I almost feel like writing a book titled: Tales from a First Year Farmer. How else can I explain the cringe when I see a particularly juicy green caterpillar lunching on my fava beans? Or the pure joy when I find a pile of dead slugs, drowned in a small amount of beer near my traumatized sugar snap peas? It would be useful to share about building a trellis out of recycled bike tires and wire or the frustration when the bugs devour my beets to oblivion. I beg the strawberries to grow, curse at a recently dead apple tree and swear to spend time with my chickens—lest they get crabby.
It has been a great year, with all of its ups and downs. And by year I mean: we planted our garden and bought our chickens this time last year. We were scrambling to finish our coop, waging war on tree bamboo and laying sprinklers. The backyard was a jungle that we just recently tackled (see photos below) and now I know: it takes a good year for perennial artichokes and brussel sprouts to start producing. Imagine the squeal when—after a year of watching this straggler plant—I found the first little artichoke bud? Which is why I planted asparagus. It just started growing but I won’t be able to pluck and grill it until another season or two.
I am beginning to appreciate the ebb and flow of farming. It isn’t all done at once. It isn’t all done in a season, or even a year. A number of plants can overwinter, and it takes years for some plants to mature. Patience just might be the best virtue for a farmer (and a bit of a kick-ass spirit + devotion when it comes to killing all manner of pests and disappointing weather). It is OKAY if I don’t learn everything in the first year. I couldn’t even if I tried. Farming isn’t like cramming for a test, it’s more of a learn as you go experience. I do my best to absorb from those around me—digesting their nibbles of good advice.
An update for early June:
- my strawberries are green and growing.
- earwigs (disgusting!) love to lay eggs and grow in furled fava bean leaves (see pic below). The good news: after I pluck them form their little beds I feed them to my chickens for a special treat.
- this NASTY green caterpillar made me jump and still gives me the shivers. I found it this morning, and since I was all out of rubber gloves, used tweezers to dump it into a small jar for chicken treats. The white moths lay their eggs [that become these caterpillars] on fava leaves and cauliflower.
- my fava beans are growing—I have already eaten quite a few. Fava beans can overwinter. Plant the seeds in the fall and they will pop up when the time is right.
- I recently trans/planted: a myriad of squash, peppers, eggplants, beets and [though early] some tomatoes.
- we haven’t built our compost yet. It is in the queue for building this fall (with rabbit cages on top!)
- James put up temporary metal fencing so I can grow tomatoes and eggplants without the chickens pulling them out of the ground.
- I put in a few bachelor buttons. Edible flowers!
- I bought a hummingbird feeder—I cannot wait to hang it. I used to watch hummingbird’s for hours and hours outside my grandmother’s window.
- Almost two years in our home and we finally had our backyard leveled and James laid sod. If you look closely at the photo, below, you will see circular dirt spot. That is where we are going to put our fire pit!
- My kale was too fragile when I transplanted it, so I am thinking direct sowing outside might be a better plan.
- The top photo is of sunflower starts. I will wait a few weeks until I put them outside.
A few random lessons I have learned:
- chickens can better see worms and bugs in brown dirt than green caterpillars on leaves. While the adore eating the protein-filled green things—it is harder for them to spot.
- even if that plant you neglected (my dill in a pot comes to mind—no stem was upright) is entirely wilted. Water it. It might just come back to life.
- there will always be bugs: last year’s nasty aphids are replaced by this year’s enormous caterpillar population—a gift from white moths laying eggs. Grrrrr.
- happiness is ‘found objects’ for the farm. The boys, James and I love to stop by estate sales and antique stores—especially in rural areas. Finding something for our urban farm has a satisfaction hard to explain. Recent finds: an old wooden and metal ladder that will become a trellis, and an old metal truck tire rim that will be our backyard fire pit (see yellow object below).
- while beer is fantastic for slug-hunting, it is a favorite treat of black ants. Here is the scoop: at night put a plastic cup in the ground, flush with the dirt/ground. Put in an inch of beer and wait until morning. The slugs will slime their way in and die. BUT if you leave the container there beyond mid-morning (when things begin to warm) you will have just provided black ants with a watering hole—only better since it is beer. So kill the slugs, but remove the cup in the morning.