Growing Peas on the Kitchen Table

In January of 2018, I responded to a craigslist ad that listed about 60 mason jars and about 200 seed packs for only $60. I knew this was a steal and jumped at the chance. Even without the seeds, the mason jars themselves would have had me out the door at the same speed! I was a little disheartened to find that the seeds were dated for for 2010, 2011, and 2012. Most seeds aren’t viable past 5 years, depending on the vegetable.

But these seeds were sealed in plastic and were organic heirloom varieties, so I had some hope that maybe they might be okay if they were kept in the right conditions all that time. I still wasn’t feeling too positive about them though and wasn’t about to set any sort of high expectations. I figured I might get some to germinate, but after checking the viability of various vegetable seeds, I was uncertain that some would come through at all.

I was eager for spring. January was icy and ugly and I was getting tired of it. So I got some plastic pans out and threw all of the snow peas into the potting soil and set them on the kitchen table. I watered them carefully and checked them daily. After a few weeks, I was shocked. Some little green leaves were working their way out of the soil. The best was yet to come. By the end of the week, I was pretty darn sure that every last seed had germinated.

I was giddy at first. Then I began to realize that I had about 500 pea shoots growing on my kitchen table and it was only February!!! I held off as long as I could, but you can only wait so long before things start to get a bit jungle-like. So I set about making a suitable place for my little snow pea shoots. It was warm enough outside to turn the soil, but I still had to scrape heavy chunks of snowy ice off my garden plot. I put down some fine compost on the turned sod. I didn’t really have the time to be making this into anything spectacular; the peas appeared to be growing at the rate of an inch per day! I swear it seemed like that, anyway!

I brought my peas to the farm in their two plastic flats. At first, I carefully plucked them from the flat and gingerly patted the dirt over their roots. As I looked down the row and saw ever limited space, I began to grab at chunks of soil-containing-peas and slapped them into the row. I was less considerate as I went, realizing just how many peas I had unwittingly grown in the kitchen.

Those may have been some of the most forgiving peas I’ve ever grown. They didn’t do much growing when I first threw them out into the cold. There they sat, waiting for the sun. I put up their support poles and string and they waited. Finally, March 15 rolled around (official estimated spring planting day for this area). The peas also know this as the date they can start growing. So off to the races they went! I had a glorious crop of snow peas that spring. They produced far into the summer and gave me all that they could. It really didn’t seem to matter that I had grown them in the kitchen or thrown them into cold, wet ground. They grew just the same regardless, just as every other year.

Seriously though, just imagine me out in the snow and ice, scraping at the ground to find grass and ground so I can plant peas, in the winter. Yes, I am a crazy farmer. You just don’t know if it will work sometimes, which means you need to do some trial and error. If that makes me crazy, I’m all for it. I’ll try some crazy things and sometimes they truly work out. Other times, it’s a dud. That’s okay though. That’s just the same as a scientist, isn’t it??


So God Made a Farmer

Every year presents with its own unique challenges, struggles, and rewards. Every year, I find some new adventure, some new hardship, some new sorrow. One of the things that didn’t necessarily draw me to farming, but continues to make me glad to carry the label “Farmer,” is that no day is like the last. I cannot say that any two days that I’ve been a farmer have been the same, at all. Sure, I feed the animals, tend the vegetables, collect the eggs. It sounds pretty much the same, doesn’t it?

It’s not the same at all. Even from year to year, things are always different. The weather challenges me. The critters, whether livestock or insect, challenge me. The soil itself challenges me! Everything is a challenge; a learning experience; a chance for growth. Digging potatoes this year was different than every other year. Seeing the difference in fertility that the pigs brought to the ground was extremely evident in the potatoes this year. You could have guessed where they spent most of their time by the size of the potatoes alone!

I had a lot of challenges this year, but I also consider this one of my best seasons yet. This season marked ten seasons since I came home with chickens and the farming woman inside of me suddenly came to life. It’s taken ten long seasons to get to this amazing point in my farming life. For the first time, no hogs crossed their fence. For the first time, I didn’t lose a single broiler to predation or heat. For the first time, my calves are growing exactly as they should be and doing amazingly well. For the first time, the pigs loaded themselves into the trailer on butcher day.

That’s not to say that nothing went wrong this year. I’ve had my share of bad days and more colorful words probably left my mouth than intended. If you’re a mover and shaker, if you’re getting out there and getting it done, things will absolutely go wrong. My grandfather made a statement about an employee of his who always broke things and why he never fired the employee: “He’s the only one doing anything!” So, lots went wrong this year, like every year, and while I never want it to be that way, it’s okay. Really, it’s okay.

