Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Good Morning

Good Morning!

It's a beautiful day at the Genuine Faux Farm and we're glad you decided to stop by today!  We hope you're not allergic to cats, because Inspector is coming towards you.  He is our official farm greeter.

He's an incredibly friendly cat and he just loves to be picked up and held.  But, he knows it's a CSA morning.  That means his farmer friend needs to get to work harvesting for the farm's share holders.  Happily, Rob does make sure to get food and water to Inspector, the Sandman and Soup before getting started.  The Outdoor Supervisory Crew is now set for the day!

And, yes, Farmer Rob does give each of a the Outdoor Supervisors a skritch before the day officially starts.  We've got to keep the workers happy.

It's time to load up the cart with containers for harvest.  While we're at it, we'd better be sure to have the scale along for the ride and maybe a little music.  It's possible we'll forego the music for a while today so we can enjoy the sounds of nature. 

Sometimes, the music is a necessity and other times it's just a nice addition.  But, today we've got a cardinal singing to us - something that doesn't happen all that often in September.  We've got some barn swallows chittering and telling us all about their plans for today and.. wait.. what's that?
Oh, yes, that's Inspector meowing at us again.  Apparently we didn't give him quite enough attention.  You know he won't leave us alone until we do this up right and proper.  So, we'll pick him up this time and turn him upside down for a belly rub.  That ought to do it.

Now that we've met that obligation, let's take the camera with us this morning.  The light is good and I'd like to get a little recording done before Caleb gets here to help with the cleaning and packing.  Besides, once we get to harvesting, there is little time to stop and look around.

It looks like it is time to run the irrigation on the young kohlrabi plants already.  It's been very dry here since late July when we got ridiculous amounts of rain.  So, it's good that we have drip line set up and ready to go. 

These plants will put on a significant amount of growth in a pretty short period of time, but we've got to remember that the days will be getting shorter and that will slow their progress.  It looks like we might be pushing this crop a little bit, but we don't feel like it is too far off the mark.

There is a bit of dew on the grass this morning and the light is making everything seem a bit brighter today.  That makes for a great day to try and get some close-up pictures of the borage.  Borage collects a fair amount of dew and it literally sparkles when the morning sun hits them.  I try to take a moment at least once a year to look at borage flowers "up close and personal" on a morning with these conditions.  I don't always have the camera when that happens, but we've got it this time.
While we're at it, let's see if we can capture a picture of our shy nasturtium flowers.   We put them in our winter squash rows and they are often not easily seen this time of year when the vines are crawling all over the field.  We like the nasturtium because they help reduce the incidence of vine borers in our winter squash plants.  But, I realize, on days like this, that we underestimate their beauty most days.  Today is not one of those days.  They look great and I appreciate what they do for us.
We've had a large number of Painted Lady butterflies on the farm this year.  In fact, I've heard that there is a very large population in Iowa this year.  It's a bit early in the day for the peak of butterflies on the zinnias, but some are already catching some of the sun's rays and sipping nectar.  They seem to be a bit camera shy.  I can stand and watch them open their wings when I don't have the camera up and ready to go.  But, once the camera is up and I set the focus, they fly away.  Let's just take a quick shot of one with the wings closed and then let them go about their business.

This makes me think about the monarch population for the season.  We haven't seen much of them at all this year, despite all of our efforts to get plants on the farm that they like.  I can't help but wonder if they could make a comeback like the bald eagles have.  Then, I start to worry that they won't make a comeback.  Unfortunately, that's a bit of a downer thought on this glorious day, so we should accentuate the positive as a monarch appears and floats lazily down the zinnia row.

Uh oh!  Here comes Inspector again.  You know, this might be one of those times where his interruptions are a good thing.  I really do need to get to work and I can still think about and 'solve' the world's problems while I pick.

Let's give Inspector one more skritch and then go about our respective ways.  We hope you have a good day!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Keep On Bloomin'

Every year we do as much as we are able to extend the bloom season of flowers on the farm.  We are concerned that we provide food for pollinators and other beneficial critters for as much as the season as we are able. 


