2 acre farm: Consistancy vs. Tribulations

2 acre farm

The experiences, trials, and lives on a small farm in rural Illinois.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Consistancy vs. Tribulations

Tommorrow (Saturday 8/28) will be the second week in a row that we will not be attending our regular farmer's market. Consistancy is one of the most importaint qualities we can provide our customers but despite a booming spring and mid summer, late summer is not looking so hot on our small farm. The heat wave we just escaped nearly killed the tomatoes, did kill many ground cherries, finished off the zucchini, made some of the fall plantings a bust, and the list goes on. But we don't have our heads hung too low. The pumpkins are ripening, some fall crops still have promise, and there have been lessons learned.
Ground cherries drying out and drooping in the summer heat.

We have got lettuce, radishes, and many other salad greens planted and coming up as I write this. Okra is still strong but isn't worth taking to market without other crops. We also have a second planting of beans which are a wonderful purple type called Royal Purple. We are looking forward to digging some sweet potatoes in the next few weeks. So not all is lost we are just in an unfortunate lull.

I have learned some valuable things this season. One thing is to not under estimate the power of succession planting. While the tomatoes are just starting to produce a second round and looking quite sad doing it a few "volunteer" tomatoes are looking healthy as ever and getting ready to produce soon. The "volunteer" tomatoes are at least four weeks behind the other tomatoes because they came up when the soil was warm enough. Next year I will certainly plant my tomatoes in two plantings staggered a month apart so we will have a continuous supply through fall. I am also going to do this with other summer crops that tend to wain off this time of year like zucchini, ground cherries, and cucumbers.

I know some will wonder why I wouldn't just water to avoid this but that really isn't the solution. Firstly, we are very conscious and work very hard at keeping the gardens as sustainable as possible, but most importantly it is not the heat which has defeated the plants because of drought but instead because of the plants age. By mid-late August the plants have been working hard for at least sixteen weeks. They have been attacked by bugs, wind whipped, stepped on by people and animals, flooded by torrential rains repeatedly and now dried out. It took seeing the volunteer tomatoes to make me realize this because they are growing as if the weather was just perfect.

Since this is our first full season I think we have done pretty well. Thanks to the cyclical nature of the seasons there is always next year to do better.

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Blogger Tommy said...

I'm new to your blog, but have spent time reading through all of your old posts. Awesome story and it's exciting to read about your new farm. A couple of questions:
--do you also raise chickens or other animals?
--how successful has it been for you to sell your crops (it seems mostly at farmer's markets?). Obviously, I'm not asking how much money you've made, but has it been enough to support your growing family, paying the bills? Or is it just to supplement your "day-job"?

I'm in Southern California, but am very interested in learning from your experience. I can't believe how much you've produced on your farm. That is amazing. I started a small family garden last year, and it has been fun, but I'm wondering how much land and production it would take to "earn a living" at a small family-run farm.

Thanks in advance,

September 10, 2010 at 10:55 AM  
Blogger Nathan (2af) said...

Hi Tommy,

We are looking into egg chickens. It is somewhat of a grey area in our town (we are in city limits) as to if we can actually have them. I think some form of livestock is essential to a truly sustainable/natural farm. It completes the cycle.

I would say for a first season it was very successful but I am still working the day job. One thing that we always have to keep in mind is that the perennial crops like asparagus; berries etc are some of the largest cash crops for a market garden. All of them take three years to see a full harvest though. I think that a person could make a living on two acres. I am not convinced one could support much of a family or be overly comfortable. We are still experimenting though to see if other routes make it possible.
Next year I think we will be more specialized.

Also we sold around 90% to farmer’s markets and 10% to restaurants/stores. I think this should be more diversified to be really successful. I would like to see something more like 20% CSA’s, 70% farm stand/store, and 10% farmer’s markets. As you can see my goal would be to only use farmer’s markets to unload surplus.

Thanks for your interest. I hope you stick around to watch it unfold some more.

September 11, 2010 at 1:12 AM  

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