Taking it as it comes, rolling with the punches

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Things are not going exactly how I’d hoped.  The meager savings Keith and I had managed to set aside have been spent–already invested into the farm.  Despite the fact that I ran an 11-family CSA 2 years ago, we were not able to attract the number of CSA subscribers we’d hoped for–having to skip a year last summer because of our impending move broke any momentum we’d gained.  The Indiegogo campaign brought us $1400, which was some help, but the truck is in need of serious repairs, and Keith’s off-farm job pays the mortgage and our living expenses, and that’s all.

I’ve been studying sustainable farming for years, practicing on a small scale, and gearing up for this phase of my life when I could finally make my dreams a reality.  In all that research I came across a few who were adamant that to make your farm a success you needed a nest-egg–to live off, and for investment.  But then there are those who have managed to bootstrap their way to success, and I know that it must be possible–if you have the grit and determination to persevere.

Honestly, I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants–terrified that I might be making the biggest mistake of my entire life–setting myself and my family up for an epic failure.  Scared to death that we might loose everything we’ve worked so hard to achieve so far–however small and insignificant that may yet be.  I think it would devastate me to loose this land….

But things are going.  They may not be going exactly as I’d hoped–but we are gaining–slowly but steadily, we are making progress here at Runamuk.

Success in the garden

Having the field plowed and tilled was a major accomplishment that I am still reveling in.  I have designed the lay out of this new garden, taking into account everything I have learned over the last 10 years–all of the successes and the mistakes I made–and this new market garden is taking shape with those lessons in mind.

What a joy it is to be under the sun, birds chorusing in the trees that surround the field, sore from hoeing the paths and raking the beds, sweaty and frustrated with the swarming black flies, hands covered in dirt from the rich garden soil.  Sometimes it still feels so surreal–to be back on this land, finally farming it the way I’d always longed to do.

The market garden in approximately an eighth of an acre.  I’m working on it one section at a time–partly to keep from getting overwhelmed, partly because two weeks ago it was still too cold to think about putting in tomatoes and peppers, and partly due to the fact that the lower end of the garden was still incredibly wet after being tilled.  But I’ve got 6 rows of onions planted, 2 types of carrots, 2 types of beets, some rutabaga, 2 varieties of snap peas, shelling peas, spinach, lettuce mix, five varieties of potatoes–including 3 rows of storage potatoes–and 2 types of string beans–so far.

working in the hoop-house

Lots of plants in the recently finished hoop-house!

This week I’m beginning to focus on getting all of the seedlings that I’ve been growing in the hoop-house planted into the garden.  First up–the tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers.  Some of the smaller cuke-varieties–the pickling types–will be planted with sunflowers, which will serve as trellises.  In the next section of the garden, where the squashes are to be planted, I will plant sunflowers with a pole bean in the middle of every squash hill.

Because I practice companion planting in order to attract beneficial insects and birds–I will have sunflowers (among other things) planted sporadically throughout the garden.  They serve as perches for birds, food for pollinators, and trellises for climbing and vining crops.  Sunflowers are a work-horse flower in my gardens.

Recovering the apiary

In addition to the garden work, I’ve also been repairing bee-boxes, re-painting them, up-dating them–gearing up for the spring honey-flow.  When I first started beekeeping, I painted my boxes-and they were bright and colorful, like a rainbow.  I no longer paint my hive equipment, yet those initial boxes that have already been painted, and I’m not going to discard useful equipment just because my tactics have evolved, so I’m just repainting them yellow and green to coordinate with our farm colors.

Only 5 of our 12 colonies came through the bitter winter we suffered this year, and that was a big loss to our farm as well.  The apiary is a big part of our business, and I’d invested a lot of time, energy, and money into investing in new colonies last year to grow our hive-numbers.  This year, with all the other investments to make as we expand our farm to include other livestock–the money is not available to buy nucs or packages to replace the dead colonies.

Instead I am focusing my beekeeping-efforts on building up the remaining colonies so that they are strong and healthy.  I hope to be able to make a couple of splits and nucs, which will serve to increase hive-numbers–but first and foremost, I want to ensure that the colonies are very strong before winter comes around again.  Next year I have new, hygienic and treatment-free Queens coming from Kirk Webster of Vermont, so the plan is to be able to have “booming” colonies to make splits and nucs with next year.

Coping with livestock set-backs

The chicks are growing rapidly, though we lost our guinea fowl to a local fox, along with 3 chicks–Keith chased the offender through the woods, and succeeded only in reclaiming a dead guinea.  Not wanting the bird’s loss to be in vain, he gutted it and skinned it, and we had it for dinner the next day.  After that we put an electric net fencing around the coop to protect the remaining birds.

We have yet to bring any other livestock to the farm.  We’re still working to get fencing squared away–with no money to buy the electric fencing we’d wanted, we’re searching for solutions to this problem.  Donations of fencing have been made to us, and as soon as the truck has been repaired, we can retrieve the fencing and get the stuff up.  A couple of pigs are the first on the list, but we have 3 sheep that are being donated to the farm in a month.  And I am still hoping to get at least a couple of goats in order to provide milk and dairy for the family.

Gaining ground

Business at our local Madison Farmers’ Market is picking up–each week it brings in a chunk of cash that–at the moment–is Runamuk’s life-blood.  Keith is considering changing his work-schedule so that I can pick up a Saturday market and attend craft fairs this fall–opening the door for new opportunities and the chance for me to increase sales.  Investments in new signage, and plenty of recent publicity has given Runamuk some great exposure in the central Maine area–people are beginning to recognize our farm.

It’s difficult–knowing where you want to get to–but being unable to reach those goals.  Life throws unexpected obstacles in your path, and there is little to do but take it as it comes, and roll with the punches.  I am learning to accept that, and focusing on completing one small task at a time–every small accomplishment is a victory, and they will eventually add up.  In the meantime, I am living the dream–working like a dog–but bringing my dreams to life, one day at a time.

Stay tuned folks!