I had problems with my chicken plucker. I had two separate cherry trees fall on my fence this year. That alone was bad enough, but to make it worse, wilted cherry leaves are toxic and they were suddenly in reach of my whole flerd of cattle and sheep. Thankfully, I got there in time before they wilted and everyone was safe! My cows escaped at least three times, maybe four…I start to lose track after a while. Due to electric issues, my turkey poults and half of my baby pullets (laying hens) died on a cold spring night when their heat lamp lost power. I had to say goodbye to my ram, Sam, when he continued his aggression to the point of causing me serious concern for my well-being.

Sometimes, the bad days in farming are enough to knock you to the ground. The bad days are enough to lay you out and you find yourself ripping grass out of the ground in total frustration. I’ve sat, tears welling up in my eyes, knowing there was nothing I could have done at the time with the information that I had and slicing every last piece of wisdom and knowledge out of those bad days. Some days, it’s a sigh and a mutter of “What a way to start the day” as I head up the hill with a bucket of grain to lure two ornery calves back to the pasture.

Every step in the wrong direction, every “failure,” every mistake that made me fuming mad or agonizingly sad, and every success that made me glad to wear the label “farmer,” these were all times that I gained something, earned something, learned something. No moment in my farming history has been without a lesson, most often with a test at the beginning! No, the class never starts with a lesson, always a test first! Sometimes I’ll get a passing grade; but the lessons that teach me the most usually start with a failed test.

I have learned how to herd chickens, coax the wary calf back through the gate, run from a hog to get it where I wanted it, and how to sit down a sheep. I’ve learned how to have patience with creatures that don’t speak my language, to speak with my body language rather than my words, how to ask for help, and to manage my emotions despite the circumstance. I’ve gained knowledge, empathy, patience, and strength. I’ve laughed, cried, screamed, and sighed.

At this point, ten years in, I can easily say that I would not trade farming for all the salt in Utah, all the tea in China, or all the gold in Fort Knox. It isn’t just a trade, a job, or a hobby. It’s part of who I am, what I love. And I seek to share the good, the bad, and the awesome of my day to day because farming is an incredible journey. It wouldn’t be right to keep the crazy stories, the unbelievable tales, or the sad experiences to myself.

So now I leave you with Paul Harvey’s “So God Made a Farmer.” It never fails to move me and I hope you feel as I do.

The Beginning of Everything: Part 1-Auction Chickens

No one tells you anything about herding chickens. It’s like no one has ever had their chickens get loose before. Like I’ve mentioned before, I read a lot about chickens before getting them. Not one mention of herding the little dinosaurs. No author was ever like “if you’re chickens escape from their pen, here’s what you do.” Why do I keep bringing this up? It can’t be that hard, right? No, it’s not, once you know how they think.

When I came home from college, a switch got flipped somewhere in my head. I don’t know what happened, honestly, I don’t. I basically declared “I’m getting chickens.” So that’s what I did. I went to the small livestock auction, nervous as heck as this was my first auction ever. I got myself a number card and started perusing the auction floor, deciding the ones I’d be bidding on. I had decided I wanted bantams, which are basically just small breed chickens. However, I really had no idea how small or large a bantam was. Seeing these chickens in the flighty, feathered flesh, I had no idea what I was in for.

Bidding time came and it was like they had painted me red and tied neon lights to me. I had obviously never been to an auction before and I could see that knowledge written easily on the auctioneer’s soft smile and quick nod when I timidly raised my card. I went back and forth a few times with another bidder as I quickly attempted to decide how much these birds were really worth to me. Suddenly my bid was the winner and I was given the number of the cage of birds and the cost. I went away to pay and get my boxes, eager to take home my prize.

By the time I came back, all the animals had been sold and the bidding was over. I walked back and forth among the cages looking for my newly acquired chickens. I grew concerned as I looked, being unable to find my chickens. I began to panic a little, thinking someone had taken them. Finally! I found them! Uneasy and unsure of myself, I began the process of loading them up. I managed to get three in the box before one bounded away from me.

The little bugger went under the cages and every time I ran around one side, it darted away. I grew increasingly self-conscious as she evaded capture. An old, quiet farmer came to my rescue and deftly snagged her and put her in the cardboard box. He smiled and said “here” as he reached for the box. He took out a knife and cut a few air holes in it and then helped me load my last four chickens.

I was giddy on the ride home. I had my chickens! I’d done it! Two new experiences were had that day: Bidding at an auction and being the proud owner of 7 chickens. I truly had no idea what was in store for me, not in the next few days and certainly not in the next few years. I was entirely unaware of the brand new trajectory I had just placed myself on.