A friend once said "I will make the mistakes if someone is willing to learn from them" well here are a few of my farm mistakes from the year if someone is willing to learn from them. 1. Check the soil. When you decide to rotate beds or fields be sure to check the soil on a regular basis. I neglected this and as a result I have a mean case of tomato bottom rot. This is a lack of calcium in the soil making the tomatoes not ripen and in most cases leaving the last quarter of the tomato rotten and brown. The cure for this is simply spraying milk on the leaves and root system to supply the plant with more calcium but this does take 1 - 2 weeks.
2. Prune and spray your trees at regular intervals. I run an organic operation so loss is a part of life but this year I had a crop of coddle moths not a crop of apples. All my apples trees were destoryed by these bastards and my thought was to let them run their course and leave the apples as the sacraficail lamb for the other fruits. This worked but I am not sure how much damage was done to the trees. If I had it to do over I would spray mineral oil earlier in the spring to suffocate the larvae, place the sticky coddle moth traps on each tree and thin on a regular basis, especially worm holed fruit. Note all fruit with moths should be removed from the orchard area, this can create further infestation. Hindsight is 20/20.
3. Plant basil from seed. I took the cheap/lazy route this year and bought starts from Huckleberries. These starts are generally used for cooking but they come in water with the root system so I though that I could plant them after hardening. They took but they suck, the leaves did not develop, they went to seed quickly and produced more wood then product. The basil I planted from seed took off like wildfire and it was planted mid-season. Next year I am sowing directly into the soil when the temp is over 55 degrees.
4. Prune the grapes. All in all the grapes did turn out spectacular but the thought of 32 degree pruning in a windstorm is daunting. Keeping on top of all pruning will save cold hands.
5. USE THE COMPOST!!!!! I built a four bin compost pile immediately after moving to the farm and I have been pretty good about watering and turning it but I have not used any. This fall the compost is going into the soil prior to tilling to add nutrients and worms to the soil. Next year I am going to add ventilated PVC pipe to each pile to enhance the compost process.
6. Build vole traps. Now that the fall and winter are around the corner it is time for me to get into the shop to build more vole traps. The voles come out in droves in the winter and pose a real danger to shrubs, trees and grass. If there are not enough traps then the spring can be really ugly once the snow melts and the damage is revealed.
7. Stay on top of the weeding. Once the weeding gets too overwhelming it is hard to motivate, especially when the season is coming to a close. One hour a day, maybe in the mornings, will be my routine for next year.
8. Install sprinklers where the grass browns. The amount of time wasted moving sprinklers around (thanks Dad) was staggering. When working and operating a piece of land every minute counts and tending to grass is the least rewarding and beneficial. Next spring I am going to make some changes.
9. Stick to a plan. I felt that many times this past summer I did not stick to a plan and therefore I got overwhelmed with all the tasks. The farm is supposed to be enjoyable and without a plan it can become too much of a chore. Sticking to a simple plan for the day or week will be my goal in 2012.
10. HAVE FUN!!!! I am glad that I am not dependent upon what I grew this year because I would die come winter from lack of food. With that said I should not then beat myself up when things go wrong and pests destroy crops. Next year I will learn more, document more, and enjoy more of the farm because I am not dependent upon the bounty. This is not to say I will let my guard down to the voles, or moths, or deer but I will take it in stride and know that this is a work in progress. Once it becomes a second job then it looses its luster and things start to fall apart. For Cheney Farms to become more than just an old farm house on a piece of dirt it must become a place that I love to come home to. Thankfully I love coming home now but worry that if I work too hard the enjoyment might be lost. Sometimes the addage 'don't put off tomorrow what can be done today' is wrong. Somethings need to be put off until tomorrow or at the very least they need to be recognized as needing attention and then worked into a future plan.