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.
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!
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……