Monday, June 28, 2010

Sometimes you have to learn things twice.

We have smugly told folks on more than one occasion that we miraculously, in our first year farming last year, successfully grew everything we planted. We didn't have any crop "failures". Well...this claim is sort of true, however, one crop that didn't quite work out as we planned was our green onions.

Last year we direct seeded a few rows of green onions (or scallions) way at the back of the field. We had nothing but good intentions when we seeded the onions, but by the time we got around to weeding them, they had been lost in an abyss of horsetails and tall grass. Tiny little onion seedlings are virtually impossible to discern amongst the far more competitive weeds on our site, so we decided to call the onions a loss rather than spend the time with a magnifying glass trying to locate them amongst the growth. 

Now a testament to the fact that plants really just want to grow: we did have a "crop" of green onions, despite not doing anything to maintain them. I was weed whacking at the back of our field sometime in September last year when I started to smell a delicious onion smell rising up from the field. I stopped whacking and realized that we had a beautiful, yet patchy, crop of onions ready for harvest. I believe we took green onions to the market once last year. They sold like hot potatoes. So all in all, not a complete crop failure. 

This year, sometime in early May, we decided it was time to seed green onions again. So what did we do differently this year? Absolutely nothing. We, silly farmers, direct seeded a bunch of green onions in the part of the field where our most persistent grass is located. Obviously a momentary lapse of judgment. Needless to say, those green onions have again been lost in a sea of green weedy growth...and will likely never be found again (I plan to till those rows in once the sun returns). Don't worry. We plan to still grow green onions this year. They can be sown up until August. However, our tactics have changed. I seeded a bunch of green onion transplants this evening, which we will start in the hoop house. They will be planted out once they are at least big enough to detect amongst the weeds, giving them a much better chance of survival, and making our job weeding them much easier. 

So what is the point of this long-winded blog post? It's not just to assure you that we will have green onions this year. In fact, who knows if we will have green onions...all I said is that we were trying another tactic. The point that I am trying to get at is that we, (we being new farmers), would never get the chance to learn these things if we didn't have the opportunity to make our own decisions (sometimes silly), make mistakes (twice) and learn how to do things the right way (the right way being the way that works for the farmers and the environment we are working within). We can try to learn all we want by reading books about farming, and we can try to soak up as much knowledge as we can from folks we talk to or other farms we visit, but until we actually get to make the decisions and experience the consequences of those decisions, we won't know how to farm in the way that works for us. 

Learning experiences like our green onion debacle are all the more reason to support infrastructure like the incubator farm that Skeeter Farm is currently farming on. We, (again we being new farmers), need the opportunity to try things for ourselves in order to build the confidence we need to be the next generation of food providers for our communities. 

Clearly we don't have any photos of green onions, having never successfully grown them. Rather, this is a success of Skeeter Farm - a beautiful eggplant flower which will be growing a nice eggplant soon. Possibly my favorite crop so far!

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