{my farming journey} The Season Begins

Robust chives & oregano. I can't believe they made it through such a rough winter.
Robust chives & oregano. I can’t believe they made it through such a rough winter.

If you caught my previous post, then you already know I’m trying to start a micro farm this year called Little Sparrow Farm.

Tiny lettuce, growing strong.
Tiny lettuce, growing strong.

In mid March I started my seeds with some grow lights in my basement. In late March I went out-of-town for a week and my husband was in charge of the seedlings. He has many talents, but taking care of seeds isn’t one of them. When I returned I took a deep breath, dumped out the trays, and started over. I knew it was still early in the season so I didn’t let it bother me too much.

A few weeks ago I went to check my hive that made it through the winter to see how they were getting on. They had completely filled the hive with brood and honey already. I was prepared with an extra hive body, so I set everything up to get to work to rotate the boxes. Things were going well and then for some crazy reason the bees in the bottom box whooshed out at me and in normal human response I stood up quickly, and when I turned to move away I tripped and fell hard onto some of my equipment.

My 6-inch-wide bruise is healing up well, but it’s a decent reminder that I am dealing with animals I can’t fully communicate with. I also need to keep in mind that when I am working with the bees I need to move slow and remain constantly calm. This is not always so easy for me, but I’m going to work on it.

In the moment I was incredibly frustrated though. Part of me wanted to just simply walk away and not deal with it, but that would’ve left the hive completely open, and the bees exposed. I took a deep breath and put everything back together. I wondered if it was worth it to get the three new packages of bees that are coming this week. But then I remembered that I’m stubborn and in the end I really do love those bees a heck of a lot and I just don’t give up that easily.

This week I’ll paint my new hive bodies and make one last trip to Betterbee for supplies. I’m also going to plant out my sunflowers and wildflowers right where they will be. It’s such a great area, I’m sure they will love it.

Right now we are back into a cold snap. After some really pleasant weather and a really long winter, this seems cruel. Everything is tarped and my fingers are crossed. I hope that my little greens do well, but I’m more worried for other local farms who have CSA members waiting on veggies and fruit that may not make it.

My growing area in the front of my house. It used to be my garden. Those are pea trellises made from PVC pipe and netting.
My growing area in the front of my house. It used to be my garden. Those are pea trellises made from PVC pipe and netting.

I’m not making this sound very appealing, am I? The reality is, for all the frustration I don’t regret any of it. Each day when I wake up and see that the little plants have grown, it’s exciting. Each time a little seedling pops up from the soil, I feel a bit amazed. I realize that sounds silly, but it’s true. It always seems so shocking that such a large plant can come from something so small.

I’m also constantly amazed by the support I’ve been given. Really the farmers and folks who have helped me so far are busy enough, but they have already helped me so much and we aren’t even in the height of the season. My boss, Michael Kilpatrick of Kilpatrick Family Farm, has given me old supplies, sold me compost, and answered hundreds of questions.

Missy of Fortsville Creek Farm, Ejay and Kim of R’Eisen Shine Farm, Elizabeth of Three Dogs Barking Farm, and Luke and Cara of Quincy Farm are always great people I can count on when an issue arises that I’m not sure how to deal with. These folks are seriously so busy and could easily just focus on their own farms, but they don’t. They are always willing to help. Missy even picked up supplies for me in Pennsylvania! And Aaren of Wing Road Farm was and still is my bee mentor and a terrific source of support and inspiration.

When I posted on Facebook that my seedlings had died, within hours my friend Rachel, who works for NOFA-NY called to see if I had the contact info for various farmers who might be able to give me some suggestions. There’s literally a list of farmers through NOFA-NY that you can get in touch with if you need technical advice. Isn’t that amazing?!

A few months ago Becky even helped me set up a micro loan through Kiva Zip. It was a way to help me pay for supplies upfront without paying any interest. Their loans are all crowdsourced and in less than 3 days friends and total strangers had given a total of $2000. Seriously, for a one-woman startup farm. I can hardly believe it even as I type it.

My growing area behind my house. I sort of made raised beds and then put hoops and row cover over them.
My growing area behind my house. I sort of made raised beds and then put hoops and row cover over them.

Yes, these last few weeks have been stressful, and it will continue through the summer, but I’m in good company. Even farmers like Michael are constantly learning and trying new things, and getting frustrated and messing up. It happens, it’s life. But I would prefer this life, one where I never stop learning, one with sunshine instead of fluorescent lights, one where the sounds I hear are birds and bees instead of photocopiers.

I’m going into my fourth season of working with local agriculture and the people I’ve met and friends I’ve made are just incredible. Add to that the privilege of growing food, and I feel incredibly lucky. When everything hurts and I’m very tired and just want to cry a bit I know I’m part of a truly kick ass community of people and I hope kids my son’s age grow up realizing that farming can be a great career.

Please know, if you support local producers in any way, it really helps. I’ll keep updating on my progress as the season continues! Thanks for your support!


9 Comments Add yours

  1. Sam says:

    Your progress is looking great! Glad you’re healing! It’s it amazing how farming teaches us all lessons that we need to learn. I too gain patience, although I haven’t had an opportunity to work with bees.

  2. Good for you! Farming is HARD. So much of the writing out there about small, sustainable food systems is a pretty, polished version void of all the mishaps and small (and humungous!), sometimes annoying challenges.

    I myself spent the morning swearing, trying to wrangle 55 pullets into the barn (I’m 6 months pregnant – nimble I am not) with “help” from my two year old son and 5 month old Great Pyrenees (who was trying to eat them.) Not only did I not catch all the chickens, my son ended the morning wandering the farm yelling “Sh*t!” Whoops.

    Just remember there’s lots of us out here right there with you – breaking tools, hurting ourselves, suffering failures and just generally enjoying the chaos and wonder that comes with being a fledgling farmer!

    It’s comforting to know there are other women out there, working away, taking deep breaths and charging on! Thanks for sharing and good luck!

    Stacey : Coghlan Cottage Farm, Aldergrove BC

  3. Erika T. says:

    Thank you Sam and Stacey! I’m just glad I’m not pregnant and that my eight-year-old can actually help a little. It all seems a little insane when you step back to think about how much work it is, but I think for some people it’s just what makes us happy, and we wouldn’t be happy doing something else.

  4. Jacky says:

    Wow, what a challenge you are taking on, lots to learn along the way. Best of luck on this adventure!

  5. abrooke65 says:

    This is incredible. It’s cool to see how you grow as the garden grows. Are you anywhere near the garlic festival that takes place upstate in the fall? Maybe you can bring your wares there!

  6. Bill says:

    I can certainly relate to many of your struggles and frustrations. It’s been a very difficult spring here too. But your passion is evident. It really is a privilege to grow food!
    And for what it’s worth, we had to dump 90% of our lettuce starts this year too. 🙂

  7. Keep going!! It looks great!! And it’s so worth it in the end…(:

  8. Robin says:

    I love your pea trellises!! Are they easy to make?

  9. afarmingartist says:

    Looks great. Gardening is my sanity.

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