by Judith Madey

This article was written by Judith Madey, Greenmarket staff and former farm apprentice, for the 25th anniversary celebration of Hawthorne Valley in 1997. She describes the seasonal rhythms of the farm, some of which has remained the same in the last 25 years, and some of which has changed. Most notably, our cows now spend their days in the loafing barn in the winter rather than our milking barn and our vegetable production is shifting to include more greenhouse growing to extend our season. We hope you enjoy reading about the yearly cycle of the farm.

On a cold day in Winter, way before daylight, the farmer staggers through the snow to the barn. He might pull up his collar a bit against the cold wind, but not for long. Then as he enters the barn, the warmth of the cows receives him. As they hear the door close and the grain cart filled, they all get up in anticipation. They are hungry after the night’s rest.

Meanwhile, an apprentice has joined the farmer and helps him feed hay and make sure that all the animals have water. The farmer gets the milking equipment ready and, at 5:30 am, the fairly loud noise of the pump comes on, reminding everybody close by that they, too, will have to get up soon.

After all the cows are milked, the barn doors open and out walk the cows, enjoying the freedom after being tied to the stanchions for the night, but reluctant to go out into the wind. As the last one, usually the bull, walks out, the doors are quickly closed again. The “heater” has just walked out!

Hawthorne Valley Farm milking barnAfter the calves are fed milk, grain, and hay, the cows are locked into their winter paddock, the pigs, chickens, and young stock are fed, the farmer and his helper go in for breakfast. At 9:30 am they meet again at the barn, joined by the other apprentices. Together they make sure that the barn is cleaned, the manure taken away to be piled in a compost pile, enough hay is thrown down from the hayloft and stacked to last for the next 2-3 days, the stanchions are bedded down with straw, and the haylage (fermented hay) is fed out from the silo. Shortly before lunch, the doors open again and in no time the cows fill the barn, happily eating the haylage.

During all this time the gardener has been sitting at his desk planning for the next year. He looks through seed catalogues, at his past records, and at the demand from his customers, and slowly develops a new garden plan. Later in the winter he will be busy setting up the greenhouses.

Afternoons are usually spent maintaining equipment. The afternoon milking crew gets their instructions and, hopefully before it gets dark, we will find the farmer walking home. He will be back in the barn around 8 pm to check on the cows and feed them one more time.

Sometime in late spring a clear voice can be heard at 4:30 am calling the cows, who now spend day and night on pasture. A lot more has changed. The apprentice crew has grown to six, children visit the farm on a weekly basis and help clean the barn and feed the pigs and chickens. Everybody is out by 5:30 am and works until dinnertime (or longer). The garden has been plowed and some seedlings planted. In the greenhouse, seed after seed is put in the soil and watered. The transplanter and its crew inch along on the garden beds, carefully and efficiently transplanting ready seedlings. Harvesting knives are being sharpened and crates washed out.

Photo by Nina Barry

It is now June. Near the barn, loud tractor noise can be heard all morning. The big blower is shooting freshly chopped grass into the silo. One person is busy in the field gathering the crop, while the other shuffles wagons around and operates the blower. The silo is almost full and the farmer can start thinking about making hay, praying for good weather.

In late summer the busy life quiets down a bit. The summer camps are over, the busy children’s hands, harvesting peas and beans, are gone. The singing in the barn during cleaning remains only an echo. Seeding and transplanting are done; cultivation is not so pressing anymore. The days are mainly spent harvesting. The last of the hay is cut; the bales are stacked, the barn is full of winter feed. The cows are still on pasture, but they need some hay to supplement their feed—the grass doesn’t grow well in the dry heat.

Ground is broken again at this point and compost spread. Sometime in last August the farmer plants rye and a clover mix. It will be his next year’s straw crop and a good legume crop for the haylage. As the harvest is done in the garden, compost is spread and plowed in, as preparation for next year.

By late November the ground looks bare; pastures are brown; the last harvest is done. Most apprentices leave at this point; some stay through the winter. The cows are back in the barn most of the time. The young stock that was spread out over the farm on different pastures is back in their winter house. Winter routines start up again.

And then one night, very silently, the first snow covers the ground and puts an end to the season. The farmer might be tempted to pull up his collar again, but he knows it is not January yet and just hastens his step.