When I first started at Umi Nami Farm back in 2010, there were twelve farm cats.  We are now down to four.  Three are buried near the holly bush behind one of the greenhouses.  Five have just disappeared.  The four that remain are all over ten years old now and far less inclined to hunt than they once were.

Suffice to say our farm’s ecological balance has shifted in favour of the rats.  Now we sometimes see them scuttle across the garage, and when I emptied the kitchen scraps one time, five of them jumped out of the black plastic compost bin.  More than ever before, we have to cull produce that rats have sampled.  A particularly insulting episode was what they did to our beautiful crop of Chinese cabbages last year.  You’d see a big, huge “haku-sai” and go to harvest it, only to find that a rat had chewed a hole in the side, eaten the heart out–and left a few droppings in the empty core.

Yet I find it hard to hate them.  The rats of Umi Nami Farm have bright black eyes and soft shiny fur.  They hold their tails just so.  “At Umi Nami Farm, even the rats have dignity,” a friend said.

Hate them or not, I have resorted to using rat traps.  I feel little remorse when I clean the traps and throw the dead to the tall grass near the fence.  This is farming: I do what I need to do.

I said I feel no remorse, but I still think it’s sad.  I do not believe our relationship was meant to be this way.  May the day come when the lion shall lie down with the lamb, and the farmer make peace with the rats (and the wireworms, and the aphids, and the flea beetles, and the weeds, and…).

In the meantime, ecology finds its own balance.  This year, we often notice a hawk or falcon perched on a greenhouse frame or an apple tree.  In the past, those small raptors never used to come.  I love seeing them, but I still plan to seek my own balance and look into getting more farm cats for next spring.

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This is year number eight that I’ve been at the farm. That in itself is beautiful yet hard to believe, but I wanted to write a few observations on the late summer and early fall.

As I said, this is year number eight, and although my role and the ethos of my life at the farm has changed over time, every August I notice that I tend to let my hair down and relax a bit. I feel happier and freer. Most years I go swimming at the lake more often. I don’t worry about “stuff” as much. Why is that? It’s not as if August isn’t busy. Summer is still ON and we’re also preparing fall crops at the same time.

It could be that by August most of our big transplanting jobs are done and more of the work lies in harvesting. Whereas planting could well mean alot of work for no reward if things don’t grow well, harvest = reward, period. Speaking of harvest, there’s lots of nice things to eat in abundance: tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, feral blackberries, plus all the usual greens and daikon. We can afford to give produce away.

But I wonder if there isn’t one more thing: in August, the earth is warm. Even when it cools down at night, you can sit on the grass and look at the stars and not get cold.

Now it’s October, and the earth is finally soaked with rain again. I’ve planted cover crops and their bright green shoots shine in the morning sun. The ground is a little cooler now, but something of that warmth still remains.

Somehow it hasn’t quite happened to sit down and write any of my ideas for a blog post, but I have been writing quick little posts on Facebook, so I thought I’d bring the recent ones together to share here.

April 20

The busy season started this week, which makes sense since the whole season seems 2 weeks early this year, and two weeks from now is the midpoint of the equinox and Solstice, which usually marks the beginning of the high season. We transplanted cucumbers in the greenhouse today, and on the to-do list for the week are squash, melons, tomatoes, shiso and more, plus lots of field prep…the soil is really drying out! I won’t be surprised if we don’t have meaningful amounts of rain again til the fall, but you never know.

April 21

Squash (日本カボチャ) transplanting done, last batch of cucumbers sowed, and a lovely bike ride over to Sea Bluff Farm for lunch. A lovely day 🙂

April 22

I’m really enjoying kabu (Japanese turnips) these days. Almost ever evening we share one as a salad for dinner. This is last year’s photo…we did lots of hoe-weeding today so when I see the weeds in this photo I want to scrape them down but I can’t. Ironically, most of the weeds we kill are edible, too.

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April 23

Melon transplanting (round 1) is DONE. Took way longer than I thought it would, but it’s DONE.

