It is a term I was not familiar with before I became a farmer; this ‘Overwintering.’  As our season concluded near the end of October, it was time to plant garlic, red shallots, and onions for spring reawakening – they will overwinter through rain, cold, snow and reduced light – kind of like us humans.  In my past corporate life, I became very accustomed to the quarterly and yearly ‘Rhythm Of the Business’. Between quarterly business reviews, annual strategy sessions, team-building offsites, industry trade-shows, partner conferences, sales kick-offs, mandatory trainings, performance appraisals and customer meetings, you knew where you were going to be most of the year in advance. There was no overwintering as I recall; the weeks around Christmas and New Year were pretty slow, unless you were in Sales or Finance or Operations and trying to get everything booked you could before the clock struck midnight.

Being a family farmer has its own rhythms – except they are mostly dictated by Mother Nature and are extremely variable and subject to the vagaries of weather or pests or things breaking. This year especially, I feel like we are also overwintering, and a bit of semi-hibernating, except there’s always stuff to do, but not like in the spring, summer or fall.  “Overwintering is the process by which some organisms pass through or wait out the winter season … that makes normal activity … difficult,” according to Wikipedia which makes sense. They go on to say that “hibernation and migration are the two major ways in which overwintering is accomplished.”  Animals may also go into a “reduced physiological activity known as torpor.”

Then I had to look up the word, “torpor” – which is animals conserving energy by reduced activity – e.g., being lazy and eating more. And honestly, that is how I feel, and it is strange to being in this reduced metabolic state, but it’s been so cold and foggy and cloudy and windy, and it’s hard to make oneself go outside and do some necessary repair or other planting work.  I find myself waking up later (in synch with later sun-up), taking more naps (I’m a good nap-taker anyway), eating more (and protein craving), less steps (thanks Fitbit), watching more Netflix (and wondering why so many shows are uninteresting?), and being a bit more grumpy (curmudgeonly ?). 

The many hundreds of garlic, shallots and onions planted do not seem to mind the winter; in fact, they thrive on it and need the cold to harden them for the warm months – literally they are called ‘hardnecks’.  Come March their little green shoots will be reaching for a warming sun, and they are ahead of any of the tomato, pepper or cucumber starts, though not ready for harvesting until June (for the garlic scapes) and August for the bulbs. But they are relatively ‘low-maintenance,’ except for weeding – and a good blanket of mulch helps keep the young’uns protected. They just need time.

From a newbie farmer’s perspective, it seems like there is both energy-conservation in the winter, but it is also the only time of the year to kind of catch your breath and think about what you want to do in the coming year. October-December involves a lot of strategy and preparation work for the coming year that is critical to the success of the farm. One of the fun parts is going through the seed catalogs from the various suppliers like Johnny’s, Burpee, or Gurney’s and geeking out on the new carrots or pumpkins and analyzing what might do best in our area and what kinds we liked last year. Though we will not be germinating for starts and transplanting until mid-February (indoors), we must carefully choose and order seeds now as many of the most popular sell out quickly. We have prepared the beds with new soil, amendments like compost and calcium and letting them ‘sleep’ till the spring.

There are also so many other winter projects I should be doing from tree and bush trimming to irrigation to fence building, let alone the inside the farm-house projects that have been neglected for way too long. Maybe you can relate … most of the time I feel I “should be doing something,” when all I want to do is nothing. But that is not true either. Sorry, I can only watch or stream so much, and I want to feel more fulfilled at the end of the day by thinking I accomplished something; that I was productive. And when I have days like that, I feel much better. And then, I think about the forty-five years of corporate productivity and measurements and feedback and being told what to do, and I think: I’m learning to be happy in this semi-relaxing winter knowing months will pass quickly.

I think of our seasons now in terms of baseball. Spring training starts around mid-February (germination), growing and high season April to September, with playoffs (harvest) in October. From November until February, clubs decide which players (varieties) did well, where investments should be, and everyone is preparing for when spring has arrived, and they can get on the field and play. We also know that the athletes (farmers) who spent the winter training (preparing fields) and had goals for the coming years would do better than those who had not. 

So that is where I’m at. Balancing conserving my energy for next season, while preparing and planting, and also taking the time to enjoy the laziness and naps.