Epic Fails: A Review of 2016

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A “New Year’s” fireworks show, put on by the neighbors…

I know we’re nearly done with January by now, and I should probably be finished with the whole self-evaluation/goal setting thing — but let’s face it, I’m always running a little behind, so why should my New Year’s Resolutions be any different?

Besides, it’s never too late to learn from the past, right?

I don’t want to bore you with any further ado — so let’s just jump right in with my list of “Epic Fails” from the past year:

#1 Roosters, Roosters, EVERYWHERE!

When we borrowed an incubator from our neighbor last Spring, the plan was to hatch as many chicks as we could fit in one batch, raise ’em up until they were good and plump, keep a handful of hens (sell the rest), and then butcher the roosters.

Sounds good, right?

I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, things kinda started to unravel when we ended up hatching 12 roosters and only 7 hens…

(What are the odds, huh?)

But still, it was kinda fun when they were all little fuzzballs.

Fast-forward about 16 weeks or so, however, and we had a real mess on our hands! Those roosters (also known as “The Dirty Dozen”) were grown up enough to start “doing what roosters do” (i.e. crowing at all hours of the day and night, fighting at the drop of a hat, and “loving” incessantly on the vastly-outnumbered hens) — but unfortunately, those dang little cock-a-doodle-do-ers were still way too scrawny to butcher.

It soon became apparent that we couldn’t keep them bunched up together in the mini-coop all day. They probably would’ve ripped each other to pieces before too long.

So we let them “free range” during the day to alleviate the problem.

Now, I know that the term “free range” conjures up all sorts of quiet, idyllic images. Just makes you feel good and rustic and fancy-free, doesn’t it? Kinda like the Marlboro man? (minus the lung cancer). But please, if you will, allow me to paint a more accurate picture of what “free range” chickens are all about:

Poop. Everywhere.

Feathers. Everywhere.

Scratched-up little potholes (used for dust-bathing). Everywhere.

I think the last straw for me was when they started pooping on my barbecue grill. The last straw for Lindsey was when the white rooster took up residence in our basement window well and decided it would be a good idea to tap on the window. ALL. DAY. LONG.

We actually ended up naming him “Edgar” — after Edgar Allan Poe — because, like The Raven, he was always “rap tap tapping at my chamber door. Only this and nothing more.”

(When we asked him politely if he’d stop, that cheeky little goober responded: “NEVERMORE!”)

Anyway, what I’m really trying to say is that raising a dozen roosters at the same time was a bad idea. An Epic Fail, for sure.

#2 Colorful Carrots

By now you know how much I love trying new things, especially in the garden.

Well, I ended up buying and planting a whole packet of those multi-colored carrot seeds last year. Y’know, the red, white, yellow, and purple ones?

(I guess it’s technically a cocktail of different carrot varieties, but whatever).

The point is, I didn’t even bother planting ANY of my traditional “Nantes” carrots — because, with all those colorful new varieties to choose from, who needs a humdrum orange carrot, right?

Unfortunately, each and every one of those flashy varieties failed me.

In an epic manner.

Almost half of ’em went to seed on us, and the ones that remained were about as bitter as anything I’ve ever tasted. Real nastycrap. Even the cold, frosty nights of late October didn’t do much to sweeten them up…

Needless to say, I won’t be experimenting with those again any time soon.

#3 Drowning In Celery

So, I’ve heard that celery is one of the harder plants to grow in a garden.

It needs a lot of fertilization and constantly-moist soil in order to really thrive. Temperatures above 70° (and below 50°) can really throw it for a loop. And it requires a relatively long growing season.

All in all, it’s a pretty finicky little plant. (Especially if you’re living in a high-altitude 4b gardening zone, like we are.)

Well, heck…

Challenge accepted!

I went into the whole thing knowing that my efforts weren’t likely to yield much of a harvest, so I decided to plant a whole row of celery.

Somewhere around 18 or 20 plants.

(I honestly can’t remember exactly how many plants I had. All I know is that the yogurt cups took up an entire windowsill by themselves — all through the months of February, March, and April)

Needless to say, I was prepared to suffer some major losses.

What I wasn’t prepared for was success!

When the time came to harvest it all in October, we were SWAMPED! I think we filled probably 4 of those big plastic storage bags (the 55 gallon ones) full of celery.

True, the stalks were quite spindly, and the flavor was a little too intense to really enjoy eating it raw — but it goes great in soups, salads, stews, and gumbo (which, as we all know, is a class of its own).

I tell ya, we ended up with a TON of celery!

It seems weird to label that as an “Epic Fail” — but it’s definitely not something I want to repeat.

Next year, I think 3 or 4 celery plants will suffice…

#4 Who Needs THINNING?

Can I let you in on a little secret?

I hate re-planting vegetables mid-season.

I mean, if I’m gonna go to all the trouble of planting a row, I want those vegetables to GROW.

True, sometimes things just happen, and for whatever reason, your plants don’t come up as thick as you’d like them to.

