Grit Blogs > Feed Me Farms

Lessons Learned, and Still Learning

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A photo of Sandy Bates BellMother Nature fooled us last year. You know the saying, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature," from those old margarine commercials? Well, we're turning the tables on her this year! As I sit outside on my laptop enjoying this lovely Spring afternoon, my cowboy/artist now turned farmer sits on top of his beloved tractor carefully tilling the many black soil rows that he is designing along the old terraces used by his ancestors.

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Our Guineas happily following along behind him nabbing each and every tasty bug that surfaces. But lest we forget, it was only a few days ago (the first day of Spring) that we had a freak snowstorm that put a damper on all those poor gardeners who were so eager to play in the dirt a couple of weeks ago. All those poor little pansies and cucumber vines that went in too soon, may have been all for not. We learned our lesson the hard way.

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One of our dear neighbors and best friends passed away earlier this year, and we are so saddened by his loss. He was a life long farmer/rancher and taught several generations of farmers around here how to grow and prosper off this land. Last year we were trying our hand at our first large scale vegetable garden, and we were so eager that we planted at the beginning of March because the weather had been so beautiful. Our old friend found out that we had already seeded the garden and stopped by our place to tell us that we should have waited till after Easter here in Central North Texas. To soften the news, he brought us a few wonderful vegetables out of his Winter garden. Oh was he right! A few weeks after our plantings were popping up everywhere, a late March freeze came and killed about 30 percent of our vegetable garden. Hard lesson learned. If only we had sought his wisdom out BEFORE planting, but again lessons learned.

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To curb our hastiness this year, we entertained ourselves over the Winter by pouring over colorful seed catalogs (Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Landreths and a few others) and power reading a few good books (Good Bug, Bad Bug, Seed to Seed, Carrots Love Tomatoes, The Have More Plan). Last year we waited until February to order seeds and found that many of the varieties of heirlooms we wanted were sold out. Lessons learned. This year we started our ordering in January and even then, missed out on a few things we wanted. Another valuable learning experience.

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That's the great thing about gardening and farming, there is a constant learning curve. Every planting season and harvest teaches us a new technique or trick. This year we are trying a new technique that our local Sheriff imparted to us. He learned it from his neighbor who learned it from the Japanese when he was a POW in a Japanese work camp. When he heard we were getting into heirloom vegetables, the sheriff patiently drew out a diagram of tomato cages fed by a compost tea IV contraption. Ironic that something learned from the enemy during the war would bring several generations of joy and great harvests to him and his neighbors, and now he was passing his knowledge on to us. That's really what I love most about farming. It breaks down age, ethnic and economic barriers. I have seen a room full of gardeners who would otherwise have nothing to talk about because of their different lifestyles, but you get them talking about their garden secrets and you can't get them to stop.

I have noticed something else about farmers and gardeners. There is a bit of gambler in all of us. Wometimes it feels like the odds are stacked against us – battling weather, natural disasters, wind, heat, cold and bugs. But once we bite into our first tomato or saute up some fresh greens, we know that our gamble has paid off, hitting the gourmet jackpot.

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So, as we watch the weather report for tomorrow, we find out that there is more cold and rain on the way. Easter is only a week away, and the tangy taste of a Cherokee Purple tomato is yet a few months from consumption. But patience is a virtue, and that, too, is a lesson well learned out here on the farm.

Happy planting, everyone (but not till after Easter)! This years planting is dedicated to Don Tolar, a thick neck Czech who could grow anything. We will miss you and your wisdom Don. Wise lessons learned.

nebraska dave
4/1/2010 3:10:49 PM

Sandy, those early Spring days are the best. We here in Nebraska have had to 80 degree days in row. I so want to be planting in the garden but alas I know from experience that it isn’t the end of cold weather. Our last frost date here is around Mother’s day. I suppose I could be planting kale, lettuce, radish and such but I just so want a tomato in the ground. I’m what I suppose would be called a summer gardener. I grow tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, and one cherry tomato plant. This year I want to expand a little and grow onions and potato which can be planted about now. Everything is a gamble here this time of the year as the temperature can go down to the low twenties at night or as high as upper eighties during the day. Every Spring has its own personality and hardly ever mimics last year’s Spring. If anyone wants to push the envelope here, lots of special covers, cold frames, and green houses have to be used. Maybe some day I’ll get more serious about such things but for now summer gardening has to do it for me. Sorry to hear about your neighbor. It’s always a sad thing when a matriarch of the community passes. Then again someday we will BE the matriarch and I guess maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. Happy Spring planting.