Friday, March 27, 2015

Poultry Slam

Since we are approaching the date when we will have hen chicks on the farm once again, we thought we'd do a Poultry "Slam" and answer some questions about the hens on our farm that people have asked us.  Some of these have been posed over time and others have come in via email.  We will focus on our laying flock in this one. So, without further ado...

Do you raise your own hen chicks at Genuine Faux Farm?
The most accurate answer to your questions is that we HAVE raised some chicks on our farm that were from our farm.  But, this has only occurred ONCE so far.  We bought a small incubator in 2012 when we were unable to sell any of our eggs for eating after the chemical spray incident on our farm.  We were successful in hatching a couple dozen birds.  More than half were roosters.  Hm.  Last we checked, roosters don't lay eggs, so that isn't helpful.
Hatching in our incubator.
We may try this again, but for the most part, we are content to purchase day old checks from Hoover Hatchery to replenish our flock.  All of our turkeys and broilers are purchased as chicks.  Maybe, someday, we'll do more with this.
A few of our chicks soon after hatching.
What are the most eggs you have collected in a day and what is your average number of eggs in a day?
The most eggs we have collected in a day (all laid that day) is 87.  But, it is quite rare to cross the 70 egg mark.  We use a pretty safe estimate of 4 dozen eggs a day as an average collection for the entire year.  Our birds tend to cycle through high and low egg laying periods.  The hens are especially sensitive to very cold and very warm weather.  When we have conditions like that, their egg production usually drops.  So far in 2015 (as of Mar 23) we have collected an average of 52.7 eggs per day.  But, we just went through a peak period with several 70+ egg days, so it is a bit higher now.
One of the egg boxes is to the left of the door.
Where do chickens lay their eggs?
 Believe it or not, it is true that hens prefer a slightly confined space to lay their eggs.  A nest box that is about 1 foot by 1 foot by 1 foot and enclosed on all but one side works well.  It is very rare that we will find an egg that is not in one of these spots.  Occasionally, birds will determine some other enclosed space (like behind a nest box) will work.  When that happens, the humans sometimes miss eggs for a period of time.

The hen room in the middle of a nice day

Do you have to herd the entire flock back into their room every night?
Thank goodness, we do not.  We do, however, need to go out every night once the sun sets and close the doors to their room.  If we fail to close the doors, predators can get in and kill chickens.  Of course, the birds go in at their own pace.  They do not care if you actually want to go inside a bit earlier on a given day, nor do they care if you want to go see a movie or meet someone elsewhere at the end of the day.  Only rarely do we try to herd them into their room before they are ready.  But, when we do, we have to stay patient and calm or they will make it more difficult.

We have found that the trick to getting them to go back to their 'room' is to put them into their quarters for the first time at the beginning of the night.  After they spend a night there, they will tend to come back to it as their 'home base.'  If you want to be more certain that they will imprint on that space, keep them locked in for the first day.  And, we have learned to "hide" their prior home form their line of sight (see below).

How do you introduce new hens to the flock?
Hen chicks getting their first taste of pasture.

We do not introduce the new, young hens to the flock until they are close to the point of laying eggs.  Since we get chicks in April, integration usually occurs in September (approximately).  So, as you can see, we have a different home that is surrounded by electric fence for the young birds.  We have learned that the young birds may try to go back to their old home if they can see it.  So we make sure the portable building is out of their line of sight once we move them.

We introduce the young hens at night (after dark) and we put them all in at once.  The older hens will try to establish dominance on the younger birds, but a larger number of young birds spreads out the picking that is bound to occur.  There is something to be said about safety in numbers.

If you have to move birds, how do you do it?
 This depends on how many we intend to move, how far they have to move and what the purpose is for the move.  For example, if we are transporting birds some distance (for example, taking young birds to another farm), we put them in cages such as the one shown below.

Ok, there are ducks in there, but you get the point.
If we are moving young birds into the main room with the laying flock, we will carry them from one place to the other.  It's just as efficient as any other method given the layout of our farm and the number of birds.  Before you get any ideas, we don't carry them one at a time and we don't take time to scratch each one behind the ears...

We move them at night, typically, when they are asleep.  It is far easier to catch and move them at this point.  We grab them by their feet and carry them upside down.  They squawk just a little bit and calm down not long after.  If they are not upside down, they tend to struggle longer and the whole event is actually more traumatic for all involved.  As long as they are all facing the same way, Tammy and I can carry three per hand this way (though one of us has to be able to open or hold open a door).  If they are all facing the same way, it is easy to lay them back down on their belly/breast, which makes it easy for them to orient and figure out their surroundings.

We've seen pictures of your chicks with a metal wall. Where is that?

Oh, like this picture?
When we first receive chicks, we need to find a safe, enclosed space for them to live.  This space has to maintain an appropriate temperature and it needs to be able to keep critters out, such as rats, cats and ummm... well, not bats, but it rhymes.  We also need to keep the baby birds from jumping out of their safe space.  After a period of time, they are capable of jumping out, but they don't have the body weight or feathers to maintain the body temperature and they will die if we don't notice it in time.  This picture shows the bird in a stock tank we use to start our chicks.  We put old screen windows on the top and we have polycarbonate plastic to put over that if the weather is cooler.   The nice thing about the stock tanks is that we can put them wherever we need to that has access to electricity for the heat lamp.

Are your birds always on pasture?

 
Hens in the front, turkeys in the back
You certainly know how to ask a question that isn't as easy as it sounds, don't you?
The birds are always inside at night to protect them from raccoons, owls, foxes, coyote and other predators.  They are outside during the day most of the time UNLESS it is Winter.  Our hens do not like to walk on snow and simply will not go out - even if the food is only ten feet away from the door.  Ok, some of them will fly to the feeder.  But, we've had birds land in the snow and just sit there until we went and got them.

Also, we want our birds to have some of their adult feathers in before we start letting them outside.  Of course, on nice days they would do fine, but there are other issues with keeping them safe.  And, it is not like we have the time to stand around and baby sit them all day.

