The Challenges New Farmers and Homesteaders Face

I have mentioned before but I will keep talking about it because it has been a huge factor in bringing the whole farm concept together.
Plant tons of flowers, flowering bushes and trees, and other plants and bushes that are good “fill” for flower arrangements. Not just a “flower garden” plant them everywhere.
I had the hardest time in the beginning planting and maintaining anything non-food related but wow!
There are so many benefits to doing this that I will probably miss some but obviously they will attract pollinators. I have counted at least 20 different kinds of pollinators and thats not counting the birds. The Birds…OMG! I’m not talking about a few cute birdies here and there but whole flocks. Everything from tiny thumb sized birds to 3 or 4 foot tall herons helping me out with vole patrol. A while back I was looking out at a group of 75’ rows I planted and I saw little dark things dashing in and out of the growth. I thought it was rodents and was about to get pissed, there were dozens and dozens. Turned out it was some kind of bird flock that was methodically working the rows plant by plant. I walked out there and that scared them off in a cloud of a hundred birds or more. I looked for damage but there was none. There was also not a single bug.
I have seen this kind of activity over and over all around the farm. I have a dozen citrus that I wheel out of the green house every summer and I once saw a big group of birds dive in to them and work them so much they were slightly shaking. We have 20 or 30 split tail swallows that stick around, hatch chicks, poop all over my shop, and they really work the pond and our back porch to where I have not been bitten by a mosquito once this year.
Everyone who comes to the farm comments on how many birds there are and we do not put out any bird feed. Some birds will go in and eat from the chicken or duck feeders but not so much that it is a problem.
Oh and try not to kill off the wasps. I know how scary they can be and how much a sting hurts but they are just about the only natural predator for the white moth aka brassica moth that can destroy a whole field of kale, broccoli, etc. I used to kill them off completely and had tons of white moth. Stopped killing them and I only see the occasional one or two.
We also sell flowers and even do the occasional wedding flowers, kaching! My wife and a colleague started a flower CSA kind of a thing where everyone gets a fresh bouquet every week…off the hook response. We will probably double subscriptions next year and we always offer what ever food we are harvesting in abundance to come with their delivery if they choose.
Lots more but back to it!

I agree with you and thought Samantha’s article was wonderful except for the part about organics and spraying. She is completely correct that most organic food can and does have lots of sprays and powders applied to it. Not only can the “natural” versions used by the farmers be just as harmful (to the land and the person eating it) but there is a whole list of “exceptions” where the synthetic can be used if there is no natural alternative available. I am in no way judging farmers who use these sprays since the ability to grow most crops without them is not economically feasible due to decreased yields and the produce not meeting the exact standards that most consumers require. I don’t know of many consumers that will purchase and eat an apple with a coddling moth hole in it.
Like you said, it is possible to raise crops without sprays and powders but it depends on the crop and the location. We raise and sell grass-fed beef with “better than organic” standards but we also produce about 85% of our other own food needs (the other 15% being milk products and grain). Depending on the year, a particular crop (like a particular variety of tomato) can produce an abundant and healthy crop of produce but the next year can completely fail due to any combination of weather and pests. I do not envy my crop producing farmer peers. But I do believe you can raise your own food without sprays and powders if you make sure to heavily diversify your crops, stay flexible, make sure you have very healthy soil, and don’t mind some “blemishes” on some of your produce.
My particular pet peeve is the label “organic” because it can end up meaning next to nothing. That is why it is so important to “know” your farmer if you have the privilege to do so. Many times people are spending their hard earned money on some product labeled organic when the conventional version might actually be healthier. I would much rather buy an apple from a local conventional farmer that sprays only once before the fruit sets than an “organic” apple from some far off country where heaven knows what it has really gone through! In the case of apples, we eat our own coddling moth damaged but still incredibility tasty ones raised on our own farm. We give away all the extra to our friends and neighbors since there is really no outlet to sell them to.
That all being said, thanks Samantha for taking the time and energy to write this article for new and potential farmers.

Disclaimer : I do use some Neem now and then.
Using sprays and powders, even “organic” will kill off and seriously discourage pollinators and birds. I don’t use them.
But hey the point is not to save the natural world, it’s to save our own asses by making money because without it we are toast. And therein lies the dilemma…even for the “organic” folks.

This is a May 2018 link.
I’m sure the percentage is larger now.
If it were my choice, Earth’s fauna would have a more diverse makeup.

We hear that all the time. Our only vacation this year was our trip to Polyface as we have to stay home and tend crops and animals. Its a fulfilling life but people have zero idea of how hard it really is to homestead.

