Friday, May 29, 2015

Who Made the Days So Long/So Short?

The sun gets up pretty early and goes down pretty late.  So, the days can seem pretty long around here.  At the same time, the long list of things that must be done AND the fact that nature just seems to SPEED UP in the Spring finds us wondering how time seems so short.

These heirloom tomatoes are MUCH bigger now
The most difficult part is trying to balance everything.  We still have office work to do (of course), but we really can't sit in the office when the sun is up and there are things to do.  Though, we have done that on some rainy, ugly days.  But, even the rainy/ugly days see us outside doing work.  And, of course, we have plant sales and Saturday farmers' market on our plates.  Add in Tammy's work at Wartburg and both of us getting used to having people on the farm four or so days a week and you've got a recipe for controlled chaos.

The poultry chores can get a bit annoying because, when they need doing - they need doing.  You can't tell a flock of broilers to wait for water when they need water.  Nor can you neglect moving their shelters once the grass around the shelter is pretty well packed down/eaten.  This is especially true when things are wet.  Water complicates matters further because you have to avoid any low spots that might pond water.

The nuggets shelter is a horse trailer. Why be conventional?
Like all people, we sometimes try to take a short cut to get something done.  For example, we figured we might be able to just push the horse trailer forward a little distance to a new area.  Normally, this would be possible.  But, this is apparently not true when the ground is really wet.  So, of course we ended up getting the tractor hooked up to it to move it.  But, then that led to a batch of additional related projects.  Fun how that happens.

The Snort can really be annoying sometimes.
The effort to put in a frost-free water line and prepare the site for the new high tunnel building has been delayed due to the rain and the excavator's schedule.  The net result is that we have a big 'no go there' zone on the farm.  If we want to do something like, oh, take the bedding from the hen room out to the compost pile, we had to take the Loooooong way around.  Thankfully, things dried out enough that Rosie and Rob cleared a path so we could take a more direct path.

And, we look at the calendar and realize our first CSA farm share distribution week is coming up.  REALLY?  How did that happen?  Well, it's probably a good thing, because we've got a batch of radish that are looking really good and the asparagus is really picking it up again.

this picture was from May 19.  It doesn't look like this now.
We really need to get into the habit of taking pictures almost daily this time of year.  For example, the picture above was taken ten days ago.  This area looks NOTHING like this now.  All of the pallets have trays with plants on them.  All of the cold frames are full.  No trailers are in this picture, but now there are TWO of them full of plants in the area.  The cold frame at the right and closest to the camera has potatoes that are draping leaves over the edge.  The second cold frame no longer has radish, but has newly planted Pablo lettuce and some green onions.  The far raised bed no longer has wood sides, it now has steel sides and had green onions added to the spinach already in the bed.

By next Friday, we are hopeful that the pallets will still be full, but with a completely different set of trays.  All of the trays on there now should be planted or (hopefully) sold.  Although the latter is probably wishful thinking since we have about 700 heirloom tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil, cucumber, onion and lettuce transplants currently available.  Send people our way if plants are still needed/wanted.

Until next time!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Break Time - Honoring the Fallen

We interrupt our normal growing season with a hobby post that was written back in January just for the purpose of publishing it on Memorial Day.

Postal historians will often explore mail during periods of conflict.  It isn't necessarily an attraction to war or destruction.  Instead, it is an attraction to studying how postal services attempt to solve the problems brought about by war.  However, one still is reminded of the realities of war, as can be seen by the item from WW II shown on the exhibit page below:

It is possible that this letter was not returned to the sender until February of 1945, nearly a full year after it was sent.  One can assume that they likely had already been informed of the addressee's death in battle since it appears to be from a relative.  I can only imagine how it must have felt to have this item arrive in the mailbox 10 months after the death of the person to whom it was written. 

While these people are not known to me in any way other than this envelope and research I undertook to learn more, it still hits home.  We honor the sacrifices of all who have fallen on any side of any conflict.  All the while, we hope that someday we will not need to continue to add to this list.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Rainy Days - a Mixed Blessing

Here it is - Memorial Day Weekend - and your farmer is actually inside and writing a blog post.  This is noteworthy because he has not seen the inside of his house or other building (unless it is the truck barn, poultry pavilion or high tunnel) much over the past week or two.  Most of the inside time has been spent viewing the inside of my eyelids!

So, it is rainy outside and there are no workers scheduled to be at the farm.  As a result, I am able to try to catch up on paperwork and get an informational blog post out there for everyone to enjoy.  Frankly, I think we needed this break, so the rain is welcome.  And, we have several things in the ground that would like the rain.  But, it is May, and we have so much to plant, weed and do outside that rain always makes us nervous.  I guess we'll just deal with it.

Iris Fest Postponement
The Iris Fest scheduled for tomorrow afternoon is being postponed.  The likelihood of more rain along with the mud from the pictures you will see below makes the timing less than optimal.  We're pretty certain most attendees do not want to stand around in an outbuilding looking at rain. We're also pretty certain that parents aren't all that keen about their children getting really muddy and then climbing into vehicles to go home. 

Stay tuned for rescheduling details.

Biiiiiig Gopher!
Once again, we have a pretty big mess on the farm this Spring.  This year, it is more by choice than some of our previous episodes.  We decided to put in frost free hydrants for the new high tunnel.  But, that has to happen before the building is up.  And, it required a great deal more digging than we originally anticipated.
Don't let the picture fool you...
 Speaking of the high tunnel.  It looks like our tentative build dates are around June 4-7.  We still need confirmation from the builders of the high tunnel kit and our foreman for the job.  So, we'll post as soon as we know.

It doesn't do it justice - but you get an idea of how deep the trench is.

The trench was our very own 'Grand Canyon' for a while there.  The rain on Wednesday delayed completion of filling it back in - much to our chagrin.  Now it may be a week or so before that can be completed.  The people putting in the line had to use a ladder to climb into the trench.  Ugh.

