One of the beauties and challenges of farm life is that you never really know what each day will bring. Between escaping critters, rogue chickens in the garden, unexpected weather events or human crises of one sort or another, something is always threatening to derail my best laid plans for the day. Still, most days fall into a familiar rhythm. So let me walk you through a spring day on the farm.
After getting everyone else off to work and school, my farming day starts by feeding the critters. The goats have likely been crying since they saw the first light go on in the house, as if we torture and *never* feed them. So they get their food first. The loudest of all, tiny Butterfinger, gets her bottle while the other jostle over some grain and Lespedeza pellets. It’s a bit like fending off a horde of velociraptors when I step into their pen with the grain bucket. While they eat, I refill their hay rack. Soon I’ll start milking two of the does, which will make feeding time even more chaotic!
Once the goats are settled I head to the pigs. The goats pale in comparison to the ravenous pigs. I dare not even step in their pen when I feed them, opting instead to dump the feed over the fence line while they fight over prime feeding position. Even a small pig is strong enough to knock me over. One time I tripped stepping into the pen and the bucket of grain spilled on me. I saw the hungry hogs running at me… I have never jumped up so fast in my life! Anyway, they’re sweet outside feeding time, but the expression “you eat like a pig” is an insult for good reason.
With the big animals settled I check on our rabbit and let the chickens out of the coop. The dogs and cats are usually last on my list to feed, being the most patient by far.
With the critters settled, it is time to check on the garden. I open up the greenhouse and water all the seedlings waiting for their turn to go into the garden. Then I open up the high tunnel. I usually take a walk past all the beds and stare at the bare ground or tiny seedlings beginning to emerge, as if my staring will bid them grow faster. Does what they say about a watched pot apply to seeds? Actually, checking my beds everyday is part of how I manage disease and pests. The close monitoring allows me to notice quickly the first signs of pest or disease pressure, so that I can address it before it becomes a problem. It only takes a day or two for something like flea beetles or squash bugs to go from minor issue to major infestation. I also take my trusty warren hoe and cultivate between the rows as I go. As with pests, it is much easier to knock back a just emerged weed with the hoe than to hand weed a bed that has gotten out of control with weeds.
With my daily rounds finished, I move toward planting and field prep. I spend most of the winter planning and preparing a spreadsheet that lays out my garden schedule for the year. This “Crop Master” is a massive spreadsheet (developed by Josh Volk of Slow Hand Farm) that would probably make your eyes glaze over, but it allows me to generate a list of tasks and dates for each garden activity. I print these out at the beginning of the season and then just follow the plan. Obviously things don’t always get done on the planned date, but eliminating that step of having to figure out what to plant and when during the rush of the spring season frees up valuable head space and decision-making capability.
At some point I break for lunch and then work on other projects around the farm in the afternoon. Right now this includes putting up fencing in the woods, improving our wash station, creating swales on the slopes of the garden, and prepping an orchard space. Obviously not all on the same day!
I knock off every day at 3 so I can meet the bus and then pick up Jake from daycare. A few farm chores happen in the evenings – another bottle for the little goat, closing up the chickens after dark, closing up the greenhouse and hoophouse, checking on water for all the critters. The kids might help me in the garden on a nice evening. But mostly the evenings are for the kids.
That’s it. Most of the magic here happens between 9-3 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays while kids are at school. Jake and I do a few little things on Tuesdays and Thursday, his “Mommy Days,” but mostly we play, run errands and try to tame the house (which definitely gets neglected). Bones helps with big projects on the weekends. It’s a lot, and I run pretty hard during those 18 hours of solo working time. But when I collapse, exhausted at the end of the day, it is with a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.