Daylight Savings Edition: When Do Farmers REALLY Get up In the Morning?

Farmers in general get a LOT of questions, but this is actually the one that we get the most, and there is no good answer. (There's a farmer joke that the only answer people want to hear is 5:30, a time that is neither psychotically early or deviantly late!)

My answer is that as a vegetable farmer, I'm like a plant and get up at the same darn solar time everyday, but since that time is sunrise, it falls all over our fake human clock! [Full disclosure: I grew up in one of the non-time-changing states, Indiana, and 20 years later, I remain incredibly bitter about time changes for a solid month after they happen!]

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Historically, farms all had cows to milk, and it's most comfortable for the cows to get milked at evenly spaced times each day, which means on a two a day milking cycle, you find farmers milk early (say 5am and 5pm) to eat dinner at a normal-ish time and see their kids before bedtime. Even now, dairy farmers (or farmers who work a second job) will often be out there in the barns at 4 or 5am doing chores. The cows don't care when they get milked and the animals don't care when they get fed, as long as it's evenly spread out and consistent, so a night owl could milk at 8am and 8pm and from the cow perspective, that would be cool (from a cultural perspective, the other farmers might give you a hard time!).

For us veggie growers, schedules vary more, which is why I don't have an easy answer to what time I get up, because dawn right now falls a lot later that it does in July. In the spring and fall, when we are out in the field but days aren't long enough for all our work, we tend to get up earlier to maximize daylight hours. However, in the summer when days get close to 16 hours, we at Hartwood Farm certainly aren't rising at the 4am breaking light!

There are two main reasons (beyond wanting more sleep) why we intentionally don't start working at 5am (when lots of folks think we start work--thank you all for having such high opinions of our ability to be up and at 'em so early).


First, in the north we don't have as much heat as California or Florida, but we get a lot more dew. We want to harvest crops when it's cool enough for best quality, but we don't want the crops to be too damp with dew, or the act of harvesting among wet plants can spread plant diseases around the farm from one dew laden plant to another (and for an organic grower, plant diseases are the bane of our existence that we work really hard to keep from spreading).

Some farmers are super early birds, so they brave the dew and get going at sunrise even in our area, so you can see a huge spread in start times for vegetable farms, including as early as 4:30am (ugh) and as late as 9am (decadent). For us, we don't want to be jerks to our poor employees with long commutes and we don't want people to burn out (which can happen fast when you start working long hours at manual labor if you aren't used to it!), so we have our team start at 8am in the cooler spring and fall months and at 7am in the summer months (only dropping down to 6am if we get a heat wave). We usually start harvesting from the most heat sensitive crops (the greens) to the least (tomatoes), which is why we don't have a lot of good photos of the greens, as we are always picking them in low light or with harsh early shadows (like below)!

So there's two votes from Matt and I to switch to Daylight Savings Time on a permanent basis... and if you have 7 minutes, the funniest take on farmer wake up times (and IMO the funniest CSA promotion video ever--I promise you no "Sky Eggplants" in our shares), can be found in this gem from Hugonaut Street Farm.


Resting and Regrouping!


After a busy fall on the farm, we've been silent on the blog for a few weeks as we work on re-tooling the website and regrouping from the season.  We are working to get the 2013 CSA sign-up material up (hopefully this week)... it's held up as we decide which additional farmers market to add for 2013, since we try to space out market and CSA harvest days!

Folks have been asking what happens on the farm in the winter, and our answer is, "A lot!"  First, we do relax a bit, sleep in (well, farmer sleeping in, which means until 6 or so!), and eat a lot more farm food (since we have more time to cook).

We do still have a few things going on in the field.  This week's warm spell will likely be our last harvest window to get in the final turnips, radishes, carrots, and beets.  After these crops all come into the walk-in cooler (which now doubles as a root cellar), we will roll up all our protective row cover and call the vegetable fields done for the season!

Wood is a big winter project--right now we are bringing in the wood cut late last winter to split and dry further in the greenhouse.  We need wood for our house, for our greenhouse (we are switching from propane heat to a wood/oil boiler this winter), and for boiling down maple syrup.  Right now, we are just cutting wood at the south edges of the fields (which will reduce shade in the edges of the growing area) and in a section where some of the trees have lots of galls.  As the maples grow larger, we will start doing more selective thinning to improve the sugar maple stand (but that's a few years off!).

Out of the woods, we are working on a few building projects, including a permanent wash stand and storage area, a new hoophouse, a better potting area and propagation chamber for the greenhouse, and a slew of smaller construction activities.

The most important work we are focusing on now is in the office!  Besides working to revamp and improve the website, we are assessing how things went this past season to see where we can improve things for next year.  After this assessment is done, we start working on our crop planning.  This is a huge task since it essentially entails figuring out the timing of every planting of each variety of crop we grow--which for some crops is up to 20 plantings and 15 varieties!  We need to complete this by early January in order to get our seed orders in.

We'll get some more winter pictures of the fields up soon!