One of the downsides can be seen in the picture above.  During a drought period, the pasture can look pretty rough. We do various things to try to move them around.  But, with our small farm, there are some limits.  We do our best to give them quality pasture, keep the pasture healthy and maintain security for the flock.








Tarp can provide good wind protection

 Sometimes, we will split the flock - taking some of the older birds out to their own pasture.  We use a portable building with electric fencing surrounding their pasture area.  This allows us to move them to different areas of ground and relieve some of the stress on the main pasture areas.  In fact, we can put them on areas that are in our vegetable plots that are not scheduled for veg until the next season.  That way, we get manure spread without having to shovel.  We like that.

What the pasture looks like late in the year.
While the picture above shows the turkey pasture after they've been taken to the park, you can see that the plants are pretty short.  The birds do like to forage and the hens like to scratch.

What do you feed the birds?

Feed us!  Tuppence a bag!
We do have a grain based feed that is put together by a local feed producer that comprises the bulk of what our birds eat.  However, people notice that our eggs have more yellow and more substance than most grocery store eggs.  This is a direct reflection of the health of the birds.  They are healthy because they are active and they have a diverse diet that includes insects in the Spring/Summer and Fall as well as clover and other plants they find in their pastures.  We also provide them with vegetables that are not suitable for sale/CSA and scraps from our kitchen.  They LOVE bread that Tammy and I have decided has gone stale.

People who visit will notice that the birds will come to the edge of the pasture when humans approach.  It's not so much that they think you are all great (of course you are), it's more the fact that an approaching human on the farm often means treats of some kind that fly over the fence for their approval (and consumption).

Thanks for asking - do you have more questions?  
We would love to do more postings on our blog of this sort.  Do you have additional questions about our hen flock?  If so, please comment here or send us an email!  We'll "make you famous" and put your question on our blog with the best answer we can come up with (without making it up!).

Friday, March 20, 2015

Feedback Friday - How are these plans?

The farm plans are pretty close to done and we are starting to implement them.  So, we thought we'd entertain you with some of them.  We are always happy to field your questions and take suggestions.  If you don't want to leave them here, then send us an email!

Brassica and more Brassica!
We've had a few years with some excellent results for our brassica (broccoli, cauliflower, etc) and we would like to continue along those lines.  So, what are we doing this season to continue to improve in this area?

The broccoli has been really tasty!
We have identified Gypsy and Belstar as our main broccoli crops.  However, we learned the hard way several years ago that you can't count on a particular hybrid variety for very long.  Those who produce the seed may discontinue at any time (Early Dividend was our mainstay years ago, try and find it now).  So, this year we are trying two new varieties.  Green Super is supposed to be a great summer crop variety and Arcadia is supposed to be good for last Fall.  They both will get trial runs this year.  We are going to trial Amazing and Goodman cauliflower in 2015 and let Snow Crown carry most of the burden.  Snow Crown is an F1 hybrid and the other two are open pollinated.  Early returns from prior trials indicate these two should do well enough.  This is the first larger scale trial for each of them.  We've modified our schedule for kohlrabi a bit and hope it helps us provide a few nice batches of kohlrabi to our CSA and we're working on the kale transplant timing as well.  These are not big changes, but we do feel that little tweeks can provide excellent results.  We are also working on the timing of our chinese cabbage, cabbage and pok choi.  We've only grown each of these for three to five years, so now have a better knowledge base to work with.  New varieties include Emiko (chinese cabbage) and Win-Win (pok choi).  We decided to discontinue Minuet (chinese cabbage) and our seed source changed for Joi Choi (pok choi) so we felt we needed to hedge our bets and find a replacement in case Joi Choi goes away (that would make us sad).

Onions and Leeks
Most of these are already seeded and growing in trays.  We are hopeful that we can find a way to get these in the ground even earlier than last year so we can get a better crop.  We've got some strategies to get the drip tape in a bit sooner and we know the flex tine weeder works now.  So, we're feeling pretty good about the possibilities. 


In fact, getting them in the ground earlier is the biggest thing for us this year.  The issue with that is the fact that nature may not see fit to allow it.  But, that's the way it is sometimes.  We'll make the goal and set up to make it happen as best we can.  If it doesn't happen, we adjust.

We will be trying two new yellow onions in 2015.  Sedona is an F1 hybrid storing onion and Dakota Tears is an open pollinated storing onion.  We'll trial them against each other and see what we can learn.  Otherwise, White Wing, Redwing and Ailsa Craig come back in 2015.  Yellow of Parma will sit out until we see how the other yellows do this year.  King Richard returns as our leek of choice.

Melons and Watermelons
We planted our entire field of melons in about two thirds of a work day.  Now, keep in mind that I am simplifying here.  Planting includes things like prepping beds, laying the paper mulch, drip tape, putting in transplants and other things.  Also, one work day is the length of time we have workers on the farm.

We plant our transplants by hand and we were doing some research that required some special spacing that took more time.  But, the reality is that we want to shorten the planting window so we can hit the optimal planting window with more crops.
Ideally, we'd love to put in all of our melons, watermelons and winter squash in the same day.  This is also a good time to put in tomatoes and peppers.  So, clearly we need to do something to speed the process up a bit.  As a result, we're looking at adding a mechanical transplanter to our tool list.  We've got the tractor for it now, so let's see if we can id the transplanter and climb the learning curve quickly in 2015.  Our hope is to also provide more time for weeding/cultivating by reducing planting time.

We will be running similar melon and watermelon varieties to 2015 this year.  We will reevaluate the varieties after this season and determine if changes need to be made after that.

Root Crops
We would like you all to root for our crops.


Oh, sorry.  This must be a no punning zone.

Root crops, next to our long season winter squash, have been our biggest challenge on our farm.  The early planting timings are often missed because of wet fields.  A person can transplant into wetter soils, but seeding in wet soil is a problem.  And, if the soil temps are cool, like they've been the past two years, you have other problems with direct seeded crops.