Raised Beds - Again!
We harvested a nice batch of radish from one of our raised beds for farmers' market this past week.  These raised beds have been a great addition to the farm since we put them into a service a couple of years ago.  But, some of the wood is starting to give way.  Tammy's parents came up with an alternative to using more wood.  We'll try to take a picture of it later and share it with everyone.

French Breakfast radish in captivity.  Hope you're ok with radish that isn't free range.
Trying to Make Planting More Efficient
We are trying out a Holland transplanter this year.  Hopefully, we can reduce the time for some of our planting.  And, perhaps, even more important, it would be nice to reduce the number of hours we crawl around on our hands and knees putting plants in the ground.  We just got help from Jeff Sage picking up a tool bar so we can put this thing on the tractor (Rosie), so once things dry out, we'll be trying the transplanter out.

Here's hoping this works out.
It isn't so terrible to be down on the ground doing work.  Some days, it is pretty pleasant.  But, I can attest to how sore my shins are today after some extensive contact with the soil.

Seedling Tray Dance
Every year, we move trays all over the place as we start, harden off, then transplant vegetables.  It's actually close to a full time job in itself.

Trays on heat mats and under grow lights.
I have to admit that I'm having a hard time right now trying to remember which day we did certain things this week.  So, I'll just mention things that happened and you'll just have to accept that I recorded them in our books and I don't want to look them up just now.

Earlier this week (I think it was this week), we had a major seeding session.  You see 8 trays in the picture above.  We planted somewhere between 80 and 100 of these in one day.  At an estimate, we emptied about 25-30 other trays as we transplanted into the ground this week.  Another batch of trays were emptied as the plants were transferred into pots. 

Busy Week
Ok, by the tone of this post, you might recognize that we aren't sure the time period I am writing about was exactly a week.  Consider this - if Rob, Tammy, Elizabeth and Anden all look at each other and ask - "Did we do that THIS morning or was the yesterday?" Then, it is likely we've just been pretty darned busy. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Good-bye Winter Spinach

One of the crops I think many people have enjoyed is the Winter crop of spinach we try to grow every year.  Obviously, the idea that we have something green and fresh during the months of November, December, March, April and early May is very appealing.  But, that's really only part of the story.

A spinach plant deciding March is an ok time to grow.
A Winter crop of spinach at the Genuine Faux Farm is planted in the Fall, typically late August to early September in the field just outside our movable high tunnel.  Once we get to the end of October, the high tunnel is moved over the plot where the spinach was planted.  This protects the spinach from some of the harsh weather and allows us to get a little bit of extra Fall growth so we can harvest it into December.  For the most part, spinach won't grow much once we get into mid-November.  So, it might be easiest to consider it a way to 'store' our spinach until we are ready to pick it.

Our Fall/early Winter harvests are quite tasty and very much appreciated.  But, there are often other crops available at that time, so it competes a bit for attention.

Spinach outside the high tunnel looking in
On the other hand, when the spinach starts to grow again in late February and into March, we (and many other people) are very much in the mood for fresh veg of most any type.  And, the cold weather growth helps the spinach to set more sugars.  This makes it some of the sweetest and tastiest spinach you're going to eat!

Spinach in the high tunnel and happy for some shelter
Usually, the spinach starts to bolt once we enter the month of May, but we're often willing to pull another pick or two off of the plants.  Essentially, the rule of thumb is for us to determine how efficient harvest is.  If it takes too much time to harvest because it takes too long to identify and pull good leaves, then it is time to take the crop out.  That day was today in the high tunnel.  That row of spinach is no more.  Alas for all of us!

So, wait a minute?  How many times do you pick your spinach?!
Hey!  We're glad you got the courage to jump in and ask a question.  Well done!
(Ok ok.  So someone asked us this at farmers' market a couple of weeks ago.  It's a good question, so we thought we'd pretend the blog was more interactive.)

Ignore the weeds, you should see two sets of 2 rows if you look carefully
In order to answer the question, let me first say that we use the 6 row seeder to put the spinach in the ground.  We only use 2 rows of the six, but we run two parallel beds when we plant in the high tunnel.  So, in effect, there are 4 "rows" of spinach.  Typically, we pick two of the rows at a time because that's about all one person will feel like picking in cold weather.  So, each recorded harvest is about half of the entire planted crop.

We typically are able to run 2 complete harvests in the Fall and five or six in the Spring.  Our Fall harvest came to 41 pounds of spinach and the Spring harvest reached 82 pounds of spinach.  We feel that 123 pounds of spinach from one planting is exceptional.

How do you harvest your spinach?
Now, for the truth in advertising.  We harvest our spinach by hand.  We do NOT cut the plants down with a tool.  Instead, we hand pick each leaf.  I am positive that some people who run farming operations such as ours are cringing and I can understand why that is.  However, this is a pay now versus pay later proposition.  First, if I clear cut the row, then I have to spend time in the cleaning and packing phase removing any leaves that don't pass inspection and any weeds that might have come along for the ride.  I've harvested and cleaned both ways on our farm and I find this to be most efficient and the least annoying to me. And, since I'm the primary spinach harvester, that's really what counts.

Leaves are harvested into tubs.  Once a tub is full, we can pretty much guess that we've harvested five pounds of spinach.  The spinach is soaked in cold water for about five minutes for cleaning and cooling - unless it is cold outside, then it is only for cleaning.  We then fill the big 'salad spinner' to spin the leaves dry and we bag them in produce bags at about 1/3 pound per bag.  This process can be extremely fast and, I feel, makes up for slower harvest time.  

Clearly, we couldn't increase the scale of production too much unless we found a way to speed up the harvest process.  And, if we did increase the scale and implement more efficient harvest processes, we wouldn't see nearly as many harvests and we wouldn't likely get the yield we get now.  Further, one of the reasons people like our spinach so much is the fact that we tend to focus on providing spinach with larger leaves that have more substance and taste. 

What about field planted spinach?
Over the years, we have had limited success with field planted spinach. Some of this has to do with our farm.  It is extremely difficult for us to plant an early crop of spinach in the field.  Usually, we can't plant until it is a bit late to get much more than one harvest before plants start to bolt (go to seed).  And, we often don't have time to hit the perfect August planting window for a good field crop in the Fall.

