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2016 Year in Review

Welcome to the part of our catalog that gets done at the very last minute as we finally know  just how many pages we have left.  The catalog has to be done in multiples of 8 pages plus 4 for the cover which we have on a thicker paper to withstand shipment. Until we get all the new  varieties and enhanced descriptions of the old ones we have no idea how much space we have for extra information. This year we shrank  the font to size 10 to allow for some more varieties  and descriptions and to be more environmentally  friendly and save paper.  


Times have definitely changed from when the printed catalog was the only option. Now with the internet, the printed catalog is a relic to some but my fondness for printed material and the “permanency” of such leaves me seeing the need to print a few copies each year to leave future generations some printed history of varieties.  I can’t begin to tell you how many times I refer to my old catalogs for historical documentation to prove the history and validity of a variety.  With over 2200 varieties of seed I feel it would be an injustice to not leave some written record of many of these unique varieties.

2016 proved to be a challenging year on all aspects but God provided us some wonderful successes to balance out the unhappy times.  We had many struggles with the poultry this year that left us  wondering  will there ever be a good time again.  We ended 2015 with a serious predator problem of coyotes, bald eagles and other critters and then in 2016 we were greeted with a fox, raccoons and more opossums than you can imagine. Each day seemed to bring something new and more frustrating.  We eventually had a badger move in and with our loose sand he moved here to dig for rodents but left massive holes in pens and  since our pens have  sand floors that  allowed other predators to use his holes and feast. The badger seemed to not eat any poultry but his holes left places for all the eaters to move in. He seemed to move around the farm every night and his poultry eating followers would follow him. Each morning provided a challenge.  Once the Spring  feasting ended our remaining flocks on some were very sparse.  We then had a slight lull in the predators as they seemed to disperse to the neighboring farm fields. Problem two arose at the end of May when it was crazy and I was battling some health issues and attempting to get all the seed crops planted and the sweet potato orders out. My student helpers warned me the feed looked a bit different but I didn’t  check it out until I was doing chores on a Sunday morning ( I had had them do that part of the routine during the week).  Suddenly the waterfowl all quit laying, the guineas and turkeys soon followed and then chicken egg production dropped off.  Then of course as the eggs started reaching the hatching stage hatches crashed.  They just started returning to normal as the season ended. We never found out for sure as i didn’t save a sample for testing but upon consultation with several feed experts it seems we may have had a mix of very high protein concentrate which  caused  the problem  As the  harvest season began and fields were harvested  the critters moved in again in force. I never kept track for awhile and then it became a daily tally of how many opossums  I would get during the week feasting on the poultry. I had 18 in less than a month. They would find any weak spot in a pen and break windows out to get in and feast some more.  They finally got so bold as to attack them  during the day.  One can get a bit depressed after awhile knowing that each morning when you go to do chores guessing where  the devastation will be  that day. I have placed an aerial view of our farm at the front of this section.  It was taken in early October 2015. It spells out when it is in color to anyone that sees it. Our 40 acres provides an oasis for wildlife in an area that is nearly 100% cultivated land.  When I first bought the farm in 1988 I had dreamed of providing a sanctuary  and safe haven for creatures I just never realized the ones that would come it inhabit  it would cause such grief.  I dearly love the various songbirds and butterflies, turtles and snakes and enjoy the few turkeys and pheasants  but I have yet to appreciate the poultry eaters. I have long lived peacefully with the owls as if I am responsible  and get the birds in in time at night then the owls feast on the rabbits and help me out. Opossums and raccoons just don’t seem to respect my need to keep the poultry safe.  


