Like most jobs, what you expect or have been told about the job, it turns out that it’s is very little like that.
This is where I admit I am a ‘leap first, look second’ kind of person. So when the opportunity to have my own farm arose; I didn’t really think much about what the day-to-day would actually look like. It was just growing plants right? I was already doing that at the Dallas Arboretum. How much harder could it be? With that kind of a questions you can guess that this blog will be more about what I did not expect then what I did expect.
So what did I expect? I expected to be growing plant, particularly strawberries. I thought it would be pretty easy despite hearing that strawberries are little diva plants (see my blog about growing strawberries).
The farming is the easy, or the easiest, part. In some ways. Plants are straight forward, there are never dramatic breakups, or family fights over inheritance with plants. If you plant them and than give them what they need to grow, most often they grow. This is what I was expecting. To put all types of edible plants in the ground, give them what they need, and they would grow. I say the farming part is easy, like all I have to do is go out into the fields and poof magically there are crops ready to harvest. Clearly that is not the case. If it was, we would all farm wouldn’t we? So no, it’s not actually that easy.
I did plan to be outside in all weather (which I am). I did know there would need to be advertising (which there is, although I am mostly not in control of it). I knew I would need to plan, what to plant, and when to fertilize.
What I didn’t expect was the day-to-day grind. I get up every morning and worry about the same things, and think about the same things, and work on the same things. Everyday of the year. Plants don’t take holidays. They don’t care that it’s supposed to be your day off. I think about the weather obsessively. I have 4 weather apps on my phone. I definitely did not ever think that would happen.
I never gave a passing thought to how organized I would need to be. Record keeping is a huge task. What sold well? What didn’t? What is in your soil? What is in your water that affects your plants? What is in your water that might affect people? What fertilizer did you use? How much per acre? When did you put fertilizer out? Keeping the records for Good Agricultural Practises certification. Keeping records for the new food safety laws. Keeping track of where all the money goes. Filing business taxes*.
I didn’t expect all the things I would need to learn. I can’t tell you how many Youtube videos I have watched trying to figure out how to kill Curly Dock**, how to better market on Facebook, how to clean filters, how to take apart a weed eater and make it work again after the wrong gas was run through it, and why exactly is the tracter making that noise?
I didn’t expect to do so much educating of the general public. The first year there was a pumpkin patch on the farm I had a mom come up to me and tell me that there were bugs on my pumpkins. I asked if they were ants (so I could flag the area and both warn people away and treat it after I closed) but no, they were just bugs. Turned out they were theses bugs
These are cucumber beetles, not yellow ladybugs, and are a huge pest. Please feel free to kill as many as you want. The type of bug is not actually the point. The point is this mom told me that I should not be selling pumpkins with bugs on them; In fact, it was wrong of me to sell these pumpkins with bugs on them. To this day, I cannot remember how I responded to that comment. I grew those pumpkins outside, in fact all pumpkins are grown outside. The outside is full of bugs. I have no way of keeping bugs off my pumpkins. I grew them organically so there was no pesticide on them, but even if I had gone straight to the harshest chemical, there would still be bugs on my pumpkins.
I never expected to have to tell people over and over and over that fertilizer is necessary for all plants***. The very rare exception is plants perfectly adapted to your yard. Even those might need help in the really bad years.
I never ever ever thought that growing plants of any kind was a special skill. I thought the only reason people didn’t do it was because they didn’t want to, they found it boring, not because they couldn’t. It has been slowly dawning on me that farming is more than just putting in the hours, or loving the work. Farming is a skill. I am just opening for my third season of Pick Your Own Strawberries, and already I have had other farmers in the area come to me asking me when do I water, how much do I water, what kind of fertilizer do I use, when do I cover to protect from the cold, when is full sunlight more important than protecting from the cold. This is the most surprising thing to me, the most unexpected. I don’t see myself as specially skilled. I just get up everyday and check my four weather apps, and go to work.
Don’t worry, there is more to come, so check back in a couple of weeks for part 2!
*It still is a problem, but it has going better in the years since I have been running the farm. I was even able to find an invoice from last year that I needed for my business tax return!
** Surprise! You can’t. Curly Dock is the cockroach of the weeds on my farm.
*** Seriously people feed your plants. That includes your lawn.