Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Farmer's Dream

I don't know if others will admit it, but this farmer has been known to daydream at times when he is doing a repetitive farm task.  After all, weeding 200 feet of *pick your favorite veg* requires only a portion of the brain power available once you get into it.  And, if you are the only one in the field at that time, it's a decent way to deal with the task.

Sometimes, I picture what a "perfect" year on the farm would be like.  All the time I am doing this, I fully realize a few things:
1. There is likely no such thing as a "perfect" year if you think it means no work, no failures, no struggle and no disappointments.
2. Each year is different and each may bring a new definition of what would make a year "perfect."
3. The vision of perfection may serve only as a way to measure how far we are getting to what we strive for on the farm.

The Farmer's Dream

A perfect year has fields that look amazingly like the plans we put down on paper in Winter.  The rows are straight, the plants look healthy and uniform, the weeds are missing and the day begs you to go out and work in the field.

Some broccoli rows that look pretty darned clean!
The fences go up in a timely fashion and stay up even during windy days.  The vines that are supposed to grow up them do so and the weeds that aren't supposed to insinuate themselves into the fence stay away.  The difficult to weed crops (such as carrots) are weeded or easily weeded.

We won't frame this picture, but weeded carrots are a big accomplishment.

The mulch is placed just in time and the plants respond well to the treatment.  The straw doesn't result in a bunch of weed seed sprouts later in the year and it adds some nice organic matter to the soil.  We have enough extra to place a nice bed of straw between rows so the farmer can kneel in it while picking the harvest later on.
Tomatoes fully mulched, next up - cages!

Rows are planted straight to help with the laying drip, later cultivation and weeding.  The seedlings all take and very few succumb to disease or pests.

Cucumber transplants with drip line next to them.

The equipment is reliable and any breakdown is quickly remedied.  The tools are used no more or no less than they should be and the resulting effort reminds you why you acquired the equipment in the first place. 

Tyler gives Durnik a workout

New tool additions are used successfully and the learning curve is climbed without major meltdowns by the farmer (or whomever is using the tool on the farm).  By the end of the season, the farmer feels the return on investment for the tool will be accomplished in a relatively short period of time.

the Williams Tool Bar was a significantly positive addition this season.

The farm is able to employ technologies that don't consume as many non-renewable resources as other technologies might.  And, amazingly, the technologies work and do their job.

The wax cylinder openers for the high tunnel vents were a big win.

The young plants are healthy and prepare to bear fruit.  The farmers see the promise of future crops and begin to feel confident that something will be harvested.  A walk through the fields is a pleasure as they represent current and future returns for hard work and consistent efforts.

A young zucchini plant begins to flower

Critters on the farm are safe and healthy.  We're never sure it is safe to say that they are happy since we don't know what the definition of happy is for a duck, but they do a pretty good job of indicating when they are NOT happy.

Ducklings love their water.

And the flowers on the farm are not obscured by weeds and they reward us with glimpses of beauty that make us slow down for a minute and smile.

And it stinks pretty too!

And the efforts to keep our soil healthy and provide habitat for pollinators and natural predators pay off.  The cover crops take off rapidly and cover the soil, choking out some of the nastier weeds that hurt our crops and adding nitrogen, or phosphorous or other good things back to our soil.

Buckwheat in bloom.

The flowers and cover crops are covered in pollinators of all sorts.  Our flower plantings and herb plantings are covered in native bees, lady bugs, katydids and other beneficial insects.  Spiders, toads, snakes, frogs and other predators keep things in balance for us.

Bumblebee on sedum.

And the flower rows we put in our fields do as well as the crops, adding their visual appeal to the benefits they bring to our diverse environment on the farm.

Herbs and their flowers are great for native bees.
Our little innovations, sometimes the product of a year or more of scheming and thinking, actually come to fruition.  And, amazingly, work.

It's a small thing, but this worked great for drip tape this year.

And, some of the things we know we need to do to make life better on the farm actually get done.  And, amazingly, they work too.

Fold up ladder roosts are great for the laying flock.

In fact, it is often the lower tech solutions that give some of the best results.  Which, of course, means that we don't have to rely on off-farm solutions.  A farm that can solve many of its own problems is always part of the dream.

Raised beds paid off in 2013.

And the farmers get exercise some of their creativity and have a little fun. 

Cool T-shirt!  Anyone want one?

The farmers even get a chance now and again to stop, reflect, relax and enjoy the life they build on the farm.  And, if they fail to do this, they have critters on the farm that remind them that there is something positive to be had during those moments.

Sandman knows what to do on hot days.

And the long term plantings begin to give fruit with promises for even more in the future.
2013 was the first for a decent amount of apples on the farm.

And the plants grow and continue to show the farmers the potential for delicious future meals - both for themselves and for others.  The anticipation is exciting rather than frustrating.

There weren't many of these on the farm this year.  This one essentially was a volunteer.
The crops exceed expectations and the farmers and workers get to pick without a worry about meeting the demand for the produce.  The quality and taste is exceptional and the farmers are proud to offer what they have grown to all of the good people who enjoy the food they produce.

Chinese cabbage was a good crop in 2013.
The farmers are able to grow a wide variety of each crop, accounting for different tastes and needs.  The produce begs to have its picture taken.

These Cocazelle zucchini asked that the farmer take their picture.
The harvests are bountiful.  Even those that the farmers worried about at the beginning of the year pull through with excellent harvests.  And, those that will store, store well so that people can enjoy excellent produce into the Winter months.

An excellent garlic harvest.

Good people work on the farm with us, either as paid workers or volunteers.  Groups of curious and positive people come to visit the farm and enjoy what it has to offer.  Dedicated and wonderful folks receive our produce and happily put it to good use.

Feeding the chickens

And, every so often, there is a sunset or sunrise that causes the farmers to stop and admire it.

One of our 2013 sunsets

This blog post was written in part because I realized that we had all of these pictures from this season that fit into our dream.  Was 2013 perfect?  Of course not!  There were many struggles, failures and imperfections.  The ducks did not remain healthy for us this year and many of our flower beds were overrun by weeds.  Some crops did not do nearly as well as we wanted.  The Spring weather was incredibly difficult for us.  And yet, many of the components for the "perfect" season were there, just as they likely are every season.

We just have to look to see them.  And upon seeing them, recognize them for what they are - a part of the perfect season that was this season.

Warts and all.

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