It’s almost time for green garlic! We’ve had some cold nights, but the garlic and greens are still growing. It won’t be long before the green garlic is ready to eat.
It’s almost time for green garlic! We’ve had some cold nights, but the garlic and greens are still growing. It won’t be long before the green garlic is ready to eat.
It’s beginning to look like Spring and the spring mix lettuce is growing!
It was another busy year, as usual. We did not have an employee this year and adjusted our farm accordingly. We only sold at one farmers’ market this year and that was plenty. Farmers’ markets tend to take an inordinate amount of time.
It felt like an odd growing year with things ripening later than usual and not producing as abundantly. The heat of the season usually means summer abundance. But this year, we didn’t seem to have the heat early on and in turn a lack of abundance of anything. Some weeks this summer, we had a hard time filling the orders we had, leaving none or very little for the farmers’ market.Then there was the usual annoyances like aphids taking out the kale and squash bugs killing the zucchini and summer squash plants.
The drip irrigation system proved to work well, allowing us to harvest while we were irrigating. It took us two full days to harvest enough to fill orders for the Wood River Valley and to take to the Ketchum Farmers’ Market, then another two days for product for the Magic Valley. Since we were harvesting so often, the dip irrigation was very helpful. We can irrigate and harvest the same days and not be wading in the mud. Before we had to schedule our irrigation days at least two days before we had to go into the field to harvest. A challenging fete when we are in the field four days a week and half the time we were still harvesting in the mud. We still had lots of weeds between the rows because of the rain we had early in the growing season. But with no corrugates between the rows, it was easier to walk and mow between the rows also.
On to our solar power project, it didn’t quite meet our expectations. We didn’t calculate enough watts for our anticipated needs for the solar panels that were installed. So the solar isn’t generating enough power to cover all our usage to date. This means a power bill and a solar payment. In the spring, it may be necessary to evaluate our production and possibly add a panel or two. This has not gone exactly as planned, but you never know until you try.
Overall, it was a good year. So far we are enjoying our slow, calm winter days. But maybe . . just maybe . . the farmer has had too many winter days already. He is currently mapping out what to plant where and ordering seeds. By Spring, he will be planning on farming 5000 acres and planting every variety of every vegetable there is seed for. Somebody help me!
Not up as early as I should be to get the work done before it gets hot. I should be getting up around 5 in the morning, but who wants to get up that early, then be tired in the afternoon and have to take a nap. Not me, I’m not the napping type. Nothing annoys me more than having to delay my day by having to lay down in the middle of the day to nap or be sluggish because I got up too early and I don’t like to go to bed early either. So I roll with the natural rhythm and routine my mind and body wants to take. Up around 7:30, cup of coffee to wake up with, computer time with my coffee to check email and to keep up on the book work for the farm. Breakfast and then I head outside to get work done and see what the farmer needs help with; whether it is weeding, harvesting, mowing or bitching about something (I’m really good at this one). Some may say that I have already wasted half my day, but for me my day and the warmth of the day is just getting started.
Meanwhile, the farmer was up at 5 am and started his day by making the coffee. Then headed straight out the door with yesterday’s leftover cold coffee to get things done while it is cool, but is always out there all day no matter what time he starts his day. There are always kinks in the day’s plan and we never get enough done so we try to just roll with it.
The farmer starts the day with irrigating the green beans. As he is setting water, he is wondering how the bean picker is going to handle picking with all the weeds. There seems to be more weeds than beans this year. There is definitely more weeds than last year he thinks. This means a lot of hand sorting. He walks down a few rows to check them. The plants just aren’t setting beans on, this means a very, very poor yield for the first planting. Over 8 rows he checks the second planting, the top of this planting was flooded with one of the early summer storms when we had a huge downpour and the canal ran over. The rest of the planting didn’t germinate well. On to check the third planting, it looks better but this means there won’t be beans to sell until the middle of August.
