warm the soil. Maybe once the carrots are gone I’ll even run some lucky chickens under the hoops to enjoy a nice snack of chickweed. They can do some weeding for me and add wonderful color and nutrition to their egg yolks in the process.
Once the carrots were done I took some measurements of the field for my crop maps. I am figuring out where all the crops will be planted over the season, keeping in mind when they will be harvested, what crop family they are in (similar nutrition, insect and weeding needs) and rotations with cover crops and chickens etc. It’s a lot to consider with 2 acres. I measured out 45 or so beds 30 at 100′ and 15-17 at 140′ depending on which side of the field they are on. This leaves room to keep some areas under cover crop and some in flowering plants that will attract beneficial insects. It was still raining pretty hard so I headed back up to the main farmstead with my muddy carrots in hand and my farm plans swirling in my head. Next was chicken and duck chores!
Every 48 hours I add fresh layers of straw to both our duck and chicken houses. I fill up their feeders, check for clean water, collect eggs, clean the nests up and wash the duck swimming pool out and refill it with clean water. This is a pleasant chore for me. I like interacting with the birds. I have heard some people call chickens and ducks stupid but I would argue that they have enough intelligence to live in harmony with each other and with nature (something we humans still can’t seem to figure out). The chickens are dinosaurs and they are fascinating to watch. They are very different from the ducks, which feel very homey to me and are more a natural part of our ecosystem here on the Oregon coast. They could go wild and do just fine (once they lost some weight and got to flying!)
The ducks love the rain. The chickens do not. Ducks lay all winter long and in the night so the eggs are ready in same spot each morning. Chickens lay an hour later each day until they fall asleep and start the cycle over again at first light. They lay in nesting boxes but also love to find secret outdoor spots to have nests as well. Both are free roaming during the day and carefully shut in at night to keep them safe from our resident raccoon gang. Every so often we lose one but for the most part we have been holding the flocks at 30 for chickens and 7 for ducks (we lost 8 ducks over this past year so I am ordering more ducklings this spring).
I also harvested some chard, kale and collards for Jonathan today. As I uncovered the swiss chard rows to see how they were managing to overwinter I found many of them had resprouted and were loaded with healthy new leaves. These plants had a hard cut worm problem last fall and were pretty beat up but I covered them anyways just to see what they would do when spring came- the potential being fresh chard a month or two earlier than you could get from a spring planting. If they had been healthier to begin with they might be producing more now but I am still pleased to see them chugging along and to send some home to my CSA in next week’s “a la carte” boxes. I am selling some early boxes to my CSA next week featuring overwintering baby beets, Napoli carrots, salad mix, bunched kale and chard, storage onions and winter squash- oh and a dozen eggs of course!
One final note! I was harvesting today with my new wicked amazing handcrafted knife done for me by my friend and primitive skills teacher Patrick Farneman. It is designed after a traditional women’s Viking knife and made from an old iron bed frame with blacksmithing. I feel like such a bad ass cutting chard with this! I really should be battling hordes of invaders like Xena warrior princess with a knife this cool but I guess for now chard and kale will do.