Today is the shortest day of the year, and while I love the many beautiful holidays, celebrations, and rituals associated with the first day of winter, around here we anticipate it with a certain sense of dread. Every year, I think that winter will be the most fun season, that we'll be so relieved to take a break from the grind of growing and pursue all our other interests, that we'll travel and catch up with friends and finish all those projects we never have time for. And every year, we sit with bated breath waiting desperately for the day we can get our hands in the dirt again.
The farm sure does look beautiful covered in ice and snow, though, and by the end of October I'm usually so tired I can't remember if I even like farming, so everything has its season, I guess.
I think most farmers say this every winter, but this year was the hardest season we have ever gone through, bar none. We lost a lot of crucial infrastructure with a house fire in January and the accidental volunteer bulldozing of our tiny house in June (yes, really...), which not only lost us the tiny house but the electricity and water hookup to our high tunnels and greenhouse. We spent the rest of the season starting seeds in the ground or up by the parked houseboat we'd moved into while building something new. I have a newfound respect for all the great farmers I know working without a greenhouse - we struggled a lot!
Tons of smaller disasters seemed to hound us throughout the season - a wreck, human and dog ER visits, rats that ate the wiring of our cars, a raccoon with a taste for chicken, the loss of a beloved canine friend - in some ways, it seemed like 2018 was determined to get us. And yet, it didn't. One thing we've said to each other many many times since we started this farming journey: if it wasn't so easy, it would be so hard.
At the end of this longest year, as I sit in this longest night, I'm still so grateful to be where we are, to do what we love, to walk this crazy path together. As our personal trials piled up around us, the land rose to the occasion in splendid form. As difficult as everything outside of growing was this season, our crops reminded us every day how magical this piece of land is. It's like I say all the time - the plants know what they're doing. They sure showed me that this season -- as we ran around like our poor headless chickens, the garden continued to provide incredible harvests. I lost count of the amount of times I was surprised by a planting squeezing out another week, or two, or month of bounty when I'd assumed it was done for good!
We had lots of personal growing triumphs this season. Our new strawberry patch produced my favorite strawberries I've ever eaten, and the potatoes we grew this season sold out at every single market, usually in the first hour. We'll make sure to plant many, many more next year!
Growing tomatoes in SWVA without tons of chemical sprays and inputs is hard, and I'll be honest, I've never had much luck with them. We just get too much rain! But our tomatoes this year gave me the richest tomato harvest I've ever had, here or anywhere else. I couldn't quite figure out what to do with all of them.
We're also thrilled that we're going to be able to really ramp up our tomato production (and everything else!) next season, as we just found out we're recipients of a NRCS EQIP grant. We'll be getting a huge new high tunnel (at least 30x72) to cover one of the richest parts of our field, so we can grow even more for even longer next season.
We've drooled over Edible Landscaping's catalog for years, and when they announced their huge plant sale this fall, we jumped in the car. Yes, we took a five hour road-trip to go to a plant sale. We loaded our trailer full with incredible goodies that we've planted out -- the start of the farm's mini orchard!
With Edible Landscaping's help, we added Cherry, Pear, Plum, Persimmon, Fig, Elderberry, Pineapple Guava, Goji Berry, Gooseberry, Muscadine, Pomegranate, Blueberry, and Currant plants to the garden. It'll be a few years before they're all producing, but we're so excited for the future!
The gorgeous forest on our farm was possibly the most exciting place to be this season. We've been studying different methods of forest farming and management for years, hoping to have the chance to employ them, but we were prepared to wait years, maybe decades, before we saw results. However, just a few small interventions over the course of one year made a gigantic impact.
With our dogs in the woods, deer were less likely to graze all the ephemerals and natives growing on the forest floor, and they grew fantastically. We saw lots of incredible woodland plants that weren't there last year, and the goldenseal patches we planted when we first moved in had multiplied and grown healthily. We planted out lots of ginseng and ramps, and they had an awesome first season. The pawpaws in our forest produced a much bigger harvest than last year, and we're learning new ways to encourage more and bigger fruit. Mushrooms were abundant all season long, and every time we went for a hike, it seemed like we found something new and magical.
Growing rare and extinct-in-the-wild plants has long been a passion of Joe's, and as we've learned more about our farm's incredible ecosystem, we've decided to focus more of our energy on plant conservation through dissemination. That is, we want to encourage increased biodiversity by becoming a nursery for plants that we are currently in danger of losing. We want to become your hub for all the incredible endemic species of Southern Appalachia. Watch for more from us on this in 2019!
I'm glad for the celestial turning of today - when I wake up tomorrow, this long season will be behind me, and the light will creep towards the next harvest. This year has been crazy and strange and difficult, but beautiful. Over and over and over again, I learn how compassionate our community is, and this year taught me that every single day. Thank you to every friend of the farm who lent us their showers or their laundry machines or their shoulders to cry on or their hands to help weed. Thank you to everyone who showed up for us at every market, at every event, every CSA drop. Growing food is a joy even when it's a struggle, and our community makes sure we never forget that.
Happy Solstice, friends.