So, in 2015, we've reworked our succession plan for root crops to respond to the issues we've had the last couple of years.  We've taken the successful batches and figured out some common themes for them.  Similarly, we've identified some common problems for the failed batches of these crops.

Our two goals?
1. To increase our fall root crop capacity and have more storage crops to take us deep into Fall (and perhaps past the first of the following year).
2. To hit the Spring window harder with a single succession and get our cold storage built so we can store the crop for distribution over a longer period of time.

Two things we need to do to make this work?
1. Get that darned walk in cooler built... finally.
2. Improve our techniques for keeping weeds out of these crops.

And there you are!  An insight to some of the things we are looking at for 2015.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Be Careful What You Say

Once again, I've been thinking.  A dangerous pastime (we know!).

Every time I write a blog.  Or have a conversation.  Or give a presentation.  Or express an opinion.  I run the risk of saying something that is.. well.. simply put.. wrong.  It may be wrong because I mispeak.  It might be that there is an interpretation that I didn't think of as I was typing or speaking.  Maybe I say something wrong because I need to adjust my attitude, or my knowledge base.  Or, perhaps it is wrong in one person's opinion, but not in another's thoughts.

Uh oh... he's talking again.
And, oddly enough, because we run a small farm business (the Genuine Faux Farm - in case you didn't know that... but how could you not if you are here?!), there are many more opportunities for us to mess up.  After all, we put our thoughts out on a blog.  We put posts out on facebook.  We give presentations to promote our farm and host events at the farm.  You might see us at a farmers' market or a CSA distribution.  In short, everything we do to promote our business and communicate to our customers provides an opportunity for us to make a mistake of some kind.

I will take a wild guess that most people who will read this post know Tammy or myself personally.  You've already formed some opinions about us (good or bad).  You also don't think of us as an entity known as the Genuine Faux Farm.  You know us as Rob and Tammy who run the farm they call the Genuine Faux Farm.  But, I've realized for some time now that our ability to last for ten years has moved us from Rob and Tammy who have a farm to the Genuine Faux Farm that has a married couple who are the owners of the farm.  That's actually a big difference in many people's eyes.

Wow, he IS out standing in his field.
In short, it is so much easier for people to jump to a conclusion because there is more distance between us and those to whom we speak (or write).  It's all part of the way things work. 

Let me put it this way.  You visit restaurant X for the first time.  You don't know the owners or anyone that works there.  You overhear one of the staff say something that, on its face value, seems wrong to you.  Maybe you didn't hear the whole thing, and maybe you weren't the audience.  But, isn't it a natural tendency to equate what was said to that particular establishment?  After all, it was THEIR employee at THEIR premises, therefore THEIR business has a problem with THEIR attitude.

And, that is my point.  There are people behind a business and people make mistakes with what they say.  And, the more chances people have to say things publicly, the more likely they are to say something wrong. 

Example number 2:  Tammy teaches Social Work at the college level and I have taught Computer Science at the college level.  There are many opportunities to make mistakes in what we say.  I have heard Tammy do this, and I know I've done it.  When you teach, you often have to have part of your mind on what is coming out of your mouth at that moment and the other part has to be setting up what comes next.  Oh.. and don't forget the parts of your mind that are paying attention to the students and preparing for their reactions and questions!  Sometimes, the part that is paying attention to what is being said NOW gets distracted.  And maybe the word "NOT" gets left out of a sentence.

There is a big difference between:
   "This is the way to do it."
and
   "This is NOT the way to do it."

Can you imagine the damage control when you find out students were actually listening carefully to that sentence - and sadly not the ones around it that clearly contradicted what came out of your mouth for that one moment?

So - what brought this on?  Nothing in particular - it's just been on my mind recently.  No, I am not aware of something I've said or done recently that has me worried - unless you count the things I just can't find the time to do when I know it needs doing.

Instead, I brought this up as a reminder to me and, perhaps, to you as well.

 I try to remind myself to be careful what I say - and be more careful about how I listen (or read).  I remind myself that people are involved.  These people make mistakes.  These people may say things for any number of reasons.  But, until I have more evidence and knowledge about what drove them to say what was said, then I will give the benefit of the doubt.  Does it mean I won't say something if I feel what is being said is VERY wrong.  Of course not!  I will say something as politely as I am able.  It does not do the other person a service to stay silent either.  But, there is a difference between an appropriate, measured response and condemning someone (and anyone or anything they are associated with).

And, now, I remind myself to proof read this blog post yet AGAIN.  But, I know I'll miss something.  I always do.  I hope you can forgive me.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

New Varieties on the Farm for 2015

One of the things we are pleased to be able to provide is a great deal of variety on our farm.  We feel very strongly that a range of vegetable types along with a variety of cultivars of each vegetable type gives us a higher likelihood for success any given season.  We also believe that there can be a wide range of tastes from one vegetable variety to another.  This means, if we grow different kinds of tomatoes (for example) it is more likely that everyone will find a tomato that they find to be a great match to their own personal tastes.

And, since I mentioned tomatoes, I'll start with them!
Black Krim will return - of course.
We are pretty happy with most of our 'different' color tomatoes - the reds, purples and most of the yellows (there is an exception to this, as you'll see).  But, we are currently motivated to improve on the red tomato varieties.  The first issue is that our source for Druzba seed is tenuous.  We like that variety, but if we can't secure seed, it is a moot point.  Also, we're feeling like we can do a bit better for taste than Trophy. And, Wisconsin 55 has very good taste, but it likes to drop its fruit on the ground.  Not a big deal - unless they all ripen at once, which they've done the past two seasons.  So, we will continue with Trophy and Wisconsin 55.  And, we'll grow out the last of our Druzba seed.  We've also liked how the Rutgers strain from High Mowing has been doing.  And, this season, we're going to give Cosmonaut Volkov a fair trial, along with John Baer.  Both will give standard sized, red slicers.  We liked Volkov's taste last season, but we're not sure if it likes us yet. 

