What Do Farmers Do In the Winter?

What Do Farmers Do In the Winter?


Driving home from Rock Island, last weekend, I couldn’t help but think of my experiences visiting Illinois family farms last year. As is normally the case in the winter, the fields seemed empty. It was hard to believe that just a few months ago, all you could see were rows and rows of full corn and soybean fields. As if she knew what I was thinking, Lulu commented how lonely everything seemed when you get out of the “Chicagoland” area and into the more rural counties.

If you just look at the fields, it’s as if all of a farmer’s work ends once the crop is brought in and the harvest is over. But, as I learned during my experiences with the IL Farm Families initiative, winter is hardly a time to rest.

It’s not surprising that farmers are often asked: “What do you do in the winter?” Looking at the fields it would appear that farmers might sit in the house and watch television all day.  So, what’s a farmer to do when he or she can’t be in the fields or tending to crops during the cold winter months?

One word: Planning

After hauling the previous year’s crop from the grain bin and selling it at the elevator, where crops may be converted to other products or exported overseas, Illinois farmers concentrate on completing end of the year documentation and begin planning for the next year. Some may consider the winter to be considered “down time,” and yes, many families take a break from the daily grind to spend time together.

Winter is also the opportunity to attend agricultural trade shows, conferences and collaborate with other local farmers to exchange best practice learning or learn about the latest technology and equipment. It is the time that farmers plan their strategy for next year’s successful planting season. During the winter months, a smart farmer is studying the stocks and commodities markets for projected trends as well as learning about the newest seeds on the market for the coming year. While I am studying the Burpee’s catalogue to decide which hybrid tomato plan will thrive in my garden next summer, Farmers are also exploring their options–only on a much grander scale.



Finally, through out the year, farmers invest thousands of dollars in their equipment. So it makes sense that, over the winter, most farmers are concentrating on repairing and maintaining their machinery to make sure its ready for the following year.

After a long growing season, farm equipment needs the same type of maintenance that many vehicles do, just on a larger scale. A large part of the annual maintenance schedule is actually preventative. Farmers examine every piece of farm equipment to make sure that it is working as designed. Many start outside the shop door, by blowing the dust and crop debris off of the machine with an air hose.  Next, large equipment, like tractors, are examined and routine maintenance, like oil changes, are conducted.

So the next time, I drive by a barren field in the winter, I’ll remember that there is a good chance one or two family members are working on his equipment, exploring seed catalogues, placing orders for new tools or attending education seminars and conferences. The one activity he or she is not doing: resting. There’s jut no time to stand idly by when there is so much work to do.

Could I Be The New Dwight Schrute, Famous Beet Farmer?

Could I Be The New Dwight Schrute, Famous Beet Farmer?

Digging in the Dirt for Beets

 The gardening magazines are piling up on my desk.  Looking out my office window, I catch a glimpse of my sparse garden and romanticize what, in a few short months, could be growing: strawberries, arugula, sugar snap peas, cucumbers, various herbs, tomatoes, basil and yes, beets.  My garden will be divided in two sections: a cornucopia of veggies and fruits and beets.

Growing up in Baltimore, I clearly remember being “forced” to eat beets at my grandparent’s house.  As a child I reasoned that cold red beet soup and sour cream must have been good for old people and thus the reason that my grandparents consumed it almost daily.  I hated beets–all beets, no exception.  The mere mention of the word drove me into fits of mock hysteria complete with gagging sounds and fake vomiting.  (Hey Mom?  Remember the time I fake puked in front of your Danish friends?  That was a scene, wasn’t it?) 

Leave it to my husband to re-introduce beets into my diet.  (It helps to live with a semi-gourmet cook.)  But every now and then I flat out refuse to eat something that he has cooked.  Baked beets were one of those dishes.  Serve me up some Kohlrabi and I am your girl.  I’ll even try a bit of broccolini before condemning it.  But beets?  Forget it.  Eventually, when my (then) 2 year old daughter gobbled them up like they were candy, I decided to try beets again.  And I loved them!  The secret was in the baking with olive oil and not serving them as a cold soup.  Now I can’t get enough beets and cherish opportunities to find different varieties to cook and serve with various parings.

Thus the Dwight Schrute reference.

When we moved to the Chicago suburbs six years ago, my husband and I were jazzed to have our own “bit of earth” and converted part of our minuscule lawn into the organic garden of our dreams.  (That’s right, no pesticides, chemicals or sprays on our food. Just me fighting the bunnies, deer and bugs.)  At first he was really involved in charting the progression of tilled earth to seedling to plant and harvest.  But after a few years, my husband lost some interest in the whole gardening experience and concentrated his efforts solely on the seasonal tomato and basil production.  I was left to my own devices in the rest of the garden and we discovered that there was one less thing that we had in common. Left to my own devices, I have a BLACK thumb.   At first I planted and tried to grow all sorts of fruits and vegetables:

  • Cantaloupe: Horrible disaster and rather messy. Who knew that you were supposed to let them grow on the ground?
  • Carrots: Did not appear OR the rabbits ate them before I could protect them
  • Thyme and Lavender: Over-run by my husband’s chive (aka: garden grass) plants
  • Cucumbers: Usually get one monster cucumber that turns cannibal and eats the baby cukes. (Scary, I know.)
  • Strawberries: Yeah, uh….we prefer not to discuss the patch of strawberry “weeds” we cannot get rid of in the middle of the garden.  We never did finesse a “berry” out of that patch.
  • Sugar Snap Peas:  Well, I got them to grow but then forgot about them and they dried up on the vine.  Plus, the vines sort of attack you when you’re not looking.
Over the years, only one plant has remained faithful and low maintenance: The Beet.  Color is irrelevant; I grow ’em all.  The weeds are so scared of our industrial strength and uber-disease resistant beets that they don’t bother targeting that part of the garden.  And each year we have a bumper crop of beets which we are forced to distribute (free of charge) to our neighbors who bask in the miracle that is our tiny beet farm.  Don’t believe me?  Check out the photo we captured last summer of one of our prize vegetables:

We are set in beets for at least three or four months–assuming we don’t take a break from the daily beet consumption feasts.  I never thought that I would get sensitive whenever someone made jokes about beet farming until I realized that I AM A BEET FARMER!  And while hubbie checks out the awesome tomato variations and selections in the gardening catalogues and magazines, guess what?  I have dog eared all of the sections pertaining to beet growth. I may not be a great gardener but I am a darn good BEET Farmer!

Thanks Dwight Schrute for being the Beet Industry’s Spokesperson!  You make us Proud!

This post was graciously sponsored by Alan’s Factory Outlet  whose awesome Amish sheds have been used for storing gardening supplies, tools, and even beet seeds. Please check out the site!