Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Harvest time.... ugh!

I like to classify myself as a bad gardener. I do all the things that bad gardeners do: I don't weed, I won't thin plants, I never plant anything on time or like the books say I should, I believe all seeds should be sown the same way regardless of being bush beans or pole peas or hill squash, I never water the garden no matter how little rain we've had, and I almost never venture into the garden until it's so full of vegetables that people driving by stop and comment on them. And yet, my gardens grow well in spite of all my lack of efforts. I try to show the plants that I am a bad gardener by neglecting them and leaving them to the wilds. They just keep on growing and producing and coming back next year. I wish they would get the hints sometime.

Then there's harvesting time. Normally this is a time of year when all the better gardeners are singing the bounties of their green thumbs with joy and many adjectives. For me, it's a time of year that is stressful and regretful. I stress over trying to carve out a few minutes each day to pull the stuff from my gardens. Then I stress over the work involved in cleaning and storing the stuff for later use. Then I stress over finding recipes to use the stuff and remembering to buy the right ingredients to make those recipes. Then I stress over the left-overs and making sure that all the wonderful garden stuff gets eaten properly. I also spend a lot of time each harvest season regretting things. I regret that I planted arugula and not radicchio. I regret that I didn't make the garden bigger but instead just crammed everything so close together that I can't find me peas under my cucumbers. I regret that I didn't get out soon enough to harvest the beans before they turned chewy. I regret that I didn't use all the broccoli before it got shoved to the back of the freezer and hopelessly freezer burned. Suffice to say, harvest time is not a very fun time for me.

Maybe someday I will become a better gardener and actually take care of the plants. Hopefully my care will lead to the plants to get the hint and stop producing so much so that my harvest time is nicer. Maybe...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Elite Farmers

I find that sometimes there is hostility between the different types of hobby farmers in the world. I define "hobby" farming as keeping and raising animals without making a profit from them at the end of the year, and without managing the animals as units of business that are subject to consideration due to profits and losses. The hostility I see is between hobbyists who believe that the only way to raise an animal is to do so without shortcuts, chemicals, or modern interventions. The other side believes that the only way to raise animals is to use modern everything and fill them full of chemicals. I try to stay in the middle of those types. I have been attacked by people who when I mention using a milk machine or using chemical sanitizers are taken aback by my losing contact with the natural rythms of the farm. I have also been attacked by people who think I need to drown my animals in chemical dewormers and chemical pesticides every two weeks or else the animals will drop dead.

The reasons why I like modern shortcuts and some chemical formulas are: I have to work full time, off the farm in order to support my family with adequate health insurance. My husband has his own business which, although he makes plenty of money to support our family, he has no access to good health insurance for us. So off to work I go. Also I have a child. She's 1 year old and in to everything. Because my husband has his own business, he is very busy and so the childcare is my responsibility for the most part. I don't mind it because I can still get stuff done around the farm, but that stuff either gets done very slowly while I watch the kid or very quickly when I cram it in after bedtime for baby or during nap time. There have been projects on the list for weeks that need to get done but they just haven't gotten too. If I can find a shortcut or modern intervention that can help me speed up these projects, I am going to jump on it!

I don’t mind using chemicals when I have to. I quite like many modern chemical products. Bleach is one of my favorites and very important if you run a hobby dairy farm. Bleach and other sanitizers are very helpful at getting milk and animal products off of your dairy utensils. It is nice to have clean and sanitized dairy equipment to work with. Nothing is worse than walking into someone’s milking area and smelling sour milk that never got properly cleaned out of the cracks and corners. Bleh!

Also some chemical medicines can be very important when raising animals. Parasites, bacteria, and viruses have great mechanisms for infecting animals and making them sick. Sometimes the only way to kill these germs is to use harsh chemical medicines. I always keep several types of chemical dewormers and several different antibiotics on hand. These have been literal lifesavers in some situations.

The reasons why I shun modern shortcuts and some chemical formulas are: Not everything new is good for you. At what point do you save your animals by treating them with chemicals and at what point do you kill your animals through liver failure and chemical overdose? There’s a fine line in that situation. You want enough chemicals to kill the parasites but not so much that you kill the goat instead.

Some modern shortcuts aren’t really short at all. Using a power saw at the barn to cut some boards might be a great time saver but if getting the saw set up and running power to it takes more time to cut the board, then you might as well get out the hand saw. The same goes for milking. If cleaning the milk machine after use takes more time than the actual milking of the goat, then you might as well stick to the bucket and hand milk.

In the end, I think it is important for every type of farmer to support their fellow farmers. One type is not better than the other. Each farming situation calls for its own set of rules and tools to keep the animals happy and productive. All of us “hobby” farmers need to stick together and support each other regardless. And always remember, the animals come first no matter what.