Our 2018 Farming Season in a Nutshell: Part 3 (Late summer/Fall)

After Juneuary,  (see part 2), July’s weather was seasonably normal, but it was too-little-too-late for many of our flowers and for our heat-loving crops, like the tomatoes, eggplants and peppers.

We were 6 weeks behind and many things needed 6 more weeks to mature.

Luckily , over the years we have planted and divided many perennials to fill in the gaps as we waited for our annuals to bloom. We combined these with some natural wildflowers, like tansy, goldenrod and lupines, and were able to put together some nice bouquets for our regular customers.

We had intended to expand our flower market, but with limited supply, that was out of the question this year. We had planted over 200 dahlia tubers and patiently waited for them to bloom. And bloom they did!

Due to the weather, our season had become compressed.

Plants have only goal in life – to reproduce. They bud, flower, fruit and go to seed, accomplishing this in whatever time frame is offered.

Our gardens, just like wildflowers in the alpine, bloomed all at once, through necessity. So instead of having a staggered harvest, our cherries, berries, veggies, and flowers all needed attention at the same time. Hectic, to say the least.

Our garlic  and fruit crops, a couple weeks late due to weather, were steadily approaching and we couldn’t keep up with everything else. We did what all farmers do when push comes to shove – we worked our asses off from dawn to dusk. Now we had fresh products for our markets, which of course is another job in itself. Our colorful stand attracted customers like butterflies. Finally we had a decent income stream, even though we had been at it for several months.

Garlic, being our cash crop, is also our most labour intensive one. Every year, for the last few, we’ve expanded our volume by about 2000 bulbs. We were up to over 12,000 last year. Harvesting, sorting, cleaning and curing, usually takes about 6 weeks, with extra help, at a steady pace.

Pulling it up can turn into panic if there’s a forecast for rain. After 2-3 days in wet soil  ripe garlic skins decompose, leaving split bulbs which store poorly and affect marketability.

Murphy’s law of course, proved correct – it rained heavily mid-harvest. As we frantically  pulled the crop out of the soggy ground, we luckily found most of them still intact. Good. Most however were significantly smaller than usual. I did everything I normally did  at all stages with respect to mulching, weeding and fertilizing, and everything looked great above ground. Unfortunately, being a root crop, it’s what’s happening below the soil that matters. I had planted them in a new site that was south facing, but obscured by tall trees to the east and west, resulting in shady mornings and early evenings. This combined with a cool spring must have been the problem. Garlic prefers warm soil to bulb. This size difference didn’t affect quality but drastically reduced yields, yet it was still the same amount of work.

My biggest concern now is that I won’t have enough seed-grade-sized garlic to replant for myself, let alone sell to other growers.

I am ironically currently trying to purchase some more.

I haven’t done the calculations yet, but  we will definitely have a smaller crop to plant.

After the garlic harvest we immediately proceeded to fruit harvesting. This year we picked most of it in the rain, as we finished off the summer months with the worst September I can remember. It poured rain for 5 out of 6  of our most important market weekends from Labour Day to Thanksgiving. This not only affected sales but also our motivation. Again, we put on a brave face, brightened some people’s day with lovely flowers and pretended farming is always great.

If our season comes across as all doom and gloom, that’s not the whole picture. We had  quite a few successes. Our huge dahlia patch was a field of dreams with massive blossoms over our heads. We had a bumper crop of berries, which kept our daughter, our highball picker, busy.  Apples and pears did really well and made up for the less than average cherries and plums. Our value-added garlic products, such as powders, are a huge hit.

Should we measure our season by the weather, how some plants did or from our bottom line? Absolutely not! Any farmers who view their business this way, would soon admit defeat and quit. We are pleased to have a freezer full of meat to eat and trade with, and enough frozen, dried  and juiced fruit to last the winter. We have enough tomatoes , onions and peppers to keep us in pasta sauce for a long while. We have just enough savings to take a short holiday before the snow flies. Success in my books.

I had to summarize our seven month season into three parts because this chosen profession is so involved and variable. Did I cover everything? Not even close! We have two orchards with dozens of trees and huge berry patches that need pruning and spraying, (organic methods of course), then picking and storing. Regular yard work and landscaping for 6 acres. Composting and amending soil. Tool and machine maintenance. Clearing, brushing, burning and firewood. Irrigation, weeding and succession planting. Renos and maintenance of our large house and outbuildings. Fencing, building a chicken coop and hoop houses. Daily chores such as taking care of 20 layers and 200 meat birds not to mention, slaughtering, butchering and processing them (not fun).  On top of all that, there are the indoor jobs I loathe the most such as marketing, book keeping, ordering supplies, and other paperwork.

Now, before I think of anything else I’ve missed, I must stop writing because I have garlic beds to prepare and plant. A farmer’s day is never done. If you like a cushy, stable, and risk-free job, don’t even think about being a farmer. Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way.