Manhattanites complaining about the cold might not want to head upstate, especially up to the Catskills, where temperatures are always at least 10 degrees colder.
Of course, for many the Catskills is home … and work. At Blenheim Hill Farms, which provides greenhouse-grown produce and ethically raised meats for Blenheim in West Village, the chores never go undone, even in frigid temperatures. Piglets need to be fed, chickens let out, barns fixed up and the greenhouse tended to. When there is downtime, the farmhands head out into the woods to cut, split and stack firewood, warming not only the house but also the greenhouse’s wood-burning boiler.
We dropped by right at the beginning of winter for just a glimpse of what these farmhands do.
We start off at the greenhouse with greenhouse manager Devon Crispell. Crispell has to balance a number of things: water, nutrition and light levels, all of which vary for a variety of plants in the house. The NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) system has to run 24/7.
Right now, he’s working on clean ways to get rid of aphids eating the tomato plants. The solution? These paper hangers, which will hatch mini wasps that kill aphid eggs.
The giant new wood-burning boiler in the back, which can fit a grown man (or maybe two) inside. A main priority prior to the winter cold is to chop enough wood to last through March. This is just a portion of the amount needed. In total, they needed more than 20 cords of wood (one cord is a stack of wood 4x4x8 feet in size).
Checking in on some pigs (and a piglet!) before heading into the forest to chop some wood.
Lucky for Blenheim farm hands, the team has a splitter, which makes log splitting just a tad easier (although you still have to haul the logs quite a bit). More than a couple hours a day are dedicated to the task.
First things first the next morning, it’s time to check on the pigs and feed them. The pigs are typically fed corn and sometimes organic bread and yogurt.
The chickens eat what they find in the pasture, including parasites that would harm the sheep, and larvae, which reduce the amount of flies on the farm. While looking for bugs, the chickens help distribute sheep manure, while their own droppings fertilize the pasture.
Farm fresh eggs, for the house and for the restaurant. Turns out, chickens aren’t supposed to be vegetarians, so the natural bugs added to their diet while grazing makes these eggs “super delicious and protein rich,” owner Morten Sohlberg says.
Mackie finishes chores on one side of the farm, packs up some more feed, and heads to the other side.
Mackie feeds the cows a mixture of corn feed and nutrients, as well as another herd of sheep. The worst part of the winter? Breaking and fishing out the ice that’s formed overnight in the water bowls.
Feeding and checking on the water of some of their largest pigs.
Mackie goes and checks on a small litter of piglets (they’re about four weeks old). They’re fed two-day-old whole-grain organic bread.
The piglets grow up to be about six months old, or 180 pounds, before they are slaughtered and butchered for the restaurant.
A sow, expecting a litter quite soon, is housed in the barn with a heating lamp.
A stray cat hangs out in the barn, away from the cold.
Another litter of piglets, fed a mix of corn and yogurt.
Meanwhile, Mackie gets started on building a little pen for baby guinea fowls, installing a heat lamp and feeding station for the young chicks. The biggest danger for farms is poorly installed heat lamps, which can cause fires; Mackie is extra careful.
The young guinea hens get placed into the coop, and after checking to make sure they get settled in, Mackie heads in for breakfast.