I am incredibly stubborn and will keep plugging away but it does get frustrating.  The poultry chores take an average of 2.5 hours each morning and up to 2.5 to 3 hours in the evening  to feed, water and in season gather eggs and of course lock up each night. A chore that does not bother me but  it can be  a challenge to find someone if I am called away or become ill.  The last Saturday of February 2016 I started getting sick and by Sunday morning was extremely weak and had great difficulty doing  chores and Linda had to take me to the clinic. It turns out I had a weird respiratory virus that left me very ill for the next five days and l missed three days of my school job and  was so weak I could not do all of the chores needed for the poultry each day. It was all I could do with frequent breaks to just let them out and lock them up. Carrying the 70 plus five gallon pails of of water each  morning just wasn’t working. I had some student helpers that baled in and helped us through this crisis. I gradually regained my ability to do full scale work but it left me with extreme joint and muscle pain especially from the knees on down. Each day gathering eggs, bending down and doing what was once easy chores became a big challenge. I kept praying it would resolve itself but as school finally ended and I was going full force on the farm 14 hours a day it got worse. The days of doing sweet potato orders and poultry chores left me in such pain by then end of the day that I got little book work done as  I was so miserable.  I seemed to fall farther and farther behind and became more and more afraid I was going to have to give it all up. Linda went to a women’s retreat at church and learned about essential oils which we tried a combination and wham within a few days I was back to normal or close to it.  It left me realizing  I need to prioritize my poultry raising and get it so  it is more manageable, so we will have to adjust over the next few years. When this all started in 1988 there was a huge crisis with very few raising some of the rare types and now there are many places so the need is not as great and I do feel less pressure.


The garden provided the most positives this season. I have come to realize we will always have to deal with rabbits and just find ways to out smart them before they out smart me.  One almost has to wonder how they operate. We cover up the sweet potatoes with row cover  as soon as we plant them so  this year the rabbits went down the rows of tomatoes and peppers, cotton, okra etc. between the sweet potatoes and nipped many of those plants off at the ground. No,they didn’t eat them, they just nipped them off. I laughed with my student helpers as we were setting out the plants that I had way more peppers and eggplants than we would ever need seed from and why was I wasting our time.  Ugh! a week or so later and  we had none left of some varieties.


The sweet potatoes did great,except a couple of places where the rabbits got them one way or another. We had a few vole problems and some gopher issues but all in all we were blessed with a great crop.  We will continue to work with this corp and keep expanding as long as we can find new ones to add.  


We had great hopes of  increasing more of Tom Knoche”s frozen seed storage but things did not workout as planned. At the end of May and during most of the month of June when it was planting time I was suffering from a great deal of pain  from my knees on down and was very hesitant to plant a lot of the squash and melons that would require me being on my hands and knees hand  pollinating late in the summer when it was all i could do to bend at the time to gather eggs each day. I decided I could not wait on everything so decided to try and work with lima beans and cowpeas  to at least do something  toward replication of seed that in some cases was 30 plus years old.  We were very successful on many and then as i started  to feel a bit better planted some more of the beans which was  not so great as suddenly we had a huge amount of bean beetles which we have not had for a few years.  Those beetles and the friendly rabbits did a lot of damage and we only made tiny increase in our  numbers there so we are anxious to hit 2017 with hopefully no more joint pain and fewer rabbits and  beetles.  You will have to check back in 2018 to see how successful we are.  The squash and vine crop seeds in storage is a massive number that makes me tired just looking at the packets and knowing how much work it takes tot hand pollinate everything.   I am going to try to spend some time to try and prioritize the true heirlooms and the ones that look the most in danger of becoming extinct and take baby steps with 30 or so varieties a year. Wish us well and hopefully we can at least get some starter samples  out to keep them going.


I have learned my lesson  about the importance of good soil health and how that impacts insects.  You could see where the soil has been worked on for a few yeas and the lack of insect problems. I regret now that the new bean increases were planted in some soil  that is still  in need of fertility improvements and that is where the bean beetles went. A garden area just 100 feet away  that had been worked on with manure and cover crops for a few years  had zero damage.   I used to laugh at people who told me i would have less squash pests if the soil was in good shape. i know some 30 plus years later realize how true a statement that is.


Somedays it seems nothing is going right but  God has taught me patience over the years and to look for the small bright spots on a dreary day. We were blessed this year with a  few special gardening moments. I planted  a series of English walnut trees as seedlings the first year i moved to the farm in 1989. I have waited and waited and lost crop after corp over the years to winter kill extremes  when it would drop to -30 or so or a late Spring frost or most years recently to a family of red squirrels. Well this year we were blessed with a nice modest corp  and I realize I am biased but the flavor seemed spectacular.  Probably all in my mind but many who garden know how much better it seems  to taste if you grow and harvest it yourself.  I waited 27 years for those and it was a blessing.  i also have a few dwarf citrus and 4 kinds of bananas in our permanent greenhouse where we overwinter a plant of each sweet potato and this year we had a few nice bunches of bananas and 5 pineapples and our first corp of 10 very nice sized and flavorful lemons. 


