Diversity

It hasn’t rained here in weeks.  The seeds I put in the ground last week are still there, baking and ungerminated.  The seedlings I spent 3 long days putting in, are now wilting and dying.

This morning I’m going to bite the bullet and purchase a drip irrigation system.  I should have done it years ago.  Overhead irrigation just isn’t sufficient in times like these.

But here’s the thing: if all our summer crops fail, then all I’m out is my labor and the cost of the seeds and transplants. In a worst case scenario I’ll till everything under and start over again, with plenty of time to get the crops in before the first frost.

That’s a great advantage of course to having a long growing season.

A more likely scenario is that only some crops will fail. Already this year we lost our spinach, rainbow chard and snap peas.  So where they were supposed to be, now we have beautiful kale and Swiss chard instead.

Here we expect and plan for failure.  We go into the year knowing that not every crop is going to succeed.

A few years ago we lost our tomatoes to blight.  If we were tomato farmers, then we would have had no income that year.  If we had borrowed the money to fund the crop, we might have ended up bankrupt.  But because we plant as many as 100 different crops each year (in addition to keeping goats, chickens and pigs), losing a few crops doesn’t put us out of business.

As I wrote yesterday, nature doesn’t like monocultures.  Nature likes diversity. When we plant lots of different things, not only do we avoid having all of our proverbial eggs in one basket, but we’re also mimicking nature.

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29 comments on “Diversity

  1. Joanna says:

    I sympathise we have had years like that, but I suggest we cut a deal. You can have some of our current rain if we can have some of your sun. Deal?

    We have found that in the wet miserable years, the cabbage and pea family come to the fore, but in the hot dry years they do not work so well without intensive care. There are years I wonder if we should try dryland gardening and then there are other years when marsh planting seems more appropriate. Most years we have to get seeds in before the month of dry weather and then hope that the dry weather doesn’t last too long. Then we spend the latter months of summer wondering if we are going to get enough dry weather to cut hay. It can be a little stressful I think. At least this year we still have quite a stack of hay in a neighbours barn and so if the worse came to the worse, we could probably get by with just around 200 bales cut instead of 400. We have a relatively short growing season and so can miss out quite easily on second crops, the only advantage is that we also have long days in the summer – it is still quite light at 11pm at the moment.

    Like you said though, monoculture is not the way to go.

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    • Bill says:

      I know that lots of my blogging friends are dealing with too much rain these days. It’s a shame we can’t swap weather sometimes.

      With lots of consecutive hot dry days this would be a good year for cutting hay. But I’m happy to say that we sold our hay equipment a few months ago and that’s now one less thing I have to worry about. For several reasons we decided it made more sense for us to buy hay than to make it. It has always been one of my biggest farm worries, so I know exactly what you mean by the hay-related stress. Hope it works out for you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Joanna says:

        Fortunately our hay season is not until the end of June/early July, so plenty of time for it to dry out. We also find that putting the sheep on one area early spring helps to set back some of the grass so we don’t have all the hay ready at once 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Buffy says:

    I wish I could share some of my rain. We’ve had well over 8 inches in the last two weeks. Yesterday was our first dry day in a couple weeks, and more rain coming this week.

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    • Bill says:

      I’m sorry to hear that. As bad as this mini-drought is, I’d prefer it to that much rain. As I’ve said before, I can irrigate to make the ground more moist, but I have no way to make it drier.

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  3. shoreacres says:

    Oh, don’t I wish I could send you some rain. We need to have the spigot turned off, although it does look like the rain-train is going to set up a little farher west, which is good. So much water is affecting the strawberries and blueberries — I couldn’t get either last weekend. The strawberries had taken up too much water, and the blueberries had stopped ripening. So it goes.

    Aaaand… speaking of rain, and clouds: Here’s a story that’s not surprising, but still amusing.

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    • Bill says:

      It would be nice if we could balance it out some. At one point today Weather Underground said our chance of rain was 100%. Yet we never got a drop.

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      • shoreacres says:

        Many, many people are leaving WU because of absolutely untrustworthy information. I’ve gone over to a combination of Crown Weather and WeatherFor You. I got tired of WU changing my forecast several times a day, being dead wrong in forecasts, or telling me that I shouldn’t worry: I wasn’t going to have more than a half inch of snow. 🙂

        Not only that, during truly bad weather, the site is so slow I’m not willing to depend on it. Others are much better.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Rebecca says:

    Southern PA, here, and I woke up several times in the night to listen to the rain we’ve been missing for about a month. Hallelujah! Hope it heads south to you. I have a big garden, mulch, but no irrigation. I’ve never been skunked on onions or potatoes, my biggest crops, but everything else is a see-what-we-get proposition. (I’m a new and enthusiastic reader. Thanks to you, I’m attending the Food & Faith conference in Asheville this summer.)

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    • Bill says:

      Thanks for your comment. It brings a big smile to my face. 🙂

      I don’t recall ever irrigating the garden when I was growing up, so we started gardening I decided to let nature decide when and how much water the garden would get. But some hot dry weather changed my mind on that and we put in water lines and started using overhead irrigation. Now even that is insufficient. I guess we have to adapt as the weather patterns change.

      I’m glad you’re going to the conference and it makes me happy to think it might be because of something I’ve posted. Fred Bahnson is doing great work and Warren Wilson is a wonderful place. I’m sure you’ll really enjoy it. We’d love to go but it’s hard for us to get away in the summer and we’re already committed to speak at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs in July. I hope you’ll let me know what you thought of the conference.

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  5. rhondajean says:

    Hi Bill. I’m sorry you have no rain. Diversity and flexibility answer a lot of problems don’t they.

