Confessions of a Newbie Farmer
I gave birth to our fourth child on a Monday. On Friday we moved to the Key Peninsula. So began our crazy, exciting farming adventure on the Key.
I have heard the agrarian adventure always begins with chickens and I’m beginning to believe it. Before the hens came into our lives, we were a pretty normal suburban family. Sure, I converted part of our backyard to a cornfield one year, but on the whole we were model citizens. Until one of our “ladies” started crowing. Not good for neighborly relations.
A more rural lifestyle started to look appealing. We ended up cutting our mortgage in half and gaining 5 acres by moving out here. It wasn’t in time to save the rooster, but we had been bitten by the farming bug.
We came with a dream in our family heart. Here we would grow our own food—healthy vegetables with no chemicals; medicinal herbs fresh from the ground; our chickens, of course, for eggs and meat; and a cow. There must be a cow.
Plan B. The cow idea was the first to go. Yes, we had 5 acres, but four of them were on a slope and part of that was marsh six months of the year.
Moving to the country of course would also mean we’d need protection from cougars, bears, Bigfoot, and all sorts of affiliated wildlife. Enter King, the Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD). He would protect my small brood of children and keep away spooky night creatures. One problem. An LGD needs something other than chickens and children to guard or he will get bored, heaven forbid.
Plan C. We got the dog a goat to guard. Well, make that two goats, because you can never have just one or it gets lonely. So, two goats. That would work because we ditched the cow but could still have lovely, fresh raw milk and, surely, they would be happy to eat up our overgrown blackberries.
Now to get down to growing things. Being a new mama again, I wanted to keep my outside work close to the house. Only problem was the house is on a hillside cutaway; in other words, bedrock. The dirt is as hard as a hammer in the summer, and the rest of the year you get an oozy, soggy mess sticking to your boots. Nothing would grow.
Plan D. Raised beds and a greenhouse. As frugality is my first, last and middle name, I cut some free pallets in half, formed them into a u-shaped bed complete with chicken wire fence and voila, a keyhole garden! Not that it grew much. The tomato seedlings in the greenhouse were stunted since our greenhouse didn’t do too well in the snow and the knee-high vents were too low to do any good when it was hot.
Meanwhile, King the LGD was, again, getting bored. The goats were not interesting enough to just look at, so he started chasing them. Not what an LGD is supposed to do. We got him a puppy friend. Baron joined us and soon outgrew his adopted brother. Now we have two Great Pyrenees the size of polar bears and two lazy goats, all because I wanted something to go “woof” in the night.
The chickens are hanging in there. What a relief that roosters are welcome in the country. We were all set to have table meat. One problem: We had never actually culled a bird. We’ve managed to get it done, but butchering is still a bit too far for us to go. The dogs have been eating well.
So, in the past year and a half we’ve produced a gallon of damaged tomatoes, enough chamomile for two cups of tea, lots of eggs (before the chickens went on strike in December), a few handfuls of peas and first-class dogfood. The goats are now pregnant, after freeloading for a year and not doing much damage to the blackberries.
Shortly after we moved here, we joined a food co-op that asked for the name of my farm during registration. Feeling a little full of myself, I entered the name, “Harmony Hill.” When I went to pick up my food, a dear woman asked, “Oh yes, Harmony Hill. What do you grow?” I glanced at the baby on my hip and the three others cavorting around me. I looked her straight in the eye and said, “Children.”
Dawn Kinzel lives in Vaughn.