Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Top Ten Business Decisions - Part I

Earlier this year, Rob was involved in a Practical Farmers of Iowa event in Cedar Falls called the Next Generation Retreat.  Beginning farmers attended and were working on budgets and business plans for what they hoped would be new farm businesses in Iowa.  Rob's job was to share some insights for potential vegetable and CSA growers.

We felt it might be enjoyable to share various "TENS" as a part of our "Ten Year Tenure" celebration.  This will be one of several series we hope to maintain throughout the second half of the 2014 season.

This will, of course, be a Ten Part Series.  We are not putting them in order of importance as that's just too much work.  Instead, we'll do them as we feel like writing about them.

Adding the tractor and various implements to our tool set.

That is one daunting task....
Up until 2010, the largest tools we had on the farm were the lawn tractor(s). Our model was to try to build equity before making farm purchases and it took a few years before we really let ourselves begin investing capital into tools.  In fact, one of our favorite early photos (2005) is above.  Other than a lawn tractor used to mow and pull a small cart, our big tool was the walk behind tiller you see here.  Our first crash course about needing good tools occurred soon after this picture when the tiller 'threw a rod' and was down for the count when we still had things to do.  Our first response at that time was to have a new engine put on this tiller.  The second was to purchase a tiller attachment for our lawn tractor.

At this point in time, the old tiller still runs if needed.  The tiller for the lawn tractor has been down for the count for a few years now.

Durnik the tractor - resting after a little work
Of course, there were intermediate steps that lead us to 2010 and the purchase of the 1949 Ford 8n/2n you see above.  But, the purchase of this tractor represents a significant change in how we performed work on the farm.

It's amazing how much more efficient moving straw can be with the right tools.
This was one of those 'serendipity meets just enough daring to try to pull it off' moments.  That year was not, by any means, a great year for us.  And, we'd already expended significant capital on the high tunnel.  But, attendance at a recently deceased neighbor's auction brought us face to face with the possibility that we could own a larger piece of equipment that would have some people who were knowledgeable of the tractor's past.   So, we took a run at the tractor and landed it.  Members in the neighborhood, including the family, were pleased it stayed nearby.

We weren't able to use the tractor much early on because we didn't have any equipment that worked with it.  But, one of the first additions was a hayrack.  And, this purchase provided us with a crash course on 'why used equipment isn't always the best choice.'  Essentially we purchased a running gear that had no deck.  Rob was pretty confident in building the deck (and it looks great by the way) but he didn't notice that the darned thing didn't turn.  The front wheels were frozen in place.  Ugh!

Disk Harrow

Rotary Mower

Potato Digger

Two Bottom Plow (Moldboard Plow)

Since that time, we have added various implements and done a good bit of learning about how to work with and care for this tractor.  In fact, it is safe to say that we've learned what it is particularly good at doing.  And, of course, we've learned its shortcomings.  But, let's be honest, for the price of purchasing and paying for repairs on this tractor, we've had a an excellent course on how this sort of tool can be a key asset on a farm such as ours.  In short, I am not sure we would have learned as much as well as we did if we had made a leap to take out a loan and acquire a new tractor immediately.  In fact, I'll go out in a limb and say we would not have learned as much, nor would we have learned as well.  Further, we would not have been willing to invest money in several of the other tools that are used with the tractor.  A new tractor with a bucket might be nice, but if you don't have other tools for tillage, cutting, cultivating and planting - it is one-dimensional and wasted money.  Purchasing a less expensive, older, but fairly reliable tractor that had a traceable history was perfect for us.  We had capital to experiment with different tools to learn what we could (and should) be doing.

And, if we made a mistake, the loss wasn't nearly so great.  In fact, we've already removed some items from that farm that didn't work for us.  We've even replaced some items that worked, but we saw the repairs looming on the horizon.

Sometimes an auction purchase didn't work out.
This year, we took another step and added a much newer tractor to our tool lineup.  This time, financing was required.  But, we couldn't ignore the fact that it would address a long laundry list of issues we had with getting things done on the farm.