Well, it seems obvious to us that the surrounding fields of corn and soybean are less than ideal for most of these critters.  There is minimal diversity in habitat, a very limited bloom season (therefore limited food resources) and the application of chemicals on these fields makes things even less attractive.

We figure if we create attractive habitat on our farm for as much as the season as possible, there will be no reason for our friends to leave us and travel in dangerous territory.

Late March to April
Of course, we do have a great many dandelions on the property and we are perfectly happy to let them bloom.  I realize there are people out there who are horrified by this.  But, in the grand scheme of things, dandelions are actually not a big deal from a weed perspective.  They have deep roots that pull up micronutrients for other plants to use and the bloom and attract all sorts of pollinators at a point in time when those who have fruit trees would really like to have them around.
Every Fall about this time, we play with the idea of getting large numbers of crocus and daffodil bulbs with the intent of 'naturalizing' an area with them.  Why don't we?  Well, our plate is usually too full and we just can't find the time to do it.
Even so, we've got a fair number of blooms on the farm

May Busts Out All Over
The month of May heralds a nice mix of flowers, many of which show up in some of our intentionally 'wild' places.  For example, we have some yellow and purple Siberian iris that like to show off.  We've let them spread as they would like and we're happy that they seem to think our place is an ok habitat for them.
And, of course, the German bearded iris start to show on our farm in May.  I have to admit that they seem to take center stage with our picture taking, much to the chagrin of so many flowers appearing on the landscape.  In fact, the iris don't usually show much attractive qualities for the critters we desperately want.  But, I wonder if there would be more activity on them if we didn't have so many other things for our workers to investigate.
Clover if typically getting going in May and you'll often see painted daisies, anemone, creeping phlox, peonies and other neat flowers showing off.  In fact, we start getting so many flowers that Tammy and I have a difficult time differentiating between May and

June - Bugs and Blooms?
June on the farm is unfortunately known for the bugs that seem to like to snack on farmers at GFF.  The winds are typically not as strong - or at least not as consistent.  It makes work difficult and it makes enjoying the flowers challenging.  And yet, we have to take it as a sign that there is some health in our ecosystem if there are insects that think we are food (I suppose).
The thing is - we're usually so bugged by the bugs that we don't have time to investigate the bugs we want.  And that bugs me.  You're welcome.

We've got perennial geraniums covered in blooms early in the month and by the end of the month many of our annuals are starting to consider showing what they can do.  Though, it's really the next couple of months that we usually have more annual flower activity.

July is Full of Smiles
Our big flower highlights tend to be daylilies in July and into early August.  Just as we have noticed with the German bearded iris, these daylilies do not tend to be the focus of insect activity.  We suspect that the highly hybridized plants have been selected for so long with consideration for how attractive the flowers are to humans that much of the attractiveness to insect species has been bread out of them. 
And this is why we continue to promote clover on the farm and why we're happy to have ditches with a bunch of ditch daylilies.  Daisies and coneflowers start to appear and many of our perennial spices are begging to show more flowers.

August Sunshine
It feels to me like yellow is the color for August flowers.  The helianthus and heliopsis, along with rudebekia can really put on a show.  And, they're all attractive to our insect workers.  The zinnia, marigold, four o'clock, salvia and other flowers really get going and the hyssop are often covered with smaller bees and bumblebees.
Then there is the under-rated goldenrod.  Many people still mistakenly believe goldenrod is one of the wildflowers responsible for high pollen counts that make people with allergies miserable as August progresses.  However, goldenrod pollen is too heavy to really cause the issue.  You can blame most of the issues in our area on ragweed.  Pollen for those plants is quite able to be airborn and travel quite some distance.
September - Returning to Blues and Whites
There are still some clover blooming in September, though it has a good deal to do with late Summer rain amounts.  But, perennials such as sage and thousand flower aster begin to show off in September.  Other than the tail end of hibiscus blooming season, it feels like plants that peak at this time focus on LOTS of smaller flowers.
The hummingbirds we often see on the farm check out the hostas, zinnias, phlox and Rob's hat.  The butterflies can be seen in the marigolds, zinnias, clover and other flowers. 