We will also be giving Kanner Hoell and Mortgage Lifter a chance this season.  We have a feeling that both of these may be redundant with some of our bigger tomatoes.  But, we like to try new things, so there you are.

With respect to the yellow varieites, Moonglow, Nebraska Wedding and Dr Wyche's Yellow all return.  But, sadly, it looks like Golden Sunray is not coming back for a while.  Their seed apparently was cross contaminated a couple of years ago.  After a small trial last year, we are giving Emmy the spot that Golden Sunray used to hold.  And - we'll be growing more of the Black Cherry tomatoes after some high praise regarding their taste.

Nebraska Wedding loves us as long as we get them caged!

And, a note to all of you who are looking to buy heirloom tomato plants this year.  We will be having a nice variety yet again this year.  If you have special requests, now is the time to give them to us.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Lafou, I've Been Thinking

It's a dangerous pastime, this thinking.   But, somebody's gotta do it!

First order of business - join the CSA!:
Do you want fresh veggies from the Genuine Faux Farm this year?  Well, you'd better sign up for the CSA.  Go to the website and take the link to send us an email.  Or you can just send us an email from here!

Second order of business - visit us at the Cedar Valley Local Foods Fair this Saturday:

Saturday - March 14 from 10 AM to 3 PM.  Waterloo Center for the Arts 225 Commercial Street.  If you want to sign up, we'll have paperwork with us and we can get everything taken care of during your visit!

Third order of business - did you use our web form to reserve a spot - Uh oh...
In an effort to make a long story less long - if you signed up using the web form at any point over the past couple of months... we didn't get it.  A change in providers apparently resulted in the form breaking.  Apparently, the code was not supported with our configuration on the new service.  We apologize for the inconvenience, but we do encourage you to sign up.  We are not ignoring you - we just never did hear from you - despite what the internet said!   If you are reading this and know someone who might have tried to sign up, help us out and let them know about the problem we are dealing with. 

Reasons to NOT join a CSA?
Liz Kolbe of Practical Farmers of Iowa wrote a piece for their blog regarding CSAs that gives some pretty common (and pretty good) reasons for not joining a CSA.  If you grow your own fresh produce, prefer to purchase local in other ways, etc - then it makes sense that you are not part of a farm share program.  She also makes some pertinent points that you can find ways to support a CSA even if you travel or if you feel financing it is a difficult thing.

But, if you want some tongue in cheek blogging, then you can read this other piece by Liz.  It's true.  If you despise the idea of locally produced food and you hate veggies, then I suspect a CSA program isn't the right thing for you.

We'd like to add one more addendum to what she writes.  Please remember that if you DO join a CSA, then you need to take the time to figure out what that means for you AND for the farmer.  Read the communications your farmers work to provide you that describe their services and procedures.  Many programs differ for many very good reasons.

Des Moines Water Works
I am watching with some interest the case of the Des Moines Water Works versus areas up river for agricultural pollution of the water.  This online article can bring you up to date on the latest responses by many Ag organizations.  I would encourage you to read this and see what they are saying. 

Then, we have to ask the question - if the voluntary approach to addressing the problem is 'working,' then why is it that the water works have to do what they have to do to make the water safe for drinking?  I also wonder how it is that they ignore the studies and data that show the erosion that happens as a result of our most common agricultural practices in this state? 

My opinion?  We've done the voluntary approach long enough.  It seems that, for many people in ag, they will only do what is best for the environment if it is made financially expedient to do so in the short term.  That's not a recipe for advancement.


Nice Picture
This photo Rob took from our farm was featured as part of the MOSES Organic Farming Conference in LaCrosse this year.  Pretty cool!  If you wish, you can scroll to the bottom and download the PDF that is the conference program.

It's nice now - but when is the last frost date?
One of the things that we have to remember is that our farm doesn't warm up as fast as other locations.  Hey, you folk in Waverly, Waterloo, Cedar Falls, take a look at this map - and for that matter, you can look at the rest of the USDA information by downloading the PDF found here..


Take note.  We are in Northeast Bremer county.  We're not situated in the nice little bubble that Waterloo/Cedar Falls and Waverly are in.  And, if you grow in town, you have some micro-climate help.  Nope, we're not complaining.  But, we are educating.  Every year, we try to push the boundaries of the growing season without being dumb about it.  We expect to lose a few things every season because we pushed the envelope too far in one direction or the other.  Just as long as we don't lose too much, we will be fine.

Curious about first and last NORMAL frost dates for your zip code?  Well, you can go here and enter your Zip.  The dates for Tripoli are April 28 and October 3.  However, I can tell you that over the last three years, we have had frost dates in mid-September and have even had freeze dates in week 3 of September.  The dates given as the normal first/last frost dates are the point where there is a 50% chance that the last frost date will be LATER than the Spring date given and EARLIER than the Fall date given.

If you are more serious about this, you can go to the NOAA climate normals page and download information there.  According to this date, Tripoli has a 50% chance of having a 36 degree F or lower temp after May 6 and a 50% chance under 32 degrees (freezing) after April 28.  Simply put, frosts that can impact our crops can occur at temperatures 36 degrees and colder.    Clearly, the prior site is taking the numbers for a FREEZE.  But, fine, it all depends on the year.  Sep 25 is our 36 degree marker and Oct 3 is the 32 degree marker for Tripoli.

But, before you get too crazy with these numbers, consider some of the other numbers in the PDF from NOAA.  How is that Waukon actually has dates that look like a longer growing period than we do, but the map above shows Waukon (Allamakee) as much shorter?  We all need to remember that the stations for which data is collected all have their own micro climates.  After all, we don't want things to be too simple, do we?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Variety Show - Black Cherry and Tasty Evergreen

This week's variety feature is for two tomatoes.  One is a cherry tomato we introduced to the farm in 2014.  
Black Cherry
We only grew a couple of Black Cherry plants in 2014 as an experiment.  And, for the most part, only people who worked on the farm or visited for a festival had a chance to try this fruit.  Our 2014 Summer Festival and Tomato Tasting Event actually included some of these beauties for tasting.  The result?  Everyone wants us to grow them.

