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Tell me: What does Douglas Orchard & Farm do in winter?

The answer is plenty. When you drive by the farm in the winter and see the brown fields and skeletal orchards, one may assume nothing is going on.

Despite what it looks like, winter is an important time on the farm, not only to prepare for the coming season but also for the time of sleep that provides a time of renewal for the orchards. During the winter, Farmer Nick himself is anything but dormant. Behind the scene activities include planning in four major categories: the livestock, plantings, care of the orchard and agri-tourism events.

Livestock includes the chicken and ducks for egg laying—and for meat: chickens, turkeys, pigs and lambs. This month Farmer Nick orders the chicks and ducklings to insure he has a consistent egg laying flock. The care of the egg laying chickens and ducks during these cold winter months is important, no matter the weather. They need to have fresh, not frozen, water and plenty of food and forage. For 2020, he plans to have multiple batches of meat chickens and has to strategically plan for their arrival dates. He will contact the farms where he gets our lambs and piglets to make sure they will be available in the spring.

The planning for what crops Farmer Nick will plant happens now. First, he must decide what vegetables and fruits to plant. Through the previous growing season, he had taken notes on what plants grew well, those that got diseases, vegetables that were popular—as well as which ones our customers may have requested that he hadn’t planted. He then will order the seeds; some of the seeds are ordered from on-line companies. Others are harvested here over the growing season; these seeds become more acclimated to our farm’s specific environment every year they are grown and collected. It is extra hard to know what to expect of each planting season as each year brings different challenges: the weather, insects and disease—and more so, since Farmer Nick does not spray his vegetables at all. He then decides what seeds need to be started in the greenhouse—or need to wait for direct planting in the high tunnel. Even in the winter, plants are available for sale in the high tunnel, such as kale, radishes, cilantro and chickweed. Farmer Nick will also be starting transplants that he will sell to our patrons who wish to enjoy the experience of planting their own gardens.

The most strategic and physically taxing is the pruning of both the apple and blueberry orchards. First off,  Farmer Nick is following the outside temperature, wishing for cold weather and snow. Sustained low temperatures bring a state of dormancy. With growth temporarily halted, the plants can reserve their energy for new growth. It is only during this time that he can safely prune the bushes and trees. With the blueberry bushes, he is still fighting off the ever-persistent strangling bittersweet vines, while cutting off old growth to promote new growth. The apple trees need yearly pruning from overgrowth before he bought the farm. If you have apple trees, blueberry bushes or just an interest, Farmer Nick will be offering a pruning class. Pruning increases plant vigor and fruit production.

To financially sustain the farm, we must find ways to first create awareness and then bring people here. This is where agri-tourism kicks in. The winter is the time to set the dates for our farm events: Mushroom Inoculation, Douglas Farmer’s Market, the Blueberry and Apple Festivals and the Summer Concert series. All vendors and bands are contacted so all will be ready for a lively time; people can see what we do here—and all that the farm has to offer.

Now you know what we are doing these cold winter months. Stop in to say “hi” as the farm’s Country Store is open 10am-4pm, Saturday and Sunday all winter. 

To learn more about the farm and events for 2020, please visit douglasorchardandfarm.com. (also on Facebook and Instagram: douglas_farm_life).