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Lessons learned the hard way

His first summer back on the farm, Toban Dyck’s learned a number of lessons from hands-on experience

The headlands always take longer than expected, but I finished in time for the evening concert we had tickets for. I let the tractor idle for a few minutes to cool it down before turning the key. And then it was over. The 2013 farming season is done. Our garden has been put to bed, the machinery stowed, and our minds are beginning to shift as they do when the weather starts to plummet. But, while it’s still fresh, I’d like to impart some wisdom, from lessons leaned the hard way, and from lessons learned the even harder way.

I’ve learned enough about farming this year to be dangerous; enough to stay afloat in out-of-my-league conversations on agricultural issues I know only by name; enough to know that I don’t know much at all.

But also enough to know this farming thing is very interesting, and as sophisticated as you want to make it. At base, it’s food. And, in its more complex iterations, the practice of farming is the perfect blend of cerebral and physical exercise. In good years, it’s also the perfect blend of toil and reward.

I visited our local CaseIH dealership more than most other establishments in the area this season. Driving a combine at 20 miles per hour on slim, rural roads is good, even fun at times, but it doesn’t handle like our Jetta. And I made the six-mile roundtrip from a field south of town to the dealership about three times in as many days. Maybe twice, I can’t remember.

The observation: Don’t sweat what you can’t control.

We had cause to be very discouraged. The clean grain auger gave out and seized, a few straw chopper blades broke off, and the combine fan bust apart. The fan chewing itself up was not a pleasant sound to start the rotor to, and you can’t stop it fast enough. I did not cause these malfunctions. The dealership did not cause them. And my dad did not break his own machine. Things happen. They happen at inopportune times, and they happen to everyone.

I’ve witnessed the over-heated farmer delivering broken equipment to the dealership. This is pleasant for no one, and it’s even less effective.

The garden

We planted 38 tomato plants in our garden this year. Our garden was huge, a result of our eyes being significantly hungrier than our stomachs. This proved a twofold lesson: We will not plant so many tomatoes or cucumbers next year. I topped our compost with roughly 1,000 rotting tomatoes the other day, and that’s after we froze a bunch whole, made salsa, ketchup, and too many toasted tomato sandwiches to count.

The other lesson was in preservation. We had to buy a new shelving unit for all the mason jars that have entered our house this year. Top shelf: relish. Middle shelves: salsa, hot peppers, pickles. Bottom shelf: apple juice, chokecherries, and chili sauce.

The observation: When starting a garden where space is not a limiting factor, talk to someone with experience before purchasing seed. And, preserve what you can. Mine your family for great canning recipes.

The car

Rural living and Jetta TDIs are not good bedfellows. Our car has been beaten and battered by the country roads. It limps along now. The poor thing scrapes along crowns, hangs up on the hint of a snowdrift, and does not fit properly in gravel-road tracks. This is a lesson we are in the throes of learning. We have a larger car now, and are putting our TDI for sale. This is sad for both of us. We have driven to many far-off places with that piece of German engineering, and have spent very little on fuel doing so. This will change with our new ride, but such is rural living: big vehicles and lots of driving.

I’m concerned already about retaining all I have learned this year, most of which was the physical elements to farming: How to properly service and use equipment, etc. I’m happy to not be on my own just yet, and I look forward to sitting down with some literature on agronomy and farm business. Oh yeah, and continuing the search for land to rent. Got any? †

About the author

Columnist

Toban Dyck is a freelance writer and a new farmer on an old farm. Follow him on Twitter @tobandyck or email [email protected]

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