I am back to trying to blog. I am ready to do this thing as regularly as I can, because boy do I like writing. Here are some random thoughts on this Tuesday. We are three weeks into Jody working his new job and things are going fairly smoothly. We have adjusted to the changes it brings on the farm. I haven’t been able to see my husband nearly as much as I like, but I know he likes staying busy. A typical day has now gotten even busier, even busier than before. I now have to get my youngest up and drop him off, before I can head to work. It adds a few minutes onto my day, but I enjoy the time with him. I am trying to savor every minute, because this Fall he will be in preschool. That will be a hard day for this Mama.
One thing my husband and I have been doing, is checking our fields. I added this picture of us checking the fields in the Fall, since I haven’t taken any pictures this year. We have to see what kind of stand we have and what kind of weeds are growing. How many husband and wives do you know pull up weeds, then sit around talking about and staring at the weed? And I do mean the kind of weeds that grow in a crop that is not the crop. This is an important step in crop management, because then my hubby knows how much and what to spray. This is also based on the crop that is growing, we have barley and wheat this year. My hubby has been spraying over the last few weeks and will probably have to spray again before harvest. It keeps him busy. He will also be working on some of our equipment so that it will be ready to go.
I have an unhealthy obsession with sweet potatoes that are clean and in a box. I like to take pictures of them. I find it so beautiful to look at something that we grew and how much hard work went into them. We still have a lot of potatoes left from last year. Most of them look really rough, so they will end up being pig food. Hopefully this year, we get more rain and the heat isn’t as bad. We have had some good weather the last couple of weeks and it has me itching to plant something. I can’t wait to get back out there and smell some dirt. (Another thing that makes me weird)
As crazy and as busy as 2016 was, 2017 will be even more. This year will be a year of change for us and it is a change that I am very happy about. I just can´t tell you guys about everything all at once. Let me tell you about what has been happening the beginning of this year, on Circle C Farms. Cooper has been playing basketball and is loving every minute of it. The other two boys wish that they were doing basketball. I have been working non stop and working on organizing paper work. There has also been a lot of spraying going on. We have to get put out herbicide and fertilizer on all our spring crops. Probably the biggest thing was that, Jody went to the Sweet Potato conference and met the governor, Roy Cooper. I find it really awesome that Roy Cooper came out to the national sweet potato conference to talk with NC farmers. Even better that my husband bumped in to him and shook his hand. They even got to talk for a few minutes. But that isn’t even the biggest news that we have for the month. Our big news is……. Jody went back to full time work. Yeah it isn’t very exciting, but for us this is a huge deal. It just felt like this was the right time to make some transitions. We just both felt like God was opening this door up for us for a reason. When Jody originally quit full time work, we needed someone to watch our kids. We had three little ones at home and we couldn’t afford day care. It just fit. We couldn’t live on his salary alone, but we could live on mine with some farm income. So it has worked and it has worked well. Jody has been able to watch our boys, take them to doctor visits, ride them on tractors, and be at the school any time they needed him. Only now with two of them in school, he has been freed up some to be able to go back to work. If all things work out our youngest will be in school this fall and there won’t be any little ones at home anymore. This just opens up a lot of possibilities. Now for the future of Circle C Farms, well it is definitely going to go on. Honestly I don´t think much is going to change with our farm. We have decided to only grow 5 acres of sweet potatoes. We know that we can plant 5 acres in 2 days and hopefully will be able to harvest in just a few days. We plan on row cropping about the same amount as last year. So really the biggest difference is now my husband gets an earlier start every day and is starting to get in the bed earlier. I am already looking ahead to March and how busy it will be. It still amazes me that some people think farmers can take time off. Somehow we stay incredibly busy no matter what time of the year it is.
Working on our third storage trailer.
Jody in our new trailer with lights, heat, and air. We are high tech now!
