Community Philosphy Blog and Library

Archive for the ‘Farming’ Category

HOMEGROWN Life: Deciding Which Vegetable Varieties to Grow

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENAnother year has come to an end. The seed catalogs are rolling in, and as I sit here drooling over them, I keep coming across new, exciting vegetable varieties that I just have to try.

There’s a part of my brain that’s screaming at the rest of it: “Don’t fix what isn’t broken!” Year after year, I post about what I’ve learned, and one of the recurring themes is to stick with the things I know work for our area—not to risk losing productivity because I’m feeling adventurous. But really, what fun is that?

Vegetable VarietiesThere are some things I’m set on keeping the same. The Orangeglo watermelon and Bidwell Casaba have been very kind to me, unlike most other watermelon and melon varieties, so those are here to stay for the long haul. Catskill Brussels Sprouts will also probably stick around. There seem to be so few varieties of heirloom sprouts, and these do the best.

I always say not to mess around with our corn selection. We grow Bloody Butcher corn, which has served us well. It gets HUGE and gives us multiple relatively long ears on each stalk. The corn can be used fresh, or you can let it mature into a dent corn. After a failed attempt at saving seed from it and coming to the realization that we just don’t have enough space to save corn seed and avoid inbreeding depression, I’ve decided to expand my corn-growing horizons to include a flour corn, a sweet corn, and a popcorn.

Unfortunately, there’s no fast way to determine which varieties you should grow for all vegetables. Your best bet is to find varieties that were developed in areas that have a similar climate to where you live. For instance, Italian varieties will probably do best in coastal California, where we have the same basic climate. Russian varieties might serve you well if you live in colder areas. If you have a short season, choose varieties that mature quickly. This, of course, can take some research to figure out. For cool season crops, you’ll want to make sure they have enough time to develop before warm weather hits. For warm season crops, you want to give them time before the frosts come. Seed packets and catalogs include a number, usually next to the name or after the description, denoting that variety’s average number of days to maturity.

When it comes to latitude, rather than season length, onions are much more specific than most other vegetables about where they can grow. Varieties will either be long day, short day, or intermediate. If you live north of 35 degrees latitude (draw a line from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. to approximate), you’ll want to grow long-day onions. South of that, grow short-day onions. If you’re just on either side of that latitude, you can grow intermediate onions. I’ve also had good luck with long-day onions here on the 35th parallel.

Besides climate, you’ll also want to look at the size, yield, and disease resistance. If late blight is a problem in your area, choose vegetable varieties that have some resistance. If you have a small garden, choose compact or high-yielding varieties to make the most of your space.

Or you can do what I like to do and just pick a bunch of varieties to try and see which ones do best. Good luck!

MORE HOMEGROWN SEED ASSISTANCE

Rachel on Vegetable VarietiesRachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!

PHOTOS: RACHEL

HOMEGROWN Life: A Farmer’s Advice for Dealing with Climate Change and the Urgent Sense of Impending Doom

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

HOMEGROWN-life-bryce-logo-150x150

Living an agricultural life provides a great deal of solitary time to wrestle with your thoughts. Sometimes that’s pleasant; other times it can be a mess. My own internal dialogue cranks through a steady stream of issues.

Today’s list has so far included:

  • Weather-related worries, including present and future climate concerns.
  • My increasing love for soccer (as a fan, soccer parent, and volunteer coach).
  • Interesting opportunities for farmers, such as whether or not it makes sense to harvest and shell pecans or just leave them for the squirrels. And, heck, can we tap those trees for pecan syrup while we’re at it?
  • Worries about when my next paycheck is going to hit the mailbox.
  • Continuous noise about the sorry state of affairs related to politics and American democracy, especially when it comes to the giant gap between the wealthiest Americans and the middle-to-working-to-poorest classes where most of us land.
  • Meandering nervousness about how the rest of us can step up to raise fresh vegetables, fruit, and nuts when California actually runs out of water.

high-tunnel-raspberries

I suppose this is mostly normal behavior. At least that’s what I tell myself. But if you’re like me, hovering on the edge of day-to-day issues combined with a giant precipice of social and environmental depression, take some time and read a very thoughtful and intriguing piece by Jonathan Franzen in the New Yorker.

