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Crooked Cucumber Chronicle

I love winter. I love the cold and the snow. I love that the garden is covered in snow and even the greenhouse is frozen. Often I think that running a farm is a bit like running a marathon. I prepare all winter, and the race begins in the spring. Once it starts, the garden takes on a life of its own, and through the sequence of days and days I just try to keep up. Plant, plant, plant, water, weed, harvest, harvest, harvest. Then it’s winter again and I can relax again and prepare for the next time the ground thaws. 

My main problem with winter is that I need to buy veggies. I don’t mind buying lettuce and greens. But it feels strange to buy carrots and onions and potatoes. Why didn’t I grow enough of these veggies to feed myself and my family through the winter? Why didn’t I grow enough for my CSA members? Well, that’s something I’ll fix next year. 

At this point of the winter, the garden exists fully-formed in my mind. I know exactly what I want to grow, how much I’m going to grow, when I’m going to plant it, how I’m going to grow it, and when I’m going to harvest. Everything is perfect in my mind. Of course the trick is to actualize the Idea. Every year there are unforeseen problems; things don’t work out quite as planned. But each year there are fewer difficulties. I have learned how to avoid many issues, and I have enough experience that my problem-solving-farmer-brain is able to figure out how to quickly recognize and remedy most unforeseen problems. 

This is one of the things I love about farming: there is so much to learn. Every year is different. Every year there are challenges. Growing vegetables is easy: seeds contain all the knowledge they need to grow. Growing really great vegetables is much more difficult: you need to know what that seed needs to achieve its full potential. There are layers-upon-layers of systems to fine-tune: soil preparation; fertility management; pest & disease control; irrigation; timely harvest and refrigeration, to name a few. 

And then there is the difficulty of growing really great vegetables for profit. Sure, seeds know what to do, and the farmer also knows how to care for the plant as it grows. But, the farmer also needs to be extremely efficient, only doing exactly what needs to be done at the time it needs doing. There might be 30 tasks on my “to do” sheet, but which one should I do now!? The trick is knowing what to do now. If I make the wrong decision, the results can be catastrophic…

For example, once earlier in my farming career I was managing a 10-acre vegetable farm with a crew of 6-10 people. It was Friday morning 6am; I saw that our carrots and beets had germinated and that it was time to weed; AND there was $6000 worth of vegetables to be harvested for the 2 farmers’ markets and 1 CSA pickup on Saturday morning. I decided that we should focus on harvesting and put off weeding until Monday. BUT … on Monday the weeds had completely taken over the field! There was no way to weed the carrots and beets. All the carrots & beets we were hoping to harvest for farmers markets and CSA pickups from October through December were lost to weeds. It was at least a $10,000 mistake! Fortunately for me, I was on salary, so my income wasn’t affected. I did, however, learn something incredibly important: always prioritize weeding! I never made that mistake again, and at Crooked Cucumber Family Garden I absolutely dominate the weeds!! (And, I will also say, even though I did make this mistake on this other farm, I did do a good enough job that the farm’s revenues were still up by about $50,000 compared to the previous year. I didn’t lose my job; I was there for 3 more years.)

So, anyway, it’s the dead of winter. I have ordered seeds, ordered supplies, done my bookkeeping, updated my fertility plan, updated my pest & disease control plans, updated the website, launched and began processing CSA registrations & payments, etc. etc. I’ve spent lots of time & money getting everything in place so that I’m ready for spring, so that the harvest is outrageously bountiful in 2019! 

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