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Agrarian Harvest

Wholesome. Organic. Experience. All about our farm, food, and small farm life.

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pigs

Down on the Farm

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.

Does Organic Mean What You Think it Means?

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?

Managing & Thrashing

It felt kind-of like a “normal” farm around here this week. We had our wheat thrashed with an actual combine, no harvesting by hand (with market garden farming everything except our peas and beans are harvested by hand). Getting the wheat thrashed takes a little pressure off, but kept the farmer busy with “normal” farm work instead of the market gardening type of work. It feels good to check a harvest off of the to do list and have it be done for the year. Now to swath the straw, bale and stack it, water the stubble and let the pigs out in the field.

Speaking of pigs, we are having issues with pigs. We have not been able to keep them in this week. Apparently the old saying is true, it’s greener on the other side of the fence. We have spent a lot of time putting the pigs in and fixing fence. Some say that pigs respect a hot wire. Well, ours don’t! They go right through the hot wire, lift the panels up, destroy the woven wire (they will go through and destroy three fences in 30 seconds flat!) and go where they please. . . .  which has been into the squash and corn patch. So we will have very little corn and winter squash this year thanks to the pigs.

So that leaves us thinking: what to do now? What to do differently around here? And most importantly, how to manage pigs that don’t want to be managed?

For the market garden farming, the ladybugs have arrived! The kale is not on20160725_111740ly covered with aphids now. It is also covered with ladybugs that are feasting on aphids. The ladybugs are not as abundant as the aphid population, but the ladybugs are plentiful and busy feasting. It is a beautiful site to see from our point of view.

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In this picture, there is another insect (middle of photo) on the kale along with the aphids and ladybugs. We don’t what kind of insect it is and have not taken the time to research it or its identity. If you know what it is, please let me know.

And the apricots are ripe and plentiful! The sweet taste of fruit in the summer is so pleasing and such an easy snack. When we get hungry when we are out working, we simply stop by the apricot tree to have feast of apricots. And now to think of recipes to use apricots.

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Spring Fever

The warm sunny weather this week has made us very eager for summer.  Is this Spring fever or just plain craziness? We have spent our week planting more seeds. We have several flats planted in the cold frame, planning to put some in the house, and are even experimenting with direct seeding in the ground with cold weather plants. This beautiful weather at the beginning of March leaves me a little worried about what the weather will be like the end of March and April.

We had another litter of piglets born this week. That makes two litters so far this year. We have two more sows left farrow this Spring. The sow that farrowed this week had 10 live piglets and four born dead. That’s a large litter and they are all looking and doing good. Here is a picture of a few of the cuties.20160305_082308 (1)

It looks like the weather this coming week is going to be cooler and rainy. That will leave us looking out the window yearning for warm weather again. And making more plans for what to plant, when to plant, how much to plant, and wondering how soon can we get our hands back out in the soil. Just like how we spent our January.  Speaking of January, below is our blog post from January that I forgot to post. Sorry. I tend to get distracted with homeschool during the winter and that is what I focus on. Apparently, I wrote a post for January and then forgot to publish it. So here it is:

It is that time of year again. The time when the farmer gets restless and the itching to plant and grow things. Our highs were in the teens for over a week in January, so it’s hard to motivate yourself to spend the time outside to take care of the animals and no chance of getting anything to grow yet. That leaves the farmer with lots of time to plan. The farmer has been spending his days looking over seed lists, making plans and then spending time on the web reading and looking at pictures.

So, of course,  more ideas will pop into his head and he can make longer lists of things to grow, do, and change this year. This can be a scary time for the farmer’s wife. The unknown and new ideas scare her and she realizes that the longer the list is, the more work is involved.  It’s an amazing how we balance each other out. The farmer is the dreamer and idea person. The farmer’s wife keeps him in check, keeps things realistic and within reasonable means.

Speaking of new things for 2016, we are offering a produce CSA! We are very excited about expanding our CSA program. And now is the time to sign up for a share! Produce CSA

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