Franzen has some important things to say about the duality of dealing with the scientific knowledge of impending doom because of carbon emissions and climate change while trying to stay sane and address everyday challenges. Franzen also nails it when it comes to concerns for the poorest humans, who did very little to increase carbon emissions themselves but are going to bear the brunt of the damage as the climate continues its inevitable rise in temperature and unpredictability.

Mostly, though, I like Franzen’s thoughts related to the prospect that it might be a mistake to focus on climate change as an issue while neglecting “conservation” as a crucial social and cultural value to moderate the impacts of human greed, development, expansion, exploitation, etc.

battered-butterfly

As a farmer and member of a rural community, I agree strongly that local concerns for how resources are developed, used, and conserved are the issues the ring true to most folks. I know many a conservative-gun-rights-anti-Obama local who equally hates the trend toward bulldozing hedgerows and woodlots to make more room for very marginal farmland here in West Missouri. Maybe that’s because of a populist sentiment for watching as the handful of big row croppers gets bigger; maybe it’s because they’ve seen wildlife like whitetail deer and blue herons and songbirds recover as a conservation ethic has taken increasing hold over the past century or so.

The only real supplement I’d add to Franzen’s article has to do with the concept that we all live in a working landscape. Perhaps it appears more direct to those of us that work daily with the animals around us, the soil we walk on, the water that falls and runs through the low spots as the seasons push and pull. Still, the fact is we are all made up of the prairies and orchards we eat. We borrow and impact the water with our drinking and cleaning and flushing. No matter how thoroughly our minds try to separate us from the nonhuman world, we all live in a real place where we serve the role of collective ecosystem engineers. We’re the apex predator; the social megafauna who determines nutrient and resource flows. We produce abundance and scarcity at the same time, depending on whether you’re a plant, animal, or member of the fungi community.

raking

Realizing this impact and role can be both scary and incredibly empowering. Sure, we can squander the chance to make things better over time. But we can also make progress, even if that’s a strange human concept to the rest of the creatures we live around. We can take action to restore the bald eagle to some degree of thriving. Heck, I didn’t grow up seeing bald eagles soar over the pastures and ponds of Western Missouri farm country. Now every December through February I see them regularly.

Taking collective action to leave some room for (and to stop poisoning) eagles might be a more trivial accomplishment than trying to minimize global climate change by cutting carbon pollution. That said, we can see our efforts in person or through photos or video paying off with conservation. We can watch as our actions either create better or worse conditions for the living things around us.

goats

I suppose I’m going down this line of reasoning since it reflects a bit of personal therapy. I have been dealing with some serious situational depression, and like many people, am trying to focus on the things in my life that I can actually have some degree of control over versus just accepting the things outside of my realm of influence. Coming to terms with the difference between those two poles is a difficult thing, but it’s something we humans need to mind carefully as a society and culture and global community.

Do we have the courage, strength, and self-awareness it takes to create livelihoods that take into account clear boundaries, minding conservation and impacts on local ecosystems? Do we have the honesty to say so when we take too much and create a problematic future? Do we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear that it’s completely possible to share the world with other people, other animals and other plants?

Clearly, we are going to be living the questions. I’ll be there with you, asking away the day.

MORE FROM BRYCE:

HOMEGROWN-bryce-oates-150x150Bryce Oates is a farmer, a father, a writer, and a conservationist in western Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multi-generational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.

PHOTOS: (HIGH TUNNEL RASPBERRIES) RICHARD MAXWELL; (FIELD) RICHARD MAXWELL; (BATTERED BUTTERFLY) TERRESSA ZOOK; (GOATS) ERIC MARSHALL

HOMEGROWN Life: Raising Romeo, a Love Story

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

 

HOMEGROWN LifeI love how just walking into a barn can be inspiring.