Rosie the tractor - We Can Do It!
The jury, of course, is still out on whether this, by itself, is a top 10 item.  But, we can assure you that we do not purchase things for the farm without a fair amount of thought and some wringing of hands.  It's no small thing to do this.  But, then again, consider what it will do for us:

  • turning compost piles (something we have been unable to do since they got too large for hand turning)
  • Using the tandem disk (Durnik just couldn't quite run the disk for much longer than 15-20 minutes at a time)
  • better fuel economy.  We figure what we did with the disk and chisel plow soon after purchase used 1/3 the fuel that we would have with Durnik
  • More flexibility and less time taking implements on and off (we can leave the flex tine weeder on Durnik and have the disk on this beast for example)
  • The ability to add a transplanter to our arsenal of tools in the not too distant future
  • Use of the rotary mower is no longer the adventure it is with the older tractor - and we don't mean adventure in a good way this time.
  • A warranty during the break-in period so we don't get delayed by break downs...
Keep checking out our blog and see how our new tractor gets along with the old.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Lessons in Farming I - Every morning is the dawn of a new error.

The strange thing about the entire process of leading a field day at the farm is the way it encouraged me to think more about how things are done on our farm (and other farms).  And, since our hope was to provide help to aspiring or newer farmers, we thought hard about what kinds of things might be most useful for them to here (and how it might be best to present them).  The incredible thing is how much I wanted to say that I couldn't manage to get said in the time people were at the field day.  It's just a good reminder that farming is a non-trivial process.  It is also a good reminder that there are many ways to successfully (and unsuccessfully) farm.

In any event, I came across some sayings I used to have on my office door when I taught at University of Minnesota at Morris.  And, I was struck by how well these could be used to make some points about what we do on the farm.  We hope you all enjoy these!

Every morning is the dawn of a new error
A comedy of errors - yet things will turn out ok.
As a computer science professor, I tried to drill the counter intuitive concept that "successful" tests were those that found errors in computer programs.  Of course, most people think that tests are successful if the program works as intended rather than when it breaks.  So, you can see the uphill battle I had to fight.  But, you can see why this saying was on my door at the time!

With farming, it is my opinion that you aren't being innovative enough if you don't make mistakes.  Now, of course, there are mistakes and there are mistakes.  But, my main point is as follows:

1. There is NO "silver bullet"

2. Farming isn't and should NOT be easy. 

To say that is - or to try to make it so - ignores the complexity that is our natural world.  The natural world is complex.  Simple solutions that are used with no forethought or observation tend to lead to bigger problems.  It's a little bit like the exercise equipment that advertised the ability for you to exercise in "one effortless motion."  Ya.  That's how you get into better physical condition - expend no effort.  Riiiiiight.

On the other hand, the complexity of nature and the world should be a comfort to us - but you might have to wait to read my reasons why under the last heading.
3. Every farm has key differences that force the need for solutions that are unique to that farm.

So, if you want to become a better farmer, you need to be willing to learn, to experiment and innovate.  The very nature of each of these (learning, experimenting and innovation) makes it likely that there will be errors.

An example would be the area in the photo above.  Our first error had to do with planning on reconfiguring this field with swales in preparation for a new high tunnel.  The wet and cold Spring set the excavator back in his schedule.  We held back planting here both because of weather AND because we intended to get this excavation done.  The result is that we had to do some last minute rotation changes.  It also meant that this field didn't get the attention it should have early in the year. 

Error number two had to do with how we dealt with the weed pressure that developed as we let the field do its thing early in the season.  We disked in the field and then tilled the planting beds with the BCS.  There was no gap between these two activities.  In our defense, the wet weather had compressed many of our activities - and we abided by the maxim that the best time to do activity X on the farm is when you are doing activity X.  Why?  Because sometimes you just don't have the ability to do things during the optimal time period.  It would have been better to let the weed seed bank deplete itself a bit before planting so we could flex tine the bed and get stale seed beds going.

Error number three?  We didn't set up irrigation right away on these rows.  Hey, it had been pretty damp up to this point, so we weren't thinking about irrigation.  But, of course, what happens when you wait?  Well, weeds start to grow.  Now, you have to weed before you run your drip tape.  Which means you can't irrigate crops that need it until you weed.  Assuming you have time for that.  And, when it gets dry and the ground gets a bit harder than you would like.....  Ah, you get that point.

