The past couple weeks on the farm have been...challenging and... eye opening and.... ellipses of the mind creating.
The veg field has been another puzzle this year. We've had more rain (and better irrigation), but we've been waging a pest war, dealing with soil that's only been tended to for the second time this year after years of sitting fallow, overcoming weird weather (super hot, then chilly, then wet, then hot, then dry and now fall-like)- and to be frank- it's been much less fun then we'd like it to be. Work is always hard, but when it puts you in a slump to even think of stepping out there- it's time to change course. So, it's always good to look ahead to hope for the best, and while we've done what we can to coax along our summer crops, we've also turned our attention to fall planting. The potatoes are coming swimmingly, the early varieties have proven to be Just Wonderful and we're up to our eyeballs in gorgeous blue spuds.
We're really unhappy with the soil in our plot, and with leased land- running on less then ideal options to improve it (it's hard to spend a ton of cash doing reparations when your lease is only for 3 more years and the business is still fledgling. That money can be allocated elsewhere to something more transportable). But what we do have is a ton of... shit. Literally. We have a large, now two year old pile of barn droppings, which have aged to become nice compost and killed off almost all of the weeds. Last night, we took advantage of this heaping pile and ran a small tiller, turning under the ripe stuff into the soil below. We ran a quick fence and planted a good size test plot of turnips, radishes, and carrots- who all took a beating in our earlier plantings. Now is the time to get these root crops established, for a nice big harvest as the weather turns. If this works, we'll be using almost the entire space we've been collecting manure on to plant next spring. The far veg field has it's merits in size, and has always turned a really nice potato, tomato, lettuce, and garlic crop. We figure that next year, we need to change strategies a bit with planting and cut down on the farm melt downs. The weather is going to keep being unpredictable, and we can't invest totally in repairing the soil (or trucking in hundreds of yards of new stuff)- but we can make use of delish black earth where we've been hauling manure out by the hand cart load for 2 years. We're hopeful, and happy to change course a bit. Einstein once said "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results"- two years of bugs, crazed weather and rough soil are enough to make us switch gears. We've got some beautiful veggies, but the struggle has brought some seriously long hours, and back breaking labor, for results we would like to see be much better. Working hard and working smart are too good goals, but you should always place the smart first, and work hard in the right way for the best benefit.
We've also been giving a good look at our livestock operation. We grow delicious poultry. And the lambs we sent to the butcher ended up being pretty perfect. We're excited about the pork, feel confident about rabbit. We're livestock naturals, strange, for former vegetarians (or maybe not, maybe it's that compassionate care that puts us ahead). So we have been toying with adding more sheep next year, and maybe some quail. Quail are smaller, and easier for us to hatch on site- which means we could potentially have a much more sustainable poultry operation. They produce eggs in 6 weeks! Chickens take 16-17 weeks to start laying, if you're lucky. We'll always have chickens, they're just something we do- but we'd like to find ways to make the farm less reliant on ordering in feed, chicks etc- and quail could be a good route. Plus, it could help us set our farm apart a bit, and diversify our funding stream.
This post is about the gritty reality of a start up farm- we've got to hone our skills where we struggle while capitalizing on our natural strengths. We always want to put the best quality forward, and this summer has been another long lesson in the lack of control we have over nature. It's so humbling, to be so at the mercy of the earth. We're so grateful for the things we've grown that have turned out beautifully, and really looking forward to getting better at what just hasn't worked.
The summer is about thinking on the fly, pushing until you can't any further, and stopping to marvel- both at your success and your failure. It's never easy to look at what you're doing and think about what's not working, it's a lesson in humility. But to survive as a small business, we've got to take stock continuously - savoring the success like a delicious summer tomato (which are growing beautifully, btw) and learning from the endeavors that were not so successful (I'm looking at you, squash bugs!). We are grateful and humbled by the work we do, and at the end of the day we can't ask for more.