“What?!” you might respond. You may have to be a farmer to understand what I mean, but my guess is anyone who loves his or her job sees inspiration all around, every day.

My latest inspiration came to me in the form of a lamb. If you’ve been following the Bittersweet blog, you already know Romeo. If not, Romeo is a lamb who came to live with me on Valentine’s Day.

HOMEGROWN-life-raising-lambs-eyes-open

I had never raised a lamb in the house with me. Goat kids come every spring, and I always start them inside. I’m used to goat kids romping across the floor and chasing the cat in circles around the house. I’m used to lining up bottles on the kitchen counter for feedings. But I was not prepared for the complete joy I would experience with a lamb.

HOMEGROWN-life-raising-lambs-counter

Brian, my farming mentor, told me, “It’s a whole different thing with raising lambs.” He wasn’t kidding. And that whole different thing has inspired me to write a children’s book about it. The difference is that lambs—or maybe just some lambs, but certainly Romeo—couldn’t be more of a joy to have around. Easy going, content, totally loveable, and constantly surprising. These are just some of the words I use to describe the experience.

The other way I describe it is a complete life lesson. As a farmer/amateur anthropologist, I am in the habit of observing behavior. It’s what makes us tick and defines our unique personalities. Within a few days of Romeo coming to live with me, I knew he was here to teach me how to teach him how to become a confident, well-adjusted creature. I saw I had the opportunity to guide him in finding his way in the world. “WHOA!” you might say! How is that fun?

All I can say is, it is. You should try raising lambs sometime. Beyond the bottles every six hours, beyond changing puppy pads in the playpen (I think I lost count at 150), beyond worrying about whether you’re getting it right, beyond laundering and replacing warm blankets so Romeo has something to snuggle up to since he doesn’t have his birth mom and I’m not always available, beyond all that comes the satisfaction of watching him grow into a healthy and confident little lamb.

HOMEGROWN-life-raising-lambs-kiss

I realized I had the opportunity to “make or break” this little guy, not unlike raising children. We hear a lot about different methods for raising animals. I have found that, no matter if you’re rearing these animals to end up knitted into a warming sweater or to provide a meal for your table, fostering their existence along the way makes a difference—the difference between that fiber becoming soft yarn or a tough-as-shoe-leather piece of meat on your table.

How does that translate into a children’s book? For me, easily. And thus the story of Romeo was born. The theme of the book is building confidence in a lamb by treating him humanely, letting him make mistakes along the way, watching him fall so he can get back up, and, ultimately, loving him just for him. It’s a tiny book, small enough to fit into a child’s palm. It’s a book for kids to carry around as a reminder they’ll always have a soft little lamb in their pocket. Maybe they can relate to that lamb. Maybe they know that lamb. Maybe that lamb is someone they want to become. It’s their story. They’ll know which version is theirs when they read it.

HOMEGROWN-life-raising-lambs-mirror

My hope is that moms and dads will love Romeo, too, and see him in their own little lambs. We get one chance to bring them along. We can be there to guide them, to pick them up and hold them when they fall, and ultimately to love the precious individuals they are. We’re their touchpoint, their harbor, their source of comfort. They’re here to teach us how to guide them. “That’s how lambs learn.”

I’ve come to realize farming is about so much more than just backbreaking work and muck. I’ve had some excellent teachers, with any number of legs, who remind me each day what a gift it is.

HOMEGROWN-life-raising-lambs-hay-bale

The book will be available on Bittersweet’s website as soon as it’s in print, and I’m also hoping to have it available online for e-readers and other devices. All proceeds will go toward maintaining the animals of Bittersweet Heritage Farm.

MORE FROM DYAN:

HOMEGROWN-life-dyanDyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Bittersweet Heritage Farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Her farm is also an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food sources, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.

PHOTOS: DYAN REDICK