The fourth error is simply embarrassing.   However, I include it because it is ridiculous to even pretend that mistakes of this kind don't happen on our farm.  Don't get me wrong.  We usually do pretty well - but things can happen.  The thin patch of green at the left is where we planted some eggplant.  They are still there, sort of.  But, what happens when a person is disking the next area to be planted, weeds have gotten into the already planted rows and that person is driving the tractor and begins thinking about what his crew needs to be doing next?

Um, yes.  I disked over the row of eggplant.  Ups.  The bad news, we lost about a quarter of the plants and the remaining plants are not very strong.  The good news?  I woke up real quick and reminded myself that I never work with equipment with less than ALL of my attention on the job at hand.  Much better to sacrifice a few eggplant than any of the more expensive or horrifying errors that could happen with distractions while using equipment.

We hope you enjoy this series of posts.  This is the first of six parts  Up next: I don't have a solution.. BUT I admire the problem.

Monday, August 25, 2014

What do I do with ______? (August 25 edition)

A quick reminder that we have recipes at this location on our website.

Also, we are happy to share recipes that our CSA members find work for them.  If you have one you want to share, please send it on.

This week, we focus on green beans since they have been good this year.  Now, Tammy and I usually think all you need do is steam the green beans and add butter if you want while it is hot on your plate.  In fact, we both will probably agree that this doesn't get old for us.  However, we also realize that other folk may want options.  So, here are a couple of them.

Balsamic Green Bean Salad

¾ to 1 pound green beans, trimmed into 2 inch pieces
2 cups cherry tomatoes or 1 pound tomato, cut into 2 inch pieces
¼ tsp garlic powder (or 1 finely minced clove garlic)
1 onion, diced
1.5 T balsamic vinegar
1.5 T lemon juice
Dash ground mustard
1/8 tsp pepper & 1/8 tsp salt
1/8 c olive oil
½ cup feta cheese

Mix together. Serve cold and store in refrigerator.

Crispy Baked Parmesan Green Bean Fries

¾ to 1 pound fresh green beans
¼ c grated parmesan cheese
½ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp salt (or to taste)
1/8 tsp pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil, and spray with non-stick cooking spray.
Wash beans and snip stem off.
Place green beans on prepared baking pan, making sure they are evenly spread out, and none are laying on top of each other, (this will ensure even crispiness!) Sprinkle seasonings and parmesan cheese evenly over green beans.
Place green beans in the pre-heated oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy! (To make them extra crispy, broil them for an extra 1-2 minutes before pulling them out of the oven). Enjoy immediately with low sugar ketchup or dipping sauce of choice.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Variety Feature: Cucumbers

Much of the following is an excerpt from our vegetable variety pages that can be found here on our website.  Editorial comment and material for the 2014 growing season are new.

The cucumbers are finally getting going and you may have noticed a spineless cucumber among the options.  Well, here it is!

Green Finger
Green finger cucumbers
That's a nice batch of Green Finger cukes!

We introduced this open pollinated "European style" cucumber to our farm in 2013 and were extremely pleased. These produce long cucumbers that stay thin despite reaching lengths up to 15 inches. Taste tests by our CSA members brought raves and the production numbers were very good. We suspect they will do better now that we know what to expect since we left a lot of cucumbers on the vine when we couldn't keep up with them. They look like they'll trellis well in a high tunnel and may help us produce early cucumbers in 2014.
The skin is less tough than the "American style" cucumbers (such as Marketmore). As a result, they show blemishes easily and get dinged up if you hit the edge of the container. Critters breach the skin more easily, so you will lose a higher percentage to small problems than you will with the other varieties we grow. On the other hand, the production volume is high enough to handle it. We expect we will refine our judgement further over the next couple of years. As with all varieties, you have to learn how best to handle them to get the best production levels.

