Saturday, April 25, 2020

It's Not All Unicorns and Rainbows

"A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself."
-May Sarton

As you look at the mass amounts of photos in the recaps of the last three years it's easy to look at those and say, "Man, this James the urban farmer guy has this whole thing figured out, look at him go!"  While I know more than I did when I started doing this, the reality is I still know very little compared to a lot of other people who farm for a living.  There's so much to know and a lot of it can be very specific to the area that you live in.  One of these days when I feel like my farming knowledge is more up to snuff it would be really fun to travel to a different part of the country (or a different country completely) and try and do the same thing just to see if I can do it and if it's just like starting from square zero again.  Behind those great looking photos that you saw in my previous posts is a lot of hard work along with quite a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.  It's way too easy to only focus on the positive aspects of the urban farm and to spin it as a complete walk in the park.  I'm trying fairly hard to put a realistic view on everything that goes into trying to gain independence from the major food system that's in place in the U.S.  As I was putting together those previous posts I realized one major thing was lacking in my photos and also from the recaps:  failures.  Each year there are so many things that go wrong and I generally don't want to remember them but for the purposes of this blog I do want to put extra effort into trying to highlight those as best as I can just to show everyone who may somehow stumble across this blog that it takes a lot more than just throwing seeds in the ground (although that has worked for me in the past).  Going forward I'll be making an extra effort to take photos of things that fail or go horribly wrong (this makes me cringe just thinking about it).  You also probably noticed some out of place photos in those recaps, such as the San Francisco and Panama photos.  You would most certainly be correct in calling me out and telling me that those photos don't have a place in this urban farming blog.  If that is what you're thinking though the thing you're failing to realize and the reason that statement is completely and utterly wrong is that this is James the urban farmer's blog and I'm just going to go ahead and put whatever I want in here and write about whatever the hell I feel like.  If you don't like that then go ahead and find yourself a different blog to entertain yourself, the world will keep on spinning and I'll keep on writing.  As a result, there are probably going to be some posts and photos that seem out of place from time to time.  Deal with it (or don't, I don't care).

The San Francisco trip was a pretty quick weekend trip for a friend's wedding.  It was my first time visiting San Francisco and I had a blast.  I got to see a lot of friends from a study abroad program that I did in college.  It's been a long time since I've seen the majority of those friends and we all had a blast catching up and watching our fellow friend get hitched.

Panama was quite different from that trip.  My "vacations" are usually chalk full of adventure and I tend to put the pedal to the metal more so on vacations than I normally push myself in my normal, everyday life (in one such vacation I summited two mountains, one of which being a 20,500 ft (6,248 m) mountain.  Sounds fun, eh?).  This vacation I did the exact opposite.  It had been a while since I had gone anywhere for more than an extended weekend.  The past seven years have been very tumultuous in my work and personal life and all I wanted to do was go somewhere that's not full of people where I can just chill on a beach for a week and do whatever the hell I feel like.  That led me to Panama, I had a blast, I successfully chilled on a beach for a week.  However (I knew this would happen beforehand) my amount of time spent on the actual beach was fairly minimal.  There was quite a lot of snorkeling, paddle boarding, kayaking, hiking, eating, and drinking involved.  Quite a few dolphins made an appearance (yay), watching sea turtles hatch and go into the ocean for the first time was quite exhilarating (this was done with a proper sea turtle researcher), barracudas chased me, a snake found it's way into my hut (those damn snakes follow me everywhere), I attempted to learn Spanish for the 1,000th time (I will be fluent one day), I got stuck at a very small airport for five hours with a nice Canadian family who was moving to Panama to live on a sail boat (quite baller, right?), plus I didn't even get mugged or kidnapped (I keep expecting it to happen one of these trips)!!  All in all it was just what the doctor ordered and I didn't want to leave.  It only took 3 flights and an hour boat ride from Denver (spread across two full days) to get to my final destination in Panama and it was well worth the hassle of dealing with 3 flights and a boat ride.  If you need a relaxing vacation at a place that's off the grid (solar panels and rain water), has great activities, awesome food, and quite good drinks (the bottomless wine with dinner is pretty fantastic) I'd highly suggest going to Casa Cayuco.  They do need to update their watersports equipment (I'm told that's currently in the works) and the staff talking on their phones close to the huts and public spaces was annoying from time to time, but I'll be back to visit Julia, Billy, Jose, and the rest of the staff.  If you end up going there, let them know that James the farmer sent you!  For no other reason than I think it would be hilarious if they get someone every now and then telling them that.

I'm also an avid hiker and outdoors person in general, finding time to hike with the urban farm is quite challenging but I make it happen whenever possible.  At least with the urban farm I'm already spending mass amounts of time outside exercising and I don't even have to drive anywhere to get there!

This post has taken quite the interesting turn, back to the task at hand.

During the growing season the vast majority of my free time is spent working on the urban farm.  You also have to consider that I'm a single person and I have very little outside help.  A couple doing this same thing would be able to get everything done twice as fast, some tasks would likely be done faster than that with two people.  I have a full time job in addition to the urban farm.  During the summertime I might wake up at 4 a.m., pull some weeds for a few hours, go to work, then work in the urban farm until 7, 8, 9 p.m. (it varies a lot depending on how I'm feeling), then I still have to make dinner, take a shower, and sleep.  I also make time for meditation, Qigong, yoga, rock climbing, and playing piano (I'm going to start learning guitar sometime relatively soon as well).  Needless to say I don't have any shortage of things to do.  I also have to make time for harvesting and preserving the vegetables that I've grown.  If the days were 72 hours long I could probably effectively fill all of that time and still not have enough time to do everything that I want to do.  I'm basically exhausted at the end of each and every day.

There are a few notable failures that keep occurring each year, these tend to be devastating to my morale but they encourage me to expand my knowledge and skills.  Brussel sprouts and corn are the current bane of my existence.  This last year the brussel sprouts didn't get very big despite my best efforts to keep them properly trimmed to promote growth in the actual sprouts and to top them off they got a fairly thick coating of aphids.  Once that happened I ended up ignoring them and focusing my energy on everything else.  Maybe this year though.  Corn, what is so hard about growing corn?!  That's what I've always thought too, you plant it, water it, it grows very tall and tada you have sweet corn!  It's actually a fairly temperamental plant and not as forgiving as I thought it would be.  This last year my downfall was under-watering it initially and by the time I realized that it wasn't being watered enough it was too late.  Now I better know how to recognize if it's not being watered enough and to correct it immediately.  Over the past three years I have tried growing corn a total of three times and I have gotten a total of zero good sweet corn cobs (lots of dried out cobs that the squirrels enjoyed though).  Maybe the fourth time's a charm!!

To make a long post short:  Urban farming isn't all unicorns and rainbows, deal with it!

Fun Epic Failure From 2017:
Tall Grass in Front Yard

In 2017, before I had the wildflower idea, I thought it would be fun to have the house really stand out and to have a lot of really tall grasses growing in the front yard (it was mostly dirt with some grass before this) along with some peas and beans (poles for them on the left hand side of the photo).  Little did I know that the neighbors and city would be none to happy about this (rightfully so).  Once the grasses reached about 6 feet tall (I have no idea how anyone let it get that tall) I got a letter from the city letting me know I'm violating the city code and it needed to be chopped down ASAP.  I chopped it down and I learned that with the two trees out front, vegetables are not going to grow well in the front yard.  That's when I thought about trying to do wildflowers in the front yard!  Sometimes it takes an epic failure to create a success.

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