Yearly Post?

Due to having taken a new full time job last winter, and having to balance that with the farm pursuits, I have not had much time for updating this blog. Even the ‘in season’ page has been a little bit ‘behind’, so to speak. Sorry to anyone who might be reading this. Keep in mind – you can always get more timely updates on the Facebook page as it’s way easier for me to put short blurbs there.

The four corns we got from GRIN were able to produce a reasonable seed crop this year. For now we have limited seed from these varieties available for distribution. This is low cost or free for educational purposes or organizations with good intentions for the seed. For individuals, we would ask for an equal or greater number of good seeds in return later, or else a cash donation based on the number of seeds distributed to help cover our costs in growing, harvesting, and preparing the seed.

We received a hard freeze a few days ago that ended the growing season, so the only things available now are items out of storage. The chickens are getting older, and are molting besides, so there are not many eggs available right now. We will probably have to butcher some of the birds for stewing and replace them if we want to keep selling eggs… or we could just let them grow old, and not sell eggs anymore. Even egg sales – which are among our only items that regularly sell – are so variable they are impossible to predict. Sometimes we sell almost no eggs and end up with an entire fridge full, while sometimes we can hardly keep them in stock, so making a decision based on the sales is hard.

Our attempt to have a CSA for the 2015 season failed. Despite our willingness to proceed with only 3-5 signups, and having at least this many showing interest when it was initially discussed, the actual offering generated almost no interest. Only one physical signup form was requested, and this was never returned to us.

The 2015 growing season was also a disaster, and despite not thinking it possible, it was in fact even worse than the catastrophe of last year. The year was basically a repeat of the last one, only shifted forward to all be one month later. There was horrendous cold in February that killed several of our fruit trees outright (as opposed to being in January). There was flooding through the entire month of June that was hideously destructive (as opposed to last year’s May flooding). This was also followed by a drought. Many things we planted did not produce much to speak of; though things were off to a great start, weather did them in or stunted them so badly they could not recover.

As a result of all these things, 2015 was another year of great losses for us. We were definitely not able to recover even the seed/planting investment, much less anything for our time, fuel cost, etc. This is a dangerous thing considering our house is basically falling apart around us; we are in dire need of a new roof and other repairs we cannot afford.

Due to these facts, we have come to the difficult decision that it is no longer practical or wise to continue attempting to increase our plantings/numbers of items offered for sale. We have been consistently unable to move anything on a reliable basis, and 2015 was the worst year yet for sales, adding insult to the weather-related injury. For example, out of the first 7 days we had the sales shack open for the year, 4 of them were no-sale days (zero dollars and zero sales, for anywhere from 6-8 hours per day of work/watching/waiting). When combining the other 3 that did have sales, we sold only 73 dollars worth. Over the years I have tried Craigslist, Facebook, paper flyers, larger signs, but none of these have seemed to change anything. I did not even really have any orders via email/message this year, which has been a good part of my sales from previous years. Unfortunately, Furniture City Foods also no longer exists and no longer is a market for me. Biodome Project in town has bought some items, but they are limited as to what they can use/move and also they produce some of their own and don’t need mine.

Because of these poor outcomes, it has been decided that we are going to greatly scale back next year. We will be returning to primarily planting for ourselves and our own interests. We may have occasional items offered for sale, but nothing is going to be planted in as large of quantities. The bottom line is, because of the disappointing sales and outcomes, it’s become more of a chore/upsetting task/heartbreak to keep up with the enormous amount of farm work. Since I mostly do all of it myself, other than the plowing/planting, it’s just getting to be too much for me to handle on my own. I have tried to solicit help by bartering free vegetables or practical training in exchange, but even if people talk a big talk beforehand, it is extremely rare that anyone turns around and lifts a spade when it comes down to it. As it is I barely have any free time in the summer; I only went fishing once this year (in April actually, before the farm stuff really started), and I haven’t been hunting at all yet since I just finished with harvesting last week. I’ve had almost no time left for the other things I love, and all of the stress and hardship is turning farming into something I no longer enjoy. As a result, it’s time for re-evaluation, and a year of ‘doing less’ farm-wise is the only way I see to do that. If it turns out that I can figure something else out to increase sales, draw more interest, or get people to buy from me regularly, then I can increase the scale again later. For now, that’s just not the reality.

And no, though most people cannot understand why… I simply cannot do farmers’ markets.
I do not have ‘staff’ to cover for me, I cannot have a dedicated day off all the time,
nor can I manage all the logistics of market fees/insane insurance costs/having a ‘professional booth’ (banners, baskets, awnings, all that shit is expensive),
timing, managing picking, packing, setup etc. which all have to be done very early in the morning even though I worked until 10-11 PM the night before,
transportation of everything,

If anyone still wants a specialty crop grown for them, I am happy to do that, as I will basically grow anything. However, a contract would be required to be drawn up and signed in advance. I can no longer justify planting great amounts of things that just get fed to my chickens or composted. Similarly, if someone wants something specific, let me know and I will be sure to include it. I would grow it just for you.

