If you’re keeping track, you may have noticed a lull in the to-do list in December. It wasn’t intentional, but it did end up being appreciated. At the beginning of the month we were still running a little behind on November’s to-dos. And by the middle and end of the month, when we’d wrapped those items up, we were drowning in holiday (and other) commitments. The half-written list in my drafts here tells me I attempted to make progress on the 18th, but it was not meant to be. And that was just fine. By Christmas it was frigid out and we’ve all been hunkered down to ride out the arctic blast since.
As of the writing of this post the local weather man says we should reach the balmy mid-twenties by Sunday. And both accuweather’s extended forecast and the December 21 release of the Climate Prediction Center’s temperature probability maps seem to agree that, while we’ll remain below “average” for the next month, we may not have to suffer the same magnitude of cold again this season. At least not in extended fashion. What’s more, they also both seem to agree that we should expect the sort of prolonged springtime that’s come to represent our new normal.
Of course any sort of weather forecast is risky business, and the further in advance we try to predict the riskier it gets. Fortunately — or not, depending on how you look at it — in our line of work risky speculation is sometimes the bulk of the information we have to inform our decisions so we’re comfortable sallying forth with a handful of educated guesses and a heaping spoonful of “time will tell.” We’ll plan a January in which we survive and a February filled with hope and then see what Mother Nature brings our way.
Place the First Seed Order of the Season
This is actually already done. I spent the first day of the year finalizing early-season planting plans and selecting varieties for spring growing. Seeds for starting in January are on their way to us now. Normally I order all of our seed at once, but the December lull put me a bit behind schedule and our plans for the lengthened season made it necessary to get an order for the earliest starts in now. I’ll go back over plans and finalize the rest of the year’s plans for a second order later.
Start Early Seeds
January will officially kick off the growing season here, when we start onion seeds mid-month. Onions are slow growing — 98 days for the particular “early” heirloom variety we’re focusing on this year, 120 or more for many others — and frost-tolerant which means we have to get them started early in order to be ready to set them out early come spring. They’ll be quickly followed by other early-season and long-growing crops like spinach, celery, and sugar peas.
Assemble & Place The Rest of the Seed Order for the Year
Much of the planning stage here is done, too. We know what we’re growing, we just need to do the math to figure out how much. Half of this math is all about what we’ll need, the other half is creatively fitting that amount into the space we have available. I’ll write more on that later.
Finish 2017 Year-end Paperwork & Taxes
I don’t know a farmer who enjoys the paperwork and office work that goes along with running an operation of any size or type. It’s one of those unfortunate necessities in life. I’m waiting on a bit more documentation for this, but expect to have the bulk of the work on it done by February 1. This way, it’s out of the way before nice weather sets in and I don’t want to be bellied up to a desk indoors anymore.
Set Priorities for the Year
Much to my constant chagrin, we cannot do everything at once. In fact, we can’t even manage a fraction of a fraction of everything at once. Instead, each year, I take a look at the master list of goals and try to mix and match big and small tasks that will move us towards our vision of this little slice of Michigan while also being realistic about our wherewithal for the coming months. If I try to grow more feed, either for humans or animals, I won’t have as much time for construction projects like housing and fencing. If I do more housing and fencing I won’t be able to keep up with growing as much. And then there’s the issue of weather – so many things we need to accomplish are time sensitive. Once set, you’ll begin to see these priorities showing up among our monthly to-dos.
Set Herd Health Schedule & Protocols for the Year
Not much changes year-to-year in how we manage the health of our animals. So much of what we do is age-old — sunshine is nature’s disinfectant, fresh air its respiratory disease prevention, plenty of water its constant cleanse. We can’t depend wholly on sunshine, quality air, and a cool, clear well though. While direct sunlight is a great virucide, for instance, it doesn’t excel against bacterias and it can’t penetrate soil or bedding or crevices in buildings. And while fresh, quality air is important in reducing the risk of respiratory illness, it can’t single handedly prevent any illness from ever occurring. We also have to keep on top of vaccinations and parasite control and practice efficient biosecurity for all the different species in our charge. In the first weeks of the year I’ll make sure we have reminders set for vaccine boosters so we don’t miss any opportunities for prevention. I’ll also look at new research, speak with our vet to make sure we’re on the same page, and double-check our stock of health supplies to make sure we have everything we might need.