Sunday, December 29, 2013

My year in review

All in all I have been happy with this year. I didn't make a profit but I learned many lessons and I can see myself getting closer to a real living from growing and selling veg.

The Good:
I am finally starting to break even after two years of impatience and problems. I am not yet making a wage but my goal of $400 per month (my break even point) is a reality. This covers all my costs from block rents, water bills and insurance as well as the small things like water crystals and stuff. I am in a good spot right now and I can see myself starting to make enough profit in the next 6 months to pay myself something.

After the last terrible summer I bought a heap of water saving crystals and put many of my beds under shadecloth. This has worked out just as I had hoped and the difference is amazing. In the next year I will try to get most of my beds under cover. The cost is steep but it will definitely pay for itself over time, the shadecloth should last for at least ten years and I will have to renew the crystals every three or four years. The extra commercial compost I am also putting on the beds is also making a huge difference.
It just goes to show that if you put in the money it will pay for itself in the end. I am already seeing that I don't have to water quite so much and the veg are growing better under the shadecloth.

One of the highlights of the year was getting some oca seed sent to me from America. I only have 6 seedlings but they are precious. I hope I can find a new and interesting variety among them.

The Bad:
I was planning to be making a profit and to be almost off government help this past year but that was not to be. It won't be long and I am embarrassed that I am still on benefits but I am feeling hopeful. I think I probably would have been off by now if last summer wasn't so bad. I am very embarrassed to admit that I am on some benefits but that is my incentive to get of it as soon as I can.

This spring was also a bit rough being unusually cool so I lost most of my heat loving plants like melons, corn and sorghum, all of which were an almost total crop failure. I do have a lot of tomatoes in but they are two months late. I hope the autumn frosts are late so I have a long selling season with them.
Some plants I really wanted to do well have been a bit of a disappointment such as  Native rock yam, achocha, Ahipa and Jicama but I will try again and if they don't do well next spring I will use the space for something else.

One of my disappointments was the kurrajong. The tuberous roots are delicious and I want to introduce them to my customers but I am having a hard time getting them growing. Everything likes to eat them and the only way I have been able to get a good germination rate on the last bed I planted has been to cover them with insect netting which also keeps the birds from pulling them up, sigh.

The Ugly:
Last summer was the hottest and driest on record and it meant that I had very little income from the vegetables for 6 months. After not being able to germinate seed for the first three months from the start of December because of the heat, by the time it was cool enough in march I still had to wait three months before most things were ready to harvest.
This was a very heartbreaking time but a good lesson and I have now prepared for another summer like that one so it shouldn't happen again.

The other serious problem I had was an unusually long spell of red legged earth mites which damaged or killed many of my seedlings for months. Unfortunately there is not much I can do about them.

My best selling and most profitable plants have been - coloured carrots, beetroot, coloured silverbeet and rhubarb. The worst were lettuce and Vivid choi. I am happy that my customers are prepared to try new things so I expect that this list will expand next year, and I hope to have a couple of more unusual things on it. I have put in more yacon, oca and American groundnut, all of which are good producers and people like them straight away.

I will be selling more seed and plants next year as these have a better profit margin. a bed that might produce 20 bunches of carrots will produce more than 300 packets of seed. Seed sells well on my tables at the markets. I will have to buy a new printer shortly to print the packet labels as this old one is putting lines through all pictures that I can't stop even with nozzle cleaning.

I have been trying a lot of new plants this year. I have a good feeling about the Brodiaea laxa (Queen fabiola bulb). I have just picked my first bed and have tasted them. The raw bulbs taste like raw peanuts, not my cup of tea but edible but I find them delicious microwaved or boiled. I have found that removing the flower shoots when they are small doubles the size of the bulbs which makes them worth growing for food.

Some of the new plants I have started growing this year are: Chufa, Bamabara beans, wombat berry, different fresh and dry beans, Chinese yam, voodoo lily and coloured sweetcorn. Over the next year I will try skirrit, different coloured broad beans and true potato seeds.

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