2014 Season report thus far for Green Finger cucumbers:

Clearly, Green Finger (and all cucumbers) dislike the presence of Canadian Thistle.  But, this isn't too surprising.  The farmers dislike the presence of Canadian Thistle as well.  The slow start for the first succession of cucumbers hit the Green Fingers harder than most.  On the other hand, they are performing as expected for the second succession.  We will try to get these picked a little more often to prevent them from getting so large.  We also hope this will extend production.

You might note that we suggested they would do well in the high tunnel.  Well, we still suspect this is the truth.  But, we made some decisions about high tunnel space that omitted cucumbers from the space this season.  Whether this was good or bad is a moot point, but we do intend on giving them their chance in the future.

Friday, August 22, 2014

GFF Field Day

On August 17 of this year, we hosted a Practical Farmers of Iowa field day that was sponsored by MOSES.

The press release announcing this field day is at this location

The field day was attended by 60 people, the food was excellent and the attendees were a pleasure to have visiting the farm.  There were many great questions, some decent answers and wonderful conversations.  All in all, we were honored to be able to hold this field day and have the opportunity to share what we do with other interested persons.  Hopefully, attendees were able to learn from us - either by seeing what we do that fits their needs or seeing how we fail so they can avoid those same problems.

We thought we would share some photos that were taken by the PFI staff.  But, before we get to that - a big thanks to Tomoko, Tamsyn and Chris for all of their help!   PFI staffers are the best and are one of the reasons we're happy to keep doing things to support PFI.

Our youngest attendee - 3 weeks of age
We had attendees of all ages at this event, but the youngest person came along for the ride with Glen and Beth Elsbernd.  It turns out, Anthony didn't really have many questions.  But, believe me... he will. 

You want me to talk or Tammy?
The program started at about 3:20 when it looked like most who intended to attend had arrived.  There was some great creative parking going on.  Well done people!  The first stop after the normal housekeeping things that occur at these events was the ducks.  Rob made sure to ask if people wanted to hear form the knowledgeable person regarding the ducks or the one who just feeds the Appleyard ducks greens.  They opted for knowledge (and beauty), so Tammy presented on that topic.
Rob tells everyone which direction East is.
Once we were done with the ducks, Rob decided to be out standing in his field.  Everyone else stayed on the path ways.  Thank you everyone.  It made me feel special that I could trod around in the fields.  Since our topic areas had to do with intercropping, planning and research the field day ran the gamut.  We tried to respond most to questions and I feel that we touched on each topic.  The biggest difficulty had to be trying to do each thing justice without wearing the audience out. 

So, if you were an attendee and wondered if there is more.  There is.  There is always more.  But, we covered a little bit of each thing in hopes that you could get some nuggets that were useful to you.

A Reds cap for Rob (super cool) and an A's cap for Rob's brother!
I was greatly honored to have another Reds cap at the field day!  What a great cap.  That young man is going to go far!  Even better, his brother wore an A's cap.  It just so happens that this is my brother's favorite team.  If they only knew.
I think there's something on my shoe.
The pictures we were able to view of the field day included an inordinate number of Rob.  I suppose the reason for this is that he was speaking.  But, if you know Rob, you realize he'd rather be on the picture taking side of the camera.  And, you probably also know he isn't a person who takes pictures of people.  Nothing like getting a new perspective of life on the farm. 

We've always known this, but we never had it so well illustrated.  Rob feels it necessary to gesture when he talks.  We just thought you should know.

That actually looks comfortable.  Maybe I should sit, since there is something on my shoe?
The best part of the field day?  The great people with the great questions.  We wish we had more time to just converse with more of you!

James says, "Hey, did you know you had something on your shoe?"
James Frantzen of Riverside Feeds and Mike Gallagher of Sunshine Paper Company were both in attendance as well.  James provides the feed for our poultry and Sunshine Paper provides us with the Weedguard Plus paper mulch we use in our SARE research at the farm.  It was good to be able to point interested individuals there way when we got questions about what we fed our birds or where we got the paper mulch.

These people are smiling because they know smoked turkey is on the menu
The field day had some serious content, but we still managed to keep it light-hearted and laid back.  We figured most people there had endured a long week as we had, so providing an event that allowed all of our blood pressures to go back down would be a good thing. 

