Wednesday, November 11, 2020

A Return to Fundamentals?

I took a quick look at some of our oldest (digital) farm pictures and found some that were taken by Sally Worley at our first Practical Farmers of Iowa field day in 2008.  

It is always interesting to see what others choose to photograph when they come to our farm.  For some reason, people often select a few things that make the farmer cringe.  As a 'for instance,'  for some video event a person zoomed in on a weak, bolted lettuce in an area we had let go.  I mean - C'mon!  We work really hard to grow things well and we also typically work pretty hard to clean things up when we know others are coming.  Why would you go to that section, over there, that we opted to let be because it was out of the way and not necessary for farm operations?

One example is above. It's an area we didn't get to weeding and finally succumbed to mowing it down before people arrived the next day.  Perhaps it didn't look bad to others.  But, darn it!  That was supposed to be our little secret!  

But, that's exactly why I actually value these pictures.

You see, when we select pictures for blog posts or to review prior years, we don't always look at a photo such as this one.  But, the reality is that we should look at this one and others like it so we can ground ourselves in the truth of what was, not the truth of what lives inside our heads.

Remembering What Worked

My thought process went something like this - "Oh!  Look at those great zinnias!  And the clean melons right next to them.  I remember the variety on the end didn't do well, but the rest were fine.  We need to get back to the fundamentals of diverse growing using solid intercropping methods."

Well - ya.  But, then I realized that we always have used intercropping methods - with varying levels of success - and we are committed to continuing to refine how we do it.  It just seemed like those zinnias are brighter than the zinnias we have had recently.  But, perhaps they have just gotten brighter in my memory?  I mean, they look pretty good in that picture don't they?

But, they also look good in this picture from 2016.  And, we had a nice long hedge of them this year as well.  They weren't as big - but we had to plant them later (wet fields).  But, they were dense enough that it was nearly impossible to walk through them if you wanted.  They did a nice job of hemming the winter squash in so they wouldn't creep into the next planting area.  In fact, only a few vines even managed to get through.

So, yes.  We will return to some of the fundamentals that, frankly, we never left in the first place.  Instead, we will re-dedicate ourselves to some of the things we feel are important to maintain a diverse and healthy farm.  Just as we do every year.

We're just going to do even better next year.


The year of our first field day was also the first season we had any difficulty growing cucumbers.  What you see above were vines that should have been in full swing at the point the picture was taken.  As you can see, it was well cultivated.  We had not neglected them.  Yet, there they were, looking pretty pitiful.

It turned out everyone in the area who was growing for markets had a terrible time with cucumbers in 2008.  I need to review my notes from that year to see if we ever figured out the causes.  

Note - the plural 'causes' is not a typo.  If there is one thing I have learned over time, it is that there are always going to be stresses of some kind on a crop.  A successful grower finds ways to encourage healthy plants so they can deal with those stresses and still produce well.  After all, the perfect growing season for every crop on our farm can't happen because each of our crops has a different idea of what a perfect growing season would be.

Perhaps that is also something we should all keep in mind as we grow our gardens and we live our lives in our communities.  My perfect season may not be your perfect season.  But, if I should be lucky enough to see perfection, then I should at least be kind and aware enough to help you to stay healthy and well.

At the very least - there should be flowers.

Have a good day everyone and be well!

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