But, perhaps the hardest part for us to remember this season is that many of our insect friends simply need a little shelter.  We haven't had much rain at all for many weeks, so plants that aren't irrigated are growing very little.  That means each time we do some 'clean up' around the farm, the plants will not fill in nearly so quickly.  In short, that means we sometimes need to consider NOT cleaning something up so there are still good places for our katydids to hang out.  While neither of us is a huge fan of the sound of a cricket at night, we both agree that the katydid is a welcome sound at night.

Overall, this has been a reasonably good bloom year on our farm and here's to planning out ways to make the next year even better.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Walk on the Absurd Side

We've had "General Strangeness and Minions" as one of our labels for the blog for some time now.  I realize we play pretty fast and loose with which sorts of blog posts land under which labels.  But, it's our blog and we can use labels any way we want to!  So there!  In fact, I have instituted a new rule that allows me to use a label name as the title for a new blog post.  Not only that, I will allow myself to reuse a good title if I want.  But, I don't want to this time, I'd rather walk on the absurd side!

It's just complete and utter anarchy in the GFF Blog-o-verse.  What's next? 

Horned Fanged Bats?!?
Oh, yes! There it is, the horned, fanged bat of the mighty chalk door!
Each year there is at least one thing that serves as a consistent "inside joke" for the farmers and the farm crew. This year there were two in particular that had a longer shelf-life.  The "horned-fanged bat" is something that requires hand motions to indicate horns and fangs and came about during one of our lunchtime forays into the absurd.

Oh wait.  That's how the other one came about too.  And here it is:

Bohemian Rhapsody (the original version by Queen) is a common occurrence on playlists Rob puts together.  Needless to say, whenever that song started, various crew members would pop up out of the weeds and yell "Mamaaaaaaaa!"

Who said farming can't be fun?

And maybe sometimes... a little odd:

We know you've seen this one before.  But, it illustrates a bit just how absurd things can be at the Genuine Faux Farm.  But, here's the kicker: it's during times that we see more of this type of absurdity that we feel as if everyone is a bit more positive about what's going on at the farm.

Ok, maybe Hobnob is not feeling more positive about this little bit of absurdity.  In fact, Bree is looking a bit annoyed as well.

When we take the time to do something just a little absurd and maybe a little creative it shows that we have some positive energy - even if it is just a response to things that are difficult.  If you see a recent picture of one of your farmers doing a selfie - like this one:

You've got to figure there is a little bit of a sense of humor still intact.  It's a good sign.  It means they aren't about to give up.  In fact, they see reasons to have hope.  And, if your personal farmers see reasons to have hope, then maybe you should work to find your own reasons for hope as well.

It's an interesting ability we humans have.  Take a negative situation - like rats killing turklets on the farm.
Then., you find a rat that got himself stuck in the chicken wire surrounding the turkey room and you suddenly have an absurdity that is ripe for humor.

But, it doesn't have to be as ridiculous or as dramatic as a rat with fat um.. hips, stuck in a wall.  It could be a farmer mowing down a field of ragweed with the rotary mower on the tractor who takes the time to work his way AROUND a patch of goldenrod.
Why would I do this?  I like goldenrod.  I think that's good enough reason, don't you?  I'll give more positive reasons some other time.  But, that's not the point of this post.

It's all about letting yourself look at things like this picture and poke fun at yourself.

Well, I've got fence posts up for a permanent fence for the turkey pasture.  But, clearly, there is no fence there, so we're using a portable electric netting fence immediately to one side of the permanent "not quite a fence." 

When time flies and you just have to make do, you have an opportunity to walk on the absurd side.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Things (Farm) Records are Made Of

I am a baseball fan.  I loved playing the game, I enjoy watching others play the game and I also enjoy the statistics that come with it.  So, it shouldn't come entirely as a surprise that I enjoy collecting data about our farm and working with it every season as the numbers come in.

