Call them learning opportunities, errors in judgment, user error or just plain bad luck. But we’ve had one heck of a spring. I hardly know where to begin. If you’ve followed this space, you are no doubt aware of some of our trials, but for the sake of the drive bys, let’s review.
We decided this year we were going all natural. I prefer that to ‘organic’. IMO, ‘organic’ has lost its meaning. I use the term ‘post organic’. But as usual, I digress.
In early December, we placed our order for seeds. We went with all open pollinated, heirloom varieties in anticipation of saving non hybrid seeds. Unfortunately, heirloom varieties are not always strong producers.
In late December we started our seedlings. The germination rates were terrible (with the exception of the Naga Jolokia Ghost Peppers), and the plants were not vigorous. To offset this, we planted a whole second set of tomatoes, peppers, squash, etc. The second set germinated a bit better, but I forgot to unplug the heat mat and they dried out and died.
We nursed the living and transplanted them from their seed trays to grow cups. We were excited when the day came to start hardening them off and we rolled the racks outside. We would open the plastic covers in the day and close them at night to prevent frost bite. One morning, either we forgot to open the cover or it fell back down. Normally not a problem in March, but we had a sudden heat wave and the seedlings cooked. We salvaged what we could. Since we usually over sow, we would still be ok.
Then came the wind. It was a beautiful March Saturday. The sun was out, a few clouds dotted the sky and Spring was in the air. With the onset of early Spring, we also deal with the March winds. But this day, while gusty, the wind didn’t seem overly worrisome. How naïve. We returned from a shopping trip to find one of our racks of seedlings blown over with plants, soil and planting cups snarled and scattered everywhere. We lost quite a bit of stuff that day, but salvaged some. Our visions of abundance were rapidly becoming hopes for enough.
It’s June now and the garden is in full swing. Our beans and squash have been prolific. The cucumbers, melons, peppers and tomatoes are…. Sporadic. Some plants are doing well and producing well, like our Roma tomatoes. But our Beefsteak heirlooms are one step short of non existent. The plants are big enough, in some cases, stunning, but they have very few tomatoes. One bush has one giant tomato, one. Another has zero. The plant is over 5 feet tall, full of blossoms and never a tomato. A few of the other plants fortunately have a good handful. But they have been vulnerable to Blossom End Rot. I have fought rot harder this season than ever.
Our ‘early varieties’ look to be producing well enough. Like the Roma’s they appear strong and have not had tendencies to rot. Small blessings are appreciated.
Until this year, I thought peppers were bullet proof. With the exception of occasional Blossom End Rot in a bell pepper, we have always been successful growing both hot and sweet peppers. This year, except for our Ghost Peppers, they look awful. They are spindly and stumpy and the few fruit are small. I am truly disappointed in my heirloom adventure. This winter it’s back to the drawing board.
At least those mistakes and accidents weren’t expensive, just disappointing. Some of the others have been more costly learning experiences. Take for instance, the dog kennel we bought for extra shelter for the sheep, and the “Poultry Tractor” kit I bought off the internet. Those cost a pretty penny and are less than state of the art.
The kennel came in pieces with a big roll of chain link, rather than in panels. Not good. Once together, it appeared flimsy and ungainly. In this case, appearances were not deceiving. It is difficult to move around the pasture. It was useful at first, because we could shut the sheep in at night and with a tarp over one end and part of the top, it provided shade and shelter from rain. But earlier this week, when I had to pull it about a hundred yards with the lawn tractor, it pretty much fell apart. It is now a dinosaur standing in the middle of the pasture with no useful purpose.
To make matters worse, our Friesian ewe was following the move and tried to dart into the kennel while it was moving. She got her leg tangled and was being partly dragged and crushed. I was oblivious. Brittan managed to get my attention. She was traumatized, I was mortified, but the ewe just jumped up and went to grazing. Luckily, her leg bent with the joint rather than against it. Disaster averted. I went the next day and bought a big shade umbrella to move around with the sheep. It can be carried by hand, has a sturdy base and won’t risk the animal.
The poultry tractor looked like a good idea. The reviews of it are good. The reality is less than we had hoped. It came as hundreds of pieces of pvc with a roll of chicken wire, a tarp and some hardware. The instructions were skeletal. Brittan went to work putting it together while I disked and planted a pasture. She was not happy. It was a stressful, time consuming project that produced a monstrous chicken coop that may or may not actually be mobile. We have our doubts.
One last disaster, planting the pasture. The project itself went well enough. I took my lawn tractor, loaded the aerator/spreader with seed and fertilizer and went to work. I got a couple acres done and was quite satisfied. The pasture I sowed starts fairly flat and high, then slopes down to a valley and climbs a hill to a large flat area. The hillsides needed grass in a bad way.
All went well. The planting, fertilizing followed by a gentle rain. That was Saturday. On Sunday and Monday we had old fashioned ‘gulley washers” that washed all the seed off the hillsides and now I’ll have to do it over. Another hundred dollars quite literally washed away. I suspect the valley will be quite lush later this summer.
Our experiences have taught us much, cost us more and taught us a few valuable lessons. They have also made us appreciate what large farmers go through year after year. We won’t make the same mistakes again. Why do that when there are thousands of new ones out there we haven’t made yet.
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