Monday, July 23, 2012

A Learning Season

With the wildfires, persistent drought, and blazing heat over much of the country, this has been a hard summer for many. The farmers in my area are really suffering. Animals are dying and many folks' crops are a total loss.

Our garden and yard are feeling the effects of the heat as well. Thankfully, we do not have to depend on our garden for our living or our survival, but it is depressing to put so much time and energy into something and not reap the rewards.

A handful of heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries from our garden. 

Even though our harvest has been minimal, it has been a season of learning for me. I've gleaned some wisdom from our challenges that I'd like to share with you. Feel free to chime in with what this season may be teaching you.

  • Don't have all your eggs in one basket. Diversify the crops you plant because you never know what will thrive in the unique weather and pest conditions of each year. 

Garlic did very, very well for us this year

It's too bad you can't survive on garlic alone, because we did very well with that crop this year. We have plenty to eat fresh, dehydrate, and save to use as seed garlic for next year's crop. We also got an excellent cabbage crop (I made and froze lots and lots of bierocks). Our onions and blackberries did pretty well. We haven't harvested our potatoes yet, but they look to have done well. Everything else has struggled.

Hubby Dear and I are making a list of nutritious plants that have proven to do well in adverse conditions and are going to make sure they are part of our gardening plans. Cabbage, black oil sunflowers (to press for oil or use as poultry food), and potatoes are on the list so far. 

  • Diversify your preps. Don't just stock up on a year's worth of food for your family and think you're set. Learn how to produce your own food now because, as you can see from our example, there's no guarantee of success even after years of experience. 

  • If you can, diversify even further and get some livestock

These are dummy eggs I put in the nest boxes to encourage my girls to
lay there. They should start laying soon. 

If you've never done it before, you'd be surprised how easy it is to keep chickens. If you maintain them properly, they don't have to be smelly or noisy and they truly are less work than a dog!  I can't say the same for turkeys and ducks, but they aren't too bad. If it's legal in your area, start with chickens, the "gateway poultry". 

Ducks grow fast. Our ducklings are two weeks old and will be nearly full grown in a
few short weeks. Ours are pets, but Ancona ducks are excellent
layers and table birds and are capable of subsisting primarily on forage.
Three of our 10 week old turkeys.

  • Speaking of livestock, despite your best efforts, every now and then one of your animals will get killed. One day one of our chickens (the Easter Egger named Lita Ford) just disappeared. There was no sign of a struggle (feathers, blood, etc.) or a hole under the fence. She was just gone. The next day we saw four of our other chickens fly out of their run, so we now think that Lita probably flew out and was snagged by a coyote or dog. We're working on upgrading our run yet again so this won't happen. More trouble, more money. 

The day we noticed our chicken gone, there were lots of raptors in the skies above our homestead
and these big birds (I didn't think they were turkeys - buzzards, maybe?) in the pasture next door.
I didn't investigate further. :(

  • Be prepared for a multiple years of hardship. Our hot and dry weather started last July. Since then, we have had unrelenting heat and drought. That's kind of nice when January feels like March, but it has real consequences. You need to have a plan to overcome it. I'm starting to think that one year of food storage isn't really enough for our family. I don't know where I'll come up with the storage space for all the food I intend to store, but I'll just have to figure it out. 

  • Buy more seeds than you think you'll need. Especially when the weather is wonky, you'll need extra seed. We had to replant many of our crops and regret not buying more seed during our big seed purchase last winter. Seeds are cheap, so stock up ahead of time! 
Oh, and those cans of survival seeds? They aren't enough. Yes, I have one that is supposed to grow a huge garden of heirloom vegetables. I don't regret that purchase, but you can bet I'll be getting some backups in place. What if you had to replant your survival garden and didn't have the seeds to do it?  

  • Be able to identify common garden pests and have remedies on hand ahead of time.  Plants are especially susceptible to pests when they are under stress from heat and lack of water. We have had our first encounters with squash vine borers and aphids and, thankfully, we had items stored that could treat them. I like the book Good Bug Bad Bug because it has photos of common garden insects and suggests organic treatments for each kind of pest.

  • Spend time in your garden. Observe your plants carefully and act early if you notice a problem.

  • You can never have enough water stored. Our rural water district is getting way too much of Hubby Dear's paycheck because we are irrigating non-stop. If we had invested in rain barrels, we could be using stored water. Even the little bits of rain we've been getting add up to a surprisingly large amount when you collect everything that falls on your roof. 

What have you learned during this season? 


  1. clip your chicken's wings and they won't fly away

    1. True. We've done this with our turkeys and it definitely works. We decided to go ahead and order some heavy-duty gamebird netting to cover the tops of the runs just as extra insurance against hawks.


  2. You are right - this heat and drought has brought up some new concerns that I wouldn't have thought about 5 years ago. Water storage and observing what can make it through adverse conditions are definately things to add to the To-Do list.
    I think that knowing how to produce and process your own food is one of the best skills anyone can have. Everyone should know how to cultivate, plant, tend, harvest and preserve food!
    Next year I will be buying more seeds that I think I need. I learned that this year with the woodchucks eating all my pea and bean plants - and I only had enough extra seed to replant half. Also, I had a great deal of fail-to-germinate this season, which required another sowing, if not two! Crazy!
    Thanks for the great information!