What a Ride

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.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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.

Planting Season

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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

Winter on a Farm

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!

Business is booming…..

Or at least the work part of it sure is!  My hubby has been steady at everything the last couple of weeks and for some reason that is when I want to blog more than ever.  Maybe I feel like I have so much to tell.  I am sad that I haven’t really been able to help too much, because of working full time.  I know it really is for the best, because what we do wouldn’t pay the bills year round.  Plus I really do love my job.

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Watching Daddy dump potatoes on the trailer

 

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A better view of the trailer with the potatoes

I am ready to give an update on sweet potatoes!  After a good bit of work and lots of help, we finally got all of them dug up.  It took us awhile longer than originally planned for many different reasons.  It took awhile to get the plow working perfect and then Jody’s tractor broke down(which happens a lot).  Then we had some wet weather that pushed everything back a few days.  We had to work around when we could get the help to pick up the potatoes.  We filled up one trailer and had to go find a second trailer.  The last variety needed a few more growing days to reach the desired size that we wanted, but finally we have got them up.  Hallelujah!  It has felt like at times this ordeal would never end.  We honestly have no idea how many potatoes we actually dug.  We have actually been selling them as we have been going along.  We had to move some potatoes just so that we could make room for more as we dug them up.  My hubby had bought twenty 40 bushel bins to hold the potatoes and they work great.  Only we could have used about 100 bins, so we have had to be creative.  The awesome news has been they are selling pretty well.  When you make or grow a product you have to hold your breath until its’ sold.  Thankfully the selling part has been going pretty well.  We have three different stores that are carrying our potatoes and will be able to supply them for awhile.  We have also been working with another buyer who sells local produce to local restaurants.  So you may be eating one of our potatoes and not even know it.

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Up close and personal with my youngest

This has just been a big learning process for us.  It was not an easy task at all, but good news is we will do it all again next year.  We have just invested so much time and effort that we have to.  Looking back on this year, it has been an amazing harvest for my family.  We have had to rely on each other for many different things and working by my husband’s side has been a great feeling.  I think we both feel like we accomplished a lot.  There were times when we both got frustrated with each other, but I think it helped our relationship grow.  My favorite thing has been watching my little boys enjoy “farming.”  They run around and play in the fields, only to come home and farm with their tractors in my living room.  Oh and just because the sweet potatoes are up doesn’t mean that harvest time is over for us.  My hubby just gets to move on to the next crop, which is soybeans.

Harvest 2014

The Black family has been really busy.  It all began about a month ago when I went back to work.  The beginning of the year for a teacher has to be the most exhausting time.  I still don’t feel like I have gotten caught up at work.  Of course on top of that we have started soccer.  I am officially a soccer mom!  It isn’t too bad we have one practice a week and then a game on Saturdays.  Between teaching and taking care of little people I am busy enough.  On top of my daily activities, there are tons of things to do with farming this fall.  Many times I have been afraid my hubby has decided to do too much.  He has had a hard time getting everything started and keeping it going.

About two weeks ago, we went over to the sweet potato field and found out that they were a great size.  I wish all he would have had to do was just go out and dig them up, but it is a little more complicated than that.  First sweet potatoes have to be cured if you plan on keeping them for any amount of time.  The ones that you buy in the grocery store have been cured and can actually stay good for up to 8 months if they are in a cool dry environment.  In order to cure the potatoes, they have to kept at 95 degrees with 90% humidity.  Now when my hubby first hatched this plan, he decided to get a refrigerated trailer to put them in.  He asked around and the sweet potato guys told us that it would work.  My husband being the kind of last minute guy that he is, bought the trailer the day before he wanted to start digging.  I was very worried that we would have no where to put all these thousands of potatoes.  So the day before he had his first picking, we both went over to try out the plow.

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This was the first try and the plow wasn’t working just right, because you should be seeing tons of potatoes just on top of the ground.  It took a few tries but I think my hubby finally has got the plow working right.  The only problem is now our tractor is broke down again!  We have had the most trouble out of this tractor.  We will be trading this tractor in very soon if I have my way.

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So we got about 1/6 of the potatoes dug up and curing.  We sold a few right away, here they are in the local store that is selling some of our stuff.  We are praying that the tractor is fixed this week and we get the rest dug up.