Wow 2016 really flew by. I had all these good intentions of keeping my blog up and then it didn’t happen. I can tell you that we had an extremely busy year. It was filled with lots of farming and family time. My kids grew so much and so did our crops. All in all the year was a pretty good one. The weather could have definitely been better, we are still in the middle of a drought. Many farmers in our area struggled to make much of a crop and we were in the same boat. We had one field of corn that only grew as tall as our knees. It is so hard to watch something that you have worked so hard on, only grow as tall as your kids. Luckily the majority of our corn did just slightly below average. It wasn’t enough to brag about, but we had a good solid corn harvest. Our soy beans were about the same, we had a few fields that just didn’t do anything and some others that were good solid yields. It wasn’t the harvest that I had hoped for, but it was so much better than last year. The biggest disappointment was the sweet potatoes. We worked a lot during the spring growing our slips and then we spent a few days preparing and planting the field. Only once they were planted, they did not get any rain for an entire month. We lost about 90% of our crop at that point and we had to decide what to do. Most people would have plowed them up and just started over. We would have too if it hadn’t been for the fact that we had no way to get the slips that we needed to replant the entire field. After a lot of debate, we decided to plant over about half of the field. Plus we had to hope that we would start getting some rain. The whole process was very frustrating and a learning experience. We did end up harvesting some sweet potatoes and we had enough to supply our local customers. We didn’t send any potatoes to Asheville this year since the timing wasn’t right. The biggest thing that happened last year was the grant that we got that helped us to improve our operation. We added some more crates, another trailer, and a heat/air conditioning unit. It has helped us out so much to have more room and better heating and air. In the past we have ran drop cords from the house to the trailers and it just wasn’t efficient. We now have power out at the trailers so no more drop cords to the house. My awesome husband also put power and lights in two of the trailers, so we can do so much in the trailers. In the cold months we like to pack the boxes inside the trailers. The additional trailer has been helpful, because we have needed the extra storage. Once we sold all the potatoes out of the third trailer, we can use it to keep our boxes, scales, and tables out of the cold. I hate that I totally stopped blogging the last part of this year, but I honestly feel like this is the first moment I have had to sit down. Happy New Year to all!
We have been trying to prepare for the fall crop on top of everything else that has to be done around here. We didn’t get as much of a break as we normally do in the summer, because of the way everything worked out this time around. We had to replant sweet potatoes, so that wasn’t finished until early July. We also waited on rain to plant our soybeans so they were about two weeks later than normal. We got to sneak away for a couple of days to go on a camping trip and then it was right back to business. Because of the lack of rain some of the Dairy’s corn has ripened earlier than expected. That means everyone is working on cutting silage. This past Saturday, we did get to start on our improvement project. My husband worked on smoothing out the pad that the trailers sit on and making room for the third trailer. We also will be pushing them back some, so that we have more room to park and unpack trailers. It will also be graveled so that it will be easier to maintain. I am all for anything that makes my yard look better. The next step is to put the trailers back and bring home the third trailer. Each year we have been trying to improve the sweet potato operation. Last year we added a HVAC unit to our insulated trailer, power/ water to the trailers, and a packing shed. This year, we have a lot of plans, so hopefully we can accomplish them all. We are adding a third storage trailer and lights to two trailers. We actually pack potatoes in the trailers, so lights are going to be a great addition. The third trailer is going to help us be able to store more potatoes. Last year, we struggled with storage and we actually had less potatoes than we should have had. If we have an awesome crop this year then two trailers are just not going to hold them all. We have to have a place to cure our potatoes so that they will last much longer. The hope is that this year is going to go even more smoothly than last year. Our first year was a huge learning experience and our second year just went so much better. The goal would be for this year to get even better. Sweet potatoes are still a few weeks off, but the time will be here before we know it. The first thing that will be ready will be our corn. We always bag some corn in bags for deer hunters. We have started getting calls for corn, so we will be harvesting it as early as we possibly can. I do plan to update soon, because we have tons of things happening right now.
