Wow. This year has been a complete blur. So much has been done that we have to look through
our notes to remember what's been done! Here's some of the highlights....
Our garlic did better overall than our 2016 crop, as was expected. We harvested around 14, July this year. Our porcelains did particularly well. Every single clove of Music planted made it to a full size plant. Both our Georgian Fire and Music produced huge, solid, beautiful bulbs. Our porcelains grow so well up here we really don't have to worry about them at all. Additionally, our Music bulbs won a blue ribbon and a purple special award at the Northeast Washington fair---our first entry ever! Almost all our other varieties did much better than in 2016 as well. The one disappointment was Spanish Roja. We went big on Roja and were hoping to have around 150 lbs of seed, but we ended up with a measly 13 lbs of seed quality bulbs. We're amazed on how poorly it preformed, especially since it was flanked by Music and Georgian Fire on each side and those did so well. Speaking with other growers in the area, it seems Spanish Roja didn't do well for them either. We're planting it again this coming season, but it will be another two years before we're back where we need to be with the Roja.
The demand for our garlic is insatiable. We literally can't grow enough on our land to meet demand. We're already talking about 2020 sales with customers! One thing we learned the hard way this year is to be extremely conservative with our harvest estimates. A grower doesn't want to over promise, but doesn't want to be left with any garlic come October. We certainly don't want to leave our customers scrambling for make-up garlic in September. This year we're going to be uber conservative on our estimates to ensure that kind of thing doesn't happen. If we overproduce, there'll be no shortage of eager buyers!
We have about 19,000 plants in the ground right now and we estimate a 1500 lb seed garlic harvest (again, super conservative estimate). We're limited on tillable ground and we want to keep the size manageable for our family, so we'll likely stay under 30,000 plants grown in the coming years....but who knows.
We were a bit disappointed in our Icelandic chickens. Despite what a few articles had said, we found our Icies weren't too fond of putting their feet in the snow. They stayed in the coop all winter almost exclusively. To get them out, we had to plow all the snow away, entice them with fresh veggies, and essentially roll out the red carpet for them! After the snow melted, we let our chickens free range. We'd give them, along with the ducks and peacocks, table scraps, but mostly they free-ranged. Occasionally over the last year we would find a dead hen lying
around the coop for no apparent reason. Were they not getting enough food? Was it a disease? We weren't sure, but we went ahead provided them a bit more food just to make sure they had enough. We probably found half a dozen hens dead like that. Hawks took another two. And then a few more were lost to our killer Labrador...(more on that later). In summer we butchered around 10 roosters and left one to guard the flock. Icies are a small breed, so our chickens only weighed about six pounds after processing. They tasted great though! Sadly, we lost our rooster to coyotes as he was defending some hens that were laying eggs in the forest.
We went ahead and purchased about three dozen chicks representing more common breeds: Rhode Islands, Barred Rock, Australorp, Buff Orpington, and Buckeye to see which ones we liked. So far, every one of them is doing better than the Icies in all categories. They produce more and larger eggs, they're bigger birds, and they free range better. The only category the Icies win in is beauty, they are pretty birds!
We started the year off with three Labradors, all related, but ended it with two. We had to let go of our two-year-old chocolate lab Tank because he liked to kill everything. We kept a rough tally: (4) skunks, (2) cats, (1) peacock, (3) chickens. We actually liked the fact he went after skunks, he got pretty good at getting them without getting sprayed in the process. Apparently, he really liked or really hated their smell cause he'd go run off into the forest searching for them...and then kill them. But the other animals killed, well, we grew very tired of it. We didn't have the necessary time to train it out of him either. Other than that though, he was a great dog; cuddled with the kids and loved his frisbee. We were able to find him an excellent home in the area with a loving family.
In February, the Jersey cow that we had calved and had a Valentines Day baby. Her name was aptly named Valentine. or Val for short. Momma, Rosalin, developed a ketosis issue after birth. Scary time, but we caught it immediately and had her treated by the vet (with a large bill). About a month later, Rosalin and Val went back to their original owners. Another lesson learned: get any and all agreements in writing before bringing in livestock bought, leased, or gifted. Enough said on that.
We found we our little homestead needed some mousers. We contacted a local animal rescue and they were eager to off load as many cats as they could. We picked up two feral cats and one semi-feral cat; not pets, but working
cats. It seemed they were doing a good job over the summer, but the two feral cats seemed to think it was a good idea to enter the domain of three Labradors. Tank chewed them both up and they died a day or so later of probable infection. The semi-feral cat is still with us and doing well. In the fall, we picked up two more kittens, both of them friendly with people. We keep them outside and usually keep our distance so they can focus on mice, but we find they've grown very attached to us. They follow us where ever we go, including a walk around our entire property, thru the snow, in sub-freezing temperature. The dogs have finally made peace with them and it looks like they will be good pals in the future.
There's never enough time. Winter and most of Spring is spent planning and then the rest of the year is go, go, go in a race to get it all done before snow flies. This year we had so many things on our plate: Tend to the garlic and garden (the two biggest tasks by far), put up fencing, maintain fencing, cut wood, build up our garage, home school the kids, involve the kids in local sports, fix water pipes, and literally about 100 other routine tasks. It seems like a short list, but time is gobbled up in no.....time.
We contemplated doing our shop concrete ourselves. A few friends encouraged us to take it
on as it wouldn't be too difficult. But after doing some research, we found that putting down a large slab in a northern climate is a little more involved. We wanted a slab that would last a generation without splitting from frost heave. We also had potential long-range resale in mind, so it had to look good,and be up to code while serving its intended purpose. In the end, we figured it would be money well spent to bring an expert in for it, which we did. The hardest part was finding a concrete contractor that would return a message or answer a dang email! It seems a courteous response, or any response really, shouldn't be expected anymore. Eventually we found a guy though. After it was all said and done, it's a damn good thing we didn't attempt to do it ourselves! It would've been an ugly, expensive failure. Some things are best left to professionals.
As soon as the concrete was done, we did the framing, insulation, and interior sheathing ourselves. Time consuming, but pretty straight forward. Framing, R-19 wall insulation, R-30 ceiling insulation, and OSB for walls and ceiling added up to around $2500 for a 26x40' shop. We decided to go with OSB for the shop interior since the shop didn't need to be living room pretty, more durable than sheet rock, drastically less work than sheet rock, and less costly. And if we'd like, we can sheet rock over the OSB later on down the road as we see fit. The OSB went up well and the shop was pretty square so it's air tight. Wood heat is standing by for install next year, but for the time being, we picked up a $40 kerosene heater that works great. The shop will be a big help for garlic curing as well as storage.
Have you heard of the Farmer Veteran Coalition? They help military veterans transition into agricultural careers by offering mentoring, instruction, education, networking, and grant programs. All I can say is that they've been amazing! We applied for, and were awarded, a fellowship grant which went to purchasing a garlic implement for our tractor! On top of that, Kubota chose our operation to be the recipient of a brand new L series tractor through their Gear To Give program! The initial application with Farmer Veteran Coalition was fairly lengthy. It consisted of many questions on military service and also required a full business plan to review. Hundreds applied for the grant, we were one of the 100 or so selectees nationwide. Of those hundred, we were one of five to receive a new Kubota! We feel incredibly blessed and can't thank both Kubota and Farmer Veterans Coalition enough! Please consider donating to Farmer Veteran Coalition. They put their donations to work in visible, tangible ways every year to assist veterans so you can see exactly what your donation helps with! https://www.farmvetco.org/?page_id=3969