The Stalled Garden

How many of you have your gardens put in this season and are watching them explode with the promise of a bountiful summer? If you raised your hand, please know that I am extremely jealous. We have a lot of plants started under grow lights that are beyond ready to be outside, but our garden build has taken much longer to get in place than I anticipated. Since we wanted to have an aesthetically pleasing garden space, I designed deep raised beds that take a lot of material and time to make. Couple that with trying to work on them after homeschooling and working off-farm jobs, all while dodging rain, and we’re moving at a snail’s pace folks. We’re really close to finishing up the 16 beds, but then we will still need to level and fill them. We have a pretty sizeable load of top soil/compost mix from a local nursery, but it isn’t going to be nearly enough to fill all of our garden boxes. Unfortunately, rain has moved in to the area and it looks like it’s hanging around for at least the next ten days, so it may be close to June before we get the garden planted!  While I’ve been working on building the beds, Shannon has been dutifully heading into the woods and dragging out downed trees to cut up and fill the bottom parts of the beds in a sort of hugelkultur-style. We bought a used atv from our dear friends Dirck and Natalie over at J&N Ranch (go check them out on Instagram and get some beef from them if you are in the KC area!) and it has been amazingly useful for this type of work. It’s definitely helping us work smarter, not harder. 

As we’ve been working on the garden, we’ve been doing some time-lapse videos and some explainer videos that we will eventually be posting on YouTube for anyone interested in seeing how we built our raised beds. Lumber costs this year have made it probably the worst time ever to have to buy materials, but even with the higher-than-expected price tag, the garden should end up saving us far more than it costs over its lifetime. I’ll be making a video of how we’re installing waterlines to each bed to run drip irrigation and reviewing the wifi connected timer that will control the whole system. So, if you’re thinking about creating your own garden space in the future, stay tuned for those!

The garden has taken up most of our free time lately, but we’ve still been doing a lot of thinking about the future of the farm. Honestly, I think shutting things down the past year has actually been a really good thing. It has given me a lot of time to reflect on how we were running the farm and what we need to do to make it a sustainable business. I think if we had continued the way we were going we would have burned out in a few years and watched our dream slip away. I’ve realized this year that I do very much want to farm, but I need to really buckle down on the business side of farming. I need to work on my organization and really hone in on the details of the business to make sure it can sustain itself without regular cash infusions from our off-farm jobs. It’s been nice having outside income as a crutch, but at some point I’d like to transition to working only on the farm and the reliance on my other business would no longer be available. 

How we are going to proceed with the farm is still being hashed out, but one thing is for certain, we will still be focused on animal agriculture. Being able to use animals to renew these lands that have been over-hayed and over-plowed through the years is something I feel very strongly about. The animal mix we end up with on the farm is yet to be determined, but we want to make sure focus on the things we are good at. So, our primary focus will likely be pork and chicken, but we need to include a ruminant in the mix to keep our grass under control in the pastures. Pigs are a no-brainer for us as we have a wonderful woodlot with a lot of oak and walnut trees that drop plenty of nuts to keep their snouts busy in the fall. We have the most experience with chickens and will definitely have meat and eggs in the mix. Chicken processing is a little trickier since there is only one USDA processor near us and I’m not sure if we’ll be able to get back in with them since we haven’t used them in almost two years now. I need to give them a call to see if they’ll be able to service us as I’ve heard they aren’t taking on new clients and I’m not sure if we’re grandfathered in as far as that’s concerned. I’m not going to rely on secondhand gossip as a reason to write them off, though. If we can’t use them, we will likely need to start processing our own chickens. I really like the idea of keeping that on farm and we can get a state exemption to do more birds than our land’s carrying capacity would even support, but we would be limited to only selling within the state of Kansas. That’s not a huge deal, but if we ever want to ship or even drive the 45 minutes to Kansas City, Missouri, we wouldn’t be able to sell our chicken across state lines. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. If we end up going with on-farm processing we would likely follow all the guidelines for a USDA processing facility when we build ours so that we could scale up to being a USDA facility. 

I’ve probably rambled long enough, so I’ll wrap things up. That’s where things stand for right now. I’ll try to give you specifics on things as we go along. We’re looking forward to sharing our progress with you and thank you for coming along with us on this journey. 

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