We will certainly experiment with it a bit more this year.  But, really - the reason the Winter spinach crop is so special is because it grows at a time when there is little else to harvest and enjoy.  We can give it the time and attention because there aren't other crops competing with it.  So, we'll play with spinach during other seasons a bit, but the Winter crop is where we'll invest the most effort.

Here's looking to a great growing season - right up until the last harvest in December of our next Winter spinach crop.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Farm News - May 17

The farmer is taking some time out of running around the fields, moving chickens, seeding trays and other interesting things to write a farm report for your perusal.  We hope you enjoy it.

2015 Farm Share CSA
We hate to keep harping on this.  But, our CSA's capacity is 120 shares.  (about 100 standard size and 20 large).  At present, we are sitting just below 100 shares sold.

We certainly understand that everyone's life goes through changes and that CSA farm shares don't always fit into that life.  But, if you have been procrastinating joining this year - the time to act is now.

Help with Using Your Shares in 2015
Here's a motivator for all of you!  Our intern for 2015 has just come from culinary school and she wants to help ALL of us to use our veggies.  CSA share holders, you are in for a treat this year.  And, for those of you who were on the fence prior to this - you should jump off that fence and join, this has the makings to be something special.

Plant Sales
Our next Cedar Falls plant sale is at Hansen's Outlet from 4pm to 6pm on Friday, May 22.  Come visit us.  We follow that up with the Waverly Farmer's Market on Saturday, May 23 from 8:30-11:30am.

This year, we are featuring Black Cherry and Wapsipinicon Peach for smaller tomatoes.  We still have plenty of Silvery Fir Tree tomatoes for pots and lovers of the big tomatoes (German Pink, Gold Medal, Hungarian Heart, Italian Heirloom) can still come and pick them up.  You want sauce tomatoes? We've got alot of Amish Paste, Opalka, Speckled Roman and Powers Heirloom plants available.

We hope to have pepper and eggplant next week.  There should be some lettuce, some onions and some other plants as well - all depending on the time we have to prep them.

Iris Fest
Our first festival is Memorial Day!  Mark it on your calendar.  A blog post is upcoming that will feature this event, so we won't put too many details here.  But, plan on attending, it should be fun.

High Tunnel
So, why is the 25th Edition of the CRC Standard Mathematical Tables above this title?  It is there because of this:

I needed to determine how big the plastic needed to be for the old high tunnel since we will need to replace it this year.  I still remember my formulae for the perimeter of things like circles... But, the top is not exactly a circle.  So, I went to the trusty CRC to remind myself of the formula required to determine the distance of the arc given the distances I could easily measure. 

Parents!  Tell your kids that you know a farmer who used math in a practical application!  Kids!  Tell your parents you want your own copy of the CRC!

Crop Report
The potatoes are in.  All of them.  We've never accomplished this by mid-May since we scaled up (about 2008).  Part of that is a function of the weather and soil conditions.  There are several years (such as 2012) that nothing we could have done would have changed it.  But, this year, we've had decent weather AND we have better tools to help us accomplish these tasks more efficiently.

The peas, carrots, turnips, radish, spinach and mustard greens have all germinated for us.  The production tomatoes are all selected and potted.  The peppers are potted.  The first succession of brassica are in trays and ready to plant into the field once it dries.  This is also true for cucumbers, summer squash, zucchini and melons.

Oh, and we have 3 beds of onions in.  Each bed is about 200 feet long and each bed has three rows of onions.  So, we estimate that we've put in about 4500 plants.

Communicating with GFF
If you wish to communicate with us, you should use our email address (  If you are interested in getting onto our egg email list, you should use this email address (  Please note that we try to respond quickly, but usually we aren't reading the day's email until after 10pm at night this time of year.  The energy level isn't always there to respond to complex queries.  We still intend to reply and will do our best to do so.  But, if you have inquired and not received a response, please be patient AND send us a reminder.  We're not ignoring you, we're just trying to pack too much into our days right now.

I won't post our phone number on the blog.  But, if you are CSA members, customers, etc, you likely have the number or can get it from us.  Remember to leave a message if you call.  During most of the daylight hours, Rob is not in a position to easily answer the phone.  Yes, he does have a cell phone. Yes, it does have decent reception on the farm.  But, he's not able to hear it if he's running the tiller, or the tractor.  He won't answer it if he's carrying buckets of water and he likely won't answer it if his hands are too muddy to handle the phone in the first place!  Give me an idea of what is needed in your message so we can efficiently get back to you.  And, of course, if you don't hear back, give us another call.  I've been known to fat finger and delete, rather than save, a message.  There is grumbling to be heard at the farm when that happens - so accept apologies in advance and help us out. Thanks!

We just moved the nuggets (meat chickens) to the pasture area and we let them out of the horse trailer every day so they can run around.  The young hens (henlets) have been placed in a flair box and are out on pasture as well.  they are checking out pasture for the first time this weekend.  The turklets and ducklings arrive in June.  The adult ducks have been enjoying the rain, but stopped laying eggs several weeks back.  The Appleyard ducks like to stand in a line in front of Rob and tell him what he's doing wrong.  The hens appear to be doing well and loving the nice weather.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Get My Drift?

It probably is not news to many of you that the Genuine Faux Farm is involved in various things related to research involving the things we do on our farm.  Sometimes, these things show up in various media that we have not created.  So, we thought we'd point you to a few things that feature GFF in some fashion or another.  By doing this, you may get more views regarding what we do and how we do it - and maybe some plans for this year!

You might have already noticed we have done this regarding the Duck Breed Trial we performed in 2014.  Consider this the next installment on that train of thought!

