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.
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.
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.”
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!
I guess I have completely fallen off the blogging bandwagon. This harvest season has just been too busy. Honestly I don’t know why, because it probably took a fourth of the time that it typically takes to harvest. We had the more acres planted this year than we usually plant and without the rain we harvested a smaller amount of beans and corn. We had a ton of rain this fall, because of El Nino and it has really slowed harvest down. As of yesterday we sent of our last load of beans, so I can officially say we are finished. I know I mostly talk about sweet potatoes, but my husband mostly row crops. It ended up taking us two months to completely dig up all the sweet potatoes. We ended up loosing an acre and a half of potatoes with all the rain. Some of the potatoes were flooded in the field and then some of them had so much water that they busted open, making them unsaleable. Even with loosing potatoes and having mold issues, I am very happy with our potato harvest. I am also excited about the prospect of growing our sweet potato business. Most things this year just went so much smoother. We dug up potatoes and stored them so much easier than last year. I haven’t had to stay up to crazy hours boxing potatoes this year and for that I am thankful. As this farming year comes to a close and we look forward to next year, we are not sure where it will take us. I know we will continue to row crop and we will do sweet potatoes next year. We hope continue to grow and expand.
Well I have definitely took a break from blogging and I can explain why. I sat down probably more than a month ago and started to write a post. At that point things were bad and depressing I just couldn’t blog about it. I just couldn’t put it all out there and tell the world that we had a horrible summer. Things are just not going good for us with our farming operation. We are in the middle of a severe drought and at this point things are only looking worse. I just couldn’t bring myself to finish my post on such a sad note, because the truth is, this has been one of the best summers I have had in awhile. I have really been counting my blessings lately. Summer with my family was great and we had tons of good quality fun. I think when times are tough, you really pull together and learn to enjoy the little things. Instead of worrying about paying money to take us to paid activities, both Jody and I focused on spending quality time just playing with the kids. We’ve spent time working together as a family. So I guess I am saying, I can’t complain, because God has given me this day and time to spend with my boys, and I appreciated every second. On the business side of everything, we really don’t know where we stand. We have had almost no rain, so nothing has grown this summer. This drought has affected us and continue to affect us. Our corn crop was only a tiny fraction of what it should have been. The majority of the corn was cut by the dairy for corn silage and we only saved a little bit for our deer corn business. We had sweet corn that didn’t make anything at all. We planted ten acres of sweet potatoes this year and had really tried to do everything right. I’m actually so thankful for all those potatoes, because the good news is they still grew. We knew that there should have been more, but we are happy for the ones that we do have. We will have at least the same amount as last year, but probably many more. Hopefully that business will still continue to grow. No matter what happens, we have faith that things will be ok.
The soybeans are all finished!! Yayy!! We are finally getting things marked off of our to do list. It feels really good now we just have to wait on some rain. Sadly crops are looking terrible right now, because we have went so long without any to little rain. The only good thing that we have is that our crops are spread out so far that some of our fields have gotten more rain than others. These last couple of months have been hard to sit and watch the fields. I think it might be because I am a little more attached this year. I actually am the one who planted the majority of our soybeans. It wasn’t my first time driving a tractor, but if was the first time I had to spend so much time driving one. It definitely was harder than I thought it would be and it was exhausting riding in the tractor for hours. But it was something that had to get done and I was glad to do it. It felt good to accomplish something on such a grand scale. I also saw some wildlife and got a break from my kids, so I really can’t complain. I have to do something to keep myself busy over the summer. We actually are currently on vacation! Awesome I know, farmers of get vacations. It just takes some different preparations. We had to get something’s taken care of first and we are only going for a couple of days. I will gladly take it though!