April 26

A lovely and very social weekend…Melody’s birthday party on Friday, farm party at Three Oaks on Saturday, and an excellent clothing swap tonight. Now it’s time for a hot foot bath and a good sleep 🙂

April 27

I used to wonder why the old vice/virtue schemes posit laziness as the opposite of courage. Farming, it makes perfect sense. You work hard when you have the courage to try even if there’s a risk your effort might fail, even if you know you’re already behind your schedule and even if you have a dozen past mistakes staring you in the face.

April 30

April 30, 2009 was my first day volunteering at Umi Nami Farm. Six years later, I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue on and share in running a business here.

May 6

Some kind of weird exhaustion hit me like a ton of bricks just after lunch today. House sickness maybe? In the greenhouse, you get drenched with sweat, then step out into 12 Celcius and wind, go into the next greenhouse, get drenched with sweat…your body just goes on strike after awhile.

This winter, my goal is to finish all the records and planning work before the end of February.  This includes, but is not limited to: farm and personal taxes, organic certification, and detailed crop planning.  It all means (mostly) sitting in a chair with alot of papers and/or a computer screen.

I find it odd how much I’m enjoying it, since this is part of what I was happy to get away from in my pre-farming work, but enjoying it I am (despite the sore back and feeling of poor circulation that comes with sitting so much).  Taxes are actually exciting this year.  For the first time I’m filing my taxes with the Form T2042 Statement of Farming Activities instead of the usual one.  (Last year was my first year of self-employment, after the land owner here invited me to be her business partner.  Thank you Yoshiko!)  Organic certification papers are a bit dry, but useful.  We have to report on each and every input we brought onto the farm, the quantity of various crops harvested, and our plans for crop rotation in the coming year, as well as providing affidavits from various suppliers, showing that our seed was non-GMO and so on.

The real octopus is crop planning.  Week by week, I’m trying to lay out what we plan to plant in the coming year, and then fit together the jigsaw puzzle of how to fit it all into the space we have available at the times we want to plant it.  As you can see, I’m taking a break right now.  I got stuck somewhere in mid-March because the only space available for planting greens, beets and turnips that week will be needed for watermelons and eggplants before the greens etc. would be finished.  I’ll sleep on it, and go at it again tomorrow.  The greenhouse I’d hoped to schedule for green manure might have to be row crops instead.

I went to a truly excellent crop planning workshop last week.  I’m not planning to do everything exactly as the speaker described (I would have had to start alot earlier to have time for his level of detail), but it still gives me a framework to guide a very multidirectional and potentially confusing task.

Tonight as we were in the garage preparing our harvest for this week’s market.  The temperature began to drop rather sharply.  For us, this invokes a sense of fear common to this time of year.  We still have so many crops outside, and not all of them frost hardy.  Cashing in on those crops (or not) is a bit of a gamble.  When we see the risk of frost, we have some key decisions to make: do we cover them with floating row cover?  Do we harvest them and store them?  Do we wait and see?  How much can we get done in the dark?

Tonight Yoshiko and I harvested chinese cabbage and cauliflower, which now sit in wheelbarrows in the garage, where the cold shouldn’t affect them as much.  If there is no frost, we will have lost the chance to spread the cauliflower harvest over a slightly longer period of time.  If there is frost, we’ll be glad to have saved what we could.

A factor in these decisions is energy.  At this time of year, it’s easy to feel tired or even burnt out.  Nevertheless, for us year-round farming means putting in huge bursts of energy to save crops at short notice when frost threatens.  On one hand, pushing ourselves too far beyond our limits isn’t really profitable in the long run.  On the other hand, underestimating our capacity to keep working also means a loss of profit.

In other news, I got my soil test results back today!  Very exciting.  I can’t wait to start working through the numbers based on a soil analysis book I read earlier this year.  More on that one later.

It’s been unusually warm this October.  I am not complaining…it’s been quite nice.  After my recent read of Oil and Honey by Bill McKibben, I’m inclined to worry that this is some strange manifestation of climate change, but like most worries, there is little purpose in thinking about that.

The broccolis and cauliflowers have been uncommonly happy with this weather.  Sometime mid-month the rain got started, so the soil is nice and moist (we usually keep things very dry) and with the warm weather we have more gorgeous heads of pearly white cauliflower and crisp green broccoli than we know what to do with.  We were able to sell alot at the market this weekend, but we were very happy when Saanich Organics agreed to buy a large quantity for their box program this week.