Drift Catching

We agreed to be drift catchers for the Pesticide Action Network this year.  Simply put, we will set up an apparatus that will take air samples during prime pesticide spraying time.  The idea is to begin collecting real data that will confirm or deny the assertion that drift is prevalent and a real problem.  At this point, it is often a matter conjecture and opinion rather than established and measured fact.  Hopefully continued expansion of this project will collect sufficient data to illustrate the truth of the matter to help provide impetus for change.

Clearly, my opinion is that there are plenty of chemicals in the air throughout the state during spray season.  But, I am acutely aware that I have no scientific-based research to support my statement.  And, I am also aware that these drift catchers may find nothing as well.  But, this is why you participate in research.  We want to begin the process of finding out what sort of a problem we have.

A blog post by Lex Horan of PAN features GFF during recent drift catcher training.

Photo courtesy of PAN
To give you a better idea as to how PAN is approaching this research, I would like to direct you to their stories from the field page.  It's an accessible presentation that makes it clear that they are doing what they can to provide a scientifically sound method to provide evidence of a problem that is in need of addressing.  If anything, it seems to me that this approach is more likely to record false negatives rather than false positives.  But, in this situation, that is probably the best approach.

Things that this study will do and not do:
- it will not be tracking herbicide or other chemical drift that we are pretty sure happen as well
- it can not continuously monitor air quality - nor can it test for all impurities
    Essentially, there are tubes with resins that are used for collection.  Every so often, these get replaced and sent to a lab for testing.  Various resins/tests are needed for all sorts of air impurities.  So, you can't expect to test for everything at once - nor can you expect to take samples continuously.  It just isn't feasible with this technology and situation.
- it will not be used in any way to point fingers at any of the surrounding farms or chemical applicators
   The testing equipment is non-directional.  Further, this is only intended to begin collecting data that can be used to determine the seriousness of what we believe is a pervasive problem.  With good data, we can work to find good solutions - or so it is hoped - that will serve all of us.

If you have questions about what we are doing and why, feel free to comment or send us a note.

Friday, May 8, 2015


Duck Breed Trial

Last season, we raised two types of ducks, Muscoveys and Silver Appleyards.  Practical Farmers of Iowa sponsored the research and we helped produce the report highlighted on this PFI blog post.  If you wish to see the full report, you can take the link here.   In the end, as much as we enjoyed the Silver Appleyards, we may not focus on raising them as much as the Muscovey's after we ran the numbers.  But, we also admit that a single trial is not sufficient because one must learn the differences of each breed so you can maximize their strengths and minimize the weaknesses.    At present, we have three Muscovey and four Appleyard ducks on the farm.

It's a quick quack blog post!
 The white birds in the picture are our Muscoveys.  These birds tend to be, on average, a bit bigger than the Appleyards.  In fact, the male Muscovey (who is named Diggle) is quite a bit bigger than all of the other ducks.  It is common for the drake Muscoveys to be significantly larger than the females.  Another interesting fact - Muscovey's are 'quackless' ducks.  They do make hissing noises, but they will not quack.

On the other hand, Appleyard ducks enjoy discussing everything and anything.  Recently, they've taken to standing in a line in front of Rob and telling him how he could improve his caretaking techniques.  Unlike the Muscoveys, the drake (in this case he is named Dippet) is not much bigger than the females.

Both were laying eggs until recently.  But, since we weren't separating them, we aren't completely sure which eggs belong to which birds. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Picture This and That Post

Sometimes we have so many things we'd like to share with everyone that there is no good way to have a theme for the blog post.  So, prepare yourself - I'm not sure where this one is going to go!

Early Season Crops
We backed off the early season crops this year so we could focus on getting a good start on the main season AND so we could put up a new high tunnel.  But, we have had spinach and the asparagus is getting started this week!  The spinach, per the norm for our overwintered spinach, has fabulous taste.  But, we've gotten a better harvest than usual out of it.  This bed in the high tunnel was harvested late fall and again this Spring.  It's about done now, but we've been pleased with it.

Bloomsdale spinach in early March
Ibuprofen Season
April and May is when Tammy and I get reminded by muscles we forgot we had that they still exist.  You call it Spring.  We call it ibuprofen season.  You can try to work out in the off-season, but it's never the same as doing the work.

The yellow cart loaded with the tools for planting.
Spring Has Sprung
Signs of Spring include robins, crocus flowers, pasque flowers, thunderstorms AND the sound of Barty (the BCS walk behind tractor) at the Genuine Faux Farm.  We are pleased to report that we managed to get all of the peas and carrots in prior to the rain.  We also got an outdoor succession of spinach, mustard greens, arugula, radish and turnips into the ground.  The real winner, however, is the fact that we have 75% of our potatoes in!  We have never gotten potatoes in this early at the farm.  And, it may never happen again.  But, we'll be happy about it and let other events unfold as they may.

The cherry tree also announced that it was Spring
Doors That Work
We introduced an old horse trailer to the farm last year as a home for the boyus (our meat chickens).  But, the doors were rusting out and we were pretty sure they would not last more than a week or two this year unless they were fixed.  Neither of us works much with metal.  But, the Band Saw Man himself (Jeff Sage) is a wizard with it.  Look at the wonderful doors he put on the "nuggets" home!  Now, we just need to do a bit more sealing up of some of the holes on this thing and it will be in great shape.

Band Saw Man - one of our favorite people!
New Equipment
We continue to refine our operation and acquire new equipment when the opportunity appears to be right.  This year we picked up another running gear.  This one, once we put a deck on it, should be the right size to do a number of things on the farm, including moving water.

 And, since we like to collect flair boxes (this is our third), we picked this green one up.  We just have to make decisions regarding the roles of each of the three flair boxes on the farm.  That might seem silly, but we might explain it in a later post so you see what there is some logic to this.

The Year of the Tater?
We are annoyed by the difficulties we've had with potatoes the last few years.  Granted, some of it has to do with the early weather in combination with our soils.  We certainly did what we could each of those seasons, but we refuse to believe that we can't make adjustments so we can succeed regardless of those situations.  So, one thing we are trying is putting some experimental potatoes in a raised bed at the farm.  We got these planted on Easter weekend.