So, in 2015, we will grow more of the plants in our fields and we will start more of these plants for sale in the Spring.  Look for them and give them a try.  People of all ages agreed that they would eat ALOT of these if given the chance.

And - the other tomato that did extremely well in the tomato tasting in 2014 was.....
Tasty Evergreen
Tasty Evergreen tomato
Production
Reliability
Resists Cracking
Disease resistance
Taste
Days to Maturity
80
Fruit Per Plant
7.6
Typical Harvest Period
Aug/ Sept
Size of Fruit
.73 pounds
These tend towards a brownish, yellow/green when ripe and maintain a green gel in the interior with white/green flesh. The taste is quite good, giving a refreshing zing to a summer sandwich, especially if you like mayonnaise. The taste helps one to think cool thoughts on a hot day. On the down side, they tended to have deeper cracks on the shoulders that led to rot problems at ripening. Fruit size is highly variable and the shape is rarely perfectly round. The taste treat is enough to grow a few of these on the farm. We find that picking them before they get too ripe gives us a better shot at harvest. Unfortunately, they do not ship well and are difficult to deliver.
The picture above is from the very dry 2012 season. Like many tomatoes, they liked this weather better than some of the wetter, cooler ones we have experienced on the farm. We are getting better at growing these, but we are still not convinced that we should grow much more than five or six plants. They are still finicky and we get discouraged by the number of fruit that start to show rot spots up by the stems in some of the creases. We get the feeling that they like being picked in warmer weather, so we're wondering if an earlier start might actually result in more marketable fruit. As it is, these are enough of a taste treat that we'll offer fruit that have some blemishes just so people can have the option of taking them home and enjoying them. Results with Tasty Evergreen are far better than those we get from Aunt Ruby's German Green, but that's our farm. We encourage you to try both head to head to choose. Taste for this tomato is, in our opinion, tangier and much more interesting than Aunt Ruby's.

We've tried this tomato in the high tunnel with no more success than the field.  We've tried it without mulch, with mulch and with different trellising methods.  One thing is certain - no mulch and no trellis is a very bad idea.  Otherwise, we have yet to find the perfect situation.  We suspect it may need more babying than we can give individual plants on our farm.  But, it still doesn't matter.  We look forward to this taste too much to completely remove it from production.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Variety Show - Costata Romanesco

Costata Romanesco
Costata Romanesco

Costata Romanesco is one of those varieties that we grow because the taste is truly outstanding.  Production, on the other hand will not help us fill CSA shares.  On the positive side, once vines begin to produce, they are sturdy and continue to produce for an extended period of time.  On the negative side, the vines sprawl more than most varieties of zucchini used by commercial growers.  In short, if you see one of these beauties in the tray for zucchini at a CSA distribution - pick it up and give it a try - but you'll want to check if it is Costata OR Cocazelle, which has its own taste!

Fruits often have a thinner center or will bulb on one end.  If the center thinning is pronounced, the fruit quality is often a bit lower, but still usable.  These can get quite sizable and maintain good taste quality.   Some will suggest that you should pick these small, but you better pay attention to catch them when they are small as they sneak up on you.

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Zucchini/Summer Squash Grilled
1 medium summer squash, cut into wedges (similar to potato wedges)
1 medium zucchini, cut into wedges
3 Tbsp olive oil
Salt, pepper, oregano, marjoram and/or thyme
Place vegetables in a 9x13 inch cake pan. Toss vegetable wedges in oil.  Sprinkle on spices and toss to mix.  Place vegetables directly on the grill.  Turn after 5 minutes.  Check after 5 more minutes – they are done when they are very soft when poked with a fork.  (Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn).

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Legislation - Let's Get This Done

The following is from the Iowa Farmers Union.  They are working to get some changes made in Iowa with respect to agricultural chemical applications.  We need action on this now.  Please take some time and respond.

If you recall our spray incident in 2012, one of the big issues was the delay in learning lab results.  We were forced to secure our own lab results form a lab in Oregon to the tune of over $1500 in out of pocket costs.  We still received our results form the Pesticide Bureau, but that wasn't until the season was completed.  The only use those results had for us was to pursue compensation after the fact. 

Please take some time and make a few calls or send a few emails on our behalf.

Rob & Tammy



=====================================

You've been hearing from us about all the activity at the Iowa Statehouse this past week on legislation that is important to you as Farmers Union member and supporter.

Last week we told you about a Senate subcommittee hearing scheduled for this morning on Senate Study Bill (SSB) 1221, which would appropriate funding to IDALS to:
  • establish on-line reporting for incidents of pesticide drift and
  • set up a fund to improve turnaround times for lab results when IDALS collects samples following an incident of spray drift. 
The first legislative funnel day is this Friday. That means that bills must be passed out of full committee in at least one chamber by March 6 to stay alive.

We have just learned that the FULL Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Environment will be taking up SSB 1221 at their meeting this afternoon at 1PM.

WE NEED YOU TO EMAIL OR CALL THE SENATORS ON THE NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT COMMITTEE AND ASK THEM TO SUPPORT SSB 1221:

PLEASE CONTACT: Senators also can be reached by phone via the Senate switchboard: (515) 281-3371.

WHY SHOULD SENATORS SUPPORT SSB 1221?
 
SSB 1221 would allow impacted farmers to more easily and accurately report incidents of pesticide drift to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) Pesticide Bureau via the IDALS website.
The Iowa Pesticide Act currently requires someone claiming damage from an incident of pesticide drift to submit a report in writing to IDALS within 60 days of the incident. With current budget and staff resources, the IDALS Pesticide Bureau is only able to collect incident reports by phone during agency business hours. This reporting process would operate much more efficiently and allow for more timely and accurate reporting if an impacted farmer could directly file an incident report in writing, as provided for by statute, via the IDALS website. A significant number of state jurisdictions already provide for this type of reporting, including Minnesota, South Dakota, Missouri and Illinois.

