I started reading Krista’s blog describing the losses in Hazelton and decided to stop a few sentences in. So I apologize in advance for any reiteration, but I didn’t want my thoughts to be influenced or to think “oh yeah” I forgot about that. If I forgot about it already than it wasn’t bad enough to mention here. However, I did start out by listing all of the things I would consider “losses” for the Jerome garden. It’s a long list. Two things you should know about me…I procrastinate, but function better under pressure (hence the blog that took me 3 weeks to write) and I have incredibly high expectations (hence the long list of what I consider failures). I believe one of the most important things in life is to learn from your mistakes. So although there were plenty of disappointments I am also going to share some insight that we gained that will help us moving forward. So where to start? We could go for a “walk” through the garden but somewhat chronological will be better since my disappointments start before the garden was even planted.
Our plant starts live on the sun porch of my house inside of a small 5x4 ft. greenhouse lined with shelves. We started herbs in January/February this year. For those of you who follow us on FaceBook you know that we sold herb packs on the opening day of the Twin Falls farmers market. This project was really my baby. I had been thinking and planning about this for months if not a year. We literally had hundreds of herbs that I watered and fertilized for months (with a newborn). We spent time starting and later transplanting them into peat pots. Krista spent hours creating stakes for them. We found babysitters for a Saturday and spent the Friday before loading our trucks. Unfortunately, it was a lot of work that didn’t pan out. Confirmation that the market is probably not for us. So, we focus on the CSA and explore other avenues to generate extra revenue.
All gardeners know that along with the plants in the spring come the weeds. And with the weeds this year also came the bugs. The ants and earwigs were expected. But even though I was watching for them, they still caught me by surprise destroying nearly all of the brussel sprouts before I was able to get them contained. I had a few new tactical strategies using cinnamon as a deterrent but similar to my efforts last year instead of leaving the garden they just relocated within the garden. Only time and mature, healthy plants seem to solve this one. After the ants came the aphids. They housed in every nook and cranny of nearly all of the plants in the garden. The most damage was done to the remaining 3 brussel sprout plants, the kale, and the red cabbage. Several rounds of insecticidal soap finally killed them off. To be honest by that time I had already abandoned the sprouts and the kale. And by then the damage was so severe that the cabbage is just now at the end of October finally maturing (at least 6-8 weeks late). To cap off the bug problem, I found several winter squash plants wilting in early July. Squash bugs (or stink bugs). I had already found them in my summer squash but they weren’t killing the plants so I just ignored them. Well they killed some of the winter squash and set most of the rest of it back and I definitely lost some yield. This was by far one of the bigger disappointments with limited numbers of squash and pumpkins and some varieties that didn’t produce anything. After asking around, apparently the best way to control these squash bugs is to hunt them down and squish them individually. Seriously?!? I don’t have time for that. If anybody knows anything better please let me know! I have a feeling it won’t be the last I see of them.
Last year I harvested my garlic too late and kept it too wet. It was ugly and the cloves were brown stained and starting to separate. This year, under drip irrigation it wasn’t over watered and had adequate time to dry out prior to harvest. I got everything harvested and hung to dry. A few weeks later the cloves started to dry and shrink inside their protective skin. A bust the second year. I’m not sure about this one…some research this winter. But I’m not giving up.
To address some comments from our surveys…the cauliflower and broccoli are in the garden. Broccoli has been an issue of maturity in the Jerome garden. I will continue to try some different varieties and planting times. The cauliflower I feel we found a good variety. Unfortunately in 2016 there wasn’t enough for everyone. Next year I feel confident with this one. On a sad note…we started a cauliflower hybrid called Veronica. It is vibrant green and kind of spiky looking. I really wanted to try this one. It had great germination and vigor. Nothing seemed to bother it. Unfortunately as soon as the warm weather hit and it was at peak maturity it bolted and got very bitter. I think it needs to be a fall harvested variety and am definitely trying it again next year! Don’t dismay we are trying!
I have always had trouble with my tomatoes getting blossom end rot. It starts with a black spot at the bottom of the tomato and rots. It is typically from calcium deficiency and a couple of rounds of fertilizer have always done the trick. Well, last year I had trouble with the bell peppers rotting. This year was even worse. Time is of the essence in this situation, and unfortunately that is something I do not have much of. So a lot of peppers went to waste. In this situation it can be an issue of variety as well as water management. There are several factors and some research is in order for this winter.
There’s a magical window for planting fall harvested crops. It’s almost a spring crop do-over as the weather starts to cool down. And if done correctly several of these crops will hold well into the fall and even early winter. What’s on our fall plant list? Carrots, beets, turnips, lots of greens, bunching onions, and radishes. Well, the germination was spotty at best and some things didn’t come up at all. Its easy to place the blame elsewhere. I don’t want to point my finger at myself. Luckily Krista and I have two gardens and had plenty of other veggies to fill the boxes.
The last of my whining and rambling. I promise.
Hopefully, this helped address some of the comments we received on our customer surveys. I hope it doesn’t come across as if we are making excuses for the areas we are lacking. We want everyone to know that we are trying. And luckily for our customers, Krista and I want the veggies as much as you do so keep the challenges coming. Sorry also for no pictures! Krista and I rarely take our phones to the garden but I will try better next year. Please keep up the suggestions and comments!
Some days our corporate past shows through our farm roots. We set agendas for meetings, make action items and schedule sessions for reviewing our performance. Yes, we do our own year-end reviews! While some of you are laughing right now (yes, I know my husband is one of them!), Bonnie and I are of like mind – something that helps us through the challenges and aligns our dreams.
