Sunday, October 23, 2016

Why Do Cowboys Mosie?

A very good friend of mine shared the last few stanzas of  this poem with me at a point when he was looking at some of the western US literature.  I don't know why, but for some reason, this one stuck with me for a very long time.

A Poem of the Old West
by Wallace McRae
In a while the grass'll grow upon yer rendered mound.
Till some day on yer moldered grave a lonely flower is found.
And say a hoss should wander by and graze upon this flower
that once wuz you, but now's become yer vegetative bower.
The posey that the hoss done ate up, with his other feed,
makes bone, and fat, and muscle essential to the steed.
But some is left that he can't use and so it passes through
and finally layz upon the ground, this thing that once wuz you.
Then say, by chance, I wanders by and sees this upon the ground,
and I ponders, and I wonders at this object that I found.
I thinks of reincarnation, of life, and death, and such,
and come away concludin': Slim, you ain't changed all that much.

I am not sure that I still have a fascination with this poem because it amuses or bothers me.  Perhaps a little of both.  The simple fact that a person could almost picture the stereotypical cowboy perched on his horse, scratching this poem out with a nub of a pencil while glancing down at Slim's freshly covered grave.  I can almost see him chewing idly on a blade of grass or perhaps the pencil as he considers his next bit, allowing himself a chance to grieve while maintaining a philosophical perspective with a twist of humor to help it all go down more smoothly than it might otherwise.

If you want to read more about Wallace McRae, I think this article in the Montana State University magazine would serve you well.   This poem is probably the one he is best known for, though it is not, according to more than one source, his favorite by any stretch.  And, that doesn't surprise me in the least.

I am not a cowboy, nor do I have any real experience on a Montana ranch.  I can, at best, extrapolate my own experiences on our farm, but I am sure it isn't the same.  Therefore, I, and most anyone else, fall back on the stereotype.  And, because there is humor, irony, truth and sadness all bound up into this poem we grab it and share it.  And, by sharing it, we perpetuate the myth and stereotype.  Then we attach that myth/stereotype to Mr. McRae.

This is the sort of thing that makes me wonder what others might have connected to me.  I am only curious because I am fairly certain they won't be something I would have picked myself.

Even after I learned more about Wallace McRae, I find myself liking the poem even more.  Why?  Because, he shows great skill in building a picture and a story with which I can relate.  Even if I relate to the details without full understanding, I can still connect with the feelings.

Well, I guess I'll just mosie along now.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

PFI Pollinator Field Day in August

Basil flowers with a visitor

In partnership with Steve Schmidt, Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Xerces Society and the support of the Bremer County Extension office, we helped to host a pollinator field day on August 20.  The Genuine Faux Farm (yes, that's us) has always been concerned about supporting pollinators and beneficial critters on the farm and it was an honor to be asked to help with this particular field day.

The day started at the Bremer County Extension Office in Tripoli where Sarah Foltz Jordan of the Xerces Society covered a broad range of topics regarding pollinators and pollinator habitat on farms.  It is always difficult to figure out what needs to be covered at events like this because you can never be entirely sure of where your audience is at knowledge-wise.  But, Sarah is a pro and did a fine job reaching us where we were.

At mid-day, lunch was served at the Extension Office.  GFF turkey, lettuce and tomatoes were served along with other food grown by Iowa farmers.  Liz Kolbe has a report for PFI on their blog  that lists the other farms that provided additional food, such as some delicious sweet corn.  Sally, Liz and Tammy did a fantastic job of getting the food together!  I don't think anyone went away hungry.

After lunch and before everyone started getting too sleepy, we headed out to our farm for a farm tour and a shot at using the Xerces Habitat Assessment Guides.  Rob was given a microphone, which is always a risk.  But, he behaved himself for the most part and people seemed to be able to tolerate him at least a little bit.

Probably the highlight for us - from our perspective - was the ability to show off the melon plot and our deliberate and careful integration of annual pollinator support strips.  We wrote about this more than once last year.  First, we highlighted the flowers we had selected for our melon field.   Then, we linked this more directly to our purpose of feeding our pollinators.  So, this is not an entirely new concept for us.

In fact, we've been trying to incorporate annual flowers into our veggie fields ever since we started.  Sometimes with success - and sometimes not.  We can tell you that treating these annual flower strips with the SAME priority as our melon crop we have seen an increase in marketable fruit over the past two years even while we reduced the number of melon plants we have put in the ground.
Borage left, basil towards the front, zinnia at right with melons between.

