Thursday, October 1, 2009

Farming:Year One - We Made It!

September marked our first year on the farm, and what an amazing year it has been. Time to look back and take stock of our successes, failures, and assess what we have learned so far. We've learned a LOT, so this will be a long post.

Our dream is to create a small,sustainable farm using permaculture principles. These are our goals:
1. Protect the farm’s heritage, soil, wildlife, character, beauty
2. Produce as much of our own food as possible
3. Grow a diversity of plant and animals, preferably heritage breeds
4. Raise our animals humanely
5. Avoid use of chemicals, antibiotics, tilling, mechanization
6. Use natural biological relationships
7. Grow food for our neighbors and community - sell locally
8. Work together as a family
9. Learn every day
10. Enjoy every moment

I have to sort of catch my breath when I re-read these goals and realize how far we have come and how well we have adhered to them!

Greatest Successes in Year One:
1. Daughters moving home - This wasn't really part of our original plan when we bought this farm, but the fact that our smart, strong, industrious, idealistic (not to mention talented and beautiful!) daughters were lured by the farm adventure has made all the difference. And to think I expected to start slowly, with a manageable garden and a few egg-laying hens...
2. Farmers market - Selling every Saturday at the Farmers Market made us feel like real farmers, despite our small scale and inexperience. We couldn't expect to compete with the other veggie farmers with years of experience, but the Market gave us a means to sell our garden produce and eggs in value-added products. We developed a niche and gained quite a following for Sara and Cadence's awesome pastries and Rog's wood-fired sourdough bread. The other vendors were encouraging and supportive and we got to know and love many of them.
3. Animals - Thanks to Cadence's initiative, we raised 200 meat chickens, 9 turkeys, 3 geese and 3 cows.
Sara took on the 2 little pigs, already approaching 300 lb. I brought in the bees(now 10,000?) for honey as well as pollination. The 30 laying hens were always part of the plan to make us feel like a real farm. We already had the 2 old cats and the 2 Aussie dogs (who haven't stopped grinning since we moved here) and the gold cat followed us home and took over. Our intrepid daughters led us into the deep end with livestock, but they have also willingly taken responsibility for many of the hardest parts -- butchering chickens, cleaning barns, shoveling manure, building fences. We learned that it cost significantly more than our best estimates to raise animals --we will be lucky if we break even - but the true profit is not monetary. (Admittedly, we can say that without wincing because we have outside jobs to support us.)

4. Tomatoes - Our tomato crop started out with a disaster: the greenhouse flipped over in a windstorm and dumped all our seedlings out in a mixed-up mess. Cadence rescued them and stuck them all in the ground, and ALL 98 seedlings grew, no, thrived. We seem to have had beginner's luck, and escaped blight. To date we have harvested 835 lbs. of 6 varieties of heritage tomatoes - and expect to exceed1000 lb. So far, we have canned 40 quarts of tomatoes and sauce, frozen another 40 quarts, made 10 quarts of salsa, and dried a couple of baskets' worth. We have eaten myriad tomtoes, sold many of our most perfect, huge heritage tomatoes, foisted some upon friends and family, and fed the trimmings and imperfect ones to the eager chickens and turkeys.

5. Bread baking - Cadence and Sara have baked scrumptious breads for years, but I never dreamed that Rog would become an artisan bread baker! He has devoted much reading and experimenting to perfect his wood-fired sourdough bread-baking technique; it has resulted in his breads now having a great following of enthusiasts we fondly refer to as "bread nerds."
5. Blog I started this blog as a chronicle of our adventures mainly for family members and friends. I am astonished how many people read it--it is not unusual to be introduced to somebody for the first time and they remark that they read my blog! I am now realizing that there are a lot of people out there with the same dream of someday having a little sustainable farm (Hold onto that dream! It's worth it!) I have also "met" so many wonderful farm- and garden- bloggers through my blog - what an invaluable network.

Tangible Lessons Learned:
1. Cows eat trees- They especially like the young fruit trees you just planted in your orchard.

