Looking Back on Our 2018 Growing Season
I must admit, I am writing this on the final day of our CSA program and feeling the pure exhaustion and weight of this entire year on my shoulders lifted. Yet I am still tired. Very very very tired. I know you’re not supposed to use the word very in “sophisticated” writing, but here we are: very tired. As a self-proclaimed workaholic, I can feel the tug already of planning for next year’s growing season. Though I think I will give myself a break and enjoy these next handful of weeks to celebrate the holidays, spend time with my family indoors (yay!), and store away the losses I made over the 2018 season so that I may make room for 2019 plans and dreams.
What a year! We bought our farm back in December and decided to just dive right in to growing market vegetables, starting a CSA program, raising a large flock of chickens and ducks, keep honeybees, and eventually open up our Country Store this autumn. I know, “how do you even manage your life?” but the thing is, I am living a perfectly balanced one! We all are! Because our work is our life. I love everything about it. Even the chicken poop.
This spring I started plants earlier than I ever had before, in mid-February. This year I am already thinking that I will need to begin even sooner so that my transplants are big and healthy. I find myself stuck with trays and trays of mini baby plants to transplant and wondering why I even bothered - just direct sow. I think my problem is that I tend to use the 72-cells (because that’s what’s always recommended) and my plants that were sown into those 4-inch pots did so well in comparison. My kale transplants were huge because I grew them in those larger pots! More expensive? Yes, but worth it in the end.
We turned our covered side porch into a temporary greenhouse by covering the walls with plastic and using a space heater inside during super cold days. It worked really well! I did think that it accounted for stunted growth for sure, especially on nights that were in negative temperatures. We also decided to brood our ducklings in the greenhouse as well, which worked great while we built our chicken coop. You can watch the ducklings swimming here! By the end of spring, when the ducks were full grown, we ended up butchering them. This was not our original plan and I did not write about it when it happened because, honestly, I felt a little guilty. More or less guilty because I know that everyone has opinions about what should be done when a farm animal no longer becomes the right choice for your land. Do you butcher them or not? In my opinion, it’s something that you have to look at with the bigger picture in mind. Our ducks lived a happy life up until their final day. They were fed delicious organic feed, roamed free on our land, and could do basically whatever they pleased. We choose to honor their deaths by using every part of them in our cooking and not wasting the meat that they provide us with. We use their bones for soup stock. I consider this option better than any stock or duck I could purchase at the grocery store. We raised them, and I do not regret our decision. It was a difficult one to make that is for sure.
Spring welcomed many other animals onto our farm. Our year started off with 26 chicks and left us with 21, a number I am feeling proud to say that we kept especially as completely free range birds. Looking back at the photos of the day we brought them home, I am reminded that they were such little tiny fluffs once upon a time!
We also took on a few-days-old bottle calf from our neighbors at The Barn. We named her Pickles! She had been abandoned by her mama, so they thought Tad would enjoy feeding her before she could go out on pasture with the rest of the herd. We had Pickles here on the farm until early summer. There was even a day when she got loose from her pen and took off into the middle of the road right outside of our house. It was terrifying! Thankfully we got her back to safety before any accidents happened!! We also laugh now because we were all being a little snappy with each other during the fray. My dad and Tad were on the lawn mower, and I sprinted from one end of the farm to other trying to tell them that Pickles was roaming the streets. I ended up outrunning the mower just to try to get her attention. Spring was wild and full of new experiences for our family.
The warm months were soon upon us. With our late start to spring, it felt like we entered summer almost immediately. The chicks spent much of their brooding time outdoors in their run. We moved the ducks into their own coop to remove their mess out of the chickens’ dwelling. We spent many evenings in the garden eating peas, beans, cucumbers, and fresh tomatoes. My biggest failures this year were quickly becoming apparent. I spent many mornings from 4AM to noon weeding out individual beds and walking paths in the row crops. It was basically a never-ending task because by the time I finished all of them, the first bed I got to had already begun sprouting more weeds. It was a nightmare. I talked about it here on the blog and social media a LOT. I am so sorry - hahaha! It was just so bad. I am looking out at the field right now from where I am writing and there is still the left over nightmare standing up in the winter breeze, brown and left to seed. Oops.
