• Alicia Baron

Lessons Learned from our Garden

What we learned from starting a first generation farm during COVID-19

Tim, my fiancee and I both had it in our hearts to work with land and build with our hands. We wanted to be rooted in a small town community and raise our families with family.

Really, Becoming Farmers

After planning for over four years and going back and forth if it was right to transition our lives as experts in our fields to make a move to Michigan with the fact:

We knew nothing about farming

So we started learning everything; area planned by the foot, read books, endless blogs, built spreadsheets, business plans. We had Google Docs and Pintrest Boards for everything we could think would be something we could potentially encounter.

Companion planting, planting zones, seasonal planting, plant diseases…

We were ready. Or so we thought.

So we started buttoning things up in California.

Started ordering things… bulbs (flowers- 41 types), farming clothes, seeds (32 types). We were ready to rock and roll.

I made the choice to leave my beloved company and start my own free company which would allow me to spend time with friends and family before the biggest move of my life.

Then COVID hit.

Quarantine hit two months in the midst of us making out trek eastbound. We were stuck at home, going stir crazy plans foiled to see the people we love.

We said our social distanced goodbyes and hit the road May 1st. We were excited about our new plans but petrified about the trek during a global pandemic.

But we arrived safely in Buchanan, Michigan and hit the ground running.

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Our first family photo after our trip

There is nothing better then having 40 acres to beat our Bay Area tight knit quarters cabin fever we were struggling with the months prior to our departure to what we like to call The Great Farm Experiment. (#thegreatfarmexperiment)

To cure any fears from the pandemic.

Working fully out in nature gave us both a sense of living that we had not felt in a long time . Working through in the moment obstacles that we could not prepare for with the years of planning we had done.

The medicine to what we needed both physically and mentally was to be outside tilling, sowing, weeding, watering and protecting our “experiment.” Our minds quickly escaped the pandemic and went to full blown “farmer”.

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Digging plots… manually…

It has been said “You reap what you sow” and we did in more ways then one and felt excellent. The beating we gave our bodies working 12–14 hour days while giving back to the land was spectacular. I personally was eaten alive by mosquitoes and bees to the point I was spotted like a Dalmatian on my poor exposed arms and forehead. But even that made me feel like I was in touch with nature.

This experience (or experiment) was an adventure and helped the active adventurer us enriched both mentally and physically despite the tensions boiling around us.

With that I would like to share some of the lessons I have learned becoming Quarantin-ed Farmers.

Grow from Seed:

This was our first experience growing a full scale homestead garden, yes we did herbs and annual flowers. My best advice is to grow everything from seed.

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I must say watching plants grow from seed is an extremely fulfilling and exciting experience. Which like anything has its ups and downs. We experienced being elated seeing the tiny sprouts but also disappointed when a squirrel thought it would be fun to knock all of our seed pods off the back of the deck.

We had to learn and adapt to methods like switching to Johnny Appleseed from seed starts where you just plant with hopes they will grow. With that throw our controlled environment pod planting out the window (or off the deck).

Growing from seed is the best method to ensure you are using the most cost effective method and ensure compatibility.

Go Organic:

We knew we wanted to go organic full scale but also thought it was going to be very lofty goal. We learned very quickly it is way cheaper and actually more effective to go organic.

You can tackle any problem using an organic method:

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Companion planted garden

Bugs– Lavender or Sage essential oil

Mildew– Milk or Baking Soda

Nitrogen Deficiency– Coffee Grounds

Weeds– Ash or ground covering

Larger Pests– Companion Planting

Using an organic method helped keep our plants growing smoothly and made us feel good as we were using an atomic bomb of chemicals in the food we would be eating or the flowers we would be selling/using for our apothecary.

Plants are like the human body:

If you want to stay in shape, you have to take care of your body. The same goes for your plants. You have to spend time pruning, watering and ensuring it has what it needs or it will not (like the human body) not be in it for the long haul.

Too much love is a thing:

This lesson can be the hardest to learn especially for a new farmer.

Too much water, not enough space, pest infestation can lead the way to harm to the plants…mold will smother them. Too much heat, not enough water… they will wither away.

Make sure you are listening (watching your plants) to see the signs of what they need (or don’t need)

Crops are planted year round:

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One of those failed spring plants thriving in fall

We learned this the hard way. We ambitiously ordered everything we wanted to eat but did not pay attention to when it should be planted. This led to sadness when our cauliflower, beets and cabbage died in 94 degree June.

Granted we learned this quickly and now have thriving hearty crops going in now (October) which will be hearty in time for the Spring. They will also feed their companion plots the nutrients they need when it is time for them to go in the ground in April.

Not all Bugs are Bad:

Yes bugs are not all the prettiest but some are actually extremely beneficial to your garden. There can be a healthy ecosystem of things going on that you are not aware of.

Anything that looks like it may be eating your plants: beetles (love leafy greens or florals), mites (love weeds) or horned/black caterpillars (tomatoes are their best friend) are generally not the friend to your garden.

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If a bug has teeth and is shoveling leaves and bugs in his mouth he is not going to be a beautiful butterfly. Meet Mr. Hornworm he is not a friend to you or your garden.

But do anything you possibly can to keep those bees and ladybugs around… they are a gardens best friend.

Ask for help:

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This was our biggest tool going into this endeavor and luckily we landed in the “Nicest Town in America.” It made it easy to ask the surrounding farmers and the hardware store staff anything we may need to know. The gardening and farming communities love their craft and love sharing tips — especially to assist newbies on their adventures.

Having this openness and communication in a new community helped make our big tasks not so scary. Especially in times of uncertainty.

This adventure taught us that adventure comes from out of our comfort zone. With this we keep growing too just like our garden. If we use the learnings we learned from our garden which we have applied to our lives; we will too thrive.

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WRITTEN BYAlicia Baron

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