As a retired high school English teacher (27 years at Madera High School) who is new to farming, I find my Santa Rosa Creek Road farm, as well as neighborhood and neighbors, fascinating.
I would love to be a “native” like the Sotos, Warrens, Fiscalinis and Silvieras. So much must be learned about our microclimate: the land, the soil, the weather, the seasons, the crops, the insects, the diseases, the weeds, the animals. The variables never end. ...
Early on, a local rancher, Nevada Warren, said to me that I wouldn’t really own the land, I would merely be its “steward.” I presume he meant slave and servant.
I assured him that with all my strength; I would be an excellent steward until the day I die. Honestly, that commitment is huge. I already have scars and bruises to prove my efforts.
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I am only one and a half years into this new role, and what I am learning most about is failure. Luckily, I am tough and brave and resilient, because the lessons are sometimes overwhelming:
- All tasks like weeding, pruning, watering, harvesting will be done over and over forever.
- Everything takes more money than you thought.
- Everything takes more time than you thought.
- Everything takes more work than you thought.
- It does no good to whine and complain because you made your choices and now you must live with them.
- The rewards (like lots of huge zucchini) are a mixed blessing. Forget about perfection; accept imperfection.
- Change can come quickly, so prepare patiently for the good, bad and ugly.
- Life, birth, love, healing and death take time and run in cycles, so don’t fret.
- Might as well love your neighbors as yourself. Amen for that!
- Listen to nature and your heart, because the lessons of pain, destruction and renewal are all there.
- And, above all, seek truth and justice because you will reap what you sow, though I’ve noticed not all seeds germinate.
One farmland specific: I made the decision to plant 130 artichoke plants because the first few in my garden seemed to thrive whereas other plants (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, etc.) struggled.
I search diligently for the “perfect crop.” Turns out it’s often too hot and the clay soil doesn’t hold moisture well — plus the bugs love making homes in the buds. But I have not given up. I continue to experiment.
My next large endeavor has been 1,000 berry bushes — 525 boysenberries, 275 blackberries and 200 olallieberries.
The biggest challenge with berries is that hours and hours and hours of hard labor go into planting, setting up trellises, setting up irrigation systems, tying up canes, weeding, and watering. And (get this) the products don’t appear for 18 months. Oh my!
The gophers were my first pest — I put garlic and hot pepper in the holes where we planted and have been diligent about “rooting” them out. Then wood rats, skunks, rabbits and deer (just to name a few) are continually munching on the emerging, tender leaves. So I have tried garlic and pepper on the plants also with limited success. Anyone out there have a suggestion besides a fence?
Oh, did I mention the beauty? Don’t think for a minute that I regret buying the farm or resent working there. It might not be “fun” like my neighbor Bob suggested, but it definitely is gratifying to see your energy produce products, however imperfect. And my muscles are stronger for sure. Plus, I am incessantly amazed at the variety of creatures and loveliness of the creekside forest with its massive cottonwoods.
I am trying very hard to apply my creative, analytical mind to the few pesky problems.
My master’s in literature is not much help. But, of course, much of what I am learning is simple, common sense. Experience is absolutely the best teacher.
So don’t laugh at me, please, if you see me removing noxious weeds such as Spanish thistle, purple thistle and poison oak, from my field by hand. And forgive my idiosyncrasy of loving to drive my little blue tractor (I call her Boomer) for fun, to keep my spirits up. And do come buy berries next spring (if any canes survive to produce).