See the growing list of 50 Things I’ve Learned from Tiny Farming:
#8 – Remain calm: In tiny farming, you can indulge WORRY to the max. You can really work yourself into a frenzy. It’s usually about, well, the weather, people, money (specifically, stuff that has to be paid for), time, people, and…the weather. In that order. The big factor in outdoor farming that’s NOT present in a lot of lives, particularly when you’ve been living a largely indoor urban existence, is the DAILY effect of the WEATHER. Or really, Mother Nature in general: bad weather, disease, deer eating all your lettuce, zombies, all of the destructive things that an overwhelming, out-of-your-control force can deliver, just like that! Thinking about the possibilities can be…stressful, and that’s not to mention dealing with a tidal wave of so much to do, so little time. The COOL thing about farming: over time and your share of intense worry, you notice that things come and they go. You plant your crops over and over again, and here and there they get eaten before their time, and people sometimes fail to meet…expectations, money may get tight, deadlines get blown, but it’s all really not terminally terrible. If you’re still there, and the land is still there, you keep moving ahead, because that’s the game! The simple arc of the farming year makes obvious exactly where you are at any time, and what the next step is. Farming is unpredictable, but it is not fuzzy, there is always a clear result, one that you can hopefully, and usually, eat! So really, just keep farming and you will become increasingly calm as it sinks in by example that A) You really don’t have THAT much control, and B) It generally works out anyway. Sooner or later you’ll realize, the easiest thing to do is just…remain calm. :)
Snow that had been lingering, lingering, lingering, finally went in the last day or so (though there’s still ice on the water), and it’s on to the Spring Browns. From the growing season perspective, that’s called Progress! :)
For the record, this year’s seed catalog! It arrived in late December, and I’ve been thumbing through, but it’s still not well-worn—I pretty much know what I’m ordering. It’s as exciting as always to get the new catalogs, but a bit more symbolic now, start of a new season and all that, than it used to be at the beginning, when I pored over it for hours. Like anything else, do it for a while and it becomes…easier. Also once again for recent years, almost all of my seed will come from just this one place, William Dam, a family owned company not too far from here, that carries only untreated seed. Selection does the trick, service is great, and I like talking to them on the phone. High Mowing and, of course, Johnny’s, both relatively close (Maine and Vermont, to my Ontario), have a lot more in general, and High Mowing is 100% organic seed, but at the moment, I’m fine with Dam! Everyone’s farming has its flow!
Checking in on the winter greens mini-experiment. These guys have been through six weeks of up and down weather, balmy days well above zero (reaching 60-70°F/15-20°C on a sunny day in the hoophouse) , and many extreme freezing nights. So, how did it all do? The Bloomsdale spinach, uncovered (above), is fine, although after all that freezing and thawing, the taste and texture changes (good to eat, but probably wouldn’t sell). It wasn’t the plan, but this spinach can be trimmed back to see how new growth does in spring. The other beds, all brassicas (tatsoi, mizuna, arugula, mustards), left half uncovered, are completely toasted. Meanwhile, under a single layer of medium-weight row cover, arugula (below) is good, perky and quite tasty. Not the most extensive and scientific testing plan, but combined with the experience of harvesting through December and in mid-January, it’s a solid starting point for next winter’s goal of full-on, unheated winter greens production!
Winter breakfast: oatmeal, wild blueberries, banana, maple syrup, cream. Mmmm? Grrrr…. It’s all supermarket stuff, from thousands of miles away, from the bowels of factory farms and processing plants. “Wild blueberries” in President’s Choice designer ziploc bags—what does that even mean? I can’t remember exactly when food became such an uncertainty and a puzzle for me. Once, I didn’t give it much thought (too many distractions!). Now, it’s unsettling. Eating should be simple and fun, right?! Unfortunately, it’s not. And growing food makes thinking about it all so…unavoidable. Well, new season in the field coming up, remineralization on my mind…onwards! :)
Not much to look at, right? Wrong! I spent a good FIVE MINUTES staring at the kombucha tea mother, gently swirling and undulating right after being placed in its tea-and-sugar bath, the watching-chickens effect. I like the look of the mother, although some people find the whole thing kinda…icky. If you’re not familiar, this is a sparkling drink, tartly acidic and slightly sweet, made by floating the mother—it’s also called a SCOBY, symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast—in a solution of tea (black or green or both) and sugar. Let it ferment for around a week and a fizzy beverage is the result. It’s quite impressive. Not surprising, there are all sorts of magical health benefits ascribed to kombucha tea, and from the bit of reading I’ve done, none of it is really “evidence-based,” to use the popular medical description for stuff that’s scientifically proven, whatever exactly that means. In any case, nobody really says it’s BAD for you, maybe it is magical, and I find it…refreshing.
Making it is easy: 4-5 tea bags in some water for a few minutes, top up the hot tea with cold water to about 3/4 gallon (around 3 liters) so it’s all cooled down, then plunk in your SCOBY—any size will do, it grows!—along with a cup or two of kombucha tea (you store the mother in the tea), and you’re done. Cover with a clean cloth to let in air but not dust, stash in a warm, dark place, and taste test in five days or so: if it’s too sweet, leave longer, if it’s too tart (the main bacterium makes acetic acid, which is basically vinegar), well, test earlier next time. It’s all pretty loose and easy, and each batch you get a new, extra mother that you can pass on. Do a search and you’ll find lots of details.
My first mother I was given in a jam jar at a raw food talk, and I made kombucha steadily for a couple of years, for no reason other than that I like it (many people refuse to even taste it?!)—after a couple years off, I’m back in production. Yet another thing to grow!
No matter how digital things get, books arriving by mail is always…a treat! I did download the ebook version of The Intelligent Gardener over a week ago, it’s now on laptop and smartphone, but still wanted the hardcopy…and now it’s in my hands. Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture was an impulse buy, browsing Amazon is pretty much like being in a bookshop: lots of temptation. Anyhow, print matters! :)