Resolutions on the Farm

How to be more efficient and effective

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I have a problem.

I have a tendency to put off the things I don’t really want to do in the marketgarden, usually until I can’t ignore whatever it is any longer, choosing to sometimes go out of my way to find things to do that are less unattractive.

Okay, so let’s call it what it is. It’s a bad case of procrastination and it’s a problem. Weeds in the bean plot? I’ll ignore them until they’re 6 feet tall, smothering my plants. Irrigation hose needs to be moved? I’ll wait until the squash patch is wilting to get on that. The harrow should be moved, but that means taking the mower off the tractor. So I’ll wait until the ragweed has overtaken the harrow to the point where it’s not even visible any longer.

Yep, I told you it was bad.

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It’s not that I’m sitting on my hands all this time. It’s just that I prefer to do the things that don’t..well..suck. There’s always plenty to do on the farm, and I am constantly faced with prioritizing where I spend my time. On the surface that’s not uncommon. We all have to do that, right? But I don’t always prioritize the right things, and that’s why I’m coming clean.

A good example of this is our fruit trees and rhubarb. We brought in a second batch of pear and peach trees early last summer and I let them sit for over a week before mowing the field where they would go, digging the holes and planting them. Did I mention that they were left in the shipping box? Outside? In 90 degree temps? And the rhubarb? I’m ashamed to admit that I let those puppies sit for over two weeks before planting them. We’ll see if they come up this year (insert angry emoji right here).

I’m being shamefully transparent here, but for a reason. As we move into the early stages of the new marketgarden season, I’m making a resolution to be better at prioritizing the right things. To be better at not letting those little things become big things before I jump on them. Maybe I can’t do it all, and I’m okay with that. And nothing on the farm will be entirely perfect. But I will not only aim to be more efficient with my time this year, but to be more effective with where I spend the time I have.

Here are a couple of areas I normally struggle with. But not this year. Uh uh…times are changing baby!

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Cleaning Up Spent Plant Debris

At the end of the season, there’s always a lot of activity. Last year we were literally racing mother nature to get all the tomatoes and peppers out of the field before the first hard frost. Not to mention that by November we’re pretty much ready to be out of the field, doing other things.

Cleaning up the spent tomato vines, sunflower stalks and basil plants? That’s certainly not on the list. But man they really need to be.

Leaving vegetable debris in the plots will add organic matter to the soil, which is a good thing. But it won’t properly decompose unless it’s chopped up and incorporated into the soil. And debris left on the surface, like the tomato vines in the picture above, will harbor pests like squash bugs, who are looking for cozy places in the field to overwinter in.

Not to mention that it creates more work in the early spring to prepare the ground for planting.

Spending just a few extra days at the end of the season to clean the plots, roll silage tarps over the bare ground (and over some of that spent debris), or planting cover crops will go a long way to better soil health, less pest penetration and a more efficient spring.

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Staying on top of weeds

I mentioned in an earlier blog post that we have struggled staying on top of weeds. It was no exaggeration when I described the 6ft tall ragweed in the beans. Did you know how fast ragweed grows (and with virtually little water)?

So we’ve got to have a better system established to prevent weeds in the first place. But guess what? Big weeds start small. Right? If you ignore them they’ll grow. Sometimes overnight.

Now, we spent plenty of time weeding last year. So I should cut myself some slack here. But this is one area that I caught myself procrastinating in way too often. Weeds in the strawberries? Pretty sure I need to do something else.

Weeding is such a waste of energy and time anyway, especially when you’ve let it get out of hand.

Not this year. We’ve got a plan to plant as much on fabric as we can. We’ll mulch heavily where we can’t plant on fabric, and use cover crops like clover and buckwheat in other areas. We’ll still wrestle with weeds, and likely for a long time to come. But I won’t procrastinate on doing the right things to get ahead of the issue. Scout’s honor.

Proper trellising

I started out the year with grand plans of how we would stake the tomatoes and trellis the cucumbers and peas. Hmmm…didn’t happen though.

Tomatoes went in way late due to weather, and I quickly had to move onto getting the cucumbers and our second planting of corn in the ground. Then it was pulling ragweed out of the beans (seriously, it was no joke a pain in the butt; like pulling young trees!) and getting the rest of the peppers transplanted. By the time I circled back around to the tomatoes they were twice the size and needed a good trim. Long story short, they didn’t get staked.

Neither did the peas get trellised. Nor did the cukes.

The tomatoes were an accidental experiment, as we let them sprawl everywhere. We did have the highest yield we’ve ever had with tomatoes, and virtually no issues with disease. However, it was a dry summer with very little humidity. Not common for Iowa summers. If there was higher humidity we may have experienced lower yield due to disease and rot from tomatoes sitting on the moist soil. Plus, all those sprawling vines made harvesting the middle of the plot difficult.

The cucumbers also did well without something to climb on. At least until the squash bugs got to them. But the peas? Peas need something to climb in order to thrive and rag weed isn’t a suitable substitute.

So what’s the resolution? This year we need to be more intentional about making time for proper plant support.

So this is the agreement. I’ll post pics occasionally so you can hold me accountable. Deal?

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Getting the kids involved

Our farm is named 16 Hands because we’re a family of eight. That means there should be sixteen hands available to help in the marketgarden at any given time, right?

Not so much. But I want to change that this year.

Letting the kids help in the field is not only helpful to getting things done, but it’s so good for their own development. And frankly, it’s why we moved to the country in the first place. I want our kids to experience the quality of life on the farm and everything that goes with it. The hard work and tasting the fruit of your labor. The sacrifice and the reward. Getting outdoors and developing an understanding and appreciation of how nature works. These things develop character, courage and skills they will take with them as they grow older.

The younger kids are always anxious to get out and help dad. Sometimes that means not getting things done as efficiently or quickly as I’d like. I’m not going to let that get in the way.

The older boys are the opposite. They would rather do anything else but help in the field. That’s going to be different this year as well.

We succeed or fail as a family unit. That’s the message I want my kids to understand. But I also cherish the moments with them at my side. Those opportunities are fleeting, and I will be more intentional about capturing them this season.

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So there you have it. I’ve come clean. Left nothing hidden. And I’ll ask you to hold me accountable this year on every one of these. That’s what community is for, right?

How about you? Will you make resolution this year that will lead you to be a better farmer, gardener or whatever your focus is? Share those with me, and lets encourage each other this season.

The great thing about farming is that you get to apply all the things you learn to the new season. And we never stop learning, no matter how many years we’ve been doing it. Every season is a new opportunity to get better. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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