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New Beginnings(part 2)

Alright so I really feel like I am on a roll with blogging now!  I actually have a couple other blogs going in a draft state.  I wanted to get this one posted pretty quickly because I know I left everyone hanging with what our next step was with the sweet potato plants.  We got up bright and early on Saturday (my first official day of summer break) and headed different directions.  I went to check the field to see just how muddy it was and the hubby went to finish working on his setters.  A setter is this really cool machine that attached to the back of the tractor.  People actually sit on it and feed little plants into the ground.  At the bottom it first puts a whole in the ground, then some water, and then it drops in the plant.  The whole thing looked pretty cool!  We are only trying this out, so we got a two-row setter.

 

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So it took most of the day to get everything ready and then to try out the setter.  We started with family and planted about eight rows, we were missing the people who usually walk behind.  The next day we had lots of help and an early start.  Even with that we didn’t get nowhere near as far as we had planned.  The machine had to have lots of adjustments and everyone was new to planting this way.  It was also Father’s Day and I made the hubby quit a little early so that I could fix him a nice steak dinner.

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On the third day, we got an even earlier start.  Everyone also knew exactly what they were doing, so we moved along quickly.   We worked, sweated, wiped our brows, and worked some more.  It felt pretty good to move on up the field.  Around 4:30 we were so close we could see the finish line.  The sky had been looking pretty dark and thunder was rumbling in the distance.  I tried my best to just stay focus and hurry.  I knew I wanted to get as many little plants in the ground, so that they could enjoy the rain.  I really just got into a groove pushing little plants in the ground and ignoring the clouds that were coming.  I remember looking up a few times and thinking the sky looked so dark.  Finally it started sprinkling a little rain, but we worked even harder.  I mean we were about ten short rows from being completely finished.  The rain started coming down harder and we decided to run out of the field.  I ran to my car thinking I would try to get it out of the field, but once I got in there I realized my hubby had me blocked in.  He had run and jumped in his truck so we were stuck in two different trucks.  As soon as I feel so thankful for rain, we start to have hail.  It was a terrible sinking feeling to watch 3 days of hard work get beat with hail.  It was just such an emotional thing, we went from being so excited that morning to being devastated after the storm.  To make everything much worse, my dad calls and tells me that some of the buildings at the dairy.  At that point I ran and jumped in the truck with my hubby, so we could drive the tractor home.  After the storm we came out and assessed the damage.  Here are some pictures to close out this post.

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New beginnings (part 1)

I promised I was going to try to blog as much as possible.  It looks like I am holding up my end of the bargain!  I just have so much stuff going on right now and I want to share how busy we have been.  We actually got five acres of sweet potatoes planted.  It was not nearly as easy as it sounds.  I am used to someone grabbing the planters and planting about 15 to 20 acres a day.  It took us four days to get all those little plants in the ground and it definitely was an adventure.  This whole adventure started after my hubby met one of the biggest sweet potato farmers in the state of North Carolina, Jim Jones.  We decided to head up to visit in February and that was all it took to convince me that it was worth a try.  We’ve done some research and bought some different machinery.  In order to plant sweet potatoes you have to start with a hill so we started by plowing.  The field had to be plowed a few times to get the ground just perfect.  Then we used a hiller that made two rows of hills.  The field looked something like this

 

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We had to call Jim Jones and then wait on him to have all the sweet potato slips ready.  The slip was a cutting from a sweet potato plant packed into a box.  My hubby calls me on Thursday, when I was desperately trying to finish up paperwork at school, and tells me we were headed to Raleigh to pick up the slips.  So around 3:00 we headed out with a U-haul trailer.  He had ended up renting a trailer to make sure the slips did not get damaged on the way back.  When we got there I was amazed at all the action going on.  We were quickly loaded and instructed on how to make our slips last the longest.  We were told we had about 5 days if we kept them in a cooler at 65 degrees.  So imagine the panic that set in with me when we didn’t really have a good place to put them.  We have a building, but it is full of junk.  I knew we could spend an hour and have it cleaned out, but we wouldn’t be home until 1 am!  So where do you put boxes of sweet potato slips at 1 am?  I could see the panic look on my hubby’s face.  So I fixed the problem as any dutiful wife would do.  My idea was to put them in the living room.  It’s not much different from having a houseplant, this was like having 76,000 house plants.  The plans were to start planting the very next day so that wouldn’t be that big of a deal.  Tomorrow sometime we would take them out and put them under a shade tree.  Of course our plans quickly changed when it started raining that very same night and rained on into Friday.  I was glad the ground would be wet but not happy my living room looked like a Steven King novel.  We probably could have started doing something Friday night, but I wanted to attend the Dairy Appreciation Dinner with my family.  It is not often that you get to see so many people who love dairy as much as my family does.  Here are a couple of pictures from the dinner.

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Thanks for reading and on my next blog post I can explain the next few steps we took with our sweet potato crop.