August reflections: Limits and Goals

I think the biggest things I have learned this month – and this season for that matter – are:

1.) When an organization (in this case farm) fails to organize or plan certain things ahead of time, they pay for it later.  CW as a farm operation this year has been reactive , rather than proactive in many instances.  As a result, I have become fluent in swearing (or at least more fluent than I already was), and have been extremely frustrated that certain things have not changed despite the same issues coming up again and again.  Those things need to be fixed and better systems put in place especially for the post-harvest handling and selling of produce.

2.) I need to be better at setting limits. How I do that, I don’t really know, but my last resort last week was to give work my 3 weeks notice.  My sense of responsibility and work ethic can often taken advantage of, and my level of anxiety and frustration can often build until I can no longer contain it.  An altruistic personality trait can be a weakness. I love farming, but I would also like to have a better work-life balance.  I don’t feel I’ve managed that well this summer and August burn-out hit me a lot harder than last year.  This past weekend I was told to take the weekend off and not go in to the farm – no greenhouse watering, no harvesting.  It was really great to be able to spend a day with my husband and kids, and another day to work in my own garden!

Talking with my boss today he said that I have probably learned more from CW farm’s mistakes/missteps this season than had I gone into an established farm business where all of the issues had already worked out.  He’s right. I have learned a lot from this experience and have been able to make lists of things that I would or would not do when I start my own farm.

Here are a few:

  • Set up a proper and efficient washing, drying and packing station.
  • Train staff on the proper washing and packing procedures sooner than later.
  • Ensure that all garbage and compost are moved on a daily basis to appropriate places.  Don’t leave it sitting around as that can create bigger issues.
  • If you use the sinks, immediately afterwards  WASH THEM so they are ready the next time you need to use them.
  • Always have clean harvest buckets ready the day before harvest is to happen!
  • Store your tools in a specific location close to where you will be using them. Return them to that location every day so they don’t get misplaced, rusty or stolen.
  • Don’t continue to add people to the CSA list every week during the season.  A CSA number that changes constantly throughout the season is essentially like changing the target once you’ve aimed and fired – you’ll miss!  Know what your target is.
  • Accomplish what you can with the staff you have, while still providing them with time off.  If you cannot reasonably complete that work without overloading one or more people on your team, you need to hire someone else or scale your plans back.  If you continually overload your workers, they will either resist or they will leave.
  • Don’t just grow it and think it will magically sell itself.  Network with chefs, find out what they would like throughout the season, set up wholesale accounts, research farmers’ markets and find the one(s) that best suit your selling goals and needs. Find ways to sell your produce/products ahead of time.
  • Social media presence is important. Keep working on it.  Engage with your clients early on.  Get to now your audience, and allow them to glimpse what daily farm life is like.  Help people connect to their food and know the farm(er).

 

So…there must be some good stuff that has happened this month, right?  Yes, there are a lot of good things to focus on that have happened in August:

The ducks grew!  They now follow Ali and me into the farm garden and forage for slugs.  There have not been as many slugs lately due to the warmer, drier weather we’ve had in August.  The ducks have lost their downy coats and have now grown beautiful new feathers.  I especially love the ducks with the dark brown “tuxedo jacket” markings. Each duck seems to have its own personality. One is more aggressive that the others and tends to find and eat the slugs first. The smallest duck, Rufus, likes to be at the front of the pack when they follow me anywhere.  The love swimming in their kiddie-pool pond.

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They are great at finding and eating insects and can grab flies out of the air and eat them. Ali is leaving this week so it will be up to those of us left at the farm to take them for daily walks, put them in their little house for the night and letting them out in the morning.  I am learning that I really do like ducks and chickens. I  think I could raise them for eggs, but I am not sure if I could raise meat birds.  I think I would likely get too attached to them.

 

Our tomatoes are producing!  The sun sugar cherry tomatoes are delicious and were the first to start ripening.  The sweet 100s are now starting to ripen but I am still waiting for the limetto and aria tomatoes.  Our plum tomato plants are covered with large green tomatoes. I am hoping they start ripening soon before they get hit badly by blight.