We certainly try to do this in other fields as well, but I have to admit that we don't always accomplish what we envision for each season.  Sometimes, we just don't get to it.  For example, we've interplanted sage (and other spices) with our broccoli in the past, but we didn't get to it this year.  Then, there are the cases where things just didn't go as planned.  We seeded cilantro next to our tomatoes and the cilantro simply didn't germinate.  We tested the germination of the seed in trays as well and they didn't do well that way either.  So, that kind of thing happens.

On the other hand, it was a good year for borage and zinnias. We direct-seed both of these flower crops and have had good success in both cases.  We typically seed a bit heavier than we might if we were just gardening for ourselves.  But, the intent is to make sure the flowers out-compete any weeds in the row.  We will cultivate between rows, but we don't want to do lots of extra hand-weeding just for the privilege of having the flowers.  Zinnias showed up in our tomato field (along with basil) and in our winter squash field.  Borage made an appearance with the winter squash as well.  And, you could find phacelia (Bee's Friend) in various places with different levels of success.

We also have marigolds, four o-clocks, salvia and various other flowering plants throughout our fields.  We're sad that we didn't get the sunflowers in this time around, but there is always next year.

Uh oh!  There's a picture of the farmer with the microphone.  And, Tammy is walking away from him.  I hope he didn't say anything bad!

Actually, in Rob's former life, he did teach computer science and is comfortable speaking in front of others - despite his tendency to be a bit introverted.

I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to share a little of what we do on the farm and tell others what seems to have been working and a bit of what doesn't seem to work for us.  For me, it is not about trying to pretend to know everything.  Instead, it's about sharing what we've tried and what we think we know based on our observations and research.  From a selfish point of view - this forces me to work harder at investigating what I think I know so I can share these things effectively.  But, really, I think the sharing is beneficial if it gets others to simply think about what they can do to help pollinators.  It's a bit like farming, you plant seeds in hopes that they lead to something good.
Some attendees had to leave at various points as the event transpired.  It's always the nature of the beast since people can come from some distance to these events.  Those that were able to participate in running through the Xerces evaluation tool at our farm were willing to pose for a picture.
Steve Schmidt's farm

After that, people followed Steve Schmidt to his farm by Denver, Iowa.  Rob and Tammy stayed at their farm because, being the good introverts they are, they needed some recharge time!  Or, more accurately, they just collapsed.  But, we have been to Steve's farm and we're pleased that he has been working on a pollinator planting that he has incorporated into his row crop operation.

Steve is doing something we hope more row crop farmers will begin doing in the future.  Studies are showing that the presence of pollinator support tends to improve crop yields for a very wide range of crops.

So, are you curious about what you can do?  Take a look at this page on the Xerces website that includes a number of resources they have made available for free. 

Our thanks to Liz and Sally (PFI) for sharing these pictures form the field day.  For some reason, the farmers didn't have their own camera out!

Monday, October 10, 2016

101 Uses For Okra

Don't let the title fool you, we're not really going to give you 101 uses for okra.  But, you might get an idea or two. 

The impetus for this post is the creativity of our volunteer, Max, at the Waverly distribution.  I confess that it might be because of something I said that he started looking for letters in the okra.  But, even if it isn't because of anything I said - the fact remains - Max found letters in the okra.
101 Uses for Okra - this must be number 73?
Now, if we could find the letters for "Genuine," we'll have it all figured out.

Our thanks to Kory for sharing the picture with us.

Oddly, this would not be the first time okra was the theme of a GFF blog post.  The other was amusing to me at least.  I suspect others found it at least marginally so.

If you were looking for something more serious about okra - like how you should use it - you might have to go elsewhere.  We know you can bread it and fry it, you can pickle it and you can use it gumbo or other soups.  We know several people who just LOVE okra.  And, that's a good enough reason to grow a nice 150 foot row of it for our CSA members.
When we first decided to grow some okra, we didn't know much at all about the plants.  But, as soon as they started flowering, we thought we had some sort of mallow flower.  For example, hibiscus are also in the mallow family.  And, sure enough, okra are in the mallow family.  See, we don't ALWAYS fully research everything before we try it. 

A nice hedge of okra is usually planted on the side of the pepper rows that will provide the peppers some wind protection.  Okra plants tend to be relatively tall and the stems are tough and fibrous.  While a planting of okra can help, they certainly won't prevent all wind damage to the pepper plants.  But, why not give the plants a secondary purpose if you are going to put them in anyway.  They apparently have no problem being paired up with peppers and bush beans.

