Saturday, December 29, 2012
Lessons Learned from First Year of Urban Farming
We learned that chickens are about as trainable as cats or kids. They tend to come with their own ideas about how they'd like to spend their days, what they want to eat and where they'd like to lay an egg (or not.) When our first-to-lay hen, Virginia, took up laying her tiny pullet eggs in the cat box, we were admonished by the wonderful guy who runs the fancy farm store. After feeling guilty and shamed, we tried to retrain her to no avail. A couple weeks later when the second hen, Hilda, started laying in the nest box from the very first egg, Ginny moved her operation into the nest box too. Like kids, they figured it out themselves and we might have saved ourselves a bit of shamed fussing.
Despite what all the sassy books say, this gardening/farming stuff can be expensive! That has been another lesson learned. With the search for organic, non GMO seeds and starts, to the purchasing of chicken coop and supplies, chicken wire, tools and organic slug bait, our garden budget line item was a little high. Could we have done it cheaper? Probably...in a perfect world...but not everyone is tool savvy and talented in upcycling, recycling and uncycling (or unicycling, for that matter.) We could have spent a few dollars less for each of our chicks, but we opted for the heirloom, sexed, happily-hatched-local varieties and we haven't regretted that. It's sort of like growing the heirloom vegetables, why raise and grow the exact same thing we could get at the store?
Thirdly, we could have canned and preserved more than we did. At the time--in the heat of late Summer--it felt like we put up jars and jars and jars and we would never eat/share/use all those gorgeous glass goblets of tomatoes, salsa, sauce, jams and preserves. We now know that, despite the fact that we grew 22 tomato plants, we could have canned three times as many jars of tomatoes and sauce to meet the reality of how much we use through the fall and winter. Honestly, we ate the last of our garden grown fresh tomatoes right around Thanksgiving, so we had more than 5 solid months of fresh tomatoes of every size and color AND canned dozens of jars, but we could have done more. We are also already out of pear jam and are hoarding our precious jars of fig preserves--even though we canned a good dozen jars. Sure, we've given a few as gifts and our adult kids have snagged a few jars from the larder as needed (Who knew they'd find the regular jar of applesauce or marinara sauce to be so enticing?), but we surprised ourselves by how much we use on a regular basis so this next year, we need to do even more!
Additionally, we need a food dehydrator! We thought about getting one this year, but were a bit intimidated by acquiring more gear that we didn't know how to use. Now we know we could have dried apples, figs and persimmons from our trees (not to mention some cherries) and would have used them in all sorts of things. Alas, next year...
Other things to grow more of this year: lavender, cilantro, kohlrabi and we seem to never grow enough carrots or onions. There were a few things we didn't eat as much of as we thought we would--namely lettuce--we tended to lean more toward spinach, kale and chard for salads than lettuce. Plus the slugs and snails thought the lettuce was a banquet!
We have new projects on the horizon for this year: hopefully bees, building our rain collection barrel system, adding a couple new chickens to our flock, and experimenting with some new ways to grow potatoes. We'd also love to find a place/person to get the fresh goat milk from while we contemplate what our lives might be like with a couple dwarf dairy goats hopping around our back yard. We'll see, but if nothing else, there ought to be a few more lessons in store for us for 2013!