April recap/May update

April was a good month for us. The weather was mostly moderate, with enough dry spells for work to get done but enough rain to keep crops happy. Three significant storm systems just missed us, including the one that later took out the St. Louis airport, leaving us drier and happier than many folks to our south and east. We stayed about on schedule with getting work done and getting crops in the ground, and felt pretty good about our status at the end of the month.
As a result, we were actually were able to take a fair amount of time off during the month, mostly as part-day trips down to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area along the Missouri River to enjoy the spring migration of waterfowl, warblers, and more. We also snuck away for a day to view the flooding Mississippi River south of Hannibal, MO, and do some more birding along that important flyway. I might write more about that trip soon.
Other than losing a hen to a hawk, the animals are doing well. Chickens are laying happily, while the goats have been moved permanently onto pasture with the resulting increase in milk yield. Cheese-making is a regular part of our work now, with the usual tasty results. We acquired our one pig for the year, rather than the two we had intended to raise until the Missouri Department of Agriculture decided our vegetables were garbage. This one happily consumes our whey, legally as long as we keep him to ourselves.
We’re finally starting to see results and benefits from some of the long-term farm projects we’ve been working on for years. Getting permanent electric fencing on our two main pastures makes goat management far more time-efficient and secure, as does the finished and functional goat/dairy barn. Thinning/clearing trees in these pastures has clearly increased the available browse, also benefiting the goats. Our reliance on permanent no-till raised beds is paying off with easier access and work in all conditions, and the soil quality continues to improve (our recent soil tests showed no need for improvement or inputs). For the first time in a late spring, I’m not working on a major infrastructure project (last year it was the walk-in cooler and barn improvements, in 2009 it was our smaller packing shed), allowing more time for both work and pleasure.
Here’s a photo collection from late April and early May:

Peas growing;  icy lettuce in a hard frost May 3

Large, healthy garlic; goat/dairy barn and freshly plowed crop field north of the vegetables

Newly transplanted zucchini under row cover; beautiful clouds over the pond

Panorama of the market garden

The unsellable pig; dairy goats of the future


With our market season starting, the workload naturally increases. Market harvest and prep can take anywhere from half a day to almost two days, in addition to most of Saturday. That naturally cuts into other farm work, but it’s nice to earn a return on the investment of work. Our first few spring market stands are always small, but we’re looking forward to the full-size stands as more items come online. We’ll be doing a lot more transplanting and seeding of summer items as time progresses, and overall farm maintenance naturally becomes more time-intensive as weeding and other tasks kick in. Restaurant sales are going well so far, and it will be nice to keep increasing those as well. We’re getting regular help from a few part-time workers again, and this really helps keep the workload under control without busting our budget. After three very wet years in a row, we invested in a full set of irrigation lines this year on the assumption that a fourth is highly unlikely. Even a few weeks of hot dry weather will make this pay off easily.

So, overall, we’re happy with our position going into May and look forward to seeing how this year goes. There are lots of uncertainties ahead, such as weather and market sales, but we’ve done what we can to set ourselves up well and have solid hopes for the season.

4 thoughts on “April recap/May update

  1. With reference to expecting a dry year, you mean? It's not so us much planning on a true drought, just that we're quite likely to get hot dry periods sufficient to make irrigation a useful tool. Even in the recent wet years we had periods where we had to spend a lot of time hand-watering items that dried out quickly in short-lived hot spells.For example, April has actually been pretty dry for us, and in the last few days bed surfaces have really begun drying out to the point where they need significant water. We have a lot of young crops in that are either shallow-rooted (like lettuce) or still small (beets, carrots, etc.) and need water near the surface even if there's still soil moisture deeper down. We've run irrigation on many beds the last few days and will really need it to get through the next few really hot, sunny days that will just blast-furnace these young crops, especially those that prefer cool weather like lettuce and peas. Turning on irrigation hose is far more time- and water-efficient than using a hand hose or sprinkler, so having that infrastructure on hand is a benefit in many ways even for a short dry spell like this week.It's also a product-quality issue, as many cool-weather spring items can really suffer from even a single day of hot, dry conditions, and having good water available to them makes it less likely they'll go bitter or otherwise change. So it's an investment we've needed to make, and have put off under the last few year's conditions, to the point that we can't justify gambling on unusually wet weather anymore. I don't see it so much as "3 years of wet weather means a dry year", as "summers as wet as the last three are very unusual for Missouri's overall climate, therefore the better odds are that we'll regress toward the norm this year". And given that even a two-week period of drought in an otherwise wet year can still cause major problems, it's worth having the infrastructure on hand to be ready for that eventuality.

  2. Okay, fair enough. I wasn't trying to start an argument or anything, and I certainly recall the dry spells you've had to deal with in the past.

  3. No worries. There's a subtle difference between "it's rained so now it won't" and "given historical weather patterns, continued rainy years are unlikely", and fair enough to question our reasoning to be sure we're making sense. Realistically, we could/should have done this either of the last two years, but we have a limited infrastructure budget and it went to other things before like the packing shed, barn upgrades, walk-in cooler, etc, such that only now did we really have the option to do this. Plus, when both of the previous years started out wet and stayed wet we had less immediate pressure to fix a problem we didn't have. We were simply lucky (in that sense) that 09 and 10 stayed wet so that we weren't scrambling in July to water everything without irrigation set up. We don't want to take that risk anymore, and could do something about it ahead of time this year.