There you have it!  Well, ok, maybe that was five or six uses for okra.  But, 101 sounds soooo much more impressive, doesn't it?

Well, it certainly is better than me trying to make puns about the Okra Winfrey show or the shootout at the Okra Corral with the Urp brothers and Dock Holliday.  (hey, Dock is an edible root - give me a break here!)  And, I suppose if okra was more of a mustard yellow color, you could call it ochre okra. 

Ok.  Enough already, please finish your blog post human.
When in doubt, one should listen to the indoor farm manager.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Crop Report 2016

Apparently, we are getting into the habit of posting crop goals in October.  I am not sure if it is good or bad to be somewhat predictable on that account.  I'll just say it's good and leave it at that.

As a reminder, we tend to set two goals for ourselves.   The first is a number we think is reasonable AND should provide us with plenty to meet obligations (CSA, etc) and provide additional sales opportunities.  The second is a goal we think we really have to get in order to just meet obligations.  Additional sales would be minimal in that case.  And, for those who might care that our goals are different this year than they were last year - there are reasons.  For example, we adjusted the green bean goals in part because we were hoping some pole beans (Gold of Bacau) would take some of the load (and they did).

All numbers with * are subject to change as the season continues.

Green Beans
   goal - 700 pounds                                                   minimum goal - 500 pounds
   2016: 453.6 pounds *                                           2015: 888.5 pounds
   goal - 500 pounds                                                     minimum goal - 400 pounds
   2016: 187.6 pounds *                                               2015: 369.8 pounds
   goal - 4000 fruit                                                        minimum goal - 3000 fruit
   2016: 3022 fruit                                                        2015: 2898 fruit 
   goal - 3000 head                                                       minimum goal - 2000 head
   2016: 3176 head                                                        2015: 3393 head
Bell and Sweet Peppers
   goal - 4000 fruit                                                       minimum goal - 3000 fruit
   2016: 2738 fruit  *                                                   2015: 4418 fruit
   goal - 1200 fruit                                                       minimum goal - 750 fruit
   2016: 862 fruit                                                         2015: 936 fruit
   goal -  750 pounds                                                   minimum goal -  500 pounds 
   2016 -  860.6 pounds *                                            2015 -  349.5 pounds
   goal - 500 fruit                                                        min goal - 300 fruit
   2016 - 541 fruit                                                      2015 - 644 fruit
   goal - 3000 bulbs                                                    min goal - 2000 bulbs
   2016 - 2738 bulbs *                                                 2015 - 3598 bulbs 
Winter Squash
   goal - 1000 fruit                                                     min goal - 500 fruit
   2016 - 827 fruit    *                                                  2015 - 643 fruit
Snow Peas
   goal - 250 pounds                                                  min goal - 100 pounds
   2016 - 134.8 pounds                                             2015 - 445.4 pounds
   goal - 2500 pounds                                               min goal - 1000 pounds
   2016 - 723.8 pounds *                                          2015 - 1139.7 pounds
Carrot **
   goal - 500 pounds                                                min goal - 200 pounds
   2016 - 122.0 pounds                                           2015 - 607.3 pounds
   goal - 300 pounds                                                min goal - 200 pounds
   2016 - 194.3 pounds    *                                       2015 - 432.8 pounds   
Pok Choi
   goal - 300 pounds                                                min goal - 200 pounds
   2016 - 199.0 pounds    *                                      2015 - 365.5 pounds
Snack Tomato
   goal - 2000 fruit                                                  min goal - 1500 fruit
   2016 - 1589 fruit    *                                            2015 - 3332 fruit

** Note that these numbers do not include Jeff Sage's carrot numbers.

This is just a sampling of our harvest so far and some of the general goals we set for ourselves for production.  If you have interest in some of our other crops, let us know and we'll add them to this list!

The Good

Bunte Forellenschus (bless you!)
Up until August, we were thinking lettuce was going to be the headliner for the season.  And, on the strength of the early season numbers, it still is.  But, heavy rains have taken a toll in September and the hopes for a 'monster' lettuce season are dwindling.  We'll see how the last batches shape up and we may still be more than just 'happy' with our lettuce season.  It's a pretty good situation when you could stop *right now* on a crop and say you've met and exceeded expectations.