I’m sure you guys are tired of hearing about sweet potatoes. That’s pretty much all I have to talk about right now at this point in time. We are finished with our second round of planting. This time we used plants that we had bought from some farmers out East of us. We are trying some new varieties, that I am really excited about. We are doing some real red potatoes with orange flesh and some purple and white potatoes. My plan is to make a colorful variety box to sell around Christmastime. I think sweet potatoes would make a great Christmas gift, don’t you! Well fruit baskets are a thing so surely a potato basket isn’t too crazy. We are about a whole week ahead of schedule with potatoes this year. Now the next move is to watch them and “cultivate” when the weeds start growing. Of course, potatoes are not the only farming thing that my husband has been up to. He has been very busy this week and I bet next week will be just as busy. I love and hate this time of year. I love all the excitement of planting and preparing for spring harvest, but I hate that we are so busy. We stay so busy we rarely have time to do anything as a family that doesn’t involve farming. This past week we have been getting the combine ready, spraying, and planting corn. That is just a little of what has been going on. We feel very behind, because usually all the corn is already planted and most of the soybeans. The weather played a big part in putting us behind, you just can’t plant seeds into completely dry ground. Thankfully now we have been getting lots of rain to help us out. Well because we are so behind my husband had to ask for my help driving the tractor. Asking for my help is not ideal, because I really don’t know what I am doing. I mean I know the basics, but I do not know how to troubleshoot. I just don’t feel very comfortable doing something so important. I was terrified that I would do something wrong, but in the end it all worked out.
All I can say after this past weekend of planting is wow! The difference between last year and this year was huge. I don’t know if you read my blog last year and really got the picture, but we had no clue. My hubby and I both were excited to start a new adventure, but we made big mistakes that ended up costing us money in the long run. Last year my whole world shut completely down and afterwards it took me weeks to recover. This year was so much smoother and I can’t even explain how much better I feel. This year we knew we already had one big cost saver and that was the fact we had planted our own slips. We did that back in about late March and we did all the work ourselves, so hey they were pretty much free! So the week before our plant day, my hubby, me, and this young guy we have hired got out cut as many slips as we could. We ended up with about 40 boxes or I was figuring 30,000 slips. We knew on the first day last year we had planted about 15 boxes, so we figured that was a good number to start with. The plan was to plant all those slips and maybe come back with the helpers and cut some more slips on day 1. We weren’t really sure if that would happen that fast, but we knew it was a good shot. The night before my hubby made some final adjustments to his machine and it was working much better than last year. The plant depth was perfect and we practiced running faster than last year. Then on the day of our first plant day, I woke up and didn’t have a babysitter. Last year I had to do a lot of the work so I was worried about not having someone to watch the boys. It was all good though we loaded up plenty of toys and headed to the field. It ended up working out perfect, because then all I had to do was be a runner. I was able to take plants across the field and pick up used boxes quickly. I could run go get plants out of the cooler and by mid morning all the stress was gone. My boys and I actually really enjoyed riding around in the field and staying cool in the shade at times. They played in the dirt and I stayed busy keeping things running smoothly. Plus I didn’t feel guilty when I slipped away to take the boys to their T-ball celebration picnic on Saturday. (Which I really didn’t want them to miss) They finished up the first 40 boxes by about 12:30 and then took a lunch break and started working on cutting slips. Amazingly with 8 people they got 45 boxes cut in about 4 hours and we were finished by 5 that day. I had to run boxes back and forth to put a cooler that we borrowed for the day. Yayyy no plants in my living room this year. My hubby was planning on that 45 boxes to finish up the field, but of course it didn’t. On day 2, they planted all 45 boxes by about 1:00 and had to come back and cut 10 more boxes so that they could finish. Everything was done and cleaned up by 4! We celebrated by hosing the kids down with the extra water that we had brought to the field and kicking back to watch the potatoes grow! After everything was finished I sat down and done the math. We actually planted the same about of plants on the 3 acres, that we planted all together last year. So if all goes well that one field will yield just as many potatoes as we did last year! That makes me excited and nervous at the same time, because we have to find places to store all those potatoes……