As with anything in life, it’s much easier to gloss over the vulnerability, loss, and negative aspects in favor of a more stylized and idealistic portrayal of what we wish to put out into the world. This is not the way a portrait of a farm should look, and yet I see so many farms on social media, and in person, with beautiful photographs, language, and infrastructure to even highlight one of the humblest, and dirtiest, of jobs. I’ve noticed we’ve been guilty of the same in order to maintain some semblance of an image that looks good to the outside world, even when we’re struggling to survive the madness of each day. We’ve given a lot of attention to our use of media and it is true that green plants are beautiful in the sunshine, but so too is the rain, the mud, the everyday hurdles. I’m here to recap this season. Not to glorify the dirt, but to embrace the task of chronicling what this season brought: good and bad. I feel, more than any other year on the farm so far, that understanding the successes and owing up to the failures of a year is exactly what farming is and should be. So, let’s get started.
This season has been a reckoning of an example to us that we are not in control: not of our image, not our plans for the year, not of the weather. So much has happened in the last year that it wouldn’t be useful, for us or you, to describe every detail. Instead, I will set the scene of the yearly cycle and give a quick mention of the bigger happenings of each month: in other words, we’ll walk through a sketch of 2018 together.
SKETCHing the YEAR
If there is a theme for 2018, it would be: patience.
Many may not know this but we begin planting seeds in the greenhouse in late January in the cold with a space heater on full blast. We’re seeding onions first because they take the longest to grow and move towards brassicas, lettuces, greens, and herbs. This year we flipped our small hoop house #1 and planted mesclun, radishes, and spinach. Kyle plumbed the outdoor sink for the barn and we made a huge effort to plan and revisit our marketing strategies, which farms have to do like any other business!
In February we were lucky to host a screening of Somewhere in Beulah Land, a short film made about Kyle’s journey in starting York Farm, in our hometown and the turnout astounded us. By the end of the month, we had a slab poured in the barn and Kyle finished his tool room and an office. We had a greenhouse full of trays of small plants and had plans to build a new, larger one behind, which we couldn’t find time to construct this year.
March was incredible because we purchased a tractor and started prepping the bottomland, which we decided to move to completely, having used the orchard and other pieces of land on the farm in previous years. Using the tractor for the first time meant learning a whole new system of equipment, which had its challenges and forced us to learn quickly, even though we hoped that having a tractor would ultimately save us time. After the land was prepped, we seeded all the carrots, beets, turnips, and other roots in the soil and transplanted kale, greens, brassicas, kohlrabi, and fennel. Compost from an OMRI source was delivered. Our first harvest of the year was french breakfast radishes from hoop house #1.
Every year April means that we are in full swing, with the CSA only a month away. It’s a pretty stressful time to finish all the transplanting and to mentally prepare for the exhausting season ahead. It really started raining a lot during this time and though it worried us, we tried to keep positive.
The first week of May we began our CSA, that we doubled in membership from last year, endured those first cold harvests in the rain and started seeding and planting for summer. We opened our farm to the public for the first time through an on-farm store, which helped us engage with our community more directly and was both wonderful and tiresome! I started baking bread pretty vigorously without a clue how much of my time would be spent on both in setting up on Saturdays and the preparations beforehand, which we didn’t realize would hurt us by cutting into one of our work days.
June brought us two amazing part-time employees that we could not say enough good about. These two women busted it to help us harvest for the CSA each week on Wednesdays and Thursdays and we could not have made it through this year without their hard work and even sweeter attitudes. This was one of the only dry months we had this year and everything felt like it was moving along well. I planted a flower garden and we harvested cabbage, broccoli, squash, and carrots.
For the 4th of July we grilled our first cayenne and I made a pie, using some wild blackberries. During the rest of the month, we built a second small hoop house (#2), seeded for the fall, picked apples, and purchased an old cultivating tractor, called a Farmall Cub. The rain was back in full force and flooded a beautiful crop of squash that we hoped to harvest at the end of the month. Tomatoes were looking the best they ever have and we harvested a lot of potatoes! The deer really started to present us with challenges that we would face the remainder of the year, causing us to cover crops in the summer that should not be covered, from total loss of a crop of radicchio to fungal diseases on the crops that were covered.
In August we made a decision to break from the CSA because wet conditions, damage from the deer, and holes in our plans for the year meant that we didn’t have a substantial variety of vegetables to give. During the break, we busted it to deconstruct a 30 x 140 hoop house that we would then plant the majority of our late fall crops into, to transplant all of our fall brassicas and crops, and had some local guys clear a new patch of bottomland for us. We also took some time to tighten our crop plan to avoid, if we could, further loss and damage.
September, the sunflowers, cosmos, and marigolds bloomed! The CSA began again and we felt more grounded and prepared to resume the season, though our first harvest of winter squash was a big disappointment because the weeds in that far field got away from us. We rebuilt the 30 x 140 hoop house (#3) in the bottomland and planted up the whole of it in greens, lettuce, beets, and broccolini.
In October Kyle seeded a cover crop of peas and wheat in the new bottomland and the creek flooded for the first time since we’ve been here, causing damage to new beds of seedlings. Our brassicas were growing slower than usual. We decided that this month was a good time to end the farm store for the season. There were some crop losses this month to the rain and the deer that we didn’t foresee. Our spirits weren’t particularly high at this point in the year but we were so thrilled each week to see the bounty that came from carefully tending to the crops in hoop house #3.
Our chickens stopped laying due to an early cold spell in November. We harvested from all of our hoop houses primarily each week and our variety of crops wasn’t what we’d hoped in August. Because we hold our CSA variety and quality to a high standard, we decided that the best option was to end the season two weeks early, totaling 28 weeks. This was the hardest and most painful decision we’ve made as a farm, and truly took it out of both of us. I’m not looking, of course, to tell a narrative for pity but to be honest that we felt like we had failed ourselves and our members. Looking back, we had extended our growing season two weeks longer than in any year previous, harvested, cleaned, and packed nearly 1,000 boxes, and made it through a pretty rough year with our selves still in tact.
December was truly a welcome sight. The experience of having a difficult year has, in one sense, made us question everything: what we are doing and how we do it. But, we are extremely thankful to have learned from our failures and successes this year, which we are now incorporating into a master plan for next year. It has been a journey, but we are taking this month slow to be able to reset, plan, and be ready for the beautiful calling to grow vegetables in 2019, and for years to come.
With love and dirty hands,
Kyle and Nicole