86 Things We Learned from Farming

January 6, 2011


Over the course of the year we have each kept a liGreen Tomatost of things we’ve learned from the Thomas Farm project, specifically to make a compilation at the end of the year.  It’s fair to say that the year was nothing like we thought it would be, but we still learned a lot about where our food comes from – which was our goal.  Some of us, like Caleb, learned that farming is a passion for them.  For the rest of us, this experience made us more grateful for the farmers who grow our food so we don’t have to.  It’s a lot of hard work, with very little monetary reward.  This list is for you, farmers and gardeners of the America!

  1. Opossums can kill chickens, in fact, they disembowel them
  2. Matt can kill opossums
  3. Raccoons decapitate chickens
  4. Weasels leave the chickens they kill mostly in tact
  5. Plants don’t do well when it’s really hot for a long time (Whitney)
  6. Plants need water, like, regularly (Kristin)
  7. Plants require, typically, about 1 inch of rain a week (Caleb)
  8. Excess heat really affects crop production (Matt)
  9. Peas are usually easy to grow because they fix their own nitrogen even in poor soil, and they are not particularly stricken by pests (Caleb)
  10. Peas are hard to grow (Kristin)
  11. Sometimes you do everything right and it all goes wrong; sometimes you do everything wrong and it turns out well
  12. Cedar trees should not be planted next to apple trees
  13. There is a reason why insecticides are so popular
  14. The leaves of all nightshade plants (i.e. tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, etc.) are poisonous
  15. Blackberry bushes have wicked thorns (Kristin)
  16. Picking wild blackberries can hurt; best to wear long sleeves and jeans (Matt)
  17. There’s an actual part of a chicken called a “tender”
  18. Virginia is too far south to grow Honeycrisp apples
  19. One can eat weeds like parslane and lamb’s quarter, and lamb’s quarter leaves contain a complete protein
  20. It is unusual to find cantalopes or yams in the U.S.; the actual vegetable names are “muskmelon” and “sweet potato”
  21. Tomatoes should be stored upside down to discourage squishing
  22. Tomatoes should be harvested at the first blush of color to prevent cracking or insect damage
  23. Tomato plants won’t produce new tomatoes above 85 degrees
  24. Raw milk doesn’t “go bad” as much as it “sours”
  25. Cinnamon is tree bark
  26. There is no one pumpkin species
  27. Hens begin laying at about 18 to 22 weeks of age
  28. Cows can swim
  29. Pineapple grows on the ground
  30. Vine bores are terrible pests
  31. Many trees show stress from lack of water through their top-most leaves
  32. Tent moths are nasty creatures
  33. Healthy chickens will harass wounded chickens to no end; pecking orders are real
  34. It’s easy to forget what the garden looked like 3 weeks ago
  35. It’s important not to water too frequently or roots will not extend deep enough in the soil to weather droughts
  36. One person cannot eat enough tomatoes to keep up with several tomato plantsSweet Corn
  37. The colors of the harvest in July are the most gorgeous
  38. Parsley has a flavor, and isn’t just a decorative garnish
  39. (Matt)I need to be held accountable for harvesting, or I’ll forget to do it
  40. A walk through the garden every day is a good idea
  41. Orchards graft many of their apple trees to roots of different types
  42. You can tell if an orchard uses herbicides if there aren’t many weeds around the base of the trees
  43. Virginia soil is good for grape and wine production, but we have too many insects to do it without lots of pesticides
  44. Thomas Jefferson could not have managed his economically-failing farm and maintained time to tinker if he hadn’t kept slaves
  45. Raccoons are strong. They will destroy your chicken coop if you’re not careful
  46. Chickens need calcium or their egg shells become soft
  47. When potato plants die, it’s time to harvest them, unless you want them to cure in the ground
  48. Green onions are just young onions
  49. Eating well takes time. Appreciating good food takes even longer.
  50. Compost content needs to be balanced
  51. You can peel tomatoes easily by first boiling them for a minute, then dropping them in cold water
  52. Chickens are far more docile when it is dark outside than when it is light
  53. Planting just few vegetables in your yard can be really easy
  54. I’d rather pull weeds than pick green beans (Matt)
  55. Rotating types of crops between plots and beds can reduce the risk for invasive pests
  56. Don’t delay fixing problems in your garden
  57. Eggplants are best mixed with other things to be used as a flavor accent
  58. Walking outside to grab a vegetable off of a plant or clipping herbs for immediate preparation is wonderfully pleasurable
  59. How to shoot a rifle, use a pole saw, chop wood, drive an ATV, transplant plants, compost, operate a generator, trap groundhogs
  60. Ticks need to be embedded 24–36 hours before they can transmit Lymes Disease (as Caleb learned the hard way)
  61. Groundhogs can climb short fences — really well
  62. Regular watering is best done in the early morning.  If you water in the afternoon it evaporates too quickly.  If you water at night, it can encourage fungal diseases in plants.
  63. I’m terrible cutting wood with a saw (Matt)
  64. Chopping wood with an axe is therapeutic
  65. What skinks, mud daubers, and turkey vultures are
  66. What a hummingbird looks like in “person”
  67. Large planting pots can store more water than smaller ones
  68. How to identify acorn, spaghetti, patty pan, and summer squash
  69. I don’t find mustard greens particularly palatable (Matt & Whitney)
  70. Sweet corn needs a lot of water
  71. What asparagus looks like after it shoots
  72. How broccoli heads form from the plant
  73. Indoor vegetable plantings need to be very close to a light source or they’ll become weak and leggy
  74. How to identify poison ivy
  75. How to shell pecans after they fall off the tree
  76. Pine burns quickly and makes excellent kindling
  77. Fall ColorsEating the autumn harvest is the best
  78. Deer can jump at least a 10-foot-fence
  79. Chestnuts come inside prickly balls
  80. Black walnuts are not as good as English walnuts.  Plus, they kinda smell.
  81. Persimmons should be picked after the first frost
  82. Kumquats are the northern-most growing citrus fruit
  83. Trees need to be watered, especially young ones
  84. Animals don’t like to eat plants in the allium family (i.e. onions, shallots, garlic, etc).  Thus, they can be planted outside of garden fences.
  85. Worms are good for a garden.  Slugs are bad for a garden.
  86. Putting egg shells in your compost will keep slugs out of your garden.


What a great list! Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned. I wish I knew what a skink was, it is such a fun word to say.

Angela — January 7, 2011

28.Cows can swim
How did you find this out ? 🙂

Rob James — January 7, 2011