This is the second instalment of Mike Roger’s recap of the rollercoaster farming season of 2018. For part 1, click here.
So, here we are at the end of April, with a grow room full of tiny, compromised seedlings (see part 1). Our hydro bill is through the roof and we have a lot of expenses. Most farmers have already tilled up their beds and are starting to plant the hardier varieties outside. We are feeling defeated. Why bother turning the soil if we don’t have anything to plant yet? It’s only an open invitation for weeds.
In farming, if you’re not an optimist, you’ve already lost the game, so despite it all, we prepare our beds, not knowing what or how much we’re going to grow. We cover the fresh soil with drip irrigation and bio-mulch, a bio degradable plastic film to suppress the weeds and wait for whatever seedlings have survived to mature enough to transplant.
Our only farm income in the spring is our annual Mother’s Day plant sale. Less than a month away, things are looking grim. Our neighbours have come to count on us to find heirloom varieties of tomatoes and other starts you may not find at the nursery. Luckily the tomatoes fared better than the delicate exotic flowers that we spent a lot on seeds for. Miraculously we had a successful sale, factoring in our perennials such as raspberries, rhubarb and herbs.
Farming is so profoundly weather-related — the nicer the spring, the better off you are. Well, not in our case. May was extremely unseasonably hot (aka “Maygust)”. We knew we had to get our starts in for the traditional Victoria Day holiday deadline. We literally watched our tiny compromised transplants shrivel in the hot sun. The top of the soil would be bone-dry midday and watering at this time often magnifies the sun’s rays. We lost even more plants and were forced to direct seed in the blank spaces between the survivors. We also had to resort to purchasing expensive starts from the nursery for many plants we couldn’t wait to sprout.
Most of the things we focus on growing in our niche market are late season – heat-loving and slow-ripening – such as fruit, berries, tomatoes, flowers, and garlic. June is a make or break month, weather-wise. It sets the stage for yields by establishing buds and deep roots to prepare for the summer. A cold spell in June, for some reason, has become common here in recent years. This is fine for those growing brassicas, spinach, radishes and early season crops. During June, however, this weather pattern (Juneuary) lasted the entire month! It seems we got hit worse in Birken than in Pemberton. A few hundred feet in elevation results in a few degrees which can make a huge difference. The general rule is that below 6 degrees C, most plants just stop growing. The nightly lows were often around 7 in Pemberton and less than 5 in Birken. We were burdened with covering the plants up at night (with bubbles from the old Wizard chair), something we normally did in April.
Farmers Markets have become big business. There is pressure to extend the season on both ends, regardless of what’s available from the weather dependent farmers. Again, this is okay for cool weather crops and artisans, but not for us. Nonetheless, we have to book and pay for our markets long in advance. So here we are into July and we’ve got nothing fresh for our scheduled markets. Do we just cancel? No! We need money to keep the farm running! We had to somehow pull a rabbit out of a hat. We quickly made some twig baskets and rustic coatracks (hence the Willowcraft name), packaged some dehydrated garlic and apples, made some vinaigrettes and raided our kitchen garden of herbs and greens. Of course, our stand looked awesome and our customers were unaware of all our challenges.
In farming, if you don’t adapt quickly, you’re done. It’s not like there’s a choice. It’s a life-long lifestyle. I wasn’t going to abandon everything and get a 9-5 job to pay for bills. If it weren’t for credit, I don’t think there would be a single farm in existence.
Stay tuned for part 3, in which we’re overwhelmed as everything ripens at once, and underwhelmed by the performance of our cash crop, garlic. We finally somehow salvage our difficult season finishing on a (spoiler alert) positive note.