It is difficult to come up with another crop that fits this category right now.  Frankly, very few crops are really knocking our socks off this year.  On the other hand, very few are making us terribly unhappy.  

The Good Enough
We have enough years of data and experience now that we have to be careful to not let an earlier year's monstrous success with one crop make us move the bar radically in response.  Case in point?  The peas.  Last year was a just a silly good year for peas and this year they came in at a number that is a pretty good average for us.  I admit that I didn't like the look of the vines this year - but it is possible I still have visions of last year's amazing plants in my head.  In the end, I suspect no one was unhappy with the amount of peas they received in the CSA.  We just didn't find ourselves trying to find sales outlets for them like we did last year.

The other crop that comes to mind here is the zucchini.  We've got numbers from our earlier years that run from 1800 to 2200 fruit.  Compared to the 800-1200 in recent years, it is tempting to wonder what is going on here.  Part of the reduction is simply a production choice.  We were having trouble finding homes for all of the zucchini, so we cut production row feet.  We also have tried to expand our production window so we would have zucchini for a much longer period of time.  That has worked, but to the detriment of total production numbers.  For example, this Fall's crop produced enough to give everyone in the CSA some zucchini in September, but the fruit per row foot production of these plants is actually very low.  In the end, we can say that the plants certainly produced well enough to meet our obligations and we do feel the quality was very high.  We just can't say it is anything more than an average year for them.  And, that's not a bad thing at all.

And the Ugly
How our broccoli *should* have looked (this was 2014)
There are some crops that might fall under the "ugly" category this year - sort of.  For example, it was extremely frustrating to watch multiple plantings of carrots fail to germinate in the field.  On the other hand, Jeff Sage is our carrot guru, so we can afford to not worry too much when that crop fails on our farm.  It's the main reason why Jeff grows the carrots, he likes to grow them and his soil tends to have more success.  On the other hand, the crop of Dragon carrots in our older high tunnel, Eden, was a decent crop.  The yield was in line with last year's numbers, so we feel we've got an idea of what we should expect for a high tunnel per row foot.

The broccoli has been terribly disappointing from OUR perspective this year.  That doesn't mean there hasn't been some tasty broccoli for our CSA customers.  It also doesn't mean there aren't more in the pipeline.  But, our troubles started with the entire first succession being decimated by critters while they were STILL in their trays.  If that isn't an omen, I don't know what is.  We've heard from other growers that the broccoli hasn't been as good as some years for them as well.  So, we'll just chalk it up to seasonal variability and some bad luck with seedlings.  The fact that we are still getting some decent broccoli just shows that we've got a pretty good plan to avoid being shut out for most of our crops.
Black Krims from the high tunnel are a wonderful thing

And the Mixed Up!
And here is where our efforts at diversification pay off - but make categorizing crops as successes or failures difficult.  The carrots could be an example of this, but the tomatoes are a much better poster child for this category in 2016.

If we exclude snack and cherry tomatoes from the count, we have harvested over 1300 fruit this year from our tomato plants.  Of those fruit, 748 have come from the field and 578 from the high tunnels.  So, what's the big deal?  The field was home to approximately 530 plants.  So, we have been able to pull just over one tomato per plant from the field this year.  That, simply put, is pretty awful.  On the other hand, we have 53 plants in our high tunnels.  About 11 per plant and still counting.  The field tomatoes, on the other hand, are done. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

2016 Scavenger Hunt

The 2016 Scavenger Hunt at our Summer Festival was enjoyed by many people.  We've also had a tradition of posting some or all of the pictures on to the blog so those who did not attend could enjoy them and maybe make some guesses as to what these things might be (and where they are on the farm).
Didn't make the 'cut'
When we go out and take pictures for the Scavenger Hunt, we do so the same day of the event.  Why?  Well, things move around a good deal on the farm and we don't want to have something that requires people climbing around where it isn't safe, etc.

We have a certain number of slots to fill, so some of the pictures don't make it for one reason or another.  For example, the picture above is a small solar panel for some decorative lights on our front porch.  It didn't make it partly because there was another item that was pictured nearby that we thought was a better choice.  Plus, the camera focused on the reflection in this picture rather than the item.  Kind of neat, but not what we were aiming for.

