We've almost made it through our very first spring on the new farm in Michigan! The early daffodil and hyacinth blooms are long gone, peonies are starting to lose their petals, and we find ourselves begging the skies for rain most days. Our newly-planted kitchen garden has completely taken off this last week and we're giddy with excitement every time we find a new shoot, leaf, and tendril. Our pumpkin seeds popped chunky little seedlings yesterday and we harvested the very last of our asparagus to sell at the Bloomingdale Bulk Food store. The remaining asparagus spears will grow into giant fronds and soak up nutrients for the crowns buried deep within the earth. We're hoping we balanced our harvests properly this season and that our crowns get all the goodness they need to provide more delicious spears next year. We pulled a few hundred pounds of asparagus from that field, friends! It was incredible. I pickled as much as I could and hope to get a few more cans put back for the winter. I can't wait to try asparagus soup!
Our strawberry patch is both new and old this year, as we brought a few plants from our previous micro-farm here and planted them last fall. They survived and are already producing some berries! We also inherited a large-scale raised strawberry setup, complete with irrigation. The raised platforms proved a bit difficult for us to maneuver around and the soil desperately needed to be changed every year in order to remain viable and healthy, so we decided to remove the plants. They are now planted in the ground with our Old North Sea strawberries from the old farm. We hope it'll be easier to manage the soil quality this way, with the help of earthworms and birds and bugs. Our only goal for this year's strawberry season is to keep our plants alive and healthy; many won't produce well until next year. Our canning needs, therefore, depend entirely on our fellow local farmers and we can't wait to hit the strawberry farms this week to stock up on sweet berries for jams and freezing.
Our "sun" bed is our experimentation bed and I'm thrilled to say our first year rhubarb is flourishing! We have huge, big leaves already and I can't wait to see how well they do next year. Our turnips are turning into my own personal, delightful game of hide-and-seek; as their greens grow bigger and bigger I often find myself peeking through them to see the beautiful purple and white tops poking up just a bit from the soil. They've loved the sandy, well-drained spot we chose for them and don't seem the least bit bothered by our erratic weather. Our artichokes are also growing new leaves every week, as are the kohlrabi and cabbage. We have a few small watermelon sprouts as well and the perennial herbs, while tiny, survived the frost, then the drought, and I couldn't be more excited at the prospect of home-grown sage, rosemary, mint, catnip, chamomile, yarrow, echinacea, bee balm, borage, calendula, basil, thyme, cilantro, and lavender.
Our eggplant sadly did not make it, but this is the only true casualty of the frost/heat wave we experienced within a few days of one another. Our zinnias made it through and our carrots are looking beautiful. Corn is popping, along with zucchini, cucumber, onion, kale, lettuce, radicchio, beets, brussels sprouts, and strawflower. I am determined to make broccoli and cauliflower work - I try every year and every year it bolts before producing a sizeable head. Our peppers and tomatoes are looking tremendous and I am so proud of them; nearly all came from very old seeds.
We also planted about 75 new comfrey rootstocks and crowns in various areas around the garden, including under the fruit trees and in areas with poor seed germination/soil quality. Comfrey is one of my very favorite plants of all time - it's medicinal, a good grower, a perennial, a good addition to teas and salves, a good addition to compost, and a great animal feed. We grow Bockings #4 comfrey, purchased from Coe's Comfrey. Some of the stock we planted last week included new roots and crowns and was dug and brought over from the old property. Our goats and chickens LOVE comfrey and I love to feed it to them; every part of the plant is overflowing with vitamins and minerals. The true, native, first residents of American soil traditionally used comfrey for multiple types of ailments; it's referred to as "Knitbone" for its astounding ability to heal broken bones via compresses and poultices. We planted enough this year and last fall to easily split next year. My hope is to designate a specific part of the farm just for comfrey propagation. Despite the (extremely baised, limited, and in my humble opinion, flawed) "study" involving rats that our government used to ban comfrey, my personal experience and that of humans from the last 200 years is that this plant is green gold. It will always have a place in my garden, home, and family.
The 50 peony plants we planted in November are doing ok - some are not as strong as we'd like them to be, with curled leaves and signs of stress. We had a rabbit chew a few of the plants, but the roots we planted were 3-5 eye roots, so luckily the other shoots were undisturbed and I think everyone will make it. We ordered another 50 to arrive this fall and the perennial flower field is slowly but surely coming along. Next we'll focus on lilacs, then hydrangea, and so on down the line of amazing perennial cut flowers. The goal is to procure 90% of our cut flowers from our perennial field.
Our original goal when we moved was to take 2021 as "our" year, building relationships and redefining what we wanted and how we wanted to transform this property. I, Jen, can't seem to sit still, however, so we dove right in with planting, planning, and reopening. I'm so glad we did. Our first farm stand had just the lightest of traffic, but we met some wonderful people and are forming great relationships in our new community. We formed a working business relationship with the local Amish store and talks are underway to sell my soaps and balms with them, too. Our goal is to replace 80% of our grocery store purchases with food grown right here on our farm. Over time we hope to expand our vegetable and flower beds so we can share the abundance and variety I described above with everyone. Long term, we'd love to form a collective with the other farmers in our area so we can all benefit from our respective talents and fill the widening gap between income and access to fresh food. Visions of overflowing harvest tables, crates of food, and kids learning how to milk their own goats fill my head daily.
Sometimes, on the hard days, I wonder what the heck we were thinking. I worry we're going to lose it all, go broke trying, mess something up beyond repair, and epically fail. But I think that's part of it...this thing called growth. Growing, be it a vegetable, flower, skill, or soul, requires a personal investment. Sacrifice, so far, has been the name of our game. But every couple days, when we're wandering through our new garden, we get a glimpse at the other side of this long, hard deal - the reward. The return of our investment. It comes in the form of a berry blossom, a cat purr, a tuft of cornsilk, or our first fresh, homegrown radish.
So we wipe our eyes and brow, don our floppy hats and crocs, and drag out the hoses for 3 hours of watering on a Tuesday night. We press forward, placing ourselves far outside our comfort zone and daring our logic and reason to reach, extend beyond our personal borders, and meet our hearts are they venture out and up.
Up, up, up we go, like a garden toward the sun.