It has been quite an extended period of time since I last wrote a full update and will do my best to summarize, condense and compress the diverse experiences and events that have taken place in the past year. Looking back I believe the last time I really wrote a farm update was prior to my leaving for my internship at Growing Power in April 2012.
Lord willing I will do better at keeping everyone informed of all the changes and happenings here around the farm throughout this coming growing season!
Mom and I left the farm a few days before my Growing Power internship was due to begin so we could swing by my Great Aunt and Uncles house in Minnesota for a couple days. While there Mom was also able to spend some time with a high school friend she hadn’t seen in many years. Traveling on to Wisconsin we arrived at the apartment I would be spending the next three months in. Mom was able to meet one of my fellow interns “Josh C.” while she was there. A small side note is that while I was there at least four guys named Josh were working at the Milwaukee Growing Power facility! After dropping me off Mom stayed in a hotel overnight before making the long journey back home the following day.
Life at Growing Power started off at a good pace with my first day to work being the day after I arrived. Josh C. was very kind and taught me most of the ropes of how chores needed to be done and how to get around the farm which seemed like a maze for a week or two! Each farmer has their own unique way of caring for their farm so you have to learn what methods need to be used at the farm you’re working on…makes for a lot of adjusting and cram learning on the fly!
My experience at Growing Power was good and beneficial to me in many ways and the Lord used that time to teach me a lot of things. However, the farm being in the middle of the city and my apartment being in the West Lawn Project (which Growing Power is partnering with to start a community garden in the project) made me realize all the more that I really am not a guy that likes to be in the city! It was a blessing to get out to a few of the other farm locations throughout the city and especially one of their farms which was outside of the metropolitan area. What a beautiful view it was to see grass, trees and experience fresh air!
Truly it was a blessing to meet a lot of people while working at Growing Power who willingly shared their experiences and knowledge with me. There was a lot of knowledge to gain while working and even on my days off I was able to pick other people’s brains for ideas they had or things they had tried in the past. Everything from composting and vermiposting (composting with earthworms) to micro greens and sprout production to aquaponic growing (plants and fish growing in the same water system together but in this case not directly in contact with each other… The water is circulated through plant growing beds and then back into the fish tank.) oyster and shiitake mushroom culture, life and leadership skills, several hoop house construction techniques, alternative heating and cooling systems, along with varied growing, harvesting, packing and storage methods for the products raised.
Growing Power’s goals include using hand labor as the main force behind the work done. Hauling many wheelbarrow loads of various materials the first days I was there made me realize I had a lot of room to improve in my physical fitness regime! Many other things took place throughout my experience at Growing Power, but I must move on for now.
As a closing thought to my Growing Power experience I should share what my family did for/to me! I was expecting Mom to come up Sunday (my last work day) then we would head home early Monday morning. When asking questions about her planned arrival time mom’s answers were a little obscure but I didn’t think much about it. Well, Saturday morning I was scheduled to care for the livestock so I was caring for the chickens. Ms. Clara (my Growing Power Mom who usually works the farmer’s markets and store) began calling my name trying to find where I was. With the hens around me “singing” I couldn’t hear much of what she was saying and apparently either she couldn’t hear me or wasn’t responding. Since it was unusual for her to come back to find me and not being sure what she was needing I ran out of the chickens and around the corner to see Ms. Clara…….Dad, Mom AND Jena!!!! Dad had taken a couple days of vacation and everyone had set up the chores back home so Granddad and G-Jean could care for the critters while they came to pick me up!
My feet had been rooted and eyes bulging for just a moment before I was clobbered by Jena and shortly after Mom and Dad were there too. After hugs, tears and laughter things settled a little. My family went to do the orientation necessary in order to volunteer at Growing Power and then they were able to work with me the remainder of Saturday and Sunday. It was sure good to have my family with me the last couple of days I worked at Growing Power! They had rented a campsite out away from the city where they stayed and after packing and cleaning Sunday night after getting off work we all slept at the campsite before arising early to head back home.
A big thanks to everyone I worked with at Growing Power as I learned something from each of you…some a lot while others more of the fine points that contribute to my learning experience. Thank you again.
Jena graduated and became a certified EMTI while I was gone. Lord willing she will be starting a class soon that will allow her to become a certified AEMT!
While at Growing Power I missed out on all the berry harvest this year! Early on we had a late frost that Dad and G-Jean had to contend with. They got out early in the morning to rinse the strawberries off in order to help keep the blooms from getting damaged.
Talking with my family and customers I’ve heard the berries produced a bumper crop and it was a blessing for G-Jean to have done all the hard work of preserving so many of the cull berries. I have reaped the benefits of tasting a few of this year’s crop that way! 🙂 Especially the strawberries did extremely well and thank you so much to each one who came out and harvested u-pick! The blackberries and red raspberries did ok starting out and then the heat began scorching the berries before they ripened. The Lord is good though and allowed us to have a fair harvest.
Dad and G-Jean renewed the strawberries once the harvest season was over and got them set for this coming season. Lord willing we will have another great berry harvest this coming year! Dad even started some more strawberry plants in another area too! Below they’re planting Dad’s new strawberry plants!
G-Jean had been very busy all summer preserving food for our families’ winter supply. When I came home it was amazing how much she had already put up! It has been a blessing to have this food through the winter months.
Upon my arrival back home from Growing Power we started putting up some more hay but it was a little late and after only a short time we quit cutting because we were concerned that the extreme heat and drought would damage the grass.
Praise the Lord once fall came there was enough rain and cool weather to start the fescue growing back a little and the Lord supplied us with enough hay to make it through this winter. We had already been feeding quite a bit of hay through the summer due to the drought and most of the grass having burned up. The Lord is faithful to provide for our every need and while we were cutting later than I believe we ever have before it was truly a blessing to have the grass to cut.