Ending the event with a GFF smoked turkey prepared by Chef Chris Meyers of the Savory Spoon in Frederika (along with his home made buns) was an excellent choice.  The meal was supplemented by some GFF Bunte Forellenschus lettuce and all kinds of excellent items brought as part of the potluck. 

Oh...what a scary bunch that is!
Kieran, our Labor For Learning intern and Erik, one of our summer farm helpers, were able to attend the field day as well.  We think it provided them with more insight about why we do some of the things we do in the way we do it.  Sometimes explanations cannot be so thorough during a work day.  And, often the explanations are confined to what is going on at the time.  This gave a macro view that they both deserved to have.  So, we're glad they were able to be there.

Thank you for attending the field day.  Now... adore me.
And, apparently, the farm cats were on the list of must see items for the PFI staff.  Of course, being cats, they all made sure they couldn't be troubled during the field day.  Cubby did eventually show up so Tamsyn, Chris and Tomoko could see her.  Being the might huntress she is, she preened and posed.  Who wouldn't be proud to be Cubby?

Mrranda showed up almost immediately after the last car left the farm.  Sandman followed five minutes later.  They're response was - "What?  Was something going on here?  I didn't know."

Now that's encouraging!
People were great about separating trash, dishes, recycling, etc.  And, many people brought their own table service, reducing our efforts at cleanup dramatically.  Bless you all! 

Of course, there were still numerous things to do to clean up after the event, but it wasn't nearly the onerous task it could have been.  Tammy did a great job organizing this part of the field day and those who came were helpful and positive guests.  Thank you to all of you.

And, of course, we should also thank people who came in days prior to help us prepare the farm for this field day.  Ron Lenth brought chairs from the extension office for us to use (thank you Ron!).  The Figura clan, Jo Foster, Erin and Bailey Bartlett and Kieran Cullen all showed up for some volunteer time on Saturday.  We managed to clean up the tomato field a bit, knock down weeds behind the cold frame area and slap a little more paint on the granary.  Nancy Hasenwinkel continues to help with maintaining the flower beds.  It's been pleasant to look at the flowers and not be disappointed in the state they are in.  Jeff Sage and Lyndsay Schmidt, two growers in Bremer County, joined us on Wednesday and helped us clean up some of our fields as well.  And, we would be remiss if we neglected to point out that Erik, Kieran and Denis - our crew this season, have all done a great deal to make the farm look as good as it could for this event.

Well done all! 

Monday, August 18, 2014

What Do I Do With _____?

We've finally realized that we're running on fumes as we work towards being ready for the PFI Field Day at the farm tomorrow.  The result is that we haven't had the energy to spare for the creative work that is blogging.  Then, Rob realized that you all might enjoy a few things to help you identify what is in your shares and what to do with them.

First things first - we'd like to remind you that we do have lots of information on vegetable varieties here on our website.
We also have recipes at this location on our website.

Some of the information in this post can be found on our website as well.  But, the great thing is that there is MUCH more on the website than there is here.  Between the two, we have some pretty good resources.

This post is dedicated to giving you some recipe information.

While the following soup is pretty rich, we both like it.  Especially in the Fall when the weather gets a bit cooler.  The trick is trying to prevent yourself from having that second bowl right away.  Save some for the next day, the soup gets even better with a day for the flavors to mix.

Zuppa Tuscano (Kale and Potato Soup) - GFF version


  • 3 brats, precooked or grilled, cut into cubes
  • 3 potatoes, cut into cubes
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 6 slices bacon
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2-3 cups kale - washed, dried, and shredded
  • 2 tablespoons chicken bouillon powder
  • 1 quart water
  • 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
  1. Cook bacon and onions in large fry pan until bacon is crisp and onions are almost clear.  Remove bacon and crumble. Set aside.
  2. Add garlic to the onions and cook an additional 1 minute.
  3. Transfer onions and garlic to large saucepan. Add chicken base or bouillon, water, and potatoes, simmer 15 minutes.
  4. Add crumbled bacon, brats and kale.  Simmer 5 minutes.
  5. Add cream and stir. Turn off heat, let sit 5 minutes and serve.
Yields approx 6 servings.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Variety Feature - Tomatoes

We've finally realized that we're running on fumes as we work towards being ready for the PFI Field Day at the farm tomorrow.  The result is that we haven't had the energy to spare for the creative work that is blogging.  Then, Rob realized that you all might enjoy a few things to help you identify what is in your shares and what to do with them.

