I wake up at six in the morning. If it is a weekday, I get up, let the chickens out, and go to the profession that pays for the ability to grow vegetables, fruits, eggs, grasses, implement soil rejuvenation techniques and integrated pest and nutrient management practices. When we get home, we put in about two and half hours on farm related activity. This ranges from hand watering to using the drip tape, weeding, assessing the environment, looking for signs of anything that is not right with the animals, vegetables and high tunnel. Then address whatever the situation, pests, weeds, watering, feeding, isolating sick chickens and then evaluating them, you get the idea. If it is the weekend, I get an hour to rest and relax before the work starts at seven.
The weekend workday starts with doing the most physical task right away before the days heat kicks in. Then the next hardest task and then the next hardest physical task, interspersed with breaks for hydration and back to the next most physical task. As you are doing the tasks, the temperature is rising and the humidity is reaching into the eighties and nineties. Your body is fighting the heat by perspiring, which leads to your eyes stinging from the salty water. You stay hydrated in order to maintain fluid levels and maintain stamina.
Because we grow mainly vegetables and fruits all work is done outdoors and during some of the hottest parts of the day. It is a grind but work takes place in order for the plants to produce. If we are not hand weeding an acre and a half of gardens, we are moving the chickens and their fences, or collecting eggs, we are tracking insects, and trying to protect what is in the ground from the flora and fauna. We are planting or watering, or cleaning out the chicken trailer and checking for lice and any indication of an anomaly, or watering and feeding the chickens, laying drip tape, setting up new irrigation, or mowing the fields and the grass, or harvesting produce, or checking on broody chickens or sick chickens. Saturdays we harvest early because we are delivering to our retail markets. We give tours so some days I have to turn the staff lose to work on their own chores while I walk groups around explaining what and why sustainable farming practices are needed and justified.
Sunday we attend the one farmers market we can make. The day starts with harvesting everything that is ready to sell and feed the chickens the ugly stuff not good enough for sale. This farmers market happens to be on asphalt and starts at twelve noon. By the time, you get there and setup the tarmac has had a couple hours to heat up so you have to take precautions with your produce, the same produce picked that morning. You are always outside and at the mercy of the weather, rain or shine, you are sweating, you need sun/rain protection and at times bug protection. You work until you no longer have the stamina or the sunlight whichever comes first. You eat, sleep and repeat.
Along with the physical aspects of growing, you have educational pursuits in order to learn what bugs are beneficial and which are detrimental, what viruses and bacteria are present and what combats them. You learn about different soil types; reading soil analysis charts for nutrient levels, familiarize yourself with the Ph levels for different fruits and vegetables grown and that nitrogen-fixers help the soil fertility. You find out about crop rotation, green manures, nematodes, and rhizomes and cover cropping. There is the learning curve that has spanned generations in farming families, but you have to pick them up in an extraordinarily short period in order to be successful. You will spend years reading and learning from every mistake you make and you will make mistakes, they will be innocent at first and may be overlooked until they take crops from you and you find there is no hope of recouping even basic expenses associated with the crop, forget profit. This year it was using “Winter Rye” as a cover crop for our corn. We found out why Winter Rye is such a good green manure too. Winter Rye when it gets to a certain stage sends out particles that stop the germination of other plants, thus helping itself propagate and survive. Another problem or benefit, depending on how you use it, is its capacity to get to water. This is great if you are trying to rid the field of weeds. It is not so great when the sweet corn you planted is not pollinating properly and you are facing drought situations. If you cannot harvest it, you are not going to be able to generate revenue.
I think the people with animals have it worse, we are still learning how to take care of chickens and we are in our fourth year. Animal husbandry is a discipline unto itself. Each animal has its own problems and although some might be the same between species, most animals have specific issues to deal with. Chickens have Coccidiosis when they are day-olds and H1:N5 (avian flu), cows have bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow) goats and sheep have Johnnie’s (pronounced Yonies), they all have some virus or bacteria that is prevalent in their species that they are susceptible to. You have to know this in order to keep everything healthy, growing and vigorous. Feeding animals is another issue that needs attention. In the chicken world layers, get a different feed than broilers (meat birds). One major difference is the calcium requirement, layers get it broilers do not. Then there is first level medical care. You need to learn how to assess the condition of the animal and what precautions or protocols to administer. Is it something a vet should address? You have to decide to cull the animal or choose to nurse the animal back to health. If you choose, the latter you will need more in depth knowledge.
What we love most about all this are the people that cheer you on, caringly give you their time and expertise and champion your actions. We do optimistic planning based in reality, so we plan contingencies. It seems daunting when you read all that needs accomplishing in a day, a week, a month and a year. It is doable, remember not to long ago we were an agrarian society it was not the easiest life and it still is not, then again nothing good ever came from something easy.
Buy Local: Feed yourself safely and support your community