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    • Bill says:

      Indeed they do. We’re at the end of yet another day with no rain. So our gardens are suffering. But because we are flexible and not relying on a single crop, we’ll be fine.

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  6. jubilare says:

    “As I wrote yesterday, nature doesn’t like monocultures. Nature likes diversity. When we plant lots of different things, not only do we avoid having all of our proverbial eggs in one basket, but we’re also mimicking nature.” And meeting our own needs, too. Eating just one, or just a few things, isn’t good for us.

    And hi! I’m not dead. 🙂

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    • Bill says:

      I peek in on your blog once a week or so. Glad to hear from you. 🙂

      You make an excellent point and one I should have mentioned. We are homesteaders first. We grow food for ourselves and sell our surplus. So our primary reason for growing lots of different things is because we like to eat lots of different things. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Farmgirl says:

    We have had the opposite problem! It is in the 40’s and rain AGAIN. Here it is the latter part of May and I don’t have the crops in yet. Crazy. You are so right though. We still have eggs and milk shares and lettuce in the greenhouse. The way to survive as a farmer or homesteader is to do a bit of everything. You’ll always have your bases covered. Wishing some of my rain will head your way!

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    • Bill says:

      We’d sure love to have the rain. Sorry you’re getting too much.

      You’re absolutely right about homesteading. We have to anticipate failure and therefore have as many food options as possible. It’s a drag when something doesn’t pan out, or when Mother Nature delays us, but a prudent homesteader won’t starve when that happens.

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  8. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, whoa, sounds like you are really having some challenges with growing for the market garden this year. Gardening has always brought interesting challenges and surprises for me. Some years I would get the most amazing harvests from one vegetable and hardly anything from the next. Weather conditions play a major part in whether crops will grow or not. Even if irrigation is used day and night temperatures will have an affect on harvests. I happen to have a natural spring right next to Terra Nova Gardens to use for watering plants. For my back yard garden, as you know, I’ve set up a rain catch watering system. Right now the tanks are full and yet the rains still come. The prediction is 100% chance of rain tonight and tomorrow. I have enough stored up for two months for the four beds in the back yard. Grass mowing abounds on a weekly basis. We are in a cool temperature week with temperatures in the 50s and 60s during the day and lower 40s during the night. It’s not so good for tomatoes and other warm weather crops. It doesn’t kill them but doesn’t promote growth and setting of tomatoes. I set my best tomatoes inside the garage last night. Growing them in the five gallon buckets has indeed given me options but soon the sheer size of the plants will prevent me from moving them. Hopefully, this will be the last time I’ll have to move them. My cherry tomatoes already have small marble sized tomatoes setting on the plants. I still have much to plant as well. I may have to do some mud planting again this year.
    Have a great garden decision making day. May the dry cycle of weather be blessed with rain to satisfy a parched and thirsty land.

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    • Bill says:

      I’ve had that same experience with crops. Bumper crop one year and failure the next, with no obvious reason why. We don’t know from one year to the next which pests will arrive in force, or what the weather will bring. That’s just part of gardening naturally I think.

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  9. avwalters says:

    I’m glad that you’re not putting all your eggs in one basket. We’re waffling on irrigation. After 30 years in California (where it didn’t rain from May until October, normally) we’ve been enamored of the regularity of rainfall. We’re planting in buckets anyway (like California) so it’s a running debate.

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    • Bill says:

      So this morning I drove an hour each way to buy a drip irrigation set-up. I returned $800 lighter only to discover that an essential $16 tool was somehow left out of my box. So another day of no drip tape. And it didn’t rain. I know we need to put in the drip irrigation (for lots of reasons), but I’m a little mad at myself for not dealing with it in the winter when I had plenty of time. I had planned to do it last year but we had a nice rainy summer and it was never an issue, so I didn’t worry about it.

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      • avwalters says:

        I sympathize. The fencing is running about six hundred. The bees will arrive June 1, we’ve got to get the garden in, but two days this week we have frost warnings! So next week, it’ll be fence, seedlings and bees…all at once. Oh well, I guess we learn as we go.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. TexWisGirl says:

    not sure where you’re located (tried to find something on the ‘about’ page but didn’t see it) but here in texas, we are sopping wet this year. it has, however, erased our drought status and filled most of the area lakes. i am so grateful. i hope you can withstand the tough times since you do diversify! thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! good luck to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Sue says:

    Always sad to hear of someone not getting a drop of rain in that long time.
    It seems to be all or none anymore. We’ve gotten plenty lately (for a change!), but now we’re not supposed to get a drop for over a week–and with sand, that’s disaster.
    What a challenge it is to grow food. I don’t think most people realize how hard it is (as they are griping about prices!)
    Best of luck to you

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    • Bill says:

      You’re right Sue. It is a challenge. I feel bad for the little seedlings. And I’m annoyed that birds are eating the seeds I planted. But that comes with the territory. I hope this situation has been the kick in the pants I needed to do things better around here.

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  12. ain't for city gals says:

    One year I spent in Oklahoma and the people had this beautiful garden and they refused to water it which I felt so strange coming from Arizona. I mean, really, in Arizona you get NOTHING unless you water. It was so obvious to me…like just water the darn thing…..ha! They had their own well etc.

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    • Bill says:

      I should’ve converted to drip tape irrigation years ago. It’s so much more efficient. But I was reluctant to spend the money. This weather (we had another hot day with no rain today) at least drove me to do what I should have done long ago.

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  13. I always think of the Irish and the great potato famine when I think of monoculture. We see it around here (northwest) in another way. The forest industry always likes to tout that they replant trees, which they do, but they plant all the same type of trees, the ones that will grow fast and produce more lumber. We lose the great diversity of our forests. –Curt

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