Spent yesterday pulling elderberries off their stems for making jelly. I’m trying a couple of tricks to make the job easier. Because let me tell you, those are some small berries and it takes a lot of them to make anything appreciable! All parts of the elderberry plant are poisonous except ripe berries which need to be cooked. I write this as an illustration of the time and effort needed when things get harvested to turn them into a usable form, and preferably a form the keeps well.
Obviously, late summer through fall is a very busy time for those of us in a 4 season climate. Even with the best planning, most of us need to find ways to keep food good for an extended time. Canning, fermenting, drying, storage in a root cellar or some other appropriate place is time consuming and requires equipment, skills and effort. In my more perfect homesteading dreams I pull off what Eliot Coleman does as explained in his books about using hoop houses to have fresh food all year long in Maine.
So not only is it important to learn building and farming skills, but cooking and domestic skills that were common in previous centuries, are rare now and take time to learn. After a hot sweaty day of putting up tomatoes and puree, all I want is a delivery pizza and to put my feet up.

Vacation…I have heard that such a thing exists. Tell me more! :wink:
Our last family vacation was nine years ago. But of course we live on land that lots of people would pay good money to go on vacation to. So no need to feel sorry for us. :slight_smile: We just have to constantly remind ourselves to look up, slow down, and take in the incredible beauty and peacefulness every once and a while. The cows do a good job of reminding me to try to just be in the moment - that is the way they live. You could drive yourself crazy thinking about all the projects that aren’t yet done on a farm.
Though I do find myself daydreaming every once and while about sitting on a beach in Hawaii just drinking a cocktail while watching the waves come in. Maybe someday when I get my list of 12,487 farm todo’s done!

“Bobcat likes my chickens … concertina wire?”
Did you try electrifying your fence? You can get solar power electric fencing. I would search on line to find the approaprate jolt needed to address bobcats. I suspect the power level to deter bears would work for bobcats.
I would avoid using razor wire since it can be dangerous for you, family, or pets.

A few things I used to address voles:

  1. You can build walls out of concrete\stone pavers. The voles will only usually dig down a few inches. They usually don’t come above ground.
  2. Install broken oyster shells at the bottom of your garden or rasied beds. The don’t like digging into the sharp edges of the shells
  3. Install hardware cloth on the bottom of your raised beds. The cannot tunnel through the tight mesh.
  4. If you can find there holes, you can use regular mouse traps to trap them, but you might also catch mice.
  5. Gum may also work as they will eat it and it damage their gut causing them to die. I saw a YT video on this years ago, but never tried it.
  6. You can try planting onions & garlic around the parameter of your garden as rodents don’t like them.

I got you beat. 2000 was the last vacation I went on. I almost went on vacation on Sept 12,2001, but I think you know why that didn’t happen.
I have taken some time off, usually a three day weekend for a wedding, or funeral, as well as to find property for a homestead (which I now own). I now have two jobs: a full daytime job, and building up my homestead. I doubt I will ever go on vacation, as I am just too busy & I don’t the ccpv restrictions will ever go away.

We have already put a hot wire around the whole perimeter. Didn’t work. ……Not too worried about the razor wire ….it will be from 6’ to 8’6” off the ground. We will know soon if it works.

Maybe you’ve tried this already, but what works real well to get elderberry of the stem is to cut of stem that berries are on, put them in large bag, then put them in freezer overnight. Then rub bag vigorously. Berries fall right off, and are left at the bottom of the bag.

Just a comment that ‘the peach leaf curl kills them here’ is meaningless unless we know where ‘here’ is.
‘Here’ for me is the western UK. Leaf curl makes it difficult for me too to grow peaches. The easiest are apples, pears, plums, apricots, figs, strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and blackcurrants.
Named varieties of hazel nut do very well, ditto walnuts. But anyone growing nuts here has to control (grey) squirrels, a huge pest which people brought from North America in the 19th.C and kept as pets. (I wish the predators of squirrels had also come here as ‘pets’ …)
I agree about wasps. They even pollinate flowers earlier in the summer.

I thought growing food would be hard and fun. It turned out to be about 100X harder than anything I imagined - there is always something going wrong or some critter/pest/blight wanting to “eat” the plants and, especially, the food. I have gradually moved everything into greenhouses – not to keep things warm but to provide a break against too much sun, too much insect pressure, too many peacocks/squirrels/raccoons/etc.
Planting fruit trees and perennials which are really hardy and self-sowing (resilient) has turned out to be the only way I could make things worthwhile, given that it is just me and I have other interests. I really liked that you emphasized how hard and time-consuming it can be - especially at the beginning. My plan going forward is to focus even more on things which fit easily with the land/climate/and various pests; and plan to do more bartering. There is a vast amount of unappreciated genius in a farmer who can make a farm work both energetically and in terms of time management without massive outside inputs.
Again, great thread. It would be nice to see it kept alive.

I completely agree that the squirrels raccoons etc make it hard for me to benefit from my fruit trees etc, on the other side of that though is when I’m relying on the land for most of my needs I’m betting the squirrels will become food too :smiling_face:So I’m trying to maintain a positive attitude. I think working on it now when you can still get supplies is a great way to get our feet wet. I also feel good when I’m outside working in my garden or orchard, it’s a peaceful feeling I don’t get elsewhere.