Cast and Crew

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Risks and Rewards

Someday we'll have a real farm with acreage, fences, rolling hills, maybe even some orchards and wild forest. It might even be at the corner of Field Road and Farm to Market Road (which has got to be the perfect place for a dream farm, right?). My daydreams are filled with images of red barns and ambling chicken coops, wire spools for the goats to play on, jars of freshly made honey in the pantry, and walking the perimeter of our property with the dogs off-leash. Daydreams are great. They never contain problems, storms, pests, or failures that bring on heartache. I could hold onto that mental image of the ideal farm, or I could face the reality that an agricultural life is going to be a balance of good and bad outcomes.

Last Monday we had a wind storm. It bent the stems of tomato plants and blueberry bushes, it slaughtered tiny lettuce transplants, and it was impossible for my mind to be anywhere but there, even though I had plenty of non-farm things to deal with. I get about twenty minutes between the end of work and the beginning of college classes three nights a week. I sneak in a quick dinner most nights, but there are other things to be done: dogs need to wee, eggs need to be collected, baby chicks need to be fed and watered. On Monday I stared out the front window at the ruined raised beds that used to be filled with produce-to-be, and I felt like crying. There was no time to rescue them, and the storm was still in full swing. Aimee propped them up with sturdier stakes that night, but I doubt they'll recover.

This is the first year we're really dedicating ourselves to growing as much of our own food as we're able, and it's been exciting up until now. That storm made it feel scary, and I found myself wishing we'd planted more. This is food security at its most revealing level. How does a farmer survive when disaster strikes? How do you make it through winter if your potato crop is stricken with blight? It's becoming obvious to me that farming is part science, part math, part faith (and part luck). Nature is going to take her share, whether you plan for it or not. Likewise, you don't gain without risking.

I've been debating whether to put the chicks outside, but something keeps nagging me to let them enjoy the brooder box a while longer. It seems a tough balance between safety and freedom, and I don't know where to draw that line. Am I over-protective? Probably. Are they in danger of getting hurt by being crowded now that they've grown so big? Absolutely. But if something happens in the wide world of outdoor living, I'll feel terrible. The compromise-in-action is this: we redesigned the brooder box with a mesh ceiling and a re-purposed set of cupboard doors (remnants of the same batch that supplied the main coop with its own doors). Potato Corner, one of the completely unused sections of the backyard, was already defined by two sections of fence and an outer wall of the garage. We created a fourth side out of more scrap materials, which now gives us a "playpen" for the little ones. (Why is it Potato Corner? A little batch of volunteer potatoes sprouted up there in our first summer in this house. They're gone now, but the name stuck.) After stringing poultry netting over the top of the area, our new nursery is complete. The babies have enjoyed their turf quite a bit already, and Nature hasn't been cruel.


  1. I understand completely how you feel! We went through this not too long ago as well. Keep your chin up... you may just be surprised as to what ends up making it. Also, I am not sure about the duration of your growing season but we are only into about the first month... replant where needed if you still can. Best of luck!

  2. very well written. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Sounds like the weather has been terrible everywhere! Good call on the chicks, I too tend to worry overmuch with young ones.

  4. love your 6 week old chicks mine are 3 days behing them!!!

    good blog

  5. I love your blog, I gave you an award check it out

  6. Hi, just stopping by to say hi and thank you for visiting/following my blog! We have had some tough times on the farm, bad luck and bad weather but I can say I have never for one second regretted moving out to the country from town 14 years ago and I would never move back to town either! Our garden was destroyed by hail one year and I almost didn't bother to replant but I did and even though our crop was a little bit later than I would have liked it was still one of the best ones we have had. Good luck!

  7. Great post. It's so easy for us to take our food for granted, and having a personal investment in it in this way helps us to feel differently about it.

  8. oh i feel your pain! We have atrocious wind in our little corner of San Francisco. Last year I experimented with growing tomatoes in the backyard and they were literally pulled out by their roots! I attempted putting the squash in the back and the leaves became chapped within hours. So now all wind sensitive plants are grown on the protected front porch. Come fall nobody will be able to get to our front door, but we'll have cukes and toms galore :)

    We're building a playhouse in the back for the kid this year, which will do double duty as a greenhouse for the plants that need more protection and heat. Have you thought of making a little hoop house for the sketchy spring weather? they are pretty inexpensive and quick to set up.

    I hope to hear that you begin again with the plants. It's just the way it is sometimes. And there is no shame in purchasing starts. I learned that with the chickens :)

  9. It`s me again! Just wanted to let you know you`ve won an award over on my blog! =)

  10. Thanks to everyone for injecting a little hope!

    Leigh & Heidi, we've already brought in two more tomato starts to take up the slack if the others don't hold up their end of the harvest bargain. I've learned repeatedly over the years that growing tomatoes from seed only works for the cherry and grape varieties up here. We've got a garden shed for starts, but it's no green house, so we buy starts every May.

    Mommypants! Thanks for the award! This rocks!

    Feral - Wow! Another award? I must be moving up in the world of blog. Thank you!


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