Halfway Through and Looking Ahead

photo 1_200by Caroline Hampton

When I reflect on my first year as an independent farmer, I feel proud of what I have accomplished. Though I can certainly credit myself for working hard and dedicating much time to my operation, I feel sure that luck has contributed just as much to my successes this season. This taste of early success has certainly hooked me on farming and made me feel that this is the career path that I can and want to continue to pursue. Every season for a farmer is about making it through the current season under changing conditions while thinking ahead to the next season and planning what can be done differently to improve next time around. In the coming months as we near fall, my posts will focus on what lessons I’ve learned and changes I will be making.

The most important change that I can make for next season is to plan better. I found out that I would be doing the F.I.G. Program in January of this year, and after I moved to the High Country in February, I really hit the ground running and haven’t had a pause in the action since then, so much of my planning was hurried and on the fly. I am already looking forward to the winter months, during which I will be able to plan my production schedule to organize my season better. My planning for next year is informed by what I’ve experienced in my first season, as well as the niches that I see available in my area.

The timing of the growing season in the High Country is completely new to me this year, and because of our altitude it is a pretty short and mild season. Our last frost this year came around May 18. Because of the limited growing season, farmers in this area do as many things as they can to speed along the process of development of their vegetables. Hoop houses, low tunnels or floating row cover are all used quite a bit. One farmer even told me she started her bean plants in the greenhouse this year and set out transplants! I ended up planting beans and squash pretty late, so I am still waiting for my first harvest for each of these, and though I have many green tomatoes and peppers, it may be another week or two before I am able to pick any! Next year I plan to start summer crops earlier in the greenhosue, and I am hoping to use low tunnels as well to set crops out into the field earlier.

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Though my summer crops have been behind those of other vendors at the Farmer’s Market that I sell at, the trick in marketing is to have items early or late, or to find a niche market for specialty items. Though I was certainly not early with my summer crops, I have continued to plant lettuce through the summer here, as well as radishes and spring greens like bok choy. With our mild summer, growing these items even in July is no problem, especially when there is some shade. This month has been very wet so far, which has also helped. My best market day was when I brought a lot of lettuces at the end of June, after everyone else had moved on to bringing other produce. I would like to continue to provide people salad in the summer, something that people want all year round.

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I would also like to have a few more specialty crops next year, and I am already thinking about getting some perennials established, making some mushroom logs (which could be perfect for what tend to be wet summers), and I am even looking into the possibility of growing rice up here. I will post updates about these new projects, and in my next couple posts I will delve into what I’ve learned this season about livestock care and disease and pest control when growing vegetables.

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