After publishing my last blog post, I decided I wanted to say something more positive than before. Only I can’t really do that without still discussing some negative, so I decided I would talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly. To start with the good, wow have I had a lot of good even awesome things happen in the last month. First of all I am out for the summer. Oh how I love being out, I get to spend time with my wild boys, I don’t have to set an alarm, and I can help my hubby. It can’t get much better. I’ve spent a lot of time just being lazy and doing nothing. We have caught a couple of movies and explored. We got away for a couple of days by going camping at the beach. So for the bad, the weather has been rocky this summer. Now it has rained and it has rained more than last year, it just hasn’t rained when and how we needed it. It stopped raining in the first of May and it didn’t start back until the first of July. So that means our corn just isn’t as great as we wanted it to be. That is why I can say bad, because it really isn’t terrible. Our crop will be way better than it was last year. It is not what we wanted, but it also will be so much better this time around. Now for the ugly, we lost about 80% of the sweet potatoes we planted at the first of June. They just burnt up in the 95 degree weather. It was pretty devastating, but even with the loss, it is going to be alright. Somehow God just keeps looking out for us. We had planted a ton of extra slips with the plans of selling them. With everything that was going on, we just never got them cut and dropped off at the stores. I never got anything posted on any websites, so luckily we had the slips to replant our crop. And at the beginning of July it started raining, so we replanted. Somehow we came up with the money to pay the labor and boom we were back in business. Like everything in farming, we are still going to have some issues. For one thing, we had to just plant whatever we had where ever it needed to go. What that means is we were trying to keep our different generations of plants separated. We had some that were replants from ours and some that we had bought to be first generation plants. The plan was to keep new plants rotating through so that our potatoes don’t get diseased. That part is frustrating, but it is nothing we can’t fix next year. The other downside to how we replanted is that we are going to have potatoes with all different sizes. The 20% of plants that were there first are almost ready and the replants will not be ready for another month. So we are going to have lots of different sized potatoes. The crazy part is now we are getting lots of rain, so I am excited to see what kind of crop we end up with. Overall I feel so much better than I did last year. I added in a picture from the beach and another one of our little helpers.
This post was really meant to just be another boring update of my not so boring life, but things have been depressing as of late. Ask anyone who is trying to farm or even garden here in our part of the state. It is just plain depressing. I have found out over the last few years, that I am very connected to my environment. It has a lot to do with me being raised by a farmer, but it has a lot to do with my personality. I love the outdoors and nature. It goes beyond the occasional hike and sitting outside at night listening to crickets. I just feel so connected to the land that I often dream of a day I can just go live in a secluded cabin. As a kid I used to sneak out and go find a field of clover and just lay in it. I loved the feeling of the grass cradling my body and even now I hate wearing shoes, when I stick my toes in grass. I sound crazy, I know, but I think its important to explain why I am so melancholy right now. See we are again experiencing another drought, just like last year. The media isn’t saying it yet, but I feel it. I look out at the fields of corn around my house and I feel it. The thousands of corn plants that stand tall next to me are a part of me and they are in pain. I can feel them trying to breathe and survive, but they are struggling. Worse I know the cure, I know what will help them, but I am powerless. I can’t make it rain. Even writing this I feel so silly. Most people just drive by and say “oh there is a field” I can say things aren’t as bad as they were last year, yet. I went out walking this morning, before it got so hot, and things looked pretty hopeful. So we shall see, if it rains I think things will feel fresher. So if you are the type of person to pray, pray for us. If you do rain dances, do a rain dance. We need it.
We have been very busy the past couple of months with planting season. Sometimes it feels like we have too much to do in too little a time to do it in. All our corn is planted and the sweet potato slips are in the ground. They should be ready in about two weeks. This next week my husband will be getting the ground ready for sweet potatoes. We will start making the beds ready, because sweet potatoes should be planted in about two weeks. This year we have added more acres than ever before. We will also be adding another storage trailer and more bins. It is amazing how far we have come in only a couple of years. After looking back at last year and how we did I was pretty proud of it. We were able to clear some profit, even with an intense drought throughout our state. We were able to grow our operation and hope for the best this coming year. We are hoping to save even more money by growing all of our own slips this year. We will also be able to sell some slips to the public. We do not know how many we will be able to sell until we get started with planting our own acres and then we can see how many will be left. It is pretty exciting and scary all at the same time. After planting, we will be on to harvesting our winter crops. This year my husband grew both barley and wheat. On top of all the farming, my two oldest are wrapping up their first year in school. It is hard to believe that my kids are growing up this fast. I have one finishing up with Kindergarten and another with Pre-K. I am really trying to enjoy every minute that I can, because I feel like they are growing up in front of my eyes.