I know.  I know.  That's really strange, Rob.  I can hear you all saying it (or at least thinking about it REALLY loud).  But, I'm not hurting anyone, I still get my work done (if "done" is even possible) and I can actually learn useful things about how to farm better when I work with our farm stats.

What actually got me started on this was this:

Cabbage: 327.2 lbs for 2017. Previous farm record: 251 lbs in 2015.

First question: "Rob, why do you even care?"
Second question: "Ok, we'll accept you care just because you do.  Is this record a big deal?"

In defense of my caring - consider my first paragraph.  Baseball fans are enamored with statistical records.  Even if you know just a little about baseball, you probably have some idea about why names like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds are well known.  It is only natural that I might have at least a mild interest in records of all sorts.  The biggest difference between all-time home run record holders and most pounds of cabbage produced by the Genuine Faux Farm in a year is...

Well, ok.  There are many differences, I get it.  No need to rub it in.  I suspect even I won't refer to the "Great, Record-Setting Cabbage Production Year of 2017."  First, it doesn't really trip off the tongue so well.  Second, it probably isn't even that big of a record to break on our farm anyway.  We didn't really do much with cabbage production prior to 2012, so there really aren't that many seasons to compare to in the first place.  And, finally, the record has as much to do with a good growing season for cabbage as it does with our distribution of varieties.  We grew more Copenhagen Market and less Red Express.  One averages 4 pounds each.  The other, one pound.  Hence, a record is born!

Meaningful (for us) Records in Reach
It's the time of year in a baseball season that baseball announcers look at records that are in reach before the end of the regular season.  So, it seems appropriate for us to do the same thing.
  • Broccoli  585.4 lbs  Record 674.4 lbs in 2014
  • Winter Squash 0 lbs Record 2712.6 lbs in 2015
It seems I am enjoying being provocative - if anything as silly as vegetable production records for our small farm can be provocative.  I suspect most people might agree that the broccoli record has an outside chance of being reached if our current broccoli plants do us proud with sideshoots AND the farmer is able to harvest them.  It is unlikely we'll get anything from a final (small) batch of broccoli, so it is up to the older plants to keep on going.  But, even if it isn't this year, there is hope that we could hit it some other year because we have consistently hovered in the upper 500lb range for some time (except last season).  I suspect we'll land somewhere around 630 lbs this year, which is still a nice showing.

The winter squash, on the other hand, is entirely based on a future crop that looks good right now, but could just as easily disappoint.  The difference here is that winter squash are on an upward trend for our farm.  We've moved away from some of the variety experimentation and moved toward more pollinator attracting companions for our experiments.  If it's not this year, then it will be the next year that this record falls.  Unfortunately, these are famous 'last words' for a crop around here.  Predict success and OOOOH boy...  Superstitious much?  Let's just say no to that and move on.

Records That Are Like The Most Times a Batter Struck Out in a Given Ten Game Stretch
It does seem to us that sports broadcasters are working way too hard to say something special about a player or team with statistics.  Things like "this is the first time a player who went to middle school in Walla Walla, Washington swung at a third pitch in an at-bat since last week."

Case in point, radishes.  In 2011, we harvested 5336 radishes, which is the most we've recorded as harvested.  The thing about this is radishes are like the number of swings batters take in a ball game.  There are lots of the them.  And, with radishes you can completely change the game if you throw in one more succession than you have in previous years.  Suddenly, you break the prior record by 2000 radishes.... or 4000 radishes.  Then, the next year, you realize you really don't have a market for that many radishes and you drop the number by 6000.  So what?  It doesn't really tell us anything.  I would guess if we wanted a record that meant anything, we'd compare successions and we'd also make sure the row length was the same each time.

But, I said I liked statistics and records.  I didn't say I lived for them.

Records That Seem Like Ripken's Consecutive Games Streak
People didn't believe anyone would catch Gehrig, yet along comes Cal Ripken, Jr.  Is it possible we'll see a year where the 2012 green bean record of 1068 pounds is matched and then overtaken?  We've had multiple years between 750 and 900 pounds, so the capacity is there, I suppose.  But, do we have the will-power to do it?


