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The Crop Report Week 35 | The Woody Plot

Regrets are funny. Most people look at them as missed opportunities or something to be ashamed of. But I see them as hidden goals and use them as a reference for future decisions. Sure, it might have been easier the first go-round, but you can always “right the ship”. Sometimes I've had to get creative or change my perspective, but I have used almost all my regrets as motivation to find resolve.  

I regret not figuring out how to have a healthy relationship with my grandmother as a young adult. While we always loved each other, she was programmed differently than me and our bond was somewhat surface-level because we couldn’t understand each other's language. She passed before I learned how to smoothly communicate with her, which I then realized I had yearned for.

Perspective and time helped heal my regret. Mary, my second child, was born a few years before Grandma passed. She made her personality known even in the womb, and she's been a firecracker since the moment she entered this world. Grandma delighted in their commonalities and we jokingly said she was her carbon copy. Every fiber of Grandma's soul was poured into that little body and all the good and the challenging parts

It wasn't until a few years after Grandma passed, in the throes of a heated exchange with Mary, that I was confronted with my regret. Based on my performance in school, different languages have always been difficult for my brain. But here was a chance to figure out how to communicate and to enjoy parts of my grandma through Mary.

Not all regrets are so deep though. Some are just a lack of knowing better and fear of commitment, like the absense of woody fields on the farm. Trees and shrubs make excellent cut flower additions, from the hardy foliage to the sturdy seasonal blooms, to the interesting seed pods and holiday greens. You would think with this laundry list of benefits, we would have half the property covered in woody shrubs and trees, but we don't. 

I am notorious for moving plants around (just ask Mom, who is still traumatized over how many times I moved the peony patch). Annuals move around year to year, perennials finally have homes that make sense, but long-term plantings like trees and shrubs? That commitment scared me, enough to hit pause on planting many of those types of crops early on. Plus, I just didn’t know what we would like as our business model kept changing in the early years and these plants are PRICEY. Looking back after almost a decade of flower farming, I regret that I didn’t just do something.

These crops take a few years of growth before the first stem can be cut and used, so there is a lot of time, labor, and cost to consider. Where to locate long-term and larger plants was also daunting as the vision and direction of how we want to use and layout the farm has morphed over time.

All that being said, I've spent the past few seasons regretting this lack of action until it faced me head-on. Well, it wasn't my regret so much as Wes, my representative with NRCS, who talked to me about a carbon sequestration program that he thought might be of interest. The state would help us offset the cost of planting long-term Virginia natives on our land, which helps pull carbon out of the environment, and as a bonus, the plantings would allow me to harvest for cut flowers and bouquets. 

This program checked so many boxes for us. First, it helps us pay for long-term plants with numbers that made The Lady Monarch shudder every time I asked to buy them. Second, it focused strictly on Virginia native species from a list I provided, which means the crops are more friendly to our local ecosystems. This falls in line with our value of improving our sustainability efforts. And third, I really like Wes and all the hard-working folks who can get creative to help me find solutions to regrets.

We bought the plants for this project last fall and had them shipped this spring. We have nursed them along and have grown them to be about the size of a 1-gallon container. Pretty impressive in contrast to the tiny babies we received!  

Brian and I flagged and mapped out the different crops we plan to grow in the designated field. We included forsythia, mock orange, smoke bush, red twig dogwood, abelia, and viburnums, among others. Now that the field is marked out, we will begin unrolling fabric to control the weeds around the plants. We have these rows spaced wide and will be doing a dry run with our mowing crew to ensure it's laid out smoothly for regular maintenance. There are so many variables we have thought through to make sure this long-term planting considers every angle: tractor work, mowing, watering, harvest transition over the field. Right now, I’m working through why I didn’t take these steps sooner so that the clock could begin to tick away to a harvestable size.

I hope to have these plants in the ground in the next couple of weeks. It’s the first of many long-term plantings for Harmony Harvest and I’ll be able to say I no longer regret not having them at the farm. Mary and I are still working to better navigate one another but even in our fiery moments, I no longer regret missing out with Grandma because she’s with me every day.

-xoxo, Jess

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