2013 Year in Review
December 5, 1988 was the day I signed the papers for the farm that has come to be called SandHill Preservation Center. My quest for land was finally complete. In many ways 2014 will mark the 25 th Anniversary of the operation. It is really tough to say when it all began. Perhaps it began many years before in my hometown of Salmon, Idaho when at the age of two and a half my mothers biggest concern for me was my continuous crawling through the fence and go to the neighbors to help plant and care for garden. We had no garden area on our place as there was no soil. My father had hauled enough to make a few inches around the house for a lawn to keep a green area but there was no soil for a garden. My father made a living finding pockets of soil on federal land and then purchasing it to haul to the town to cover the rocks so people could have gardens and lawns . He made me a spot so that the summer I turned 5 I had my own garden. 3 or 4 inches of soil on solid rock was a start and the beginning a of a life long passion. The desire for soil and a suitable climate with a long enough season to grow crops brought me to Iowa at the completion of college in 1984 at a time when land was high and teaching salaries were low. Patience and persistance and a collapse of the farm economy provided the opportunity in 1988 to a accomplish my goal. I remember well that September day when I first looked at the farm. 1988 was a tough year here , the driest on record and many farmers were getting 1-3 bushels of corn per acre. This farm had been left basically to fend for itself from 1951 until that time as the current owners did no improvements and had let many things go. As they had aged, they had rented the cropland to anyone they could find and it had been no tilled corn and soybeans for years. Massive amounts of pesticides and herbicides to try and make the sand bloom. I asked the owner and realtor that day if I could walk along the edge of the fields and check things out. I could tell by the look on their faces , they had hoped I wouldn’t do that, but they said okay. I walked along the edge of the front field and saw dismal corn plants with few or no ears, nothing unusual for that year, but I was covered with sandburs, cockleburs, and horse nettle was everywhere. I then walked over the hill and found the edges of the backfield to be the same. The farm just seemed to cry out for help. Years of abuse had left it a mess. As I walked back to the small house and deteriorating barn and 2 outbuildings I saw the look on their faces with me being covered top to bottom with painful and obnoxious weeds. They felt sure the sale was killed but I had felt a calling that I had to have this place. I needed it and it needed me. The final selling point was of the extreme minimal landscape plants was next to the house a Mock Orange or Syringa bush old and abused but being it was alive I felt it was a sign. Syringa is the state flower of Idaho and though I had left my home state there was, is and always will be a spot in my heart for all that growing up there taught me about challenges . In the backyard were 3 old and sad Depression White peach trees. Being able to grow peaches was on my list of desired things and this area of Iowa has its ups and downs with the ability to grow peaches. Had I been a better negotiator I would have behaved differently and played on all of the bad things and probably have negotiated for a better price but I felt like I had stumbled onto the promised land and my enthusiasm was not conducive to getting a better price. I was too afraid someone else would buy it out from under me. Really not a chance of that it had been for sale for awhile and the farm had a reputation for poverty, no one locally really had an interest.
This past September I took a walk in the same areas I did 25 years before and wow it has changed. The sandburs, cockle burs and horse nettle while not totally gone are almost nonexistent and no herbicide has been used. The area that in 1989 you couldn’t hardly dig a shovel into as it was packed so hard( remember this is sandy soil) is now a lush growing area producing bumper crops of melons, sweet potatoes and other things. I vowed when I got the farm I would leave 10% of the land undisturbed for native flora and fauna and have rigidly kept that commitment to date and have no intentions of violating it as long as I am alive. The box turtles, songbirds, and many species of snakes thank me in their own way. The rabbits that inhabit are a pain but a price to pay for habitat for the other creatures.
2013 was an interesting year, milder winter for the most part meant the poultry got off to a good start, slow and steady and eventually progressed to our best over all season. Our first snag came with our 16 inches of rain in April and May and water everywhere then cool weather and a billion plus Buffalo Gnats that devastated the poultry. It all started out with calls of people who lived closer to woods and streams with panic over near total loss of their poultry in one evening. Finally it hit us and we lost a lot of breeders on those still evenings. Rather pitiful to try everything and still make little progress. It became rather depressing to see the turkeys which were hit the hardest suffer so. I nearly went crazy trying every evening to save them trying sprays concoctions etc, nothing seemed to work for more than a few minutes. When it was all said and done we lost a lot and it was a relief when it became drier and warmer and they died off. With all of our losses we were more fortunate than many who in some cases lost everything. Those who raise the modern broilers and modern turkeys in many cases lost everything.
We hosted a graduate student from Thailand in April and we learned a lot and so did he. He helped us with some of the Thai varieties we had deciphering descriptions and Arm helped organize a great number of things that I never seemed to have time for.
We set out goal of having all tomatoes transplanted by June 26 and just barely made it and they took off and grew like crazy . Peppers and eggplant were set out the next day and zoomed to maturity. Sweet potatoes were hit and miss and we have decided to plant all under row cover next year to get them started the hoards of rabbits totally devastated some varieties again this year. I am amazed at how they will not leave sweet potatoes alone. They again ate some off many varieties until we got them covered in mid July and then it was a struggle to get mature roots. We are hopeful that planting all under row cover next season will result in better success and we may get all in good supply. Those that were not bothered by rabbits were fantastic yielders and those that we got covered up rebounded to give decent success. We felt truly blessed as my mid August evaluation of possible success had determined that we would have a total loss on many sweet potatoes but our weather turned hot and great and things grew fast . Eggplant this year were unbelievable as were many tomatoes and peppers. Beans that were not hit by rabbits did well and we are excited by some of the new ones.