And look what popped up this weekend!
Tammy Would Rather Look at the Sunset
We were picking and cleaning/packing spinach for last week's Waverly Farmers' Market on Friday evening.  Tammy left the high tunnel to grab a couple of coolers, leaving Rob behind to work on the spinach.  She did not come back for some time.  It turns out she wanted to take some pictures.  I suspect it might have been more fun than what I was doing. 

It all worked out in the end.  We had lots of great spinach at market AND Tammy managed to capture this photo.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Welcome to May

Welcome to May and to our first farm report of the growing season.  This is going to focus on information, so it may be a bit terse.  (HA! You all know I can't do that - but I'll try anyway.)

Crop Report
There isn't too much to report because there is not much in the ground yet.  We put in the Spring peas (all 800 feet of them) yesterday.  We also put the first succession of cucumber seed into trays the day before.  So, we can officially say the season of minding your peas and cukes has begun!

We are beginning to transplant tomatoes into pots and have many other trays of seedlings going at this time. 

Asparagus is starting to pop up, so keep an eye on announcements, we should have some for you at the farmers' market starting the 2nd week of Saturday markets.

The spinach in the high tunnel is starting to bolt, but we've gotten a good crop out of it.  We'll pick LOTS of it for sale for this week's farmers market.

Farmers' Market
The Waverly Farmers' Market opens starting this Saturday, May 2.  8:30 to 11:30 AM. 
We will have spinach, eggs and some Silvery Fir Tree tomato plants.  These work great in pots.  The rest of our transplants need to grow up a bit more before we sell them.  Usually the 3rd and 4th weeks of May are our peak.

Transplants for Sale
Yes, we will have transplants for sale again this season.  Our range of heirloom tomatoes, peppers and eggplants will be available yet again.  We also will have basil and we expect to have a few broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber and other plants as the season goes on.

We will sell these primarily at the Waverly Farmers' Market and during two Fridays at Hansen's Outlet in Cedar Falls (the 15th and 22nd).  We may add a 3rd Friday event in Cedar Falls and a Tripoli sales date.  Stay tuned.

The CSA is not full yet.  Keep sending people our way.  The deadlines on our brochures are not accurate since we are not full.
You may also notice, if you listen to Iowa Public Radio, that our annual radio spot is going to start running on May 4th this year. 
Billing is being sent out and on its way.  Patience!  We're getting there.  The nice weather has forced our hand to get outside since we see rain in the forecast for next week.

Bird Flu?
Are we concerned about bird flu?  Well, let's just say we're always concerned about the health of the birds in our flocks.  That's why we raise them the way we do, providing them with the best environment for them to be and remain healthy.  Does that mean our birds cannot get the flu?  Of course not.  All creatures are subject to illness at some point or another.  We just have to do what we've been doing to keep them strong.  This includes, sadly, removing a weak bird every once in a while that might be susceptible to a disease that could spread.  In short, we'll do what we feel is necessary to keep things going well at the farm.

At this point, our biggest concern is the blanket approach we fear might be applied to all operations in areas that discover bird flu. 

Festival Schedule
Tammy and I finally had a moment to sit down and hammer out the rest of the festival schedule for 2015.  We've had a number of things hanging over us waiting for some conclusion - hence the delay.
IRIS FEST - May 25
GFF Whole Farm Revenue Protection Field Day - June 28
GF7 - October 3
and somewhere in May will be the High Tunnel Build!

High Tunnel
 We've just been informed that the high tunnel will be ready to ship out in the next couple of weeks.  We're now trying to hammer out some other schedule things so we can get this thing up and running as soon as we can.  We were hoping this could be done sooner than this because May is already jam packed with things to do.  Ah well, such is life.  We'll make it work!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Look in the Mirror 2010 - Ten Year Tenure

We officially celebrate our 10th Anniversary as the Genuine Faux Farm this Spring.  We started GFF in May of 2005 (we have lived on the farm since 2004).  So, last year was our 10th year of offering a CSA program.  But, we figure we can continue to celebrate 10 years for a little bit yet.

As a part of this celebration, we're going to do some "retrospective" pieces.  For those that have been with us for some time, you might enjoy seeing some of this to remind us all how far we've come.  If you have not been with us all that long, you get the benefit of seeing where we've been without having to go through the growing pains with us!

For those who have interest, you may notice links in this post to other blog posts from 2010.  They actually give a pretty good feeling for 2010, so feel free to take them and explore.  If you want to see our "Top Ten" posts for 2010, you can take that link. They tend towards the humorous in most cases - so if you need a laugh, there you go!

Durnik the tractor is a hit for more than the farmers.
2010 - That Happened Too?
Rain, rain and more rain.  This is the year that could have been the end of GFF, but instead it was the beginning of our re invention.  Our first high tunnel went up in early July and the first harvests for the building occurred that fall.  Durnik the tractor joined our farm, we held our first extended CSA Fall, added the portable feed bin and made a room for the turkeys in the newly dubbed "Poultry Pavilion."  Oddly enough, we often forget that the year started with an emergency new furnace and a roof on the back porch/addition of the farm house.  The latter was planned, of course, which is why the former happened immediately after.

Many hands still meant alot of work!
In the process of preparing this blog post, I took a look at some of our summary posts for 2010 on our blog.  In particular, the Top Ten Events of 2010 reminded me of some things that I had forgotten happened that year.  It's not that they were small things, in and of themselves.  It's more the fact that there were many significant things that stacked up that year.  For example, I hadn't remembered that this was the first season we had the wonderful feed bin constructed by Jeff Sage (the Band Saw Man).  And, I didn't quite equate that year with the year a couple of our feline farm managers left us to go to the great hunting grounds and that Fall we added two new indoor farm managers.  It is really no wonder that we were exhausted by the time we hit the end of the year.