Abundance is a challenge and an opportunity.  Our income depends very much on seizing the moment of a good harvest, just as much as working to avoid a poor one.

I was supposed to take our new farm-stay helpers on an outing to the lake this evening, but after we finished an early supper they told me I looked tired and asked me to stay home and rest. They decided to visit the marina instead, and I went out to side-dress my cucumbers and check water on the recently sowed carrots.

Oddly enough, that was very relaxing. I was just as much outdoors as I would have been at the lake, and one more much-needed task was getting checked off the to-do list. One less thing to worry my mind.

Now is a beautiful time of year: long evenings, warm days, and everything growing quickly. But it’s also a time when mid-season burn-out can happen all too easily.

This week we’re hoping to finish transplanting green onions, transplant edamame and the first of our fall/winter cabbages, sow peas, sow greens and turnips, sow the beets we should have sowed last week, and keep up with our regular biweekly harvesting schedule, plus weeding and odd jobs. It’s that time of year–keep working, keep working, but rest just enough to keep working.

Nevertheless, I find that July comes with a sense of relief. The impossible to-do lists of May and June have been conquered at least in small part, showing that consistent effort does in fact get things done. Summer crops that we transplanted earlier are now yielding their fruit–cucumbers and eggplants were both on the market table this Saturday. There is still work to do, but already we’re making progress and reaping our reward.

This past week, I felt great.  Normally I get to the end of the week with shoulders stiff as baked clay and the feeling that my limbs move only under great resistance.  Farming is great for getting you active, but all that bending and squatting and stressing out about all the stuff that needs to get done certainly takes a toll on your body.  But last week Sunday I went for a swim, and every day thereafter made sure to get in a walk or bike ride every morning.  I couldn’t believe what a difference it made!   Swimming particularly was alot of fun.  I was miffed at first that our local pool doesn’t offer lane swimming at the times I’m able to go, but I think it’s actually better splashing around in the free-for-all of “family swim.”  It makes for great people-watching with all the kids there, and there’s something about not being able to swim back and forth in a straight line that helps me let go of tension.  

This raises a question I’ve often pondered lately: what does it really mean to be efficient?  What does it really mean to be productive?  I might skip my morning walk in favour of farm tasks, but do I really gain in the end when achy muscles slow me down?  

Sometimes more is less and less is more.  Working hard is important, but it’s plain stupidity if you don’t work intelligently.  And sometimes, that means taking time for other things–and not swimming in straight lines.  

It was an odd feeling I had the other day.  I was watering some plants in the greenhouse and realized that many of the rows we planted to our Japanese greens or turnips have already finished being harvested and are ready to turn over to another crop.  Similarly, we are now harvesting only from this year’s sowing of kale, no longer from the overwintered crop.  Overwintered chard is still going strong, but it’s days are numbered.  The new crop is nearly ready in the greenhouse.  This week we harvested the first of our new beets, and our first daikon will likely be ready next week.  

This is a tricky time for us, the changeover from overwintered to newly sowed crops.  I feel a great relief to see the new crops coming in from the field; there is always a danger of not having enough to sell if the overwintered crops run out before the spring crops get going.  

I tend to write blog posts mostly at the junctures of the season.  Perhaps it’s because so much of agriculture is about marking the passage of time, and understanding the the seasons.  “For everything there is a season…”  The key to agriculture is doing each thing in its proper time, not later.  

Tonight a friend and I got talking about local First Nations languages and found ourselves poking around online about Hul’q’umi’num, which is one indigenous language from around here.  It was fun to see just how much was available online.  UVic has a course on Hul’q’umi’num with online resources about grammar and vocabulary (you can learn to count to ten at http://web.uvic.ca/hrd/hulq/vocab/lesson01/vc01_09.htm).  First Voices has alot of neat stuff too.  You can listen to a song about a snail or find vocabulary in various categories.  I’ve often thought it would be neat to learn a bit of a local First Nations language; with so many things to do and to learn I don’t have any plans for that to happen, but I decided to learn one word tonight: spun’um.  So many things around the farm are spun’um, which means “sowed, planted, something that is planted.”