2. Chickens, ducks and geese eat gardens - Not picky, but they especially like tomatoes, melons, emerging sweet corn and beans, blueberry bushes, serviceberry bushes, raspberry bushes, gooseberry bushes, roses, and all expensive perennials.
3. Owls eat chickens - And are wasteful, preferring just the heads. They will also attack ducks and turkeys. Dogs may keep coyotes, rabbits, raccoons and deer away, but not owls.
4. Trees are costly. - Big trees are WAY costly. Removing old, hollow leaning silver maples before a wind topples them onto your chicken coop can easily cost $1200. On the bright side, if a tree does smash your chicken coop your homeowners insureance will cover it. But it won't cover prevention.

5. Fences are critical -and always need repair. - Fences have been our biggest ongoing expense and chore. The fences we built this year include:
-Chain link fence to keep dogs in yard.
-Underground wireless fence to keep dogs in yard.
-Above-ground fence with electric wire at bottom to keep dogs in yard. (None of the dog fences worked. Our OCD rabbit-chasing pooches find it worth a shock to chase a rabbit))
-Moveable solar-powered electric fence for rotational grazing of cattle (worked!).
-4-foot green wire fencing around trees to keep cattle from destroying fruit trees (didn't work- they pushed it down).
-Electric fencing to keep cattle from destroying fruit trees (worked!).
-Wire fencing to keep poultry from eating garden (sort of worked).
-Wire fencing to keep Dexter cows from going under pasture fence (didn't work).
-More electric fencing to keep Dexter cows in (finally worked after many escapes and repairs).
-Electric fencing for pastured pigs, in ever-increasing sized pastures (worked great! Pigs are apparently more averse to having their moist little snouts shocked than dogs or cows are).
-Fenced moveable "tractors" for chickens (worked well until we let them go entirely free and be owl bait).
-Picket fence around patio to keep poultry from roosting on patio furniture (wokred, but now we have to go way out to the gate to let dogs in or out.)

6. A good beater pickup is invaluable (Hauling compost, wood, bricks, pigs, cows, windows, hay, corn, trees, furniture, freezers, chickens to porcessor...)
7. Chickens, geese, ducks and turkeys have delightful personalities. Chickens are individuals -- some aloof, some friendly, some sweet and goofy, some pompous or status-seeking. Turkeys are surprisingly gentle and curious and follow you everywhre. Ducks seem to be sort of scatter-brained (at least our runner ducks do.)
Geese do not deserve their reputation of being mean--raised with lots of handling they are very friendly and sociable and funny.
8. Hard work doesn’t seem like work when you love it. We are loving it!


Becky said...

A fine year of work well done! It's amazing what you all have accommplished in just one year. Do you have any new, big plans for next year? Any new livestock plans?

katiegirl said...

Congratulations on your first year!

I really enjoy reading your blog and following your adventures! I'd love to have more land one day so I can follow my dream of farming, but for now I'm doing everything I possibly can on 1 acre. Surprisingly, you can do a lot on 1 acre! My sister (Becky, above) talk about buying land together one day so we can farm it together-but live in separate houses, of course. :-)

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on a successful, exciting, and fun-filled year. I've been reading you since early '09 (because of the bees initially) and yours is one of my favorite blogs.

enjoy this life you've made for yourself,

Liz said...

Wow, congrats on one year! Sounds like you accomplished so much in little time. I appreciate the summary of Lessons Learned, we are dealing with fencing right now too. I am in Nicaragua as my boyfriend was born here and inherited a family farm, mostly coffee. we decided to try a permaculture-based small farm as well; we moved down here year ago, and onto the farm in july. Your farm is an inspiration, thank you! keep up the good work,

Anonymous said...

Susan and crew,

A fantastic first year and great accomplishments for just the first year. You've undergone a tremendous amount of work and learning in just one year!

Anonymous said...

Invisible Dog Fences have evolved over the past 25 years. The expensive and somewhat ugly chain link dog fences have fallen by the wayside in favor of the new electronic dog fences, which use invisible radio waves. Dogs have a habit of jumping over or digging under chain link dog fences or other solid barrier dog fences. An Invisible Fence is a good idea if you want to keep your dog safe. A wireless dog fence is great because you never have to worry about fixing broken wires. A Wireless Pet Fence is a good option for pet containment.