One of the nicest things about the first day of the New Year is the opportunity to look back at mistakes made and lessons learned. When you live on the land, every year is a new experiment, because things keep changing. It also means you don’t always get to things right on time, which is why this post is going up on January 3rd…
Although I’ve always gardened, as I move more into full-time food production, I keep tweaking the system — and the garden — for maximum production. In addition, there are seven people in the family now, three of whom eat as if there’s no tomorrow, since they are growing children. And only one of them is a teenager… For example, I know I planted too little basil last year, which meant insufficient pesto in the freezer. I also realized (after I had harvested, of course!) that it would have been much smarter to operate on a cut-and-come-again method with my basil rather than a harvest-all-at-once method. Note to self: do it differently this year.
So, plans for this year:
Expand the garden. We have a good spot picked out about a half mile from the house. Ideally, of course, I would not want it to be that far away. However, it’s the spot that gets full sun pretty much year around, it’s not in a frost pocket, it’s closer to the source of fertilizer (critters) and will be easy to flood irrigate (no cost to pump water). The soil is not perfect and we’ll have some rocks to clean out, but I can build soil. This will be used for the large crops of pole beans, squash, melons and such that take a lot of space but don’t need close attention. I also want to get into grains in this garden, timing winter wheat, oats and barley so that I harvest the grain and promptly plant transplants of warm weather crops such as canning tomatoes into the stubble.
Improve the kitchen garden. This one is close to the house, on a south-facing slope to maximize sun exposure. Hubby built terraces with logs, supported on the down-slope by chunks of cut-off fence post hammered into the ground so the logs would stay put. I’m working on these to make them a little better defined, as we didn’t put anything on the narrow ends and it makes it harder to plant right up to the edge of the soil. The upper corner of this garden will also need terracing with the rocks that have come from the garden bed areas. My plan is to put the herbs and beneficial insectary plants as well as some perennial plants in these terraces, which will free up space in the veggie terraces. Last year I had my herbs mixed in with the veggies, which chewed up a lot of space. I also have a lot of iris and such that I want to plant along the fence. The iris will grow thickly enough to discourage rabbits from sneaking under the fence, and since deer don’t much care for iris, they won’t eat them down to the ground as they might something like roses.
Build a new compost pile just below the kitchen garden. This means burning the slash pile we built when we created the kitchen garden, as the burn pile is sitting on the best spot. The ashes, of course, will add potash to the compost. Compost makings include manure and bedding from the various critters and chickens, leaves, etc. Not kitchen wastes, as the chickens get those.
Cut back on the number of cows we have. This might seem counter-intuitive from a food production standpoint, but we currently have three adult cows (two bred for sure and one maybe), an 18-month old bull and a 6-month-old calf. With three horses and seven sheep, that’s too much for the amount of irrigated pasture. We pasture our animals year-round, but must feed them hay for about five months. This many cows means I’m buying more hay than I want to. The bull will be going in the freezer shortly, but I think two cows is probably about right for beef and milk production, so we’ll be making some changes in that department.
More chickens. At the moment I have a mixed flock of Delawares and Australorps. Delawares are primarily a meat bird, although they lay reasonably well. Australorps are egg producers, period. When you raise your own eggs, you have to have enough birds to supply the family in the off times, such as winter. Based on my experience over the last couple of years, I figure I need at least two dozen Australorp hens for eggs, with the Delawares adding extra eggs as well as producing my meat birds. We lost almost half the flock to what I suspect was a virulent virus this year, so my other plan is to split them into two flocks and keep them separated to decrease the chances of a major epidemic.
These projects should keep me occupied for a while…