 
SSB 1221 would provide much-needed funding to improve the time required for laboratory testing following a reported incident of pesticide drift.
In a typical incident of pesticide drift, an investigator from the IDALS Pesticide Bureau is able to follow up an incident report with an on-site visit in a matter of days. The on-site visit often includes collecting samples for testing to determine whether an incident of drift occurred and which chemicals were involved. Unfortunately, the current time for returning the laboratory results for these tests is
in the range of 6 to 8 months. This delay places an enormous burden on an impacted farmer trying to take reasonable precautionary steps - such as segregating or washing crops intended for human consumption - and working to minimize financial losses.
Providing IDALS with the resources to significantly shorten the turnaround time for lab results is critical to supporting farmers impacted by pesticide drift.
 
 For more information on this bill, please visit the Pesticide Drift Resource Page on our website.


Thank you for your help!

Jana Linderman
IFU President

Friday, February 27, 2015

Variety Show - Jade

Jade
Jade green beans
Jade provides us with a good continuous crop with beans that have a wonderful gourmet taste. In contrast to many green beans, Jade tastes better when the beans are larger (6-7 inches) and are a bit bitter if picked too small. These beans tend not to get woody and don't produce 'empty' pods like some varieties do when the beans are larger. This variety has allowed us to continue to provide fresh tasting beans that don't have the end of the season taste that some varieties get later in the year. If you luck out and get a long fall, this variety seems to keep on going. And, if you offered us a plate of steamed green beans and told us one was Jade and one was some other variety - we'd eat the Jade plate first.
This is a white seeded variety and does not care to germinate in cool, damp soils. We find that they appreicate the high tunnel with numbers that far exceeded field production levels.

Intercropping:
We interplant green beans with potatoes and strongly recommend this to anyone who has problems with bean beetles or potato beetles. While you cannot guarantee a complete absence of these pests, there will be a significant reduction. There is some research that indicates a masking quality of the companion plant that makes it difficult for the pest to recognize its target crop. We received a SARE grant to work on planting spacing techniques and found that potato beetle larva were found on the edges of the field (away from the beans).
We are also happy with planting marigolds next to potatoes and beans. We recommend the old-style marigolds with the stronger marigold smell. They are a great habitat for predators, they look nice and beans and potatoes nearby seem to be happier. We have been known to throw in a plant in the middle of a row, but we don't do this consistently.
Our old pattern for companion planting is to center potato rows 6 feet apart. Between potato rows you center a double row of beans. Our current technique is to have 60 inch tractor beds (including wheel tracks). Each bed has a row of potatoes and a row of green beans, usually planted May 15-25. The rows are 15 to 18 inches apart.  We are looking to hybridize this approach in response to our current state of tool availability

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

You're Invited

This event has been cancelled due to the current weather situation.  We will notify everyone if it is rescheduled.





Friday, February 20, 2015

Break Time - A Harrowing Experience?

Last week, we showed you a seeder that was not unlike seeders we currently used that was advertised/purchased in 1912.

Again, many of the tools we use on our farm have origins that are not entirely new.  Some of their advantages are the relatively small number of moving parts and the interchangeable nature of the parts that are prone to breaking or wearing out.  Here are two such tools on our farm - both on the newer side.
Disk Harrow
Flex Tine Harrow/Cultivator
In 1899 and 1901 (the dates of the two items below) most equipment was designed to be pulled by a team of horses, but you'll find some similarities to what we show you above. 



Thursday, February 19, 2015

It's Over, It's Just Beginning

As many of you may already know, we have been in the process of litigation involving a chemical misapplication that occurred on our farm in July of 2012.  If you are not aware of this, then you can catch up quickly by viewing the posts on our blog that are tagged with the overspray topic(Hint, you may want to read from the bottom to the top if chronology matters to you.)

We have been somewhat silent over the past several months on the topic as we have been hoping for a conclusion to the litigation process.  Of course, we still did our best to answer questions and keep people up to date.  But, our legal representative was correct, the less we said meant there was less chance we would say something that could be misconstrued and used against us.

It is Over

But, now that I've beat around the bush with all of the intro stuff, we can now tell you that as of February 18, 2015, we have signed an agreement on a settlement with respect to this case.  It is over.

How does it feel, now that it is over?
We anticipate that this is the first question many people will ask us, so we'll answer it as best we can right now.  We are both relieved.  I, in particular, am not entirely sure how I am supposed to feel about it.  This lawsuit has been in the back of my mind daily ever since we acquired legal representation.  And, prior to that, we were consumed with the process of figuring out what to do after we had been hit with the pesticides and fungicides.  I think I am supposed to feel something more than just a little relief.  But, then again, it may take a while to fully realize that I don't have to produce more documents for the discovery process and I don't have to wonder when it will end.

Once it is broken, it's broken.
Are we supposed to feel happy or pleased?  No, I'm not sure that we are.  This is not unlike the proverb about the broken piece of china.  If you drop someone's valuable china and it breaks, you can apologize, you can pay for it, you can do things to atone... but the china is still broken.  In other words, the end of the litigation didn't undo the spraying and its effects.  It doesn't remove the hours, days, weeks, months of irritation, worry and stress that followed.  But it will go towards moving forward and away from this incident.  And that will have to be enough.

Beautiful, aren't they?  Well, they all had to be composted due to the spray.
No joy in Mudville?
And, I think I speak for both of us when I say that we did not enjoy seeking compensation and we really took no pleasure in the process of trying to make someone pay for a perceived wrong.  It wasn't fun.  And, I haven't got even an inkling of a feeling that I want to gloat or celebrate because we have reached a settlement.  It was just simply that it needed to be completed so we could move forward.