In a real year-end review, you turn your self-rated performance in to your boss. Bonnie and I are going to turn our self-performance reviews in through the blog. The plan is a series of 4 blogs: the top failures/losses from each of us and the top wins from each of us. Let’s get started and see how we line up!
I am starting with the top losses for 2016 so I can end on the high note of our top wins. Always leave the boss with a positive last impression, right? In no particular order…
Local Basket Additions: This year we included Kaufman’s Barley Soup, Russet Burbank potatoes, Kelley’s Orchard peaches and Ballard’s cheese curds. That isn’t a very long list! It is not our goal to include a product from another producer every week BUT it is one of our goals to show the diversity of local, delicious food products that are available in our beautiful valley. We also are aware that some of our neighbors grow better products than us! We missed out on melons this year because our baskets were full of our own produce. They would have been better baskets if we would have supported our neighbors and included a tasty watermelon or cantaloupe.
Action Item: Make a list of products and include them regardless of the items available from our own gardens!
Cole Crops: These are the brocollis, cauliflowers, cabbages… You know the family – it is a loved or hated one. Some of you were happy to see very few of these in 2016. I was disappointed.
We took our cabbage for granted. We did this with carrots last year. You plant it and it grows, right? Not this year. We fought bugs, they split, they quit growing, you name it and it happened to our cabbage. We had 8 different kinds of cabbage for you this year and most of you got 2 kinds. There were conical, red, traditional, Asian, late, early and mid-season – all failures.
We are slow learners about some things, one of these is broccoli and cauliflower. We figured out bug control. We can’t find the variety. We have struggled to find a broccoli that gives a consistent head so we can do an easy harvest. We had some beautiful big heads of cauliflower that we tasted one morning and spent the next 30 minutes spitting trying to get the bitter taste out of our mouths. There was also a lot of seed that failed to germinate at both locations. Research tells us it is a combination of planting timing, variety and nutrient management.
Action Items: Eliminate a couple cabbage varieties. Try again! Don’t take anything for granted.
Bugs: They are everywhere! It is completely normal to have a whole host of these little guys in the garden…some pests others just bugs. We use Bt (an organic pesticide) to control caterpillars in all of the cole crops and it works great. But we also struggled this year with some other big issues. Earwigs ate our cabbage leaves into lace. Aphids took over whole sections of the garden. Squash bugs attacked in Jerome. A mysterious bug (flea beetle in Jerome? ??? in Hazelton) ate a couple weeks of succession plantings in late summer. Some of these issues I was late in taking seriously in my garden. I failed at my scouting and lost a couple crops because I wasn’t paying attention.
Action Item: Pay attention! Release lady bugs early. Research pest control options.*
*This is a tough one. I know how to control these little bugs! Pesticides are easily available to control almost every issue we had this year. Finding the best option so we don’t need to use pesticides is the challenge. Our kids play in the garden and eat the veggies right off the plants. Bonnie controlled her aphids by getting rid of some of their environment and her plants rebounded. I think I created my own issues with how I rotated succession plantings.
Nutrient Management: We push our garden plots to produce more than almost any other gardener. Half of my garden area grew 2 crops this year! Beans followed peas. Pak choi followed beets. Beets followed kohlrabi. Lettuce followed spinach. Spinach followed cilantro. It goes on and on. We plant zucchini and cucumbers in April and expect them to produce full crops for 18 weeks. It is a lot to ask from a plant and the soil. Maintaining properly balance soils is crucial to vigorous veggies.Watching Bonnie’s garden last year, I know that she has super rich soil because of the history of the land. It also means she gets monster weeds! I could see the difference in growth patterns between the locations. My soil needs built up to maintain and improve its health. So, I changed up my management and top-dressed some of my heavy feeding crops in the spring with really good results. Peppers and tomatoes were planted with a scoop of compost. The little boost got them growing until their roots could more fully explore the soil profile for nutrients. Win! This wasn’t successful in late season plantings. Loss! Parts of the garden just felt tired.
Action Item: I need a more comprehensive plan for building soil health in Hazelton. Compost this fall. Plan for spring and summer nutrients.
Communication / Blog: Do you regularly visit our website? Is there anything new and interesting on the website to give you a reason to visit? Nope. Did you have questions during the year that didn't get answered? Bonnie and I both prefer chatting with each of you as you pick up your baskets rather than sitting down to write a blog or update the website. But, we sometimes forget to share all of the information with each of you while we are gathering vegetables, making sure the kids aren’t smooshing tomatoes and answering your questions. Some of you are getting extra tips and recipe suggestions, some more information about how our gardens are doing, and some more details about our little ones.
Did you know we have a website, Facebook page and Pinterest site? Not everyone is into the technology but these are great ways to allow everyone access to more recipes and garden updates. It also lets us have a presence in front of a greater audience that will expand our business. We hope to someday grow our little business into a medium size business. The kind compliments that you have shared with your friends are our greatest marketing tool but we also need a place to allow interested customers easy access to our business.
Action Item: Figure out a way to make communication a habit instead of an afterthought.
I will forever think of the word “challenge” differently. My favorite boss used it whenever there was an issue in my job that I needed to address. “Your challenge is to deal with…” I have to admit that I used the same phrase later when I was managing employees! So, looking at our list of opportunities for improvement I see an easy fix, a couple big challenges and a few challenges that will take many more seasons to perfect. In the corporate world, we would now have meetings to check the progress on our challenges. Lucky for me, the meetings are now in the coffee shop with a friend!