August 8th 2012 was a special day for our family. This marked Granddad and G-Jean’s 60th wedding anniversary! What a blessing it is to have all my grandparents living and they have been faithful in keeping their marriage covenant despite a world that seems to have forgotten what a covenant is. It truly is a blessing to have the heritage and legacy my grandparents have left me and that each of them is serving the Lord while helping train me up in Him too.
Around the time we were putting up our fall hay we found out that Granddad needed a double bypass surgery. Once again we thank and praise the Lord for the speedy healing and recovery which he granted to Granddad from the surgery! There were a lot of people praying for him and we thank you. The Lord was faithful and helped our family through that trying time and answered your prayers in mighty ways.
Shortly after his surgery Granddad had a birthday so Jena decided to make a “heart” cake.
Jena took off on a mission trip to Kenya Africa the last week of November which made it the first time I ever recall our entire family not being able to celebrate Thanksgiving together. Starting out the trip went a little slow for Jena as she was trying to readjust to the 9 hour time difference.
Jena’s hosts, James in the first photo and then Maria on the far left in the second.
Jena got a little home sick but the next week they began one of the conferences they went over to do. The lady Jena traveled with, Ginny, was to be the main speaker for this conference, speaking to some of the local teachers. It turned out that they had the place packed out with teachers and then children also began showing up! Ended up they had two sessions running one with a room packed full of kids (barely able to wiggle) and another with all the teachers!
After the two day conference Jena got very sick from picking up a “bug” in the food she’d eaten. It ended up Jena was admitted to the “hospital” there (we would probably call it a clinic here) and they kept her for two days before releasing her. Our family is so thankful to the Lord for placing her with such a loving and caring host family which cared for her even while we could do nothing but pray so many miles away. With the limited communication our family didn’t know Jena was even sick until she was on the up hill climb. Even after coming home it took her about a month to gain nearly full strength back again and we thank the Lord for this recovery He has brought to her.
G-Jean and I also started up the hoop houses again this fall and what a tremendous harvest the Lord blessed us with! It was a blessing for the Lord to give us inspiration for a little different marketing approach which I believe will help our labor. Between G-Jean and I, we can’t keep up with all the gardening as we have in the past due to too many things going and not enough time or man power to get them done.
Mom got in a new batch of chicks last fall and they have really been growing well! Lord willing by some time in March we will have eggs available again! They will start out as small pullet eggs and as the chickens mature the egg size will grow. No matter what the size, these pastured eggs are packed with flavor with which you’ll probably never find in the grocery store at this time.
Here are mom’s pullets as young chicks and then again in a more recent photo in with her older hens.
Late season hoop house produce growing strong the first of November. This winter was mild and I never used any supplemental heat in the hoop houses.
This fall and spring the Lord has blessed us with quite a few newly arrived international students joining us for Sunday dinners. Many times we have from two to four languages going at once and around four to six countries represented. We often enjoy a game of futbol (the game known across nearly every culture and country which we call soccer here in the USA) one of the favorite sports for our international students to play when they come out to the farm.
We also had the blessing of a family from Venezuela stay with us for a week (one of our international student’s friend was coming to try out for baseball at colleges in our area) and it was an experience which our family will cherish and remember for years to come. The Lord allowed us to form a friendship and bond in that short week that will last a lifetime.
On to more recent farm news! G-Jean and I (especially G-Jean) have fought Johnson and Bermuda grass in several asparagus rows for quite a few years. In the last couple of years the grasses have grown rampant and we haven’t been able to dig it out due to the asparagus roots being so intertwined with the grass roots. Finally this year we decided to dig up a bunch of the asparagus and transplant it to other parts of the garden where we won’t be fighting these two grasses quite so much. Lord willing we will only loose a year or two of production from them as the crowns on most of them were nice, strong and healthy! We are praying the Lord will keep the weather cool so trees and things don’t bud out too soon this year. However, with a little more warm weather I anticipate we will be harvesting asparagus by mid to late March on the rows which we did not transplant!
I also have plowed up a section of garden for planting tomatoes, squash, okra, regular Irish and sweet potatoes too! There are several flowers such as surprise lilies, daffodils and I’m sure crocus which are already peaking their green leaves up just waiting for spring to pounce!
There are several maintenance items I am trying to get done right away before the growing season. One such maintenance job was planned, but began a little sooner than I had desired when the big hoop house’s plastic split three fourths of the way lengthwise then proceeded to tear and peel back over the side! Thankfully I had planned to replace the plastic and had it on order, but hadn’t planned for everything “inside” to be exposed for that long! I also need to replace some of the boards around the sides while I’m at it.
The weather really has been varying a lot lately. With the blessing of the rain on January 29th we also had some really warm weather (around 70) during that time and then by January 31st we had snow flurries and that night it got down to about 12 degrees!!! Whew! I’m having troubles getting acclimated to any kind of weather right now!
Between the 29th and 31st was Jena’s birthday on the 30th! What a blessing she is to our family…we are so thankful the Lord has brought her thus far, allowing her to be a part of our family and eagerly look forward to what He has in store for her in the future. Jena has been working on an obstacle course in our woods for a year and a half or so and it was fun making this cake with a representation of a few of the features she has in mind for the course. There is still a lot of work to be done on the real life course though!
Be on the lookout for these little guys. This photo was taken last spring but it won’t be long before we are seeing them again. If you ever see these mini Gila monster looking critters don’t squish them! They are ladybug larva and are one of the nature’s most efficient aphid eating machines rivaled only by the lacewing larva.
May the Lord bless you throughout this coming week and we look forward to seeing many of you during this upcoming growing season!
Farmer Joshua and the Mitchell Crew