Shaking his head in disgust, he walks to the other side of the field and he checks the peas. He would like to pick peas today and get just one more picking from them. But nope, they have gotten too big, the heat has gotten to them. He’ll have to tell the farm wife to email our customers and let them know they are done for the season.
Next, he is off to the small plots by the house to pick basil while it is still cool. There he finds the weeds between the rows are taller than the basil. So it necessary to mow between the rows before you can successfully pick the basil. The mowing will take a few hours, so now the basil will have to be picked this evening when the mosquitoes are thick so he’ll be feeding them while the basil is being picked.
Now it has warmed up for the day, so the harvesting has to be focused on items that don’t wilt. The leafy greens can’t be harvested in the heat. The farmer heads out to harvest summer squash, with boxes in hand, he find the plants wilting. So is because of the heat or the squash bugs? Don’t know, possibly both, so the farmer turns the drip irrigation on them and then plants another planting of summer squash. He’ll go back to check those plants and harvest them later so he leaves the boxes out there. The farmer has a constant battle with squash bugs every summer. And the bugs always seem to win.
On to dig potatoes, that can be done in the heat. Luckily, we have a one row potato digger now so that helps takes some of the labor out it since we always seem to be digging in the heat of the day. The digger digs them, takes them up a short chain and drops them on top the ground. The farmer, farm wife and sometimes the farm kids go behind the digger with buckets to pick up the potatoes. We haul them back to the house with the tractor to be sorted and boxed up for orders and market. Finally, something that goes smoothly.
And when we think we have a schedule and have figured out how to get it all done, there is a steer in the sweet corn having a feast.
. . . . Or the pigs are rooting up the neighbor’s pasture and he jumps the fence and hunts us down not happy about it.
. . . . Or the county sheriff is knocking on our door asking if we own pigs because there are pigs on the highway and no one else in the neighborhood is claiming them . . . and the farm wife get to deal with this on her own because for some reason the farmer is suddenly no where around. Next time this scenario happens . . . I’m going tell him, “No, officer. Not anymore. My pigs got into my garden one too many times. They are now in my freezer. Would you like to see them?” These scenarios seems to happen every year. And this year there are way more things going wrong than right.
Life isn’t always fun on the farm. Most often, it is stress and sweat happening on the farm. Some days, it is unbearable to work your ass off day and night, put everything you have . . . financially, physically and emotionally . . . into what we are doing and have almost all of it fail. And the misery of seeing your partner in life, marriage and farm dealing with all this, is just way too hard on a person. Sometimes . . . we can look back and laugh at our days. But usually not until the season is over and we are sitting on a beach hundreds of miles away from the farm, which doesn’t happen if there are too many crop failures for the year.
This farmer has a dream . . . . . . . another dream. Some days I would say, “Oh-no, I don’t want to hear it because I don’t want to raise another type of animal!” But this dream doesn’t involve another animal. And without the farmer dreaming we would not be here or be farming today. We are both big dreamers and believe everyone should dream and work toward your dream until your dreams come true.
We started with dreaming to farm, that evolved into organic farming, then to organic farming of a large diversity of produce and herbs (almost 20 acres worth). Now the dream is opening up a storefront on the farm, an on-farm market. It’s an idea that I’m liking. A farm market in our garage; a market that we don’t have to load up . . . drive to . . . unload and set up . . . take down . . . load up again to then have to drive home exhausted . . . to have to unload yet again all that wasn’t sold (which is usually around 10 or 10:30 pm for the markets in the Wood River Valley). . . then go irrigate and feed the animals before bed.
An on-farm market is less work for the farmer and more time on the farm so we can sell at wholesale prices. The vision for this on-farm market is to offer a one stop shopping for fresh food that is in-season. We will be offering all our produce, eggs, herbs, meat, soap and laundry detergent along with products from other local farms like milk and cheese from Old Almo Creamery.
