Saturday, July 30, 2011

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Most of my time and energy as a hobby farmer has been devoted to raising various farm animals and sharing my passion for them with local kids and adults through my classes, clubs and camps at Briar Gate Farm.   But I always feel compelled to attempt to grow a few crops along the way, too, as I cherish the idea of eating home-grown vegetables from my own back yard plot.  Problem is, I’m don’t have much of a green thumb so my success is somewhat limited and variable.

Oh, I start out the season with good intentions each year, looking through seed catalogs to get ideas for new varieties to try, drawing diagrams of my 3 raised bed garden plots and shopping at my local nursery to find a good assortment of organic and heirloom seeds and plants to grow.  I turn over my gardens in late fall and add a mix of compost and manure (have I mentioned we have a lot of poop around here?) and then turn everything over again in the early spring as I prepare to plant my cool weather crops.  Some years I actually plan exactly what seeds I’ll plant first, when they will be mature, and then plan a second planting to maximize my space and effort.  So you can see the initial efforts are admirable.

But every year it seems that for all my good planning and intentions, once the seeds get planted I seem to lose my focus or simply get occupied doing everything else that needs to be done around the farm in the spring and summer.  I put a lot of love into the garden initially, but after that, it’s on it’s own.  And because I don’t like to use chemicals but don’t know a lot about organic pest and weed control, my garden becomes a true example of “survival of the fittest.”  Some years the bugs win, some years the weeds win, but occasionally a few of the veggies win.

So, it might surprise you that I have been entering some of my vegetables in the local county fair each year.  I used to think that only expert gardeners and serious farmers entered their goods in local fairs, but once my girls started showing goats at the fairgrounds and I began spending the entire first week of August there, I realized that just about anyone with just about any talent or success could enter.  Everything from amateur baking, photography, various crafting projects, honey, home-made beer, wine and cheese – these are all things that can be entered by anyone at the fair. 

The first year I entered carrots, beans, swiss chard and zucchini and was thrilled when I took home a 2nd, 3rd and two 4th place ribbons.  I also entered several baked goods and won a 1st place with my pumpkin bread (my cooking skills are something I’m a little more confident and successful with).  The next year I got serious about the timing of my veggies and coordinated planting times and maturity rates to correspond with the vegetable entry date.  Imagine my pride when the veggie judge awarded my yellow beans with the blue ribbon!

But this year, between the late spring, three family vacations, summer camps, goat shows and 5 baby goats being born on the farm, my garden has once again taken the back seat.  I plan to enter a few things in the fair next week, but I don’t have much to choose from.  The bugs won this year in my beet rows, the weeds seemed to succeed over my strawberries and I don’t know what the heck happened to my zucchini plants.  But once again, I have some decent beans and a few nice carrots, so I’ll enter them and see what happens.    Wish me luck!

Life Lesson:  You can’t be the best at everything – just enjoy the ride

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Horse Reflections

This morning I was watching the trailer for the new movie, BUCK – a documentary about the legendary horseman, Buck Brannaman.  I’m particularly interested in seeing this movie not only to see a great horseman in action, but because I feel a personal connection to the man.  I was lucky enough to be able to attend one of Buck’s horsemanship clinics several years ago and have incorporated much of what I’ve learned from him and others in the natural horsemanship field into the work I do with horses, kids and adults. 

The basic premise of the natural horsemanship movement is that humans don’t need to dominate, intimidate or strong-arm horses to get them to work with us.  We just need to understand how they learn and behave in their natural, herd environment and then use this knowledge to partner with them to gain their trust and desire to cooperate with us.  By considering their point of view and respecting what they are communicating to us, we can build a strong relationship and they’ll actually enjoy working with us.

Me and Amigo talking to Buck!
 One of the things Buck mentions in his trailer is how horses are mirrors, reflecting back to their handlers elements of the human’s personality, style and sometimes baggage.  I know about this concept and utilize it a great deal in some of my clinics with adults where I combine natural horsemanship and life coaching principals to teach important life lessons.  This is a concept I’ve helped others gain self-awareness from but I haven’t always thought about how it applies to me.  Now part of what Buck’s talking about is how a specific behavior from your horse at a given time may have to do with how you’re feeling or behaving at that moment.  But hearing him mention it this morning got me thinking about what my horses have to say about me in general.  Here are a few of the things I came up with:

·   *   My small herd is a close-knit family that gets along well most of the time, although squabbles do break out now and then.
·   *   Belle, my lone mare, is the leader and she’s usually pretty kind, except for when she’s in heat.  Then she’s pretty moody and snippy.   
·   *   Amigo can be kind of bossy and pushy but he’s basically a good guy.
·   *   Spirit gets into trouble when he’s bored.
·   *   Ringo is pretty agreeable most of the time unless you ask him to do something he doesn’t want to do.
·   *   Chummie is really reliable and trustworthy.
·   *   They all like variety but don’t want to physically work too hard.
·   *   They're all pretty spoiled.
* *   They’re good with kids.

Hmm, it sure sounds like there are some similarities between me and my herd! 

Life Lesson:  Take the time to reflect and you’ll sometimes be surprised what you see.