Something we hope to never see again.
The weather was the biggest issue for us in 2010.  It began to rain and it didn't stop.  We were able to get most things in the ground successfully in May.  But, heavy rains in June through mid-July caused many of our crops to.. well.. essentially drown.  If you look at the picture above, you'll see browning leaves on brassica plants on July 5.  And, of course, grasses loved the water, so we had a big weed problem we couldn't address because things were so wet.  We weren't the only diversified, small farm that was struggling.  It was just a tough year.  And, if we had not gone through with the investment of the high tunnel - despite the stress that caused - we might have exited the profession entirely once we had met our CSA obligations.

Peppers, not so good.  Cucumbers?  They loved it.
Some crops liked the rains.  In most of those cases, it was also because they were in fields with better drainage.  Looking back at our top ten veg varieties for 2010, we find that there really were some decent crops that year.  We actually put together a short picture-based review in October as part of our recovery therapy.  But, there were plenty of days like this one that really drug us down.  And, the radar frequently featured things like this.

Our first crop in the high tunnel.
 At the end of day (or year), we realized that we had fought through a very difficult year and we actually had some positive things to build on.  We even learned that leaning against the metal endwalls of the high tunnel could have consequences!  Every year since has had its difficulties, but the experiences of 2010, along with the added tools in our tool box that the difficult year pushed us to acquire, have made us a much more resilient farm.

Here's looking forward to a prosperous and enjoyable 2015 season.  We don't expect perfection and we do expect difficulties.  But, we know we'll do our best to address those difficulties and use our skills and tools towards what should be a great year!

Our second crop in the high tunnel (November)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Why a CSA/Farm Share?

It is April, once again.  And, once again, we are pushing to fill up our CSA Farm Share program for the regular season.

Chumley, the truck - filled with CSA farm share goodness
Every year, we hope to get our CSA filled prior to January.  And, every year, we fail to do it.  We understand why.  People don't really want to commit to something that far in the future.  After all, so many things can (and do) happen.  Every year, wonderful people move on for any number of reasons.  But, that means we have to find new people to take their place!

And, let's also be honest about our own shortcomings on this front. We work very hard on the farm to bring good food to people.  And, once we get to December, January and February - we don't really want to dedicate every waking moment to promoting the farm.  Tammy is extremely busy with her work at Wartburg College.  And, Rob is trying to do things he doesn't get to do the other nine months of the year.  And, yes, he still has to do planning, farm purchasing, organic certification paperwork, taxes, etc etc.  The energy isn't always there to hit the pavement and yell from the rooftops that we need more subscribers.

But, then we get to April.  Seeds are being planted in trays.  Some in the ground.  And we realize that we still have over fifty slots open in our CSA.  And, so, we start pushing the promotions bandwagon!

Why does the CSA model fit our farm?
We're glad you asked.  Let me see if I can give you a quick summary so you can understand why we want this model to work.

1. We like diversity.
We like diversity in our crops.  We think it is the healthiest way to grow food for our soils, for the environment and for the farmers.  It is enjoyable for us to grow a lot of different things.  It provides us with a built in insurance program.  With the level of diversity we maintain, we're pretty well guaranteed to have something EVERY year barring an absolute catastrophe.  And believe me when I say, we've had some major issues occur on our farm - but not one of them has resulted in complete failure by us to provide some good food for our CSA members.

CSA farm shares promote the ability to be very diverse growers.  We make it even more compatible by using the 'menu style' distribution system where people pick up items from each station and add it to their box/bag.  This gives our customers some choice within the diversity provided.  We don't, by necessity, have to have 200 of a certain type of tomato on a given week.  We can mix and match with the diversity we have.

You can't do that and successfully make sales in a bulk retail market.  And, institutional buyers usually want things to be pretty uniform.  But, in a CSA like ours, the diversity is celebrated.  Some people want the small zucchini and others want the big bread makers.

2. A full CSA gives us a financial base for operations
We're sorry if this sounds bland and unexciting.  But, please believe me when I tell you that farming is exciting enough without the added tension that comes with not knowing whether the things you grow will even get sold!  Seriously, it takes plenty of energy and effort to make sure that we grow good food, get it cleaned up and prepped for delivery without having to work to sell things daily.

So, ideally, we need to get enough subscribers to provide us with a financial base to cover our expenses.  Then, we might like to be able to sell a bit more so we make a profit of some sort each season.  But, you can't start worrying about a profit until you have that coverage of your expenses.

3. We like getting to know our share holders
Having a consistent set of customers who come and pick up their food every week gives us a chance to share more than good food.  We can share some ideas about how to eat well.  We can listen to thoughts and concerns about how things are grown.  We can even respond by making changes if they seem warranted!  Some days, knowing who we are working for is the thing that keeps us going!

4. Less food goes to waste.
Now, hear me out on this one.  We DO realize that some of you have trouble getting through all of your produce each week.  In fact, we've had some people stop being members because they felt so bad about wasting food.  But, we can hazard a guess that less of the produce goes to waste this way than it would if we sold at farmers' market or through a retail outlet.  And, much of the food that does not sell when provided to these venues even have a chance to be consumed by a human. 

Yes, it is true that we do our best to donate food to various organizations.  But, it is also true that they will not or can not take some of the produce we grow.  It is also true that we can feed much of the produce to our poultry.  Again, you have to consider that we usually have enough for them already.  Why?  Because we select the best product for you and the rest is consumed on the farm by us or our poultry.  And, yes, we can also compost.   So, it isn't totally lost.

In the end, if we did the numbers, we're pretty comfortable that less food is wasted using the CSA method.  And, if our members can't eat it all now, we hope we can help them learn to freeze excess for Winter months.  Or, failing that, they can compost as well. 

5. Thank you for considering our CSA!
We may be preaching to the choir.  But, we have to use the tools we have available to us.  If you have joined - you have our thanks.  If you are considering it, please follow through and reach out to us via email.  We make it easy to sign up and we make it easy to pick up your produce.  Let's enjoy this growing season together.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

It's a Start

Well, as of last weekend (Easter weekend), we have some things in the ground.  Well, we have them in our raised beds.

There are three raised beds and we have spinach and radish planted in two.  The third?  We're trying some early potatoes.  Let's see what happens.  Won't hurt anything and the rewards could be good.