First things first - we'd like to remind you that we do have lots of information on vegetable varieties here on our website.
We also have recipes at this location on our website.

Some of the information in this post can be found on our website as well.  But, the great thing is that there is MUCH more on the website than there is here.  Between the two, we have some pretty good resources.

Without further ado - we thought we'd give you the low down on one of the tomatoes that you've already seen on your shares.  We've noticed that the tomatoes are much more variable in size and shape this season.  Average weight is much lower than usual.  But, taste and texture have been very good.  So, we'll take it!


Italian Heirloom
Italian Heirloom tomato
Resists Cracking
Disease resistance
Days to Maturity
Fruit Per Plant
Typical Harvest Period
Size of Fruit
.85 pounds

Easy to peel, slice and can with little waste. This variety tends to start production earlier in the season than any other large tomato. These do not leave juice all over the board when you slice or dice them, very meaty and great for BLT sandwiches! The fruits are usually round with a slight elongation towards the bottom and tend toward an orangish-red when ripe. In other words, they don't quite go to the 'fire engine' red that some people think is a typical tomato color. This is probably our favorite tomato to recommend to restaurants or persons who need a high volume for an event. As a grower, you won't find a better all around large tomato. The reliability rating took a hit in 2008 with a very weak year. However, plants we sold to persons in the area did extremely well. We have traced the problem to a soil drainage issue in the area these were planted. It's a tribute to the plants that they did anything. Plants can sometimes be a little 'weepy' looking until they bush out since they are related to roma varieties. It is important that you put transplants in deeply to avoid stem breakage in the wind. 

2013 Report: We were grateful that Italian Heirloom matures quickly with our late planting in 2013. Crops were sufficient to make us wonder if we would get close to a record production year from these plants and we would have if we had not failed to stake a dozen of the plants we put in. Contact with the ground results in fruit rot, even if there is mulch. Plants are smaller than many, so we go with the smaller, square cages from Nolt's and find that they are perfect size for these plants. A daycare asked for about 100 pounds of larger tomatoes to process for Winter. One hundred and five tomatoes later, I had the order filled and had more than enough to give our CSA members a couple each that same week. These are well worth figuring out how to grow.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Field Day Sunday, August 17 at Genuine Faux Farm

We will be hosting a field day sponsored by Practical Farmers of Iowa and MOSES on August 17.  The press release is here.  It is scheduled to be from 3pm to 6pm on Sunday.  It will end with a meal that is part main course provided by the farm and part potluck!  Chef Chris of the Savory Spoon will be taking a GFF turkey (from last season) and preparing it as part of the main course.  We're pretty sure some veg from GFF will also make an appearance.  The first part of the event will include a farm tour and discussion/presentation on many of the things we do to plan as well as our research and intercropping techniques.

If you wish to attend, we do need you to RSVP.

If the field day is not for you BUT you'd like to help us beautify the place so it looks wonderful on Sunday:

 So, we are looking for persons to come on Saturday August 16 for a Tom Sawyer "Spruce Up the Farm Day."  If you would like to volunteer a little time, there is a wide range of activities you could be involved in.  Feel free to let us know if you have interest.

  We're open to volunteers on Wednesday, Friday or Saturday.  If you are interested, let us know so we can prepare (both you and ourselves).

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Fighting a Good Fight

Every August we get enough data in on our harvests that we feel we can do a little assessment and maybe share with interested parties how the year has gone and is going.  Like last year, this season has been slow to get going for some of the same - and some different reasons.  But, with another year of experience and some more tools in the tool box, we're fighting through it yet again with some reasonable results.

Without further ado - here are some crop related things that are going on at your farm!

Green Beans .... YUM!

We just can't help it.  We like our green beans.  And, if early returns are any indicator, we should get to like our green beans alot this season. 

