Sunday, August 27, 2017

Humble Pie

Tammy and I have been working the Genuine Faux Farm since 2005, so it's not like we're novices or anything.  Yet, we still make mistakes and things still go wrong.  We still have problems that give us grief and we still don't like sharing them publicly.  Yet, I still put things on the blog that illustrate failures - why is that?

The biggest reason I have for recording the opposite of success is to enforce some level of reflection so we can try to avoid the same situation in the future.  If you don't think about the causes and reasons for the problem, how can you address them effectively?  The answer to that question is that you can't. 

But, why share them publicly in a blog? 

First things first, I highly doubt that many people read this blog, so it's not like I'm going to have to go on a media outlet tour to explain why things went wrong to the general public.  Those who do read this blog are genuinely supportive and/or are interested in learning.  In the first case, real communication to people who care is balanced between the good, the bad and the middle ground.  So, there is no problem there.  In the second case, there is no better learning situation than when failure is encountered.

And, let's be clear here - our whole farm plan is built to absorb some failures.  To paraphrase another farmer I respect very much, "If you don't have some failures each season, you aren't trying hard enough."

Now that the obligatory introduction is complete, let's get to the fun. 

Everyone Who Farms Has Done This (and will do it again)
Don't leave rolls of barbed wire, chunks of fencing, fence posts and other such things near paths or other areas where grass and other growing things will cover them.

Yeah, yeah.  I hear you.

There are very few people who have mowed on a farm that can say they have never mowed over something that fowled up the blades.  In fact, I'll bet that the few people who can say that didn't do a whole lot of mowing on a farm.  Simply put, farms have a lot going on.  You set things down 'just for a second' because you only have two hands.  You'll come back and get that after you do this thing or that thing.  You run over it with the mower two months later.

If You're Going to Deviate From the Plan...
When we plan for our season we usually have 'alternative plans' if things dictate that we make changes.  But, I can tell you this much - as soon as you get a thought that follows the format of "Huh, I'll just do this instead of..." you'd better take another moment or three to think through it.
Huh, I'll just change the spacing in this field because the plan doesn't look right... ya, right.
As always, there is more to the picture than the heading shows.  And, the post isn't really about all of the details that led to sad chleome flowers in the middle of weeds.  My point is that, while it is good to be able to make adjustments, you should make sure to think through those adjustments.  The worst mistakes we have made on the farm were the result of a rushed decision.

It Doesn't Count If You Answer the Quiz Question Correctly
It sure doesn't hurt to have a nice pool of knowledge at your disposal for whatever work you may do.  But, darn it, if you don't apply what you know, it doesn't really help does it?

This one frustrates me because we have known for many years that bush beans (especially green beans) tend to keep potato beetles out of potatoes well enough that you don't need to worry about the population getting out of hand and destroying your potato crop.  We know this to be true and we plan to execute an intercropping plan every season.  We may modify the plan every so often, but it's there.

So, how is it possible that we did not get it done this year? 

First, let me assure you that we didn't lose our crop.  Some varieties are going to do poorly because of potato beetles, but we'll still get some decent taters.  But, I'm still asking the question - how did we let this happen?

The reality is, we didn't just let it happen.  On a highly diversified, small-scale farm there are limited resources for a very diverse number of crops.  Certain weather patterns can hit a spot that can set a subset of crops back simply because the resources are not available to deal with that crop AND all of the others that need something done 'right now.'  Hard choices have to be made and the beans in the taters didn't happen in time to prevent the potato beetle flush that we had to deal with this year.  In this case, it will make the difference between an outstanding crop and a passable one. 

On the plus side, it encouraged me to exercise my "poetry skills."  (and now you are all saying, please do better with your intercropping next season)

Sometimes, It's Not About You
The weather doesn't provide the growing degree days for a crop to reach maturity during the planned period of production.  The sun doesn't come out for ten days straight.  The state of Iowa is so full of herbicides flying all over the place that things don't germinate consistently.  The woodchuck figures out how to get into a coldframe and eats your melon starts.  Excessive rain floods your high tunnel and rots out carrots and beans.  It's just part of what we deal with and it's a big reason why the diversity on our farm is so important.

Eden is missing some beans here....
The excessive rains in July resulted in standing water for Eden.  Green beans do not care for that sort of situation so our formerly healthy plants all had to be pulled.  The good news?  We had already harvested a pound per row foot from these plantings.  The bad news?  We usually get three pounds per foot by the end of the season from rows like these.

But, as I mentioned, the diversity of our crops and the diversity built into our plan tends to result in an overall 'win' for the farm.  For example, we have been able to harvest from some of the green beans in our east fields since the loss of these bean plants.  And, in another week or so the beans in Valhalla will start producing - so hurrah for succession planting.  We've harvested 226 pounds of green beans in 2017 and our goal is to land somewhere between 600 and 800 pounds for the season.  We'll be just fine, thank you.  But, it would have been nice to have the easier road to our goal with beans happily producing in Eden.

Mad Scientist?
We experiment on the farm frequently because we know there is always more to learn and we recognize that experiential learning is very effective.
I'd say there was some seed in that straw mulch, wouldn't you?
Our sprawling cucumber vines always result in some weed issues later in the life of the crop.  We've considered paper mulch, but you can't walk on that to harvest.  We've considered trellising (and even tried it), but there's a labor timing issue that just doesn't work on our farm.  This year, we trialed putting some straw mulch between two rows and you can see the result above. 

Apparently, the oat straw had a lot of oat seed in it.  We only placed the straw between the rows and not on the outsides.  As you can see, the cucumbers seem to favor growing OFF of the straw mulch.  We've taken the time to pull the oat 'weeds' and we'll see how this succession of cucumbers finishes.  But, this experiment may not be repeated without some serious thought.

And there you have it!  A look at some things that aren't going (or didn't go) quite as we wanted at the farm this season.  We can handle these problems and we will handle them.  Perhaps the most difficult part about them is avoiding making our failures our focus for the season.  Plenty of things have gone and are going well enough.  But, we're human.  It only takes one failure to obscure ten successes. 

But at least we won't get a big head.

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