 

  • top left: sun sugar tomatoes freshly picked
  • top right: sun sugar tomatoes on the vine.
  • bottom left: plum tomatoes not yet ripe.
  • bottom right: leaves showing blight.

With temperatures getting cooler at night (6 to 7 degrees lately!) I am now starting to worry about an early frost.  Some of the sun sugar plants were attacked by blight a few weeks ago, but I think I was able to catch the affected plants early on, pull them, bag them and dispose of them before it had a chance to spread through the crop. I continue to monitor the plants and cut any blight-affected branches off the plants and dispose of as soon as I see them.  We’ve been lucky at the Willow Beach farm so far, but the tomatoes at Gilford have been hit hard by blight.  My coworker, Steve, attempted to use a baking soda solution to spray the tomato plants as it is rumoured to slow the progression and spreading of the disease, but I am not sure how effective it truly is.  I think the blight was too far advanced for the baking soda to have had any significant effect.   Here is a link to one article discussing the use of baking soda for blight and powdery mildew:  https://migardener.com/prevent-kill-blight-powdery-mildew-baking-soda/

and then I also found this:  https://s3.wp.wsu.edu/uploads/sites/403/2015/03/baking-soda.pdf

 

My flowers at the farm are blooming and the bees are loving them!  The zinnias, cosmos, ageratum, bachelor buttons, calendula and nigella are presently churning out blooms and more sunflowers are soon on their way.

While I didn’t get a lot of what I had tray-seeded out into the field this year, what did go out has grown quite well and I can be proud of what I was able to do.  I did not have the opportunity to take any flowers to market, but I did take some to a local florist and received some good feedback from her.  I have been collecting flower seeds as they are produced and will use those in my garden next year.  Many flower seeds are expensive to purchase so I am trying to save money where I can.

I found out that nigella seeds are edible, as are zinnia flower petals, bachelor buttons and calendula.  Here is a link to a listing of other flowers that are edible:  https://whatscookingamerica.net/EdibleFlowers/EdibleFlowersMain.htm

I am particularly proud of the fact that my nigella plants grew and flowered. I planted them much later in the season that is recommended and was told they may not flower. Surprise!

I will save the seed pods and seeds to plant next year and I may try eating some as well just to see what they taste like.

 

I attended a flower workshop at Dahlia May Flower Farm in Trenton in mid-August.

I had the chance to get creative and learn some of the basics of simple floral design using flowers that Melanie (Harrington) grew on her farm.  It was wonderful to see what she is growing, her market stand setup and to chat with her one-on-one afterwards about her business, some mutual frustrations and how she got started.

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Her attitude is so positive and encouraging, and she is so very down-to-earth.  Despite any challenges she has faced in getting her business to this point, she says she has this amazing life in the country and would not trade it for anything and would not want to work for someone else.  I listened to a podcast interview with Melanie that just came out yesterday on Slow Flowers Podcast.  So great to hear her story and know that her passion for this is truly genuine. She deserves every bit of success – she has earned it!

I came away from that workshop even more convinced that flower farming is something I really, REALLY want to do.  I drove back from Trenton that night with a big smile on my face, looking longingly at every ‘for sale’ sign I saw on a farm property as I passed by. I have since made list after list of flower seeds I want to purchase, but my available space for growing is going to severely limit my final choices. My husband and I are now searching for land to purchase or lease for next year.  I am determined to make my ideas and goals come to fruition.

 

We have been succession planting kale, chard, lettuce, beets and carrots at the Willow Beach farm. As we clear out one bed, they guys have been digging and cultivating it and then we put in the next crop.  I love watching the plants change in growth from week to week.

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Here are some pictures of just a bit of what I’ve been growing in the greenhouses. There are kale, bunching onions, chives, different varieties of lettuce, basil, swiss chard and many more transplants growing.  Preet and I have seeded a total of 27 trays of lettuce over the past week to use for late summer succession planting.

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I could probably write a longer list of what we have done in August, but I will stop here. Its been a long day, and I need sleep and there’s lots more to do tomorrow.

Keep on farmin’ on,

Julie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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