Lessons learned

Hello again, and please forgive us our recent absence. We’ve taken a small summer hiatus – not because we’ve actually been on vacation, but because for a period of time there we didn’t have many nice things to say about farming, and we didn’t want our space here to sound whiny and negative. We’re genuinely thrilled to be farming, even when we aren’t.

Hail 01 sml

One of early summer’s low points.

It’s been just under one year since we found Quiet Farm, and what a year it’s been. There have been highs and lows and successes and failures. And now that we’re one year wiser and can officially call ourselves farmers, we’re working hard on learning from our experiences. We always say that we’re allowed to make as many mistakes as we want, but we have to make different mistakes. If we make the same mistakes over and over, then we obviously haven’t learned anything.

Garlic Bed 01 sml

Pro tip: don’t mulch your garlic bed with straw. When straw gets wet, it tends to turn back into…grass. Who knew?

The hardest lesson I’ve had to learn this year is that we didn’t actually purchase a farm one year ago – we bought a piece of land that we’re working hard on converting into a farm. And there is a big, big difference, one that I didn’t fully understand until recently. We like to refer to this as The Year of Building Infrastructure. (It certainly isn’t The Year of Growing Food.)

Tomato Plants 01 sml

Two identical tomato plants, treated in the exact same fashion. Why is the one on the left three times the size of the other? I have no idea.

I am notorious for looking back on what we’ve done this past year and seeing only the failures, the missed opportunities, the lost crops, the errors. My much-more balanced partner, thankfully, looks back on what we’ve done and sees just how much we’ve accomplished with grit and sweat and tears and YouTube. And somewhere between those two perspectives you can find the truth.

Pest Damage 01 sml

After a particularly vicious whistle pig attack, I actually wrapped the tomatillos in barbed wire. It sort of helped…but the squirrels still got through.

Grasshopper 01 sml

Our current nemesis Acridomorpha, or common grasshopper.

Pest Damage 02 sml

These young potato plants were another favorite treat of our resident whistle pigs.

One factor we definitely neglected to consider was just how many creatures want to eat Every. Single. Thing. we’re planting. From deer to whistle pigs to ground squirrels to grasshoppers to our own chickens (guys, you’re supposed to be on our team!), we didn’t know that we’d be in a constant state of war. And since heavy-duty chemicals and poisons aren’t in our arsenal, we have to try to outsmart these villains. (Spoiler alert: we’re failing, mostly.) Going into battle out on our land every single day takes its toll psychologically since we never know what new damage we’ll discover.

Rasberry Beds 05 sml

This is supposed to be a lush raspberry patch.

One of our most heartbreaking failures this season: our forty carefully-selected, carefully-planted raspberry canes. Despite our coddling, not a single plant survived. Did we plant too early? Did the canes freeze or overheat in transit? Was it the late spring snow? The harsh winds? The deer pressure before we fenced the patch? We don’t know, and we’ll never know. We’ll replant these next spring and hope for better results, but the time and water and anguish spent is tough to ignore.

Polish Rooster 01 sml

This one came thisclose to ending up in the stock pot.

Eggs Nest 01 sml

Oh, look! It’s like a perfect Easter tableau!

And then there is the challenge of raising our own animals, who, in addition to eating things they shouldn’t, enrage and entertain us every day. One sunny afternoon our top rooster, above, decided to take himself off for a solo adventure in the neighboring orchard. N heard him crowing and quickly figured that he was off-piste, as it were. This is simply not done – at the worst, he might call the entire flock of hens to join him and then we’re in real trouble. We spent a frantic twenty minutes trespassing on private property, crouching and ducking under trees and trellises, trying to cajole a lost and anxious rooster to come back home before things got messy. The story is funny now, but it wasn’t funny at the time – we were stressed, our bird was stressed, and no one enjoyed the experience.

Some weeks later, we noticed that our daily egg counts were much lower than expected. We initially attributed the loss to a sudden heatwave, but then found a concealed nest under the sweet peas containing thirteen eggs – the hens had been laying outside of the house. As the eggs had been out for an indeterminate time, we couldn’t eat them, and to add insult to injury we found another six eggs a few days later. Moral of the story: pay attention to your animals. They will always tell you what they need and what they’re doing, if you listen.

Make no mistake: growing food is hard. Raising animals is hard. Farming is hard. We knew this would be a challenge, and we weren’t wrong. Most of the time we have absolutely no idea what we’re doing, but we’re learning every single day, and we’re better for it. Thanks for coming along with us on this incredible journey, friends. We couldn’t do it without you.

13 thoughts on “Lessons learned

  1. A wise man – my dad – told me “anything worth having is worth working for.” You have a lot to work for, one rock at a time. Why do gardeners even plant tomatoes? They are more susceptible to viruses, diseases, and bugs than any other plant in the garden. Must be the BLTs.

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    • Jim, tomatoes are the curse of most gardeners, I think. You just cannot go back to storebought once you’ve tasted homegrown. And we will keep plugging away, hopefully learning as we go!

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  2. Just having a garden can be challenging, I cannot imagine trying to tackle this on the scale of a FARM. You two are amazing and I have so enjoyed watching your progress (yes, you’ve made tons of it!) even though it makes me miss you terribly. Keep on truckin’!

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  3. YOU HAVE DONE SOOO MUCH WORK!!! Pwhew!! I agree about those grasshoppers. I got ONE 3″ zucchini last year because of them. Trying to keep the hundreds living in my grass on the other side of the fence at bay until the squash flowers have started to grow their veggies. Across the street and 3 houses down they have beautiful veggies. I sometimes wish I could herd those suckers to the neighbors!

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    • Thanks, Susan! And we definitely feel your pain with the grasshoppers – I’d never had to deal with them on the Front Range, but they’re a nightmare here. Our farmer friends say this summer is the worst they’ve ever seen them. Maybe next year they won’t be such a problem?

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  4. I think you both have done an incredible job and should be so proud. I know it was so much more challenging than you thought but actually seeing what you two have worked for and built is just amazing and beautiful. I am proud of you everyday. You have come so far and will continue to grow and be challenged. (P.S. We planted berry bushes and got nothing for years and then BOOM one year we got some raspberries and this year even black berries! Not very many, as they are usually eaten by the time we get done picking them but we grew them!). Hoping your fruit does better next year. XOXO

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