Other than that… I’ll hopefully see you in better days.

– A

Year of Hardship

Unfortunately, this is turning out to be the worst growing season we have experienced (and, from the stories our elders tell, among the worst there has ever been around here). We are making the best of it, but many crops are having at least partial crop failures due to the constant rain and flooding with little to no good weather in between.

The only crops currently without moderate to major disease issues are the lettuce, onions, and the cucumbers. The onions, carrots, and other smaller crops are being choked out by weeds because we cannot weed them without destroying them in the sodden, clumpy ground. The lettuce has bottom rot and the cucumbers have some powdery mildew, but not enough to do much to them. All the rest of these diseases are causing some losses, from small to large.

Tomatoes – Early Blight (moderate) – slight yield loss, still progressing
Broccoli – Clubroot followed by black rot (total loss of all plants, only harvested a few tiny heads)
Cauliflower – Clubroot (total loss of all plants and NO harvests were taken)
Fava Beans – Chocolate spot and/or Rust (major) – high yield loss due to plants weakening and dying and also, aborting of flowers
Zucchini – Bacterial Wilt on 2/3 plantings (major, fatal to at least 50% of plants), remaining planting powdery mildew (moderate)
Winter Squash – flood stunting, Powdery Mildew (moderate), Bacterial Wilt (25% of plants killed)
Potatoes – Stunting, Early Blight (moderate) – yield loss
Peppers – Southern Blight (minor, killed one plant outright and seems to be gone now)
Peas – Downy mildew (crop reduction, although still gave a reasonable crop)
Bush Beans – Combination Alternaria leaf spot, Root Rot, and White Mold (major, severe stunting of at least 50% of plants and slow and creeping death of others. Minor spread to bean pods, major crop loss due to failure of many plants to set pods at all)
Kale – severe stunting, probably Clubroot – no real harvest at all so far, as plants have failed to grow to size able to sustain it and may never do so
Watermelons – severe flood stunting
Corn – total loss of first planting due to flood washout/burial, 3 out of 4 plantings afterward suffering from moderate to severe stunting or poor emergence

And these are just some examples.

We spent more money than ever this year in trying to expand the plantings, making the soil more fertile, liming everything, etc. and a lot of it has just rotted in the ground or been pummeled or washed away. This is definitely a heartbreaking year and a year in which I do not expect to even come close to making back my initial investment. I have to just be happy to get anything back at all, I suppose, and I do know that farming is a lifestyle of great risk as well as great reward. Hopefully the next few years treat me better because these last few have not been favorable, and I cannot keep doing things the way I do if it’s going to keep ending up this way.

I have also been noticing certain varieties of plant doing better than others under this stress so I will note them here:
– Beans : Dragon’s Tongue – the most unaffected by Alternaria, and yielding the best under stress out of the 5 varieties I planted. Also is the biggest, most substantial, slowest-to-get-tough, most flavorful bean I grow (it just isn’t perfect for freezing, but acceptable) – and is an heirloom besides.
– Zucchini : Cocozelle – ‘Dark Green’ and ‘Dark Star’ are doing nowhere near as well as these. They are my biggest plants this year and the only ones I have harvested more than 2 fruits off of. My Early Yellow Prolific summer squash are practically useless as they are severely stunted and I have only harvested 1 so far.
– Basil : Mrs. Burns Lemon – The only basil I have been able to harvest so far. ‘Mammoth’ is barely growing. Standard sweet basil is meh, growing but not well. Lime basil is barely there, as is the purple and other specialty basils.
– Cucumber : Stonewall – I’ve been planting Stonewall because it is downy mildew resistant – I used to have severe problems with this disease in years past. I no longer do, and Stonewall seems to yield me a few bushels of well shaped fruit no matter the conditions.
– Lettuce : Mayan Jaguar, Flashy Butter Oak – both setting pretty (although a bit mini-sized) heads. Lettuce in general seems to love the cool, wet summer (it doesn’t like heat or dry weather much). MJ and FBO are just the best looking of the 7? varieties I have in.

There is still plenty to be thankful for though. Though the hay season has also been difficult to complete, we have sold enough to mostly cover the taxes, and haven’t had any rained on so far. We do have some regular customers and supportive family members. We always meet interesting new people. One of our ‘farm friends’ helped us recoup some monetary losses from our flooded fields. One of our new batch of chickens laid her first egg last week and I expect the others will soon follow. And, at the least, we have had another year of experience, and will harvest at least something to help feed us through the winter. If it can’t get any worse, then next year can only be up from here.

Living life one acre at a time.