Our on-farm market is open on Wednesdays from 1 to 6 pm. Giving everyone a chance to come to the farm to buy product at discounted prices.
So here’s to another dream! Fear less, dream more and may life be happier!
March is here along with thoughts and longings for Spring and greens. March feels like a breath of fresh air after spending our winter months hibernating in the house. Like a bear coming out of hibernation, we are really craving fresh food, specifically greens. I feel I could eat a large plate piled high with greens at every meal like a cow at the feed bunk eating her greens twice a day. Yes, I referred to myself as a cow. The farmer has compared me to a cull Hereford cow for years due to complications with pregnancy, childbirth and low milk production. And whenever a needle comes out to draw blood, the farmer will compare it and the needle size to bleeding sheep. Growing up on a farm and then becoming a farm wife, I’ve grown accustom to being compared to an animal. Everything is compared to what we are familiar with, which are animals and plants.
For all of us green hungry people, the farmer has planted a couple of beds of greens: lettuce, spinach, and arugula. Although, they are barely starting to emerge from the ground, I’m very eager for those first greens of Spring. They are planted in one of our cold-frames so there is no heat, just what the sun provides. We are at the mercy of mother nature. This past month it was too cold. We are looking forward to March warming up so our cold frames will too. Our farming son, who has the itch to grow plants just like his daddy, has planted lettuce and radishes in pots in the house. He is trying to beat his dad at getting the first greens of the Spring.
And the plastic has been put on our smaller cold frame so it is ready to start seeds. We start all our plants from seed right here on the farm. We will be starting seedlings this month too. Our growing season is officially underway!
When we started farming, we followed the organic rules for years before we actually certified. The first and second years of certification were very simple. The third year was very irritating. They decided to audit our winter squash; asking how many acres we had. Guess they are not used to dealing with small producers and also did not read the application documentation that provided the information they were asking about. I told them that we had 200 plants. They said that they could calculate that out. They asked how much we harvested. I showed them my sales records. They then asked how much I had stored. I told them that I only harvested what was sold. Anything left over after frost became pig food. They wanted to know how much the pigs ate. I answered honestly and said I did not know. This was a big problem for them. My records were not audit-able according to them since I didn’t weigh every squash left in the field. Should I have lied and said some random number of pounds? They issued my certificate in spite of my failure to weigh every rotten squash that the pigs ate. Multipurpose ground like cropland and grazing is too complicated for inspectors or their expectation of farmers is industrial.
Since I started certifying organic, my inspection was done in the spring and all of my fees were paid before July. This allowed me to apply for assistance with certification prior to an October 31 deadline. This year I was inspected in late summer and did not receive a bill prior to the October 31 deadline and will not be eligible for the assistance. That will cost this farmer around $700; that’s a lot of tomatoes. My certifying agency claimed that there were a lot of new farms wanting to certify and our inspection was late because they wanted to get the new facilities done first. So to the back burner I go, behind the mega dairies and corporate farms looking for the big money.
Another item of concern this year is that the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) voted to allow hydroponic and aquaponic production into the Organic program. This means that soil is not required. If soil is not required the plants can only get nutrients from the farmer. There are no healthy soil microorganisms, no fungi, no bacteria, no beneficial life forms to help release micronutrients to the plants. If the nutrients are not provided in the system they cannot end up in our food to nourish us. There are also no microorganisms or adequate sun exposure to breakdown or compete with harmful products or bacteria. Yes, beneficial bacteria and fungi in the soil can protect us against harmful organisms.
So what does the Organic Label mean to me? At this point, I am in limbo. Most of our customers know who we are. They know our practices and are welcome to come inspect anytime they want and would likely buy from us even if we dropped our certification. We are after all a very small farm. At 17 acres, we actually consider ourselves market gardeners. Our production can be large enough though that we need some larger outlets like restaurants and grocery stores. These customers typically look for the Organic Certification when paying our prices. Their customer do not know who we are and thus depend on a third party verification that we are following acceptable methods of food production. But do the consumers actually know what Organic means? Do they know that their product may be raised in a chemical soup provided by a hydroponic system? Do they know that broad spectrum chemicals like Neem oil that are approved for use as an insecticide in organic production? Do they know that farms (big farms) can petition to get chemicals accepted because their system is broken and they want to resort to a chemical to “fix” their problem?