Yes, it's a wheel.  The kicker was - could you find the RIGHT wheel?
We've got a little green trailer on the farm.  It has this keylock - so there.
Sometimes, a thing stands out because it shouldn't be there.  This is a tangle of Hortnova fencing hanging from the side of the high tunnel.
We have a trailer that has been used as a grass catcher.  This is the receiver for the discharge tube.
Some of the side roll-up mechanism on the Southeast corner of the Poultry Pavilion.  You'd have to look up.
An okra flower.  No, we didn't require that you find the exact okra flower.
Gate latch to the duck area.  We don't really use this anymore, but it's good fodder for Scavenger hunts.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

High Tunnels R Us? (Gang of Four)

Every time I talk about the high tunnels on our farm with someone who is not a grower, I have this little voice in my head saying, "Who named these things 'high tunnels' anyway?  Everyone is thinking it's a hole in the ground and they just can't quite fathom why I would be so happy to be growing produce in one of them."

In any event, it seems as if high tunnel repair and construction have been a thing this Fall with us.  First, we received all kinds of wonderful help to put new plastic on our older building.  Among those helping were some of our Gang of Four friends along with CSA members, Wartburg College students and others interested in our farm. 

On September 25, we rolled on down to Blue Gate Farm to help them with their new high tunnel building.  The short story - they had another one, but the wind huffed and it puffed and it blew it down.

the vertical poles were already in place when we arrived
There are always parts to jobs like this where just having enough willing people is what is needed for some success.  The ribs of the building come in three parts that needed to be put together.  Once they were together, we could move them into position so they were lined up with corresponding verticals.
They be strong people!  Nice work Jennie and Jill.
Like many things, it took a bit for us to figure it all out.  But, once we did, things started moving fairly quickly.  Most of us have been involved in building/repairing this sort of thing before, so we aren't clueless.  On the other hand, we don't put these things up EVERY day, so there is always a little bit of a "re-learning/re-discovery" curve that needs to be climbed.
Oh, maybe they aren't so heavy - Rob's helping to carry one.
We put up four ribs first just to get the process down.  After that, we just got the ribs constructed and moved them all into place. 
Put the tall guy on the ladder.  Good idea.
Sometimes, it the rib didn't want to settle into the vertical.  As a result, Tammy was able to get an interesting series of pictures.

Right side is in, now for the left.

Jill is amazed.  Rob's feet are actually OFF the ground.

Mark says, "I bet I can get my feet further off of the ground!"

Hey!  Bending your knees is CHEATING!  No fair!

After struggling a bit with the third rib, things got progressively easier as we figured out tricks to make things go smoother.  If you look closely at the picture above, you can see that Jill is holding a three-pound hammer.  It can be a pretty good persuader.  That, and Rob learned how to throw his weight around with a bit more authority?  Whatever, it worked out pretty well.
Look Jill, I don't think bent knees should count against me.  I clearly got further off the ground.

Hey Sean, did you see Mark?  He cheated to show Rob he could get his feet further off the ground.

Apparently, Sean did not care too much about that drama.
Once the ribs were in place, we needed to start attaching purlins and bracing for the ribs.  Happily, GFF had some scaffolding that they could bring down, which helped at least a little bit as we started work on that. 

The hardest part with all of this is the distance we all have to travel in order to do these projects.  We made excellent headway, but we all wish we could have gotten further on the project.  Nonetheless, we also know from experience that every little bit of help gets you closer to your goal.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

It Must Be All About Me

I do not particularly care much for spending time on Facebook or other social media sites.  It's not that I don't understand why people might enjoy them.  But, it just isn't my thing.  I suppose a big part of it is the fact that I am a bit of an analytic.  I prefer to think on things a bit more and I don't like to flit around too much.  So, it feels like that's what's happening on social media sites all the time.  It's just not me.

And yet, I have seen this photo/meme several times now and I actually have read it a couple of times.

"The people we surround ourselves with either raise or lower our standards. They either help us to become the best version of ourselves or encourage us to become lesser versions of ourselves. We become like our friends. No man becomes great on his own. No woman becomes great on her own. The people around them help to make them great.
We all need people in our lives who raise our standards, remind us of our essential purpose, and challenge us to become the best version of ourselves."

from the Rhythm of Life by Matthew Kelly

I am often bothered by the lack of citation given by many who put these things on Facebook, so I hunted it down. 

Mr. Kelly has an agenda in his writing here, of course.  And, I don't necessarily disagree with what this implies.  Evidence in my own life has shown me that others certainly have influence over what I do and how well I do it.  In fact, I readily give credit to many, MANY other people for giving me a boost when I needed it and/or provided me with a model to follow.  And, yes, it certainly is easier to reach goals with positive people around you to challenge you to do your best in everything you do.