Some of you might remember that Jade green beans made it to #9 on our end of season Veg Variety Winners last season.  If you didn't, there's a link there for you to take to remind yourselves.  Essentially, last season, we didn't pick much of anything for green beans from the field and it all came out of the high tunnel (375 pounds worth).  Well, we decided we liked having green beans in the high tunnel and planted exactly the same number of row feet of Jade as we did last year.  That's good news, right?

Even better news, we got the beans in 2 1/2 weeks earlier than last year.  And, it is even better than that.  After three full weeks of production, we're at about 96 pounds of beans from the high tunnel.  Last year, after three weeks of production, we were at 94 pounds.  What this tells us is that we just might have a good model for predicting roughly when and how much we'll get out of these plants.  And, if the history is any indicator, we may land an extra 2 weeks of production off of these plants since they were on the upsurge in October when we moved the high tunnel off of them.

Early on the bean plants actually made the tomatoes look sparse!

The field beans are better than last year, but last year they didn't really exist.  This year, we've got two nice rows of Provider green beans that are already producing well.  The field Jade beans didn't want to germinate.  This is not wholly surprising since Jade is a warmer weather green bean and it didn't like the cooler soils.  We also have Black Valentine and Painted Pony getting ready to pick as well.  So far, we are looking at 206 pounds of harvested green beans. 

Our record is 1009 pounds of green beans in 2012.  We were doing a little experimenting that season and some of the results can be found here.  We mention this record because we are aiming for it this season.  It is now official, we are allowed to break the record because Jordan (who worked with us in 2012) volunteered this past week on the farm and picked a good share of the green beans.  If Jordan helped harvest the green beans, then a record is allowed to be broken.  (In 2012, she picked the 1000th pound).

The Beauty of Garlic

It was just two years ago that most garlic in Iowa was infected with Aster Yellows - a disease that ruined storage quality and rendered most cloves useless as seed.  Last year we began a resurgence of our garlic crop at GFF.  And, once all was said and done, we'd pulled in just under 2000 heads of garlic.

You've had the scapes - stay tuned for the cloves!
This season, we have pulled two of three beds of garlic so far and we're at almost 2300 heads.  The third bed should have about 1000 head in it as well.  Ah...the smell of sweet success.  Well... a smell anyway.  We sure hope you like the smell of garlic, because we'll have it.
I Say Tomato - and so do you.

A "normal" peak period of harvest for us is August 15 to September 15.  Since, "normal" isn't anymore, we're not entirely sure what we should say.  However, it is possible that we'll actually start getting pretty good numbers out of our tomatoes by August 15 this season.

Rows of caged tomatoes with basil started in between.  Gotta like it!
Last year, we didn't get our tomatoes into the field until June - so we were desperate for tomatoes.   We were afraid all we would get was to look at pictures of tomatoes from 2012.  But, they started to roll in at the end of August and didn't really get going until mid-September.  Happily, cold weather held off until mid-October so we could provide a nice end of season selection of heirloom tomatoes. 

Most of the tomatoes are looking good so far - so we're very hopeful for some excellent opportunities for BLTs, pico and salsa.

More to come
Crops that are doing reasonably well are always a good topic for us.  So, expect this topic to reprise on and off for the next few months!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Crop Report - end of July

Here is a quick crop report for those who are interested in all things GFF.

The cooler weather has been nice to work in, but it also slows down many of the warm weather crops.  It doesn't really hurt them, but it doesn't help us produce things at the level we would like or as soon as we would like.  Again, it isn't terribly concerning for most things.  It should work out fine - just in its own time.

Tomatoes - we're getting 'scouts' ripening at this time.  A 'scout' is an early set tomato that usually ripens 2 to 3 weeks before peak production.  So there may be a few tomatoes for large shares coming up soon.  Our peak for tomatoes is usually August 15-September 15.  Cooler weather will likely move it back a week.  We still have about 50 tomatoes to cage.  Oy... it always takes so long to do.

Peppers - just getting started.  There may be some in the Thursday shares this week.  Plants are looking pretty good, it a little small.  But, we've seen this before.  A little rain with some lightning and thunder will make these guys really take off.