But, maybe there are things to be joyful about?
There are so many other things that we should be happy about.  We are glad that this is done.  We were pleased with our legal representative, Tom Verhulst.  We are grateful for all of the support we received from others (thank you all!).  And, we take a certain amount of pride in our ability as a farm to weather the difficulty and continue to make adjustments and be successful.  We've had good people working for us, good people in our CSA and buying our products and we've had good people supporting us in many other ways.  And, as of the end of July, the section of our farm that is in transition (3 years) due to the spray will again be certified organic.

An ill wind.
It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good.  Well, maybe there is some good to be had here and it takes the form of our ability to now focus on trying to work on the overall problem that we face with chemical misapplication in agriculture/horticulture.

Learning is always good.
Another positive that we can get from this is that we did a great deal of learning during this process.  Here are a few things we've learned.

1. Heartfelt concern is healing
A heartfelt apology and expressions of concern can go a long ways toward atonement and healing.  We hope we take this lesson and apply it any time it is appropriate.  We are realizing that this whole thing could have played out so much differently if any of the parties involved could have shown some real concern for our well-being.  But, we suspect that the fear of litigation causes people to clam up.  After all, concern can become an indication of guilt, I guess.

A lack of pollinators reduced this wildflower planting to a few specimens, we will need to replant.
2. Our pollinators need us to pay some attention to them
We were reminded how important native pollinator populations are.  The picture of wildflowers was taken just prior to the spraying event.  Pollinators were gathering.  They were killed by the spraying and that left us with a number of infertile seed.  This patch declined significantly the following year.  We'll have to replant, that's all there is to it.

3. If you won't stand up for yourself, stand up for others.
We learned that, sometimes, when you stand up for yourself, you are standing up for others.

So many people who experience chemical misapplication situations give up on the process of reporting and pursuing change.  We understand how that happens.  You're busy and it isn't fun to do this.  You don't want to confront your neighbors or local cooperatives about the problem.  It takes effort to figure out how and to whom you report.  And, then, there is the follow through to get compensation for losses.  It's often easier to chalk it up as another of life's lessons and try to move on.  After all, you can always grump about it to sympathetic ears, but that doesn't leave room for forgiveness and growth.

But, this is the problem.  If there is no accountability, there will be no change.  People who are impacted by chemical misapplication need to stand up.  They do not need to do this for themselves.  Instead, they need to do this so the situation for everyone changes.

It's Just Beginning
We don't want this to happen again.  Not to us.  Not to anyone.

It's time to start making some noise.  And, we'd like you to join us in doing so.  Watch for a future post later this week with suggestions as to what you can do to help make some changes in our state.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Variety Show - Thelma Sanders

Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato
This IS an acorn squash. It just has a cream colored skin. Size can be slightly bigger than standard green acorns such as Table Queen, but not much bigger. These vines are very hardy. Dry year - no problem, just get them started as seedlings. Wet year - it can do that. Cool year - ok as long as you get them in on time. Hot year - it doesn't really notice. From a production standpoint, we can't do better for an acorn squash. We also like the taste of these better than standard green acorn squash. We find them to be a little less stringy. We've had them store into January, but don't expect it. It would normally be safe to save them into December. Vines crawl around a bit, but not much more than average winter squash. Easy to pick - in part because the color makes it easier to see them. We don't lose much of these to pests or other problems. We have noticed that if the stem comes off flush with the skin, you should eat that fruit sooner than those that maintain their stem.

And, of course, we had a crop failure for these in 2014.  It just proves that when enough things go wrong, a strong variety can still fail.  Nonetheless, our faith in Thelma Sanders remains strong!  2015 is the year for it to set records!


Cooking Squash
The following works for any winter squash - from acorn squash to pumpkins. Acorn squash, being smaller, will take far less time to cook. Excess squash reheats readily and can easily be placed in a freezer bag and frozen.
  1. Carefully cut squash into halves or quarters
  2. Empty seed cavity of all seed and 'stringy' goo
  3. Place face down in cake pan
  4. Put 1/4 inch of water in bottom of pan
  5. Bake at 350 degrees F until a fork easily goes through entire squash (30 to 60 minutes depending on squash)
Cutting Squash
Many squash have extraordinarily hard skin. Use a large, sharp knife and use common sense when cutting open a squash. If you are unable to cut a squash in half, you may soften it by puncturing holes in the squash and using the microwave.
As easy as (pumpkin) pie!
Most winter squashes can be made into a pie. However, we can safely eliminate acorn and spaghetti squash from possible candidates. Varieties that are particularly good at being adapted to pies are Long Island Cheese, Amish Pie, Musquee de Provence, Australian Butter and Kikuza.
If you find a recipe calling for a can of pumpking just remember this:
1 can = 2 cups cooked pumpkin / winter squash.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Lessons in Farming VI - Dept of Redundancy

Part 1 - Every Morning is the Dawn of a New Error
Part 2 -  I Don't Have a Solution, but I Admire the Problem

Part 3 - If at First You DO Succeed
Part 4 - Synchronized Swimming
Part 5 - Look Out for Number 1 and Don't Step in Number 2 Either!

We hope you have enjoyed this series of posts.  This is the final post of the series that is planned at this time.  But, don't be surprised if we resurrect it in the future!

Office of the Department of Redundancy Department

Some of you might remember that Rob studied computer science.  And, if you didn't remember, I am reminding you now.  I studied computer science.  Pretty effective method of reminding you, no?

One of the main concepts that I bought into when designing systems was the idea that redundant systems are an excellent way to insure less downtime for an automated system.  And, not surprisingly, I believe the same to be true with our set up at our farm.  Of course, some of the methods to achieve redundancy have been learned over time.  We certainly did not operate in the same fashion in 2005 that we will in 2015.  But, then again, I don't think we'd be operating at all if we didn't learn and make adjustments.  That's part of the beauty and much of the challenge of doing what we do.

