New Year Reflections
The fall crops are mostly done, the holidays are through, and the winter cold has set in. Although the cold can be harsh, this is a time that we value each year since we’ve started farming. It is a time for extra rest, reflection, dreaming, and planning. It is the time when we recuperate from the busy growing season and reinvigorate ourselves to enter a new year of production.
2017 was a really great year in many ways and a really challenging year as well. In late 2016 I (Nicole) became critically ill, spending a couple of weeks in the hospital. In the early winter of 2017, we had doubts as to whether we would be able to farm at all because of how sick I was, with no known cause. It took a few months for me to get diagnosed with lyme disease and co-infections and to start down the long road of trying different treatments and fighting to right myself. I remember seeding early crops in March and feeling as though I had to drag myself to the garden to complete the task, and that was all I had energy for in a day. Meanwhile, it was very hard on Thomas to see me in a state of illness and fear. We both faced doubts about whether I would be healthy enough to farm. We helped each other through that difficult time.
Over the course of the growing season, in a two steps forward, one step backward kind of way, I gradually improved and we plowed forward with the farm, for the most part able to get all of the crops in that we wanted to grow and to get our farmstand opened up in mid-May. In the early spring we also installed a very successful slanted electric deer fence around a new field garden and built a walk-in fridge to store fresh produce.
As to be expected each year on a farm, we had some difficulties. We had a few major pests including spring flea beetles which mainly target plants in the brassica family. We hope to improve in 2018 by using more insect netting for protection and by planting a trap crop bed of arugula at the edge of each garden which distracts the flea beetles from less favored crops. We also had issues with cucumber beetles and squash bugs affecting our plants in the cucurbit family. This meant lots of hand picking beetles in the early mornings. The main trouble with cucumber beetles is that they spread a disease called bacterial wilt among the plants they feed on. Bacterial wilt can cause squash, cucumber, and melon plants to wilt and die almost overnight. This year a combo of crop rotation, a different mulching strategy, insect netting over transplants, more disease resistant plant varieties, and hand-picking should help us address those pests better. We also had a poor season for tomatoes due to the wet and cool weather which spread fungal and bacterial foliage diseases, plus an inadequate irrigation setup which caused uneven moisture and some resulting blossom end rot and fruit splitting.
Despite the set backs, many crops came in well and we had copious volumes of fresh vegetables to eat ourselves as well as sell to our growing customer base. Each week brought in a handful of new faces as well as returning customers. A month or so into opening our farmstand we added Friday hours in addition to Saturday and Sunday hours. We debuted some new products, including our very popular coconut maple granola, classic and white cheddar kettlecorn, honey from Allen’s Apiary, and sauerkraut from The Sweet Farm.
Meanwhile, over the course of many months I was delving into my own research on lyme disease and chronic illness whenever I had time. I tried a range of treatments and different types of doctors and practitioners. The more I read, the more I was able to hone in my diet to best support my immune system and to prevent feeding the pathogens and parasites their favorite foods. One constant that ran through the many different diets I tried was conveniently connected to what we were working hard at each day on the farm. Gradually vegetables became the foundation of my diet, along with smaller amounts of fruits, nuts, seeds, eggs, and meat. My diet became cleaner and cleaner as our health became the priority over the short-term pleasures of things like sweets, breads, coffee, and alcohol.
I have come a very long way in the past year and am at my healthiest point yet in my healing journey. We are both very grateful for all we have learned in the past year about health, farming, family, perseverance, patience, community, and the importance of rest and reflection. My own experiences in healing through diet have been a blessing in that my passion has expanded for growing organic and nutrient-dense food for myself and for others. In fact, my illness has been a blessing in the many lessons it taught us this past year. We have learned to embrace efficiency. When you are living on a tight physical energy budget from day to day, you must prioritize the most essential and profitable tasks and find ways to make every movement and task more efficient. This has made us much better farmers. On a personal level, we have become much more focused on enjoying the simple and important things in life and have a renewed sense of gratitude for all of the supportive people in our lives.
Those philosophies are carrying us through to the new year of 2018. I have a great feeling about this year. It will be our third growing season as Wild Song Farm, so we have many lessons learned under our belts. We have really honed in on our farming business model, and we have started to build a good reputation and customer base in Thurmont.
This year we look forward to extending our farmstand hours, offering a wider diversity of vegetable crops, improving our crop quality, and widening our customer base. Some new crops we plan to offer for sale include spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and eggplant. We look forward to implementing some new strategies and introducing some new tools and technologies – such as using moveable greenhouse structures called caterpillar tunnels for season extension, implementing more insect netting for spray-free pest protection, trying out a new drill-powered greens harvester tool for harvesting a really nice baby greens salad mix, setting up a super efficient produce washing and processing station, implementing a bigger and better farmstand set up, prepping new areas for an additional garden zone, and experimenting with new composting methods, to name a few.
Thank you so much to all of the customers who supported us in 2017! Your support has meant a great deal to us. We look forward to seeing you in a few months and to welcoming new customers to our farm. We plan to open our farmstand the first weekend of May. Until then, wishing you and your family a happy and healthy new year!