Now, if we can get Tammy through the current semester and Rob past the big batch of paperwork he needs to do in the next week, we'll be good to go.

Speaking of radish.....  ROOT for US! 

Have a great weekend everyone!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Hawthorne and Pygmalion

Sometimes my 'former' life comes back and gets me thinking - which we ALL know is a dangerous pastime!

Many of you might know that I do possess a PhD in Computer Science and Adult Education.  Yes, I was silly and did two topics.  If you've been paying any attention to what I write here, this piece of information should explain numerous things to you.  In fact, it might give you insight into why I often do things the way I do them.  But, that's not actually the topic of this blog post.

Now - before any of you smart people out there decide you want to pick apart my definitions - remember, this is a blog post where I'm trying to simplify things a bit to make a point or three.  Give a little slack and if you want to discuss it further, let me know and I'll gladly do so! If you want more detail, I found this web page to be dense, but accurate and very interesting.

The Hawthorne Effect
One of the concepts I was introduced to as I learned more about educational research was the idea that persons who were aware that they were being studied will potentially behave differently simply due to that awareness.  On the surface, this sure makes sense.  If you note a person with a camera walking around at a conference, you don't change what you are doing much at all.  However, if that person points that camera at you while you are having a conversation AND you notice it....

You tell me - how many people keep themselves from responding at all to that?

Will our lettuce behave differently if we study it?
In short, educational research has to consider the possibility that any difference found may be partially a result of the subject's knowledge that they were being observed.

So, what happens if, in addition to the knowledge that you are observed, you receive additional clues as to the behavior that would be desired by the observer?  If the person with the camera tries to get your attention, you might immediately turn to face the camera and smile.  Similarly, if subjects in a study think they know what the observers want, they may give it to them, which can then skew research results.  It wasn't the change in teaching that caused the change - it was the fact that the learners knew they were being watched that encouraged it!

Many of you might know that My Fair Lady was an adaptation of Pygmalion.  Or you may know of the Greek myth regarding a person who made a sculpture that came to life.  In education research, the Pygmalion Effect refers, in essence, to the 'self-fulfilling prophesy.'  If you can convince someone to expect certain results of themselves, they are more likely to get them.

As a teacher, I was convinced that a key battle to win with each learner was to convince them that they could succeed and that, with the right effort, they would succeed.  In doing this, it was important to correctly assess what was possible since setting unrealistic goals would do no good in building the confidence for continued success.

Why Think About This on the Farm?
A perfectly good question, don't you think?

Yes, it is.  And you should answer it! I, the Sandman, have spoken.
The scary thing about this post is that I had a clear idea where I wanted to go with it when I started.  Then, I was distracted by thinking about these concepts and education and it was no longer clear to me where I was going.  Happily, it came back to me.

Hawthorne on the Farm?
Well, no, this isn't the Hawthorne Effect, but there is enough relationship to make a connection.  We do perform many experiments on the farm every year.  Some of them are as simple as running two different sorts of lettuce against each other in a trial.  If, for whatever reason, the evaluators (Tammy and I) are predisposed towards one of the varieties, is it possible that we will fail to assess the varieties fairly?  Of course it is.  But, in this case, it is simply more likely that we will give a variety we have a predisposition for many more chances than one we do not already have a liking for.

On the other hand, if we hand customers at the farmers' market slices of one of our favorite tomatoes and ask them to tell us what they think, we could have an issue with a Hawthorne-ish Effect.  The tasters may be responding to non-verbal clues (or verbal clues) that we give them. 

But, if you'd like a situation on the farm that is probably closest to the original Hawthorne Effect.  What if Rob decides to observe workers weeding the squash.  He's taking notes and times to determine how efficiently the field can be weeded.  With that data, he hopes to come up with a schedule that should provide adequate time/labor to complete the job.  And, his estimate is WAY to short.  Why is that?  Could it be because the workers were aware that they were being observed and perhaps, evaluated?

Pygmalion at GFF
Pygmalion was a sculptor who put great effort into creating the most beautiful statue he could.  His dedication eventually results in Athena bringing Galatea (the statue) to life.  While this isn't a perfect analogy for our farm, it is the dedication our CSA members bring, along with our own motivations joined with our workers desires to see good things happen that result in our farm coming to life each year.  While it is only April, it is the time for us to begin focusing on making this a great year. 

If we believe it will be so, then we can make it happen.  The tools are available, the experience is in place and the goals are ambitious but reasonable.  Join us and let's make this a good season!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Harder Than It Looks

Here we are at April 10 - only a third of the way through our April blog push.  And, I find myself without a blog post for today!  It's not that I don't have several started and waiting for time/inspiration.  And, it's not as if I don't have things I can write about.  But, I have much to do and I don't have the time to spend on making some of those posts what I want them to be.  So, instead - you get this!

Outside is better, just ask them.
 Duck and Cover
The ducks went outside to their pasture last weekend, something we were about a week later than we wanted.  But, overall, it is about right.  With greenery starting to appear and nights less likely to get brutally cold, it seemed pretty safe to move them.  The ducks were starting to look a little rough in their room.  But, now, they go out to the portable shelter called the 'duck and cover.'  The electric fence is up and they have access to a bit more water (it's much easier to clean the water, etc outside than it is inside).

 Smarter Than Wood
We had one incident with a raccoon finding a way into the hen room this Winter.  It managed to get in, off one chicken and then it was caught in the act.  This specific raccoon is no longer with us.  We have learned that once they find a way in and get a taste of chicken, they don't give up until they can get in again (and again).  We also spent some time sealing up the West wall of the hen room and covering up a couple of things a raccoon could use for leverage to pull/chew on our walls in order to get in.  We used all kinds of scrap wood for this, including some material kindly offered to us by Chris Haymaker (thank you Chris).

It was cold when we did this work.  And, this was an 'emergency' job.  In other words, we weren't planning on spending a huge chunk of that day doing this particular project.  So, needless to say, Rob wasn't as cheery about the process as he might normally be.  But, with Tammy's help, things were going pretty well.  Tammy even tried to offer up some praise by telling me that I was "smarter than wood."