At our farm, we have had infestations, some were fixed by an army of lady bugs and others resulted in destroyed crops. We are diverse and learn to roll with it and try to use crop rotation and plant selection to avoid future problems. When you are a mega farm in a mono crop system, you are not as agile and go back to the bottle at the first sign of stress.
We want to call out consumers. What do you think of when you purchase food? Are you looking for the best price? Are you looking for nutrient density? Are you looking for pesticide-free? Are you looking for humane animal husbandry? Do you care about the people who grow your food? Do you want to know the farm your food came from or is it just the labeling that matters? Does your food come with a warranty?
Fall was way too short. It felt like we had a week of Fall and then went straight into Winter. Maybe it’s because the farmers markets are over, we’re exhausted and quickly go into hibernation mode. But, most likely, it’s the weather. It got way too cool too quick for this warm-weather-loving- body. We’d prefer our fall consisting of three months of 70 degree days. Most of our days are now cool and blustery; and it’s snowing while I type this. With all the leaves off the trees, looking bare and cold, it give us a chill just looking out the window. But out we must go, there is work to do still.
Since the our growing season is over for the year, we will be spending our days in the field doing farm clean up. This consist of mowing the froze plants, pulling up the plastic row cover and tilling the plant debris into the soil. And the chore of pulling hundreds of t-post out of the ground that were used to stake the tomatoes up. Then there are tasks that need to be done before seeds can be planted for next year like replace the plastic on the cold-frame and, possibly, put another cold-frame up.
There is also planting to do, believe it or not. It is time to plant garlic. It has to overwinter in the ground to be ready to harvest by July or August next year. So, hopefully, the weather will hold out, meaning no snow . . . . but since that is already happening, maybe the ground won’t freeze hard as a rock just yet. We are trying to brace ourselves for winter, since we keep hearing that this winter is forecast to be worse than last year. We are just not ready for snow and cold and neither is the farm. Really . . . . we could skip winter this year or spend the whole winter on a warm beach.
I live by the seasons. Really, I didn’t give much thought to the seasons before I was a mother. I just lived day to day wanting everyday to be a summer day that I could lay in the sun reading a book. Then I became a mother and discovered the seasons of motherhood; the season of newborn, season of milestones, toddler season. I now feel I’m in school-age season; feel like I’ve been in this season for a long time and now realize I’m about to enter the season of having a teenager. I once had a friend tell me, “It’s just another season of life; it will pass.”
The seasons of the year and motherhood do pass, sometimes all too quickly and sometimes slower than we would like. But then when you look back you wonder where the time or days have gone. How did it go by so fast? Our summer was like that. There was so much work to do and so many markets and deliveries to make, we didn’t know how we’re going to make it through the days. We wondered how we were going to manage until October and not collapse from exhaustion before the first frost and life would slow down again. And now looking back, I’m wondering where my summer went. How could it be gone already? I’m feeling sad . . . . I want summer back! Just like I want back the seasons of early motherhood. . . . . it’s just gone too fast.
We are feeling the change from summer to fall. The nights are crisp and cooler, days are cooler too, plant production is slowing down, kids are back to school, the pumpkins are turning, the wheat fields around us have been thrashed, early potatoes have been dug, storage potatoes are being dug and silage corn is being chopped. And the hopes or fears of first frost are in the air. It’s definitely the feel of fall. A welcoming season with the colors of orange, red and yellow, cups full of warm drinks and the smell of pumpkin spice in the air.
Welcome Fall . . . . . the slow-down season for us. My new favorite season.
September & October Happenings