Two rows of sweet potato slips down and we were working on a third.
So I have included some pictures of our sweet potato slips. I didn’t take enough pictures to really show the process that we had to go through. It isn’t an easy one. We took our smallest potatoes, the ones that we call seed potatoes and planted them in rows. They were then covered in dirt and then plastic. Think about it like a small green house. We planted these in early March, before the weather was warm, so they needed a little extra warmth.
Everyone is put to work around here. The boys jumped right in and tried their best to help. They really enjoy being outdoors and getting something done.
This is our almost finished product at the end of May. They look really good compared to last years. The hubby was mowing over them taking some of the tops off of them. The goal is to have a more uniform looking slip so that it goes through our machine easier. This actually a ton of slips. Each individual stalk is a sweet potato plant with the potential to grow 5-10 sweet potatoes.
The other morning, I was buckling in my youngest son so that I could take him to Mawmaw’s. I just couldn’t help but think about how much my life has changed in the last six years. There was a time when I used to have to buckle three into car seats and then head to drop to Mawmaw’s and then to work! It would add an extra hour onto my short fifteen minute commute. I often got asked, “How do you do it?” and I never really could answer that question. I found the other morning that I asked myself, “How on earth did I ever do three?” I guess the answer to both is that I just did it. I just put one foot in front of the next and did it. It definitely wasn’t easy and I’m not sure I would do it again, but I made it. The only answer I can give is I took one day at a time and just made it through each day. I feel so accomplished some days, I can’t believe I have made it this far. I remember telling someone that surely it would get easier (I mean it has to get easier right?) Well this particular person told me no it never gets any easier. At any rate I can say now that my children are growing up and changing. At one time I had two toddlers and a newborn. Now I have one in kindergarten, one in pre-k and one more that is very ready for school. Well it has gotten somewhat easier on me. I have moments when I miss the baby stage, but having kids who can help, is such a relief. I really think I blocked out all the struggles of getting 3 ready to go and leaving my house by 7:00. I honestly remember labor more than I can think of those days. I do know I threatened to have an emotional breakdown weekly. I know it got rough enough that we had to sit down and seriously crunch all the budget numbers. We knew one of us was going to have to quit work or I was going to loose it. It was in those moments that we first decided my husband would try to farm full time. For us it just made sense. I know I really wanted to stay home with the kids and that had been the plan originally, but we just couldn’t afford it. There was no way we would make it on my husband’s salary alone. We knew my husband would be able to work and earn some money to replace his salary. I could work and carry our insurance. Looking back on that decision it was one of the best we have probably made. My husband has stayed pretty busy, but has been able to set his own hours. He has been more available to take kids to doctor appointments and to attend school functions this year. Most importantly, he was able to take the kids to Mawmaw’s. This has allowed me to save my sanity. It also helped mawmaw, because she has been able to take some days off when needed. I know watching 3 kids who were 3 and under wasn’t easy. This year everything changed, when the boys started school. My husband no longer has to worry about the oldest two. I get them up and put them on the bus. That means all he has left is our youngest. The baby loves to farm with his Daddy, although he says he is only Mommy’s boy. Tractor was one of his very first words and he never turns down tractor rides. I still get overwhelmed at times, with so much on my plate, it would be a miracle if I didn’t. It hasn’t been an easy road, but I have loved so much of our journey so far. Being able to raise my children as close to farming as we are, has been a blessing. One day someone will say to me, “How did you do it?” and all I will be able to do is smile and say, “I don’t know, but I did it.”
