May go down in history as the longest/warmest fall ever (almost 70 degrees on Christmas, wow!) but we finally got snow! The chickens are all tucked in the greenhouse, the rabbits have moved to the solarium, the holidays are over…and the seed catalogs have arrived, which means…next years garden planning! As I look back at this past season, I realize just how much we learn each growing season….thought I’d post some ‘lessons learned’ aka, notes to myself, for next year…
1)label plant starts with a sharpie. I repeat, with a sharpie. Not the kids washable marker. Which washes off when you…ahem…water them. As much as I remain almost convinced that I can tell a tomato sprout from a cabbage from a pepper, those dang broccoli and cabbage and Brussels sprouts and collard greens all pretty much look alike when they are a few weeks old, and the lovely botanical name and date started tag is a mushy mess. It made for a few fun beds of mystery vegetables, not going to do that again…
2) those lovely greenhouse supply catalogs that I was drooling over…..deliberating about whether to spend the $60 on special tomato twine, I’m going to buy them this year. I was pretty convinced special tomato twine and rolls were just a plan concocted by the supply companies to get me to spend money, but alas, the regular twine I used this year, after months of humidity and watering in the greenhouse, just broke down and fell apart….sending many of my lovely 8 foot high tomato plants crashing down, breaking them in the process. Lesson learned, buying the special twine this year!
3) the laying hens! They always tell you to get some new young ones every year….we hadn’t in a couple of years, because we had so many, supposedly in their prime …and then they all stopped laying. For months. Going through a molt cycle, 27 chickens plus no eggs for months made for some cranky chicken farmers. (We actually had to buy eggs, yikes..)If we continuously buy some new ones every year (and retire a few every year) we should stay in eggs more consistently. They would hopefully be in different molt cycles, so some would still be laying, while others were ‘resting’…thankfully, the laying chicks we were raising for some friends, are staying here, so we unexpectedly (and wonderfully) have our new layers! Yay!
4) we can’t to everything we want to do this season…so many tempting projects! Solar dehydrator, ducks for the pond, fish for the pond, Hugelculture garden beds, medicinal herb garden, planting grapes and more berries, build a wood fired oven, and a smoker….the list could go on, but we need to tackle one at a time, maybe a few new projects a season. ..(except for the smoker, which we may tackle this weekend…) we had doubled the growing space this summer, had our first season with a greenhouse, started with rabbits, and raised more chicken and turkey than we ever have before! All in all, fantastic, productive summer!
5) not wasting (aka my goal for this past summer) is HARD….harder than it seems. But made easier by the rabbits and chickens, who will eat just about anything. Not wasting, to me, meant dehydrating, canning, and freezing all the produce that we couldn’t eat in the few days after we harvested. It meant finding a zillion ways to eat the zucchini, canning every few days, running the dehydrator almost constantly. It meant lots of cucumber and greens smoothies, finding creative ways to use everything, sharing with neighbors. By feeding the rabbits foraged food (dandelions, apples)..and farm scraps (broccoli stalks, kale stems etc), almost all our farm ‘waste’ went to growing many healthy meat rabbits, their ‘waste’ going back into the soil to build fertility, and the same with the chickens. Though not wasting was hard, it is fantastic to have all the frozen veggies, canned soup, etc, not to mention the canned stock from the bones and bits of chicken and turkey after processing day. Work. But worth it.
6) not feeling guilty about our chosen lifestyle…odd huh? But I do get a lot of pangs of guilt for not doing things like disneyworld, or vacations, or sending the kids to camps (don’t get me started about the excessive amount of kids activities that we are supposed to be doing..) or exposing the kids to slaughter day, or the realities of raising your own animals for meat. The truth is, we don’t get away during the growing season, and the trade off is awesome homegrown organic food. And I think it is worth the trade offs we make. And I think the education the children are getting will be a benefit to them their whole life. My 9 year old can process a chicken from start to finish (in truth, he could do it when he was 8)…they know potatoes grow under ground, how to grow cabbage and make sauerkraut, my 7 year old can make flatbread herself, with our eggs, my three year old knows which are the carrots, and how to grab a fistful out of the ground, and can tell you when the tomatoes are ‘ready’..not to brag (too late), but I’m proud of what they are learning. And we do not try to hide them from the reality that if we are going to eat meat, an animal loses its life. But we try to give the animals a great, healthy life, in which they get freedom to range, sunshine, fresh air, love, a respectful death, and much much respect and appreciation. They sustain us all year! We love and respect them. End rant.
7) weighing produce/keeping track is SO worth it! (And next year I hope to do better..) we weighed all the vegetables (except for the greens, which would have driven me totally insane..) and weighed the chickens and turkeys
we processed….didn’t keep track of eggs (now that they are back on track, will count eggs next year!)
Main garden 1,187.5 lbs
Greenhouse 479 lbs
Turkeys 120 lbs
Total: 2,362.5 pounds grown in the backyard
(Divided by 365 days in a year, that comes to 6.5 pounds a day…for our family, I love farm math! That figure alone made it worth the almost daily harvest weighing)
And I know, next year will be even better! I’m going to ring in the new year with some Vermont hard cider, and a stack of seed catalogs…(p.s. Making hard cider is on my list for next year…crossing fingers for abundant apples)
happy new year!!!!