This post is coming at you from the Panera in beautiful Springfield, IL. I've just spent my first day at the Illinois Specialty Growers and Agritourism Conference. Considering how much I've already learned, I am hanging my head in shame. Saying that the garden has been at the bottom of my educational priority list of the farm is an understatement. I'm just glad they don't arrest you or fine you for things like broccocide and cauliflower neglect. Apparently failure to mulch doesn't just result in more weeding, it also results in 50% lower yield. Speaking of weeding, did you know there are three different ways to weed, and if you do the wrong one for a particular weed, you can actually make your problem worse? I think I can safely say that everything produced so far in our garden has been in spite of us, rather than because we were actually doing anything right. It was quite the eye-opening day as I found myself thinking repeatedly, "Oh, that's why that happened!"
There were a lot of concepts that I recognized from raising livestock. For example, you can be giving your plants all the nitrogen in the world, but if they need phosphorus, they're limited by that deficiency, and more nitrogen won't help them at all. I recently found myself telling someone on a goat group that giving a goat Pepto wouldn't help a goat's diarrhea if it had coccidia, which needs to be treated with a sulfa drug. So, whether you're talking about goats or tomatoes, their capacity to grow and thrive is limited by the weakest link, whether it's a deficiency or a disease.
One of the highlights of my day was meeting a woman who has an herb farm with 1,000+ varieties of herbs -- more than 30 varieties of mint, alone! And of course, I had to pick her brain about how to keep my rosemary alive, which it still is. She said keeping it alive until now isn't that much of an accomplishment. They usually die around January or February if they're not getting enough moisture. In addition to weekly watering, I also need to mist it. And she said that even if it looks dead when spring arrives, put it outside and see if it comes back.
Equally exciting is the vendor hall. There are a couple of organic and heirloom seed sellers, which is great, because they have catalogs. I'd much rather flip through a paper catalog than go through a website. In fact, my brain is kind of fried after seven hours of lectures, so I'm going to sign off now and look over my notes, then start flipping through those seed catalogs.