I guess she could have said I was as "dumb as a post."  But, I am smarter than a post as long as it is made of wood, I guess.

Sadly, the wood had the last laugh.  During one of the final bits of work, a piece of wood slipped and smacked my thumb and hand a pretty good one.  That's what I get for starting to feel superior, I guess.

House for Wren(t)
This year, we are ahead of the game.  Our trellis with the wren house is ready to go.  Never mind the fact that we never took it down this past fall.  Just in case a wren should need it in, oh... maybe.. January?  Ok, ok.  We just ran out of time last fall.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Stress Reliever

Early April can be a stressful time of year for many reasons.  So, we thought we'd ease some of the stress by sharing some favored cartoons that we have saved over the past few years.  Our gratitude to the cartoonists who have the talents that can help us to laugh.

Greystone Inn


Rhymes With Orange


Pearls Before Swine


Mother Goose & Grimm

Dog Eat Doug

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

23 Reasons to Join This Year's CSA Farm Share with GFF!

Contrary to the word on the street, our CSA farm share program is not full for the season.  We can take more reservations.  In fact, we'd like to hear from you now so we don't have to work so hard on the billing cycle.

What do I mean by that?  Well, if I go through the billing process with the CSA 60% full, that means I have to spend extra time on each person that joins after that.  It is much more efficient for me if I wait until we're closer to full so I can make the whole process faster for me!

So... here we go!  Reasons to join our CSA farm share program in COLOR!  Technicolor if you would prefer!

If you haven't tried a Boothby's Blonde cucumber yet, then you really should.  They are quite mild and have a tender skin that removes the need to do any peeling.  And, if you like the texture of spinach, Amish Deer Tongue lettuce is one of the nine varieties of lettuce that we grow.  Deer Tongue has a sturdier texture that is reminiscent of spinach and has a very nice taste.
We realize that not all greens are for everybody, but we grow enough variety that most people can find a green or combination of greens that works for them.  Rainbow Chard is one such item we grow on the farm and provide as a choice, often with kale as the other option.  And despite all of the Upper Midwest jokes about not leaving your car window open or else you will be given zucchini, we happen to grow four to six varieties of zucchini, including Cocazelle, a lovely striped zuke.  We do our best not to overwhelm with one type of veg, but we also try to give you enough to be getting on with... so to speak.
Many people enjoy our CSA simply because they will get to pick from over thirty heirloom tomato varieties once we get into August and September.  German Pink is often a favorite for both the farmers and the members.  Then again, maybe your mouth waters for some green beans?  We know ours does!
We've worked hard to extend the season for popular vegetables, such as broccoli.  Last season we were able to harvest over 600 pounds of broccoli for our CSA share holders.  And, we grow interesting varieties of melons - such as Ha-ogen, a green fleshed melon that has an incredible, different taste that will convert you soon after you figure out what it was that just hit you.
If you didn't believe me that we grow different varieties of things, consider Ice Queen lettuce.  We target varieties that allow us to extend the season.  In the past, we've been able to have lettuce available to our members for as many as 17 of the 20 weeks in a season.  And, we also grow items that might not be as well known to people who grew up in Iowa (like Rob).  Pok Choi normally makes an early and a late appearance during the growing season.
Kohlrabi is becoming much more popular as people figure out how good this is as a snack with a dip of choice.  And, if you are wondering if we only grow 'WEIRD' stuff - here are some Marketmore cucumbers.  Why yes, they do look like normal cucumbers, don't they?
Eggplant not your thing?  Well, maybe you've never had them cut into rings and put in a grilled stir fry or shish-kabobs?  Pintung Long eggplant are perfect for this.  And, we mentioned kale, but did we mention that we grow several varieties of this as well?  For example, Red Russian in the picture above.  We also grow Blue Scotch, Vates and Lacinato.
Some of the things we grow have good years and bad years.  For example, cauliflower is one of those on again/off again types of veg on the farm.  Sometimes this is because we're trying to find varieties that work well for us.  In the case of cauliflower, the varieties we liked were discontinued and we had to work and find new ones.  Amazing is shown above and should do well for us in 2015.  Carrots, on the other hand are difficult for us to grow consistently well for many reasons.  This is why Jeff Sage works with us - he's a wizard with carrots!  As a result, our members have had plenty of carrots for the past four seasons, without fail.
Other vegetables show up every year in some quantity.  Last year the summer squash and basil were a bit less prevalent than in some years because it was a cooler growing season.  Both of these like warmth.  But, we still got a fair amount to our members.  Why?  It's because we have some experience under our belts and have identified many ways to coax a crop even during difficult conditions.
We are not afraid to do research and trials in an effort to find vegetables that grow well AND are liked by people who join our CSA farm share program.  As a rule, if the variety we try doesn't taste good to at least a significant portion of our membership, we don't grow it.  For example, we do grow acorn squash because many people tell us they like them.  We grow the standard green acorn squash, but we also grow Thelma Sanders because we think it has a better texture and taste.  Most people who can get past the idea of a tan colored acorn squash tend to agree with us!  But, we still grow the green ones in case someone is a bit phobic about color differences in their veg.  And, romanesco - talk about odd looking.  But, it sure does taste good.  It has rapidly become a favorite in our house.
We hope we can tempt you to join us in 2015 so you can try our delicious Wapsipinicon Peach tomatoes.  We often have a tray of snack sized tomatoes as a part of your share from late July through September.  We like to say that the person who picks up has the right to eat these before they even get to the car.  The rest of the family is just going to have to help pick the share up if they want some!  Although, we suspect there are many very nice CSA shareholders who do bring these beauties home to the rest of the family.  And, we try to have a watermelon treat for everyone at least once per year.  Of course - you can't expect them to be one type, can you?  It's us!  Variety is the spice of life!
Please consider making us your personal farmers.  Send us an email and reserve a spot today.