I am always amazed at some of the miracles God  can do and provide for us. Way back in the early days of the Seed Savers Exchange I became a pen pal seed trading friend with an elderly lady in Massachusetts named Louise Bastable. She ran the community gardens on the site where the age old Gregory Seed company was in the  1800’s. We traded seeds and letters for many years  and some of the items she passed on to me were several varieties of broom corn given to her by immigrants from Hungary. Red and Black Seed Hungarian Broom corn. We always had great crops and I never thought to have a backup. Well Louise passed on and  I had shared some seeds with my friend Gail Lange  who was wiser than me and made freezer backup storage packets after a harvest. Well a bad bug got  into my Red Seed Hungarian one year and we lost it all. I chocked it up to another failure and  did not realize Gail had a freezer packet. When Gail was killed in a car accident in 2001 her daughters eventually passed on to me her catalog  and seed collection . Some may remember earlier the story of Kangold Muskmelon.  Well,  I never took notice until the summer of 2015 that there was a  packet of Red Hungarian broom corn seed in the mix.  Well, it had been made in 1991, frozen promptly, I am sure as Gail was  a stickler for detail and then in 2001 after her death the seed had been taken out of the freezer stored in a box in the garage for a year then  in the back of one of her daughters car for several weeks in the hot June sun and finally to my house where it went  to  the freezer again.  When I discovered it in 2015 I removed it from the freezer and then got sidetracked and did not plant it, Well discovering it  in June of 2016 having been out on the table in our sometimes humid basement for yet another year I laughed that this will ever grow. 25 year old seed  cared for then abused and more abuse it doesn’t have a chance but oh I thought i will give it at try. I stuck it at the end of a section and on June 19 it got planted. A week later i was walking by expecting I would see nothing and then just plant something else there and there  were 2 rows of plants with near  perfect germination. How it was able to handle all of that and keep going science will never be able to successfully explain. We however know the answer and are so pleased to have it back again and hope that it lives on for many more years to come. 


The many long hours in the hot sun either on my hands  and knees weeding or on the tractor cultivating gives a person a lot of time to think.  I am amazed at all that has happened since the farm began in December 1988.  It was a rundown chemically abused place full of noxious weeds and had low productivity. Now  we are seeing great things happen and I am happy to report did not spray for any  vine crop pests at all in 2016. We use an acceptable organic spray called Pyganic but did not need any this past year.  The sad parts are there used to be many butterflies especially monarchs and now I saw only a few this past year and just a few  monarch caterpillars. i let milkweed grow in a number of  places as i love the smell of the flowers and it is fun to watch to monarchs and milkweed beetles. The more we understand the inter connectedness of our ecosystem the more we understand the importance of how all life works together.  When there is a balance things seem to workout great. When there is an imbalance the bad species seem to take over .  We are still very much opposed to GMO’s and all of the lurking dangers they seem to present. i still remember well the year the neighbor grew BT corn and when it pollinated and the pollen blew into our place  all of the cabbage worms in the rows bordering his field died  better than any insecticide,  

Sadly we did not see a single honey bee here and all of our plantings were pollinated by some yet to be identified small native bees that live in the soil and do not travel too far from their homes.   We saw no box turtles this year and  our wild turkeys did not come back to nest. We saw a huge decline in gopher or bull snakes and a decline in snakes in general . We did get to see  few more little brown snakes  and  a pair of Blue Racers were caught breeding in our front lawn. A beautifully  colored  snake  and an amazing fast reptile.

We as usual are anxious this time of the year for Spring to begin and are already planning for a new exciting hatching season and productive year for seed production.  We hope that in 2018 we can have a good supply of all items but we also realize that it takes a long  time to accomplish some tasks and sometimes a few crop failures keeps us from passing out from exhaustion. So  we  are always thankful for the successes God provides for us and understand the  failures when they occur and work harder and do our best.  

We wish all of you a succesfsul and prosperous 2017 .


Glenn and Linda Drowns

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