Learning Through Failing

Last September, my partner and I bought our first house in Millgrove, Ontario. I kept calling it a farm but really it was a three bedroom house with a very long, narrow and overgrown lawn. But a couple months prior, just before I found out I was pregnant with our first child, a seed of an idea crept into the back of my mind. I wanted to start a farm. I came from an fruitful and endlessly useful arts degree and Sean, my partner, came from restaurant kitchens. That being said, I had a moment where I was honest with myself about what I wanted to do and how I would be happy to spend my time. I mentioned the idea to Sean and soon we were packing boxes and researching methods to convert grass into workable land.

     I figured that switching gears into the world of agriculture with no previous experience except for the sad green beans I grew in Toronto apartment balconies was a risky move. With the May long weekend behind and the weather starting to resemble the familiar beautiful summer of southern Ontario, I can say with confidence, that learning how to grow food has been a succession of failures.

    Starting Fail:

    Curtis Stone has a fantastic book (and guide to farming empire) The Urban Farmer: Growing Food for Profit on Leased or Borrowed Land that I’ve used as a general template for approaching our farming endeavour. My situation is different because we have roughly two and a half acres that we own at our disposal and with the arrival of my first son Simon, we are not terribly pressed to make profit as quickly. Next year we will be focusing more on profit, this year is more about the fun, experiments and the fails. As I was saying, Curtis Stone details how to convert a grass lot into workable land by laying tarps over the grass to kill it and then till the dead grass in spring. My first fail was getting the timing wrong. I got the covers over a chunk of grass 30 feet by 100 feet around the beginning of winter and removed them beginning of spring hoping to have an easy transition to perfectly healthy soil. To my disappointment the grass was not only not dead, but was more lush and green than the rest of the giant lawn. I also believe that if I had been more diligent about keeping the tarps down and restricting air flow would have yielded a better result.

    Transplant Fail:

    After diligently starting some green beans and cucumber indoors I began to harden off the transplants. I quickly forgot I was hardening off transplants, whether it was baby brain or just regular person brain, I had promptly left them outside all night and we definitely found out which beans and cucumbers were the hardiest. A good chunk, maybe a fourth of them, didn’t last the cool early May night. After than night, not to brag, but I also quickly forgot to continue to hardening them off.

    I read that to avoid shocking transplants from their warm and cozy life indoors to the rough and rugged world outside they should be planted in the morning, evening or when it is overcast. Knowing that but having no patience I continued to plant the surviving transplants on a hot afternoon. I thought I could just drape a light floating row cover over the plants to shield them from the hot sun not thinking of the rain expected in later that night. The rain weighed the stems of the small plants down and snapped and quickly killed our baby plants.

    As a recovering perfectionist it’s taken me three high schools, two attempts at an undergraduate degree, a year as a fishmonger, taking on home renovations and the burning desire to grow my own food to finally embrace learning through failure. I’m sure raising our son Simon will reiterate how bittersweet it is to learn through failure but I am really looking forward to it.


JJ Davis