Honestly, it was one of those things that by the time August rolled around I had given up. All of the time I spent weeding resulted in me losing focus. I did not tie up the tomatoes as best as I could. The cucumbers became buried. I completely lost my eggplants and onions because the weeds ate them. It was horrible. While I made a lot of crops work, there were many that I had to let go. It was like hunting through a jungle for small, sad onions. This is my biggest concern going into next season, and I think I finally found a way to control everything without using any chemicals - weed barrier fabric!
My biggest successes this year? There were plenty, even among the issues we had. Here are some of my favorite good things that happened during our 2018 growing season:
It rained… almost once a week! We had a lot of rain this year. Once a week feels like an over exaggeration, but I swear… it rained at least once every one to two weeks. It was insane! We hardly used the drip irrigation system, except for in the spring when the plants were quite young. The soil that we have has great water retention, so that was a bonus. We have some clay spots but not much, I think that’s mostly because they built the property up a bit way back when. The last time I turned on the irrigation system was, like, back in August. Wow!
We grew great produce. Was some of it small? Yes. There were times where I wondered how I could produce bigger peppers, bigger roma tomatoes. But for the most part I was really proud and satisfied with what I gave to our CSA members and farmer’s market customers each week. We grew a lot of new things for us (Gherkin cucumbers, colored bell peppers, paste and specialty heirloom tomatoes, beans, peas, Asian greens, cabbage, scallions, sweet corn, salad mix, etc). I sometimes have to remind myself that, yeah, this was my second year growing vegetables and my first year growing most of what we produced this year. I often want to look ahead and find myself pushing down what I have already done. It was a big year for us!
The flowers were beautiful. Our flowers! They made me really happy. If there was anything that I had not grown before, it was flowers specifically grown for cutting. We stepped into that game with absolutely zero expectations or experience. I grew some flowers last year but they were nothing special. Over the past season, we had to figure out how to correctly space and cut our flowers so that we could sell them and ensure a lasting vase life, not to mention figure out how to arrange them! It was a great year for flowers.
We had produce every week. My biggest accomplishment? Serving a huge basket of veggies every single week to our CSA customers. Each Monday after pick-up the previous week, I would stand looking out at the crops, praying that I would have enough to get me through. I did the math in the early spring. I planted the seeds. But I had no idea what would happen after that. You never do! But it all worked out. Even today, on our last pick-up of the season, I had enough to give. I am so thankful.
Of all of the seasons this year, I feel that our vegetables tasted the best this autumn. The cold air came quickly, and it crisped up our greens that had been wilting all summer long and sweetened our roots. The carrots this fall were so gorgeous! We were so busy preparing the store that I honestly forgot to capture the many beautiful vegetables that I grew. We had an abundance of greens, carrots, rutabagas, turnips, beets, scallions, radishes, and more. It was glorious. The weather quickly changed only just last week. We received our first snowfall of the year, a sensation that felt somewhat early. I said goodbye to the garden and watched my beautiful produce freeze and wilt. We barely slid by for the end of CSA!
Now it is time to clean up the mess we made. I need to go out and collect row covers and weed barrier fabric. It’s time to pull out the stakes and take down the fencing. The chicken coop will receive a major deep clean for winter, and we will build the cats a warm house to sleep in beside the coop. Our apple trees have lost their leaves. We made over 20 gallons of fresh cider this year that we shared with friends and have stored in our freezer. There is much that we grew and traded for this year in that freezer, a true sign of a bountiful harvest. I am thankful the most that we will be able to treat ourselves to the flavors of summer during these shut-in months of cold. How lovely will it be to eat a fresh garden tomato in January? To roast Wild Farm’s pastured pork shoulder in the crockpot or taste the sweet strawberry rhubarb jam made back in May?
What were your garden successes this year? Your failures? Share them below!