Onions - we've got 600 row feet of onions that look really good.  They are starting to bulb out.  The guess is late August for them to start getting harvested.  Another 300 feet of onions are weedy and need of help.  We'll see if we can get to them.

Broccoli - we just found our first quarter size head of broccoli.  It's good temps for broccoli, so here's hoping!

Melons - on target for late August and early September

Winter squash - very mixed results.  We'll see.

Cucumbers - slow to start and in need of some real weeding.

Carrots - the new succession is sprouting for one variety and not at all for the other.  We should get something out of this batch.  We need to talk to Jeff about his current batch to see how they are going.

Lettuce - one batch is a week out.  More are going in today and Wednesday. 

Green beans - haven't even hit their stride yet.  This could be a great green bean year for us.  If we can only keep them picked.  Anyone like to do that?

Potatoes - this may sound like a broken record.  We need to get them weeded, so we can run irrigation.  The time is now.  If we get irrigation to them, they should be good.  Prime 'bulking' time is coming up.

Basil - just starting to hit a growth spurt, which shows they took to the transplant fine.

Garlic -due to be dug out this week or next.  We think they should be fine, but a little smaller than some years.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Much Mulch May Mean More Munching

One of the yearly tasks on the farm is the process of putting straw mulch down around the tomato plants.  Mulch is an important part of our tomato growing plan, so it feels good to finally get it done.

We started with the South rows - German Pink, Italian Heirloom & Dr Wyche's Yellow

In order to lay the mulch, we first need to 'skritch' and weed around the plants.  Certainly a thick enough mulch will suppress many of the smaller weeds, but tougher weeds will potentially grow through it.  It's just better to do a quick weeding first. 

Then, we need to lay the drip tape before the mulch.  Typically, we lay the drip tape as close to the stems of the plants on the South side as we are able.  This is important so we know where to put the stakes when we cage the tomato plants.

Middle rows weeded, North rows still wanting attention.
This year, the tomatoes are in a field that is wetter in the North half than in the South half.  As a result, the tomatoes in the South half are well ahead of those in the North half.  Most of them should survive, though we have already removed 8 to 10 plants in the North rows.

This matters because we will protect the plants that are showing more strength first rather than spend time trying to "rescue" the weaker ones.  We've learned that this is usually the best approach on our farm to get the most out of our work time and our fields.  Sometimes, you just have to admit that some plants won't make it and aren't worth the time.  So, if we found that we couldn't complete the field, it is better to not complete the area where the plants show that they are weak and may not make it.

There are small peppers and eggplant in the North most row... Really!
This year, we chose to move more tomatoes to the high tunnel and removed one pair of rows from the field.  This allowed us to put some peppers and eggplant into this field.  It's an attempt to 'hedge our bets' in case something happens in one of the field that holds these crops.  See - we do learn as we go.

Drolet in his natural habitat
It has become a tradition that Denis plays an integral role in the tomato mulching and caging process.  One of these days, we may give the story of how we started with straw mulching as compared to how we do it now.  Let's just say that it is much better than it was.
Tomatoes mulched, eggplant and peppers weeded. TADAAAAAAAAAAA!
We did, in fact, complete the field.  In addition to these tasks, we got the basil transplanted as well.  It's a good feeling. 

We mulch tomatoes for several reasons.
   1. mulch keeps weeds down
   2. mulch maintains a more consistent moisture level around the plants
   3. straw mulch will add organic matter to the soil
   4. mulch prevents soil splash onto tomato leaves - many tomato diseases are spread by soil splash onto leaves and the plant
   5. mulch makes picking easier for the person that harvests the tomatoes (usually Rob)

Even better, our rotation has been modified to move the garlic so that it gets planted in this field where the basil is.  Basil usually dies off in mid-September.  Garlic gets planted in October/November.  We heavily mulch garlic with straw.  The straw in the tomatoes doesn't break down all the way during the season - so we can pull it from the tomatoes to the garlic in late Fall.  Sounds like a winner to me!

And, finally - we interrupt this regularly scheduled blog post for some day lily flowers.  Thank you for your attention.