How many redundancies are there in this picture?
Succession Planting
One of the simplest ways to get redundancies on our farm is to plant more than one succession of a given crop.  In other words, we don't plant all of one type of vegetable at the same time.  If all of the successions do well, that's great.  The result is more crop over a longer period of time.  With a CSA, we can certainly use this to our advantage.  However, the point of redundancies are to be prepared for failures so that the overall system continues to succeed.  The picture above shows our second succession of summer squash and zucchini, which did pretty well in 2014.  The first succession is not easy to see on the left.  It did not do particularly well this year.  But, our CSA program certainly had plenty of summer squash and zucchini.

Splitting Crop Locations
If you plant all of one type of crop in the lowlands during a wet season, you are pretty much guaranteed to get nothing of that crop that year.  However, if you split the production of that crop between a couple of locations, you reduce the chances that a location based disaster will destroy your entire crop.  Tammy is planting Waltham butternut squash in the row at the right.  This is a row that was planted separate from our other winter squash field.  That field was very wet in 2014, so the squash we got came from this planting.

Diversity of Crops
Another way to provide redundancy on a farm is to grow a wide range of crops that provide the overall income for the farm.  Some years just aren't good for certain crops, no matter how many successions or locations you plant them in.  If that is the only crop you grow, you are certain to have a bad year.  But, if you grow many types of crops, you create your own insurance program.  The field above shows garlic, summer squash, zucchini and winter squash.  Not visible are lettuce (already harvested) and turnips.

Diversity Within a Crop
We also prefer to grow more than one variety of most crops on the farm.  For example, the picture above features two types of garlic (Music and Northern White) and many types of zucchini and summer squash.  Different cultivars respond to weather extremes differently.  Of course, if you have a perfect growing season, they should all do well.  But, since the perfect growing season seems to be a myth, we'd much rather have a range of plants that can handle the diverse weather we can experience.  The net result?  You should get some of most every crop in nearly every season if you select the proper set of varieties for your farm.

We showed them there weeds!
Redundant Labor Resources
This one is a bit harder for us to accomplish on our farm.  Of course, we have some people who come and work on the farm during the summer.  And, yes, Rob and Tammy work on the farm.  Sometimes people will volunteer for a while or we will hire some college students to do a weeding task.  And, we also have cultivated (oh no! a pun!) relationships with other growers in Bremer county and in Iowa.  When push comes to shove, we can help each other.  For example, Tammy, Rob, Denis and Kieran all joined Jeff Sage at his place to help weed the green beans.  Jeff was feeling pretty overwhelmed at the time, but things were certainly looking up after he got a little help!

Tool Options
We've learned that tools break.  And, if you only have one option to do a certain task, a broken tool will effectively stop all progress on that task.  One way we can combat the problem is to have two of everything on the farm.  That may be feasible with shovels, hoes and other hand tools.  But, I'm not sure having two disk harrows is a good idea for us.  However, some of the work done by a disk harrow might be accomplished with an S tine cultivator.  It's not the same, but we might be able to make it work in a pinch.  The real key is knowing your options and how they might fall short in a substitution situation.  Knowing where they fall short allows you to make proper adjustments.

Contingency Plans
And, finally, there is the dread "Plan B" (or C, D, E, ... Z if you must).  No growing season will go as planned.  In fact, if it goes as planned, you didn't try hard enough to do good things.  Even if the plan is not written down, it helps to know your options.

We hope you enjoyed this post and have a great day.  Failing that, we hope you have a nice day and that you think this post was pretty good.  And, of course, we hope that you enjoyed reading this and that you have an enjoyable remainder of your day.

from the Department of Redundancy Department

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Land of Contusions

Anyone want to try their hand at a music video?  Once again, The Man with a Hat takes a popular tune and revamps the lyrics.  If you like this one, you may also enjoy:
Heat Mats and Grow Lights
      a parody of Heat of the Moment by Asia
I Wanna Wash My Hands
      a parody of the Beetles I Wanna Hold Your Hand
and
The Saftey Plantz
     anyone remember Safety Dance by Men Without Hats?

This year's edition is a rewrite of the lyrics for Land of Confusion by Genesis.  If you don't know that tune, their music video for the song can be seen here: 
Music Video

Without further ado - we present

"Land Of Contusions"

Must have planted a thousand seeds
Been haunted by a million weeds

And I can feel my aching feet
Cannot wait to take a seat.


Now did you feed the birds today?
Opened the bin, grain got away.
But I could make a move to the right.
Made sure injury was slight.

There's too many hens
Too many weeds, oh!
Making too many problems
And not enough gloves to go round
So you see...
This is a land of contusions.

This is the world we live in
And these are the hands we're given
Bruise them, but don't start crying
Tears make it hard to do night chores.

Ooh, super, man - hooked up the plow
Barked my shin on a disk somehow.
Work with steel and tractor power
See more bruises every time I shower.

We cut some thyme
Too quick a pace
So we look for a suture.
And a sore back from the posts I pound.
This is why, this land of contusions.

This is the world we live in
And these are the hands we're given
Bruise them, but don't start crying
Tears make it hard to see the row you're in.

Sometimes I long to go
On days the sun is shining
To where the vines are twining
Yes and check for some blight.
All seemed alright.
But the sound of your laughter
'Cuz you knew I might
Down I go -


I won't be tilling loam tonight
My hesitation about poor light

And tired eyes just causes this
Row we sow, we'll never reap.

There's too many hens
Too many weeds, oh!
Making too many problems
And not 'nough gloves to go round
Can't you see...
This is a land of contusions.

This is the world we live in
And these are the hands we're given
Bruise them, but don't start crying
Tears make it hard to see the row you're in.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Break Time - Planting Seeds

Sometimes the hobby intersects with the profession.

The season is on its way where we will use tools like this:
Jang seeder
Earthway seeder
At GFF, we actually do not own a Jang seeder, but we do have two Earthway seeders.  We also have a European Push seeder and a Six Row Seeder.  But, we're featuring the above because we wanted to show that these are not necessarily new technologies.

How about $7.50 with a 5% discount for early payment for a similar seeder in 1912?