All my life I’ve been a bit afraid to fail. As a small child I very seldom took the risk to jump across the creek if I didn’t know that I’d make the other bank. While I may be a procrastinator (Judy, feel free to chime in here), I always got all of my work done, because I was afraid of not passing my classes. All the way through my thirties, I shied away from new things or challenges for fear of not doing them well. All I want is to be good at what I do.

This is all to say that farming has really knocked me down a few, and forced me to re-evaluate what I see as failure. So, I thought it would be fun to remind us all of those minutes, days and seasons that teach us to look for the lessons in life. I’ll start.

As did many of you, I started farming with a solid background in growing things, veggies being our main crop for three years as a farm before we switched to flowers full time. Once we switched, the learning curve was steep. I started by buying all of my starts from local nurseries, figuring that anything that they had for my annual flower garden would certainly work for cut flowers. Well, not so much. I had celosia blooming at 6 inches, cosmos that didn’t even make it out of the six-pack, and sunflowers that grew and bloomed before I even knew what happened (and who let me buy sunflowers as starts anyway?!). It took years of experimentation and research to find the right varieties, the right colors, the neatest foliages, but I persisted and continue to trial new things every year.

Like this year, for instance. I decided that I’d give freesia a shot. I saw those beauties that Mimo Davis was growing, and some that were coming into our markets from Peterkort Roses, here in Oregon. How hard could they be? I did a little research, planted them in great soil in crates and stuck them in my warmest greenhouse to sprout. Which they did! Slowly.  Not really fast enough to justify the table space, so they got stuck under the benches, until I remembered them. Oops. Then they got moved to the hoops, where the only space was in the pathways between the dahlias and overwintered mums.

Where all of the slugs live, apparently. Sigh. But still, they bloomed, and were gorgeous, and now I’m hooked. We’ve changed our tactic, reserved greenhouse bed space, and are going to try again. So, failure turns into an invaluable lesson.

Speaking of slugs, it was a particularly wet spring here in the PNW, like even more so than the usual persistent grey gloom, so my slugs are loving it. So much so that they’ve completely leveled a significant section of our main dahlia field. This field has been our mainstay for dahlia production for the last 3 years, and we have it pretty dialed in for production, so it got set, planted and left to do its thing while we planted the rest of the fields. When I did a walk-through a few weeks ago it was devastating to realize how far out of hand I’d let the situation get. We had to scramble to take care of the intruders and hope for the best. Those dahlias are recovering and we’ll get a decent crop out of them yet this year, but we certainly set ourselves back by assuming that we knew what that field needed.  That whole adage about what assuming does…

As I reflect on these scenarios, and many others, I realize that my fear of failure has blossomed and changed into a healthy embracing of the challenges of farming. You just can’t farm without failure. Every year there’s something that doesn’t quite work out, and every year there are new learning opportunities and chance for growth. It’s really a humbling occupation, one that allows for a fresh, new start every season. Let’s take those lessons and embrace them. Let’s share them, and help others to learn from our experiences. Let them guide us as we move forward to the next year, both in farming and in life. 

Best wishes to everyone as we move through this unprecedented time, and happy growing!

Erin McMullen

Rain Drop Farm

Erin McMullen Rain Drop Farm [email protected]