But, the negative implications here are threefold:
1. You should exclude those who will not be a benefit to you.  Unless, of course, you want to be a failure.
2. It's all about ME.  There is no reason to concern yourself with supporting someone else.
3. I should not concern myself with being an agent for change in others unless that change is to collect the proper friends and discard the improper ones.

I suspect Mr. Kelly doesn't want people to come to those conclusions.  After all, any time we try to boil wisdom down into a paragraph or two (or a sentence... or two words) we are encouraging conclusions that may not be consistent with what we were hoping to lead to.  Perhaps if we read all of his book, we might find a balance to this - some sort of discussion about our role and responsibility in and for the lives of others.

But, since we don't have that here, I will leave you with an addendum of my own.

Help those around you to become the best version of themselves that they can be.  Help them to raise their standards.  Help them to remember their essential purposes in life.  Positively challenge them to do and be their best.  And, in so doing, you will have achieved.  And perhaps, so will they.

Friday, September 30, 2016

2015 Look in the Mirror

In prior years we have done a Top Ten Events for the prior year.  After all, January is the month for 'top ten' lists and that sort of thing.  So, of course, we started it in January and didn't finish.  Since I am needing some new material on the blog, what better way to accomplish this sooner than to finish something I've already started?

In keeping with a recent series of "Look in the Mirror" posts, like this one for 2012, we were feeling more like writing that way rather than trying to rank things.  And, after all.  I never did get this done in January - July (and then September) seems like a good time to do things differently anyway!

All in all, 2015 was a pretty good year for us at the farm.  Of course there were problems.  There are always things that don't go quite right.  But, for the most part, we did just fine.

Early Season Events and Decisions Set the Tone
It is hard to believe that some of these things just happened in 2015 as it feels like they occurred a long, long time ago.  For example, we finally received a settlement for the 2012 spraying incident in February.   And, in late July, we finally regained organic certification for the west fields and old high tunnel that were in the spray zone (three year anniversary).  It is hard to explain exactly how different we feel about things on the farm now that these two milestones have been reached.  Suffice it to say that we both feel like we have some extra energy for the farm.

We also made the decision to not do an extended Spring share this year.  Instead, we figured we'd make sure the regular season CSA started strong and rely on direct sales for early Spring for whatever crops we got going.  This allowed us to use the high tunnel a little bit differently in the Spring.
So, we used the high tunnel to start plants during the early months
Perhaps the Spring share will return in future years.  But, for 2015, it was exactly what we needed to be doing.

Truly Weather Wythards

A weather station for the farm
We've talked about getting a weather station on the farm for a few years, but the time/energy to explore options just never showed up... until this year.  We picked up a decent station and set it up in the high tunnel early in the year to get used to it AND see how things worked in a somewhat controlled environment.  I think we are most amused (by it, not the weather) when it tells us it is "raining cats and dogs."  If Rob were programming it, he might have added things like "hold on to your hat" and "your neighbor's cow just flew by."

Equipment Changes and Additions (Again!)
Every year, we add, modify and delete tools and equipment on the farm.  It's just part of the way things are.  If you really use something, it tends to break.  Or, if you use something often, you begin to see how it can be improved.  And, sometimes, you pick something out because you think it will solve a problem - and it doesn't.  It's all a part of what we do.

The orange running gear at the left has turned out to be the most used tool purchase of the year.  It now has a flat deck on it and, unlike our other hayrack, it can turn without a good deal of force.  Ya, something about needing to turn on a fifteen acre farm....

The middle photo shows off Jeff Sage's wonderful work in repairing the back doors on our chicken nugget trailer.  Yes, we know it's an old horse trailer.  But, it is now used to be the portable home for our meat chickens - usually referred to as "nuggets" when they are smaller.

On the right is a nice flair box that, shall we say, has yet to find it's real niche on the farm.  Ah, such is life.

The SNORT Returns
The last time we heard about the Snort, it was a situation that we hadn't planned on.  This time around, we actually invited the Snort to come dig our own personal "Grand Canyon."  Rather than say much more, we'll just go to the next item.

