by Ryan Foxley of Arlington, WA
photos by Joe D. Finnerty
As I write these words I have the distinct feeling that I have been placed in a snow globe and turned upside down. Huge white flakes are swirling, twirling and rapidly turning our perennial green to a blanket of white. It is beautiful, made all the more so by its rarity. It is possible I’m told, to go through a whole winter in Western Washington without snow, though I have not yet witnessed it, so I have my doubts. This winter though, is supposed to be cold and wet. La Nina is busy out in the Pacific cooling things off and sending loads of moisture our way. After the ease with which we coasted through last year’s mild winter I don’t expect anything less than a humdinger this year, full of cold, damp and snowy conditions.
With grazing all finished for the year, the decision has been made to feed the cattle out in the field rather than in the barn. If we are meticulous we can gradually move the feed line each day so the entire field will be easily manured by spring without ever lifting a manure fork. Let the cattle spread their own, I say. Daily winter-feeding is also a great way to keep a team fit and tuned up over the long winter months.
With the snowstorm passed and clear skies above, bitter cold temperatures have settled in. It was 9 degrees F as measured out my back door on the day before Thanksgiving. Very cold and unusual for here, especially this early in the year. You may rightly say “Nine degrees? That’s nothing! The mercury routinely sinks to 40 below here in Northern Minnesota” or Western Wyoming or any number of other chilly northern climes. I agree that we enjoy relatively mild, if damp winters here. But the important thing when considering extremes of temperature is to bear in mind what is normal for a particular area. Expectations, standards and methods of winter readiness are necessarily different for different parts of the country. At Crow Creek Farm back in Wyoming, 9 degrees would not have been cause for any concern whatsoever. It would’ve been just another routine winter day. Of course certain preparations would have been carefully made: potatoes and carrots tucked away in the root cellar, frost free hydrants buried to 6 feet, hoses disconnected, garlic beds mulched and everything picked up and put away so as not to be lost in a perpetual blanket of snow.
So for our maritime locale a dip down into the single digits was ample cause for consternation. The cold dished up many surprises and challenges. The mangel crop, which grew so well last summer and was so productive, was hard hit, though fortunately not a total loss. Only about half of a fully-grown mangel root is in the soil; the other half extends up above ground level. The roots exposed to the air froze solid, turning from a lovely pink to a mushy white. Most of the tops were killed and drooped down over the beets like a damp bedraggled wig. Those few mangels that survived will be dug and grown out next year for seed. Hopefully we can capitalize on the incredible cold hardiness demonstrated inthe handful of survivors. Carrot tops also froze down though the roots developed an extra sweetness and were no worse for the wear.