Crop Loss

Pumpkin growing squashed between three rocks.

Jessica raised a good question in my post about the harvest the other day.

I don’t know to what extent you are dependent on your garden for food, but it sounds like quite a bit. The list you gave makes me think of old farm diaries. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to lose crops when there was no supermarket to run to in case of emergencies.

Generally not everything fails at once the same. Conditions favor one thing or another although not necessarily what we were hoping for. As a simple rule, I think you get to like something else a lot that year. :)

This year we’re really going to enjoy pumpkins… We have a lot. They are probably our largest crop by weight this year. Maybe followed closely by potatoes and then onions. My son Will has been talking about finding all sorts of new recipes for pumpkins. Curried pumpkin soup, roasted pumpkin, pumpkin and pork, pumpkin and onion soup, pumpkin and potato soup, pumpkin hash, pumpkin in stew, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin salad, pumpkin cake, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin waffles… The imagination boggles.

I suspect that in the past when people had a major crop loss they depended a lot more on hunting that year if they lacked the livestock resources. We are fortunate that our livestock are doing well so we have plenty of meat. Back before we raised our own meat there were years we didn’t eat much of any meat due to the combination of costs and not wanting to buy meat that was factory raised. Fortunately the animals are very hardy and flexible in their diet, more so than plants.

One of the reasons we choose the animals we raise is for their foraging ability on what is naturally provided in our climate. The hens do require some grain or meat for a few months in the winter to maintain their egg laying but the pigs and sheep don’t require grain or commercial feeds. Animals are capable of turning things that are inedible for us into high quality protein and lipids, etc. They transform the brush and pasture, hay, grasses and leaves that we can’t eat, into something delicious and nutritious. In our northern climate, a vegetarian diet without any supplements (vitamin pills, etc) may be politically correct to some people but it is not a sustainable option, especially if you want to eat locally grown food.

Another important difference between modern farming and traditional agrarian life is that people did not used to plant one crop. Now most farmers specialize in just one cash crop. Typical modern farmers don’t produce much of their own family’s food. Instead, they like most people import it from other states and other countries and typical fresh food travels about 1,500 miles from farm to fork. If their cash crop is hit by weather, pests, markets, etc, then they take a bad hit since they are dependent on that one thing. This has caused consolidation in the producers as well as government subsidies which are a questionable remedy.

Homesteaders strive for the other end of the spectrum. Very few to none are going to achieve sustainable total independence but it is good to produce what you can, buy locally what you can’t produce and for the rest it comes from further afield. I think of us as ‘farmsteaders’, that is we’re producing cash crops, timber, firewood and pastured pork, that are a significant portion of our income, a.k.a. farming, but we also produce much of our own food which is more like homesteading. We have a great deal of diversity to see us through the failure of any one or even many crops.

In the past famine was more common, especially before we had good methods of storage. If crop failures happened over a period of several years it was particularly hard for people as they would end up eating their seed and not be able to plant next year. This still happens. Historically, you probably remember mention of the Great Potato Famine. Some people starved to death, others migrated. That is how some of our ancestors came to this country – that and clan wars, always a good cause for emigrating. New blood from immigrants has long been a strength of our nation.

Longer events like the Little Ice Age were more dramatic in how they altered lives. We’ll see what global warming does. One interesting issue is that we’re due for another ice age – Will global warming stave it off, hasten it or other… What is your prediction?

Fortunately, we can go to the grocery store and we do several times a year to buy staples we don’t produce as well as luxuries like chocolate, ice cream, spices and lobster. We just did our fall shopping – That will last us for months aside from milk which we don’t produce, can’t store enough and go through a lot – gotta getta cow! :)

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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8 Responses to Crop Loss

  1. Jon Crane, Warren Maine says:

    Walter – Your last few words caused me to reply. After getting to know you through this blog, I really can’t believe you don’t have a cow or a herd of cows (speaking of turning inedible things into protein). Our herd is so easy on fencing. Hope you can find the time to milk because your blog will enter a whole new realm. By the way, I had my first ever pastured pork chop last night. Very pink, very delicious. Makes all the work worth it! Thanks for sharing, Walter!

  2. Pumpkin Soup, like sweet potato soup, sounds like a dish that would be easy to say, ‘okay, you’ve go to be kidding’.

    However, my sister who prides herself on culinary experimentation made them for family get-togethers and they were huge hits. We immediately began making them and love them. We eat the sweet potato soup with cilantro and jalepeno or habenero peppers. That will put fire in your belly on a cold winters day.

  3. “Farmsteaders” – I like that! It seems to more accurately describe what we do here, too.

  4. Podchef says:

    Pumpkin Soup is excellent. Roasted Pumpkin filled with cheese and cream is also a great hearty, after a cold day outside dish–but you need small enough pumpkins to do individual ones.

    Pumpkins are a great thing to have too many of as well–if you get sick of them the livestock will love what you don’t want!

  5. Podchef says:

    Almost forgot–on Halloween you could play the ancient game of Pumpkin Fettling. Basically it’s human skittles. The “pins” all stand on log ends and can only move side to side. The Fettler is blindfolded and swings a pumpkin on a rope in the direction of the pins. The last pin to remain standing wins the game. Best played in a barn, just before the dancing commences. . . .

  6. Katie says:

    Hi Walter – I’ve been lurking for a while but reading with interest. My family are farmers in SE England. I’ve been trying to encourage Dad to start a blog, but at the moment he just doesn’t have the time! When do you do your writing?? And is it a real effort to find the time?

  7. Podchef, one big reason we grow lots of pumpkins is for the livestock. Pigs, sheep and chickens all love them. I will be letting them into those areas later after the fields lose their value with the frosts. This year though we are picking more for our own use than usual since other things like the corn did not make it. Love the one you have… :)

    I just let the pigs into the Jerusalem artichoke area, another livestock crop, after we harvested seed tubers for next year as well as some for us. The pigs and sheep eat the heads, leaves & stalks. The pigs also dig up and eat the tubers and in the process they scatter fragments which become the source of new plants next year. Ironically, years ago when I managed the Hanover Coop gardens in Norwich we had a major problem with this plant taking over – now I grow it on purpose.

  8. Ahhhhh….. .now I know who to pester about pumpkin growing. We had 90% crop failure. The only pumpkins we harvested were the Jack-be-littles, some pumpkins gourds and a few pie pumpkins. Tell Will, we stuffed some of the Jack-be-Littles w/a meat & rice mixture – the pumpkin flesh (after obviously cleaning out) could use a great deal of spice rub or something – not much on flavor and much like mashed potatoes. But I still ate all of mine! You eat what you grow ~
    We had such intense heat this summer in the South and I planted our bigger pumpkins much too early. I’m researching a shadier spot for next year’s attempt. Any secrets to pumpkin success?

    I sit in awe of your crop list….

    Have a great weekend ~
    Harriette Jacobs & family
    (waving from the ‘chilly’ South)

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