  • Maybe a late frost ravaged your tomatoes and peppers…
  • Maybe there was too much rain, and it drowned 1/2 of your peas before they sprouted…
  • Maybe the daytime temperatures stayed too cold for too long, and most of your corn ended up rotting…

Stuff happens. And oftentimes, you feel the need to re-plant mid-season.

But if you ask me, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!””

That’s why I sow stuff 3 or 4 times thicker than I actually need — and when everything has sprouted, and we’re finally in the clear, I’ll go through and thin it — keeping only the best of the best.

Well, in 2016, I didn’t thin my dry beans or corn. Partly because I was curious (I wanted to know if sowing plants 3x thicker would result in a bigger harvest) — and partly because I was lazy. Or busy. Take your pick.

Things started out great though.

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The black bean patch was beautiful in 2016, wasn’t it?

The bean and corn plants were coming up so thick and strong. In fact, by mid July, I was getting pretty psyched for a record-breaking harvest.

(Might have even done a “happy dance” of some sort…)

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A beautiful patch of sweet corn.

Unfortunately, all we had were a bunch of flashy plants — no fruit!

Oh, we got SOME corn and beans off of ’em, but not much. We put so much work into it all, but ended up with a fraction of the harvest.

Moral of the story: Sometimes, you’ve just got to thin things out! Otherwise, you just end up looking nice on the outside, but you don’t have any fruit to show for it…

(He who has ears to hear, let him hear).

#5 Poor Timing

“The Great Onion Debacle of 2016” all started out quite routinely.

Sure, we didn’t have the best germination rate when I planted our onion seeds back in February, but I sowed things extra thick to make up for it.

When the beautiful month of May arrived, and we planted the seedlings in the ground, nearly 2/3 of those poor little onion starts died within the first week (which is NOT typical at all for us).

I was almost ready to throw in the towel, when the weirdest thing happened….

All those un-sprouted seeds that I’d planted in February just burst into life with the June sunshine. They were coming in so thick that it almost looked like we had planted 2 narrow strips of lush, green sod in our garden.

The new sprouts were really “comin’ on like Gangbusters,” so I decided to pull ’em up and transplant them into their own rows — and much to my surprise, they handled the transplanting process really well.

Unfortunately, our timing was off.

Because of their late start, the newcomers never really developed good bulbs, which leads us into my next “Epic Fail”…

#6 French Fried Onions

Now, I’m not sure if you knew this, but a good, well-formed onion will last 6 or 8 months in our root cellar. But, like I just got done saying, (thanks to some poor timing) our 2016 onions were definitely not well-formed.

I had a feeling that they wouldn’t be any good for long-term storage — so I decided to look into other options.

One of my “bright” ideas was to make them all into “French fried onions” (y’know, the addictively crispy little morsels you put on top of the green bean casserole for Thanksgiving?) and then just store the whole lot of ’em in the freezer.

How hard could it be, right?

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You just slice ’em up really thin, soak ’em in buttermilk, flour ’em, and fry ’em.

Easy peasy.

(For the first 2 or 3 onions, maybe…)

When you’ve got to slice up 10 or 20 pounds of onions, however, it gets a little more complicated!

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I had to bust out the old Moto-X goggles to keep back the tears!

By the time I was done slicing all those stupid onions, my eyes were burning, my nose was burning, my throat was burning, even my hands were burning.

It took about a week for my sense of smell to get back to normal (EVERYTHING smelled like onions, if it smelled at all!)

And then you had to fry ’em all up in small batches.

(I’ve still got scars from the splattering grease).

I started the project early one Saturday morning, hoping to be done in time for breakfast, but after about 5 hours, I was so sick of onions I could hardly stand it!

I just couldn’t bear the thought of frying any more onions. If I hadn’t already drained every last teardrop while cutting those stinkin’ things, I’m pretty sure I would have cried.

Don’t get me wrong though; French fried onions are flippin’ delicious, especially on a bacon and sauerkraut sandwich, and I’m really glad we’ve got a bunch of ’em on hand now.

(In fact, the little monkey routinely asks for them as a mid-day snack).

But do not — I repeat — DO NOT try using them as a large-scale storage solution for your entire onion harvest.

It. Will. Break. You.

Seriously, it was an Epic Fail.

#7 Worn Out Tarps

Can I confess something to you?

I’m getting kinda tired of typing.

(And I expect you’re probably getting tired of reading).

So, I’ll give you the quick version of this story:

1,500 lbs of hay (covered with a worn out, threadbare tarp)
+ 5 inches of rain (over the course of 2 weeks)
= A moldy, inedible pile of compost.

In other words, an Epic Failure.

Conclusion

2016 was full of successes (e.g. our cider press, our goats, our steer, and a generally bounteous harvest) — but I also brought on my fair share of failures.

Hopefully, my experiences will help you avoid making some of the same mistakes I did, but if nothing else, I hope this list has given you a chuckle.

And with that, I’ll bid you all a happy 2017!

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