The Homestead Organic Journal
4/15: The problem with publishing a seasonal farm journal, even a slightly made-up one like this, is that it overlooks a lot of details that it would appear people want to know about, judging by how often I'm asked about my Winter comportment . Through the cold months, the farm sleeps, but not the farmer; not all the time, anyway. And so, with another season of producing dispatches from the farm for this fine paper set to begin, I thought it best to start by catching you up on things. Here's a monthly recap:
November is the coldest month of the year. Probably not for you, mind you; but it's the month I tend to be most miserly with my use of wood for the stove, in order to account for the likley accurate prediction that my supply is insufficient to last the Winter. If only I could bottle the heat generated during my summer efforts to cut, haul, split and stack it, a surfeit of which tends to make me miserable in my sawing pants, which is why I never seem to be able to procure enough. The takeaway here is that what I do in November is shiver. And fend off dirty looks from Vanessa, whose circulation is less vigorous, and sweaters more threadbare.
Decemeber is generally when Vanessa and I are both free enough to travel together. Our plan for some time in New Orleans started inauspiciously when I awoke on departure day with a violent flu. My belly having decided to write 'Return to Sender' on any and all oral Gravol I sent it, Vanessa decided to swing in to a Bellingham Walmart for the suppository kind. Which is how we learned that suppository Gravol cannot be got over the counter in Washington State like it can in BC. We delayed our trip by a day. In retrospect, I'm glad. I suspect I wouldn't have enjoyed the Gravol much. On the fun scale, Flintstone Vitamins they're not. New Orleans was great.
January is spent crop-planning (hours and hours), purchasing seeds, and reevaluating my business model, which is always in danger of rusting. This year brought some big changes. I've given up my Penticton, Summerland, and Westbank home delivery customers to focus exclusively on Peachland, and will be offering fully customizable orders this year. With no commitment required! This is not usually done in such veggie programs. It's scary and exciting for me all at the same time.
February and March I attended some farming conferences in Wisconsin (-20C, 3500 organic farmers) and San Diego (+20C, 700 Permaculturalists) and then returned here and hit the ground running due to this zany Spring we're having. I've been farming in earnest ever since.
4/16: It's so damned dry. It's my fifth start to a season in Peachland, and I've never had to be so focused on irrigating so early. Most people are thrilled, I know, but all I can think about is the small snowpack and the forest fire season we're going to have if we don't get some rain. Incidentally, it's this kind of Spring that can seduce many home gardeners into planting their summer crops out too early. It's important to remember that we're still likely to see a frost or two, so tomatoes and cukes and beans and corn should only be left out overnight if they're covered. The frost-hardy crops are in heaven right now, though, aren't they? Don't be shy to plant out your kale and lettuce and peas and parsley and onions. Talk to you again in four Views.'
4/20: I love this time of year because of the blank canvas it represents. A farming career, especially one started by a neophyte in his twenties, is a series of mistakes that generally can't be corrected until one year hence. April 20 is generally late enough to feel the promise of a great season ahead of you, but early enough that you haven't made any big mistakes yet. May they be few and far between this year!
April 26: Another reason to enjoy Spring on the farm is that the wildlife is particularly diverse, and active. As a veggie grower, I spend all my time with flora, which makes the fauna on display of late, even the subset that makes things harder for me, kind of a treat. Yesterday, I found a frog hanging out in one of the greenhouses, far from the nearest pond or stream. I don't know how he got there or where he went afterward, but I bet he's been enjoying the spiders and pill bugs hanging out under the ever-growing canopy of the zucchini in there.
Also, there are bees everywhere, thanks to a local beekeeper who recently dropped off one of his hives here. It didn't take long for at least one bear to find out, which toppled the hive almost immediately. The hive was intact when we found it, which means that the bear left with no honey and sore snout.
Five years in to my tenure here, the critters continue to surprise me, as they did in the middle of my recent microgreens experiment. Are you an aspiring entrepreneur with a proclivity to pedantry? Consider growing microgreens for chefs. They're worth big bucks, if you can successfully manipulate their growing conditions just so to achieve the yields they're capable of.
Normally grown in greenhouse trays in the nursery, I decided to try growing them in garden beds. Seeds of various plants--peas, sunflowers, flax, buckwheat, broccoli, radish, basil, and on and on--are planted extremely densely on the surface of the soil. They're prone to drying out this way, so I cover them with corrugated plastic while they're germinating. It took me about an hour to sprinkle, gingerly**, the seeds of about ten different plants in short blocks in a garden bed, to ensure their distribution was just right.
Which is why I was nonplussed to discover, upon lifting up the plastic covers a couple days later, numerous beetles scattering for cover, and that many of the larger seeds had been rearranged into small piles, but otherwise unmolested. It appears that the beetles, seemingly appearing from the ether, had collectively decided to reorder the furniture I had so carefully laid out on their carpet. Their decision, though bad for my bottom line, was good for my sense of wonder, which otherwise seems to be waning with age. For that, I'll continue to tolerate whatever Stonehenges these beetle druids are intent on erecting.
May 12: Nothing motivates one like the fear of public embarassment. Last season, colleague Jennay Oliver, owner of Paynter's Fruit Stand, grew an enormous pumpkin for a local brewery's batch of Halloween ale. I told her I thought I could grow a bigger one. We now have a bet going. The loser will be subjected to a public display of his or her endorsement of the other's farm business. I planted my seeds early, which are now healthy seedlings, ready to plant. While I'm at it, I'll see about claiming top prize for largest pumpkin at the Peachland Fall Fair in September. My entry last year didn't even come close.