Reflecting on a year

Yesterday, I posted a photo on Facebook of a crate of split firewood. The sun had set & the last bit of light was quickly fading with perfect timing to the finish of my firewood chores.  That crate was the last of 18 stacks of wood that I made this year: 12 crates for heating at home, 4 crates for maple sugaring, 1 crate for the pizza oven and campfires and a final crate for the cabin during Christmas tree selling season.  My back feels every single piece of firewood but it also knows a satisfying sense of accomplishment.

With snow expected at the farm tonight, that last crate of wood marks the end of my seasonal farm chores, save for a few in preparation for selling trees in a couple of weeks.  At this time of year, I scramble to get the work done as those shortened days of sunlight and first blasts of winter cold alter what one can do in a day.  The autumnal equinox marks such a rapid change in light and weather that consistently surprises me year after year. With a farm and multiple buildings, it is inevitable that the work can never be done.  It seems that for every line crossed off the project list, I add two more.  For me, that crate of wood offers a point of reflection about where the time went — how could I possibly have been too busy to get to replacing the missing panes in the barn windows, mulch the fruit trees, weld the tractor loader bucket, sort through the lumber pile, or make a new tree cart, among so many other projects?

I know many people think that Christmas tree growing must be a breeze — you plant a tree and then a few years later, you cut it down — how much work can it be? When friends ask what I’ve been up to, it’s hard to answer:

“I’ve been working.”
“On what?”
“The farm.”
“What have you been working on?”
“Everything.”

You can see this conversation goes nowhere.  When I come home at the end of each day, this roundabout has become a ritual with Atlanta.

The work isn’t so bad.  After all, I spend most days outdoors, in the quiet, caring for the land and trees around me. I have more campfires and sleep outside more than the average adult, which kind of reminds me of being a kid.

So, when it comes down to it, this blog post is really for me.  Sometime next year, when I’m pulling out my hair trying to get work done, wondering where all of the time went, and questioning what I did last year, this can serve as a reminder. The list is far from comprehensive, not including mundane, but necessary activities like weekly accounting, bookkeeping and record keeping, for example.  From April through mid November, I often spend six days of each week working at the farm.

It would be a major omission not to mention my gratitude for all of the family and friends that come out to the farm over the course of the year to lend and hand.  An extra special thanks to Chris for help with milling and equipment maintenance, Lou for timber framing, Bill for mowing every week, Atlanta for miscellaneous tasks, but most importantly keeping me well fed, Willow for garlic planting and miscellaneous harvesting, Marlene (mom!) for tree planting and Rich & Karlene for all around digging, mulching, tractoring and splitting.  Rick (dad!), Beth, Scott, Dani, Jackie, Chris, Robin, Amanda, Christine — without your help during our open weekends, we couldn’t do it!

January 
Planning for the year
Ordering plants for spring
Record keeping
Taxes
Designing sugar shack, researching techniques and ordering tools

February 
Plowing
Tapping maple trees
Collecting sap

March
Collecting sap
Boiling syrup
Repairing Willow Brook Farm barn door

April
Finish boiling and bottling syrup
Christmas tree planting
Culling winter kill
Spring clean up across farm
Planting new fruit trees
Planting strawberries
Planting Kiwis
Dismantling New Harmony hoop house, donation
Digging field drainage
Selecting trees in forest for milling for sugar shack
Pruning permaculture fruit trees
Transplanting Christmas trees to fill gaps

May
Felling and skidding trees for sugar shack
Pruning apple trees
Prepping 2019 fields & layout
Planting Christmas trees (1200 this year, almost all myself due to weather delays)
Laying out 2021 fields
Prepping 2020 fields
Sowing clover 2019 fields
Mowing tree blocks weekly
Repairing farm road, 10 trucks of gravel
Cleaning up road frontage
Mulching garlic and strawberries
Milling sugar shack lumber
Prune peach trees
Cleaning up logging roads
Counting tree census
Sowing cover crops Willow Brook Farm

June
Mowing tree blocks weekly
Re-organizing barn
Chainsawing stumps
Sowing cover crops 2020 fields
De-coning fir trees — loaded with pine cones this year
Burning brush piles
Digging out RV, sunk in mud (multi day project)
Stabilizing main barn, moving with chains & pulleys, adding new braces
Making TSF staff awards

July
Mowing tree blocks weekly
Finish stabilizing main barn, moving with chains & pulleys, adding new braces
Harvesting garlic scapes
Hosting Daddy Camp
Brush cutting road frontage
Troubleshooting excavator failure
Harvesting blueberries
Culling summer kill trees
Begin shearing Christmas trees

August
Mowing tree blocks weekly
Finish shearing Christmas trees (four weeks)
Replacing excavator drive motor (twice)
Harvesting & drying garlic
Prepping sugar shack pad, leveling, adding stone
Repairing main mower
Repairing excavator leaks
Rebuilding excavator hydraulic cylinder
Removing stumps from 2021 fields
Harvesting peaches
Ordering maintenance supplies

September
Re-designing sugar shack framing plan
Repairing back up mower, spindle & belts
Repairing tractor, fuel line issue
Rebuilding second excavator hydraulic cylinders
Relocating sugar shack decl to new spot by barn
Timber framing sugar shack (four weeks)
Raising sugar shack
Sowing winter cover crops in 2020 & 2021 fields
Ordering selling season supplies
Rebuilding wood storage crates

October
Repairing equipment, routine maintenance (4 days)
Repairing additional excavator leaks
Mowing farm, final clean up mow (3 days)
Repairing generator
Cutting firewood
Repairing chainsaw
Roofing sugar shack
Prepping & composting garlic fields
Planting garlic

November
Finishing firewood (total 9 cords)
Excavating Willow Brook Farm property logging road
Burning main brush pile
Mulching garlic
Final mowing Willow Brook Farm property, brush cutting lower fields in progress
Farm clean up and stowing equipment & tools, cleaning up barn
Repairing excavator, electrical issue
Repairing Willow Brook Farm barn
Culling dead trees
Prepping for selling season, signs, cabin clean out, moving tables & Santa, etc

December
Selling Christmas trees
Cleaning up from selling season

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