Valhalla at GFF

We started the process of pursuing the building of a second high tunnel in 2013.  And, as part of the process, we entered the Dream Big, Grow Here contest and won the local competition.  It took us until 2015 to get everything together and to gather the rest of the necessary funds (no small project in itself).  The SNORT was used to dig a trench for a frost free water line to serve the new building.  All I can say at this point is that we're glad we did it.  And, for those who care, we named our first high tunnel "Eden."  Hey!  It's better than the "Old" high tunnel and "new" high tunnel.

Well, I'm Bushed.
I'm beginning to understand why we were so tired at the end of the season last year.  The sheer number of additional projects in addition to the normal growing season and poultry raising is a bit surprising when you look at it in the rear-view mirror.
Laying fabric to help the new bushes survive.
We've had bush lines established in parts of the farm since 2005, but are really trying to establish lines on all edges of the farm.  Our hope is that this does several things for us.  First, it will provide habitat for all kinds of useful critters on our farm.  And second, we hope it helps protect us a little bit from spray drift form neighboring farm land.  Already, many of these bushes are putting on some size in 2016. 

The Carrot/Beet Experiment
Carrots and beets have been difficult for us to grow in the field for various reasons that we have outlined in other blog posts.  So, we thought we'd see what would happen if we grew a row of each right next to each other in the high tunnel.
middle row, carrots on the left, beets on the right
The net result?  109 pounds of carrots and 107 pounds of beets.  We'll consider that a success and work to expand on it.

Valhalla's First Crop
The new high tunnel didn't go up until June, which was NOT our original plan.  But, that's when it happened.
Then, we had to change our plans as far as the timing of crops were concerned for the building.  We gave some late tomatoes and peppers a try, as well as a row of green beans and... some sweet potatoes and late melons.  The last two - not a good idea.  The others, however, did pretty well for us.  Getting some fresh Black Krim tomatoes on Tammy's birthday in November - priceless.

We Just Like This Picture

Weeded and the plants look good. 'Nuff said.
Treating Flowers as a Crop
Sometimes things work.  This year, we finally executed the plan we've wanted to with respect to flowers and melons.  We treated the flowers with the same emphasis in growing as we did the melons.  We reduced the number of melon plants by about 1/3 - net result, we got about 1/3 more melons this year than prior years. 
We might be on to something here.
We decided to over-Winter some ducks for the first time ever.  The hope?  We wanted to raise our own ducklings. 
It worked this time around!
It actually was fun seeing those little yellow fluff balls following mama around.  We're not calling it an unqualified success, but it gave us some hope for the future.

Summer Festival Takes Precedence
We decided to target our energy a bit more and have one large festival in August rather than trying to hold three festivals per year.  The result was a Summer Festival with music and a scavenger hunt, among other things.
oh, and painting!
And A Field Day?  Really?!?

We even helped host a field day with IOA (Iowa Organic Association) and NCAT (National Center for Appropriate Technology) on a new crop insurance program.  Part of the session was held at the Tripoli Extension Office building and it was followed by a farm tour at GFF.
Yep, I like this tool
Still Green In November
We still had some green and growing things in the field right up until mid-November.  But, when it decided to turn cold, it did it right quick!
Spinach, daikon radish, fall radish, napa cabbage and pok choi!
Rob spent a couple of frantic days trying to bring in everything he could prior to the deep freeze. And, since we didn't have a place to keep things from freezing other than our basement, he hauled several thousand pounds of produce to the basement.  Ugh.

Poultry Clean Up Crew
We decided to have a later Fall batch of broiler chickens so we could use them to clean up some of our field and, in the process, they could spread manure for us.
This field HAD green things in it a day or so ago.
Drift Catchers Are Us
And, we participated in a drift catching project that required some set up and consistent data collection.  We were ready to do this again in 2016, but they are looking at changing things so they can collect and test for more things.
We did receive results from this project and it opens up a whole host of questions that should be discussed.  We'll save that for another time.

Culinary Corner
Last but not least, we were able to debut the Culinary Corner post series on our blog to feature one of our workers, Elizabeth, and her culinary knowledge.  We saved one of the posts for this year and we try to link people to these periodically.  Thanks again Elizabeth for your work on these posts!

Belated Thanks
Again, this post was slated for January.  But, things happened and then other things.  And, we all know what happens after that... MORE things!  Still, our gratitude for everyone who helped us through 2015 is no less strong than it was when this post was begun.  In some ways, it might be stronger because we can see how things have proceeded since last year.

Here's to a timely 2016 post!  But, let's enjoy 2016 before we even begin to worry about that.