One of my new resolutions is to blog more often. I really enjoy writing and I don’t get very many chances to indulge my habit. I stay very busy as you guys can probably imagine. I often think to myself that I really have two full time jobs and one part time. Teaching and being a mom of course are my full time jobs and then farming I consider part time, although at times it takes over. One of the problems with blogging more, means I have to come up with more topics to write about. I can’t just keep updating, because eventually that keeps getting monotonous. One idea I had, is to talk about what each month means for our farm. Most outsiders who don’t know much about farming probably think that wintertime is a slow time or a vacation time for farmers. I can definitely compare that to teaching, most outsiders think summer break is a vacation. But just like a teacher preparing for a new year’s class, farmers are preparing for a new year’s worth of growing. I can also add that if you are a farmer who has livestock, there really never is a break. The animals still have to be cared for, fed, and checked on daily. We basically consider ourselves grain farmers even though we have pigs and chickens. Although the sweet potatoes are a fun piece of our operation, it is still in the beginning stages, so we are still calling ourselves grain farmers. I can’t speak for other farmers(our operation is small) but the winter time tends to be less stressful for us. We aren’t rushing to meet the next deadline or stressing over getting this planted/harvested. The things that my husband does during January are usually things that I don’t have to be a part of.(silent yayy from me) He usually works on equipment and helps other farmers in the area work on their equipment.
Conferences/Conventions are another big part of what we do in January. This past week actually my husband has been in Savannah, GA for the fruit and vegetable conference. He was pretty excited, because he spent a whole day learning about sweet potatoes. Louisiana State was there and they gave him lots of information and contacts for sweet potatoes. Louisiana has done a lot of research on potatoes. He is also going to the National Sweet Potato Convention in a couple of weeks and this one is a big one. It will have people from all over the world to talk about just sweet potatoes. I’m sure everyone at home is reading this and saying geez that sounds boring. Believe me I know it does, but when you want to do something you have to do all the research that you can about it. These conferences are also great times to make contacts for selling our product. The husband also has to go to our grant orientation this month. So he is going to be staying busy learning!
One more thing that we are doing is cleaning out our sweet potato trailers and selling the last of the potatoes. I am happy to say we have almost sold out. Over the next few weeks, we will be boxing up the last few and throwing away what we can. The goal is to be down to just the potatoes we are saving for seed by February 1st.
We will be watching our fields and caring for those crops as needed. As of right now they don’t need anything, but with crops you have to check on them ever so often. Well just typing this list made me tired, so you can imagine how it makes us feel. Plus as I already said, January is one of our slower months. Oh yeah one more thing we squeeze in watching NFL playoffs too!
Well 2016 is here and we get a fresh start with a brand new year. I am both excited and scared for this year. We have struggled a lot over the last two years and there is a lot riding on this next year.When my husband came home 3 years ago from the southern vegetable conference and started telling me about sweet potatoes, I laughed at first. Then I listened and we decided to give it a go and we said all along we would give it 3 years. It takes more than one year to see if a business will make money and we wanted to give it a fair shot. So this is the third year and there is a part of me that is scared that by the end of the year we may have to wave a white flag. But then again, things may go perfectly this year, so only time will tell. We have definitely learned a lot about sweet potatoes over the last two years. My husband has all our equipment set up so that it plants just right and we have added some things that are very helpful. We have also made some good connections for selling our product and have options for more next year. In our first year we lost a lot of profit, because we made stupid mistakes. In our second year we lost profit, because of things beyond our control. I do have to say that on a year when we had a devastating drought having sweet potatoes was great. Sweet potatoes are more drought tolerant than field crops and although they were affected, they still did well. We were still able to fill up both our storage trailers and ship sweet potatoes all over the country.
With so much riding on this year, I guess I need to make my exciting announcement. Late last Fall, we decided to apply for WNC ag options grant that would help us to add some things to our operation. We just received our letter that we got the grant! My little family is so excited that we are going to be able to keep making ourselves grow. This could be a make or break us year. And I’m hoping the grant will definitely make us for the year. My prayers are for a great growing season, so that we can see what that looks like with sweet potatoes. Then maybe we will know where to go from here. Oh 2016 I am happy to see you!