Saturday, June 4, 2011

I Have Some Good News....

And Some Bad News.

It's been an interesting growing season so far. I'm trying to remain positive, but there's a lurking feeling of failure as the season progresses.

During the last two weeks of March, we planted almost two pounds of sugar snap peas, on literally hundreds and hundreds of feet of newly built trellis. Hubbo and I worked very hard at this endeavor since we committed to growing peas for a 24-family CSA run by friends of ours. We spent hundreds of dollars on the trellis, not to mention the time to build it, but we figured that this was an investment in our future. After all, so many crops can be grown vertically: peas, beans, cukes, some squashes, and tomatoes.

After installing our new trellises, we paid attention to planting dates and persevered, planting in the cold, on wet ground, covered in mud and aching by the end of the day. While planting I envisioned the peas, growing dark green and thick along the fencing, full of blossoms, eventually burgeoning with peas. I imagined picking them, filling baskets and crates, working alongside my family to help provide other families with fresh, home-grown vegetables.

And then came Spring rains. At first I was happy, because the rain watered in the peas. And water on seeds buried in the ground in cold spring weather is a really good start for peas. But it rained a lot. In fact, it rained between 7.42 and 8.59 inches in April (depending on the source), when the long-term average for the month is just 3.5 inches. That's a lot of rain. More than double the average.

And then came May. As of May 24th (I can't find any more recent statistics than this) Ohio had experienced 168 percent of the average monthly rainfall. It rained 18 of the first 25 days of the month.

Well, all that rain proved to be too much for our pea crop. Most edible pod peas mature within 55 to 65 days. Which means, by my calendar, that all the trellises Hubbo and I worked so hard to build should be full of dark green plants. All those little peas poked into the ground with such hope and care should be in the peak of their maturity right now. I should be picking and picking and providing and providing... yet the plants are thin, straggling, stunted, and barely producing.

Here's what a healthy pea plant should look like right now:

That's one of a handful of shining stars in my field right now. See how that pretty plant doesn't have any neighbors crowding around it? That's because most of the plants look like this:

Here's a shot of part of a row. Notice how the plants are thin and straggly, yellowing and short.

All that rain just robbed the soil, and the peas, of nitrogen, resulting in short, yellow plants with stunted production.

I suppose that about explains the bad news from the title of this post.

The good news is that I picked some peas today and we ate them for lunch.

They were good, if small, and we ate them happily. But here is a photo of the peas that should be producing for twenty-four families.

That's four cups of peas. Four cups. Looking on the bright side, I tell myself it's four cups of peas we didn't have yesterday. But I'm feeling a bit down about the fact that the plants were intended to feed so many more people.

It's a bit too late in the season to be planting another crop, but I do plan on trying for some fall peas. I've never tried that before, so this will be the first year for it. Who knows? Maybe this experience will tip the balance back in a positive direction at season's end.

There are always things to be thankful for, which brings me to the CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, model. The CSA concept is a thing of beauty. It is a model in which families share the risks, rather than placing the entire burden on the grower(s). In addition to sharing the risks, participants also share the benefits. It's really worth investigating, if you don't already know about it. Here's a link, in case you are interested.

And this is my friend's family's CSA. The CSA we're growing for this year. What an amazing family. Most of what we can't grow ourselves, I get from The Good Shepherd's Fold.
And it's good, local food. Grass fed beef, free range chickens and eggs, honey, cheese and butter. Please check them out. It's awesome what one family can accomplish.

I'm doing my best not to take the pea crop performance personally, and to let it go, and focus on the good things happening in the garden. And I'm trying to learn from experience. Every year I learn more.

It helps to know that we're not alone in this. I could link to many reports that highlight the difficulties Ohio farmers are having this spring. One alarming statistic is that only 11% of my state's corn crop has been planted, compared to the normal 90% rate for this time of year. And as a state, we're not alone, either. Many states are experiencing such difficulties.

I try to keep things upbeat on this blog, so I hope I'm not dragging you down at this point. But things aren't looking very good for Ohio, for the country, for the world. If you consider the current economic picture alongside weather extremes, and then factor in recent natural disasters and overpopulation of our planet, the picture gets worse. Stop to consider how much of our as-yet-un-planted grain gets devoted to ethanol or to feeding cattle in order to support all the major meat-eaters of the world and it gets downright sobering.

What does all of this mean? I don't know. I know what I think but I don't really know. No one does. One thing is for sure. Weather patterns have been changing for a long time. They are no longer predictable, and as our climates change, so must our planting methods. I think we are on the brink, so to speak. We are at the tipping point. And so we are the guinea pigs. We are the ones trying to figure out what the new normal might be.

Okay, I know our fore-farmers all dealt with this in years past. But this is different. Why? Because there are so many vectors intersecting and converging at the same time that virtually everything is at a tipping point. The economy, government, real estate, banking, war, fossil fuel, population, weather, natural disasters, even technology.

We live in some crazy times, readers!

So get out there and do something in your yard, in your community. Find a CSA in your area. Buy and eat locally. Get back to basics. Stick something in the ground and see if it produces. Plan a small garden plot. Put away a little extra food, Store some water. Walk the land around you and identify the edible plants. Put your energies where they matter.... right out your front doors!

To end on a positive note, I'm posting some photos of our early harvests this year.

Onion greens, peas, and garlic scapes.

Mixed lettuces.



Lettuce bed.


  1. Suzanne, I too would feel a heavier responsibility if I were to supply food for many families. We do supply food in the meat department for others. However, that is one of the truths of a CSA. We all come together and share in the abundances and the losses. Some years are not good years for some crops. We find at our house that we either have a pepper year or we get very few. The plants look healthy and we see small peppers, but not much happens. Other years, we put up enough peppers and peppers strips that we could have them every night and still not run out. We can't control the weather. Only God can and He KNOWS what He is doing. :) Rest in that my friend. You are doing a GREAT job!!!