Green beans taste great.  We love green beans.  But, they do not harvest themselves and we are not going to grow the types of green beans that a mechanical harvester works best on.  I suppose if we had someone who was the "Cal Ripken" of bean harvesting we could do it.  Until then, we'll be happy getting to 500-600 pounds each season.

Records Like Nolan Ryan's Most Walks Given Up By A Pitcher
Nolan also has lots of records that fall on the positive side and is one of Rob and Tammy's all time favorite pitchers.  So, don't get us wrong here.  But, let's just say that there ARE records you might not want to break.  We make the case for the 2072 eggplant harvested in 2011.  We are in the middle of a good eggplant year this season (564 so far) and we've been happy in recent years to land somewhere in the 800 range.

Let's put it this way.  People who really like eggplant have a limit to how many of them they want in a season.  Many people don't want any eggplant at all.  There isn't a particularly good market for eggplant in our area.  We are not inclined to develop a market for them.  So, why would we want to chase that record?

Records Like Tris Speakers' 449 Outfield Assists
Some people might like to see home runs.  Some like stolen bases or seeing pitchers strike out batters.  But, I think I've the thing I've enjoyed most are outfield assists.  In general, these are throws by an outfielder that lead to an out.  As a former outfielder, I can tell you that there is a good deal of satisfaction when you throw someone out.  And, I think we would thoroughly enjoy breaking the single season record for snack tomato production on our farm.  Snack tomatoes are fund to pick, good to eat and people like getting them from us.

We harvested 3332 of them in 2015.  We're at 881 so far this year.  Don't think we're going to make it this time, though I think 2500 is in reach for 2017.

Besides, what veggie is more fun than a Wapsipinicon Peach?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Summer Harvest Festival Scavenger Hunt

Once again, we put together a scavenger hunt for participants in the festival.  It is possible the envelope was covered up for a while by food so some people didn't see it.  But, those who did had a pretty good time finding as many of these things on the farm as they were able.

It is tradition to share at least some of the photos in a blog post.  How many of these things can you identify?  Remember, you can click on a photo to see a larger version.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

September Field Report

We're entering the 'home stretch' for the growing season - just a few more months to do and we're done for the year!

Yes, that's right, there is still plenty of farming to do at the Genuine Faux Farm where the final harvest is usually in December.  But, it is also true that the nature of the work and the pace seems to change in September.  The rhythm that was June through August is fading and the realization that some things are just going to be what they are has got the farmers doing a little assessment and reflection.

And, who gets to benefit from that reflection?  Why, you do, of course!  Aren't we so nice?
April in Valhalla
We actually had a pretty rough start this year - even in the high tunnels.  After all, if you don't get much of Mr. Sun, plants have a hard time growing.  So, it has been pretty nice to see that we've been able to fight through that and we seem to be enjoying some reasonable results on the farm this season.

Greens, radish and turnips in May
Once again, we're noticing that very few of our crops are going to be setting farm records for us.  And, we're actually pleased by this.  Why?  Well, usually a record-setting crop by this time on our farm would be the result of increasing production space for that particular crop.  Early on, we would set records either because we really concentrated on a crop (to the detriment of other crops) and/or we overestimated how much space we needed.  We've moved past the 'set a record crop harvest for everything' mentality over the past five years and are targeting yields that match need and yields that reflect balance throughout the growing season.

tomatoes, beets and lettuce in Eden (June)
Of course, this doesn't mean would say no to a bumper crop of anything.  We'll certainly work to figure out what to do with it if it comes in.  But, there are always issues with capacity.  Some people have asked why we don't grow more of "x" because we are so "good at it."  They are missing the fact that we only have a certain capacity for labor, for storage and for sales. 
Broccoli and onions in July
We still feel that we are no where close to our overall farm capacity to produce good food.  At issue here is a single four-letter word: time.

Every crop takes a certain amount of time to do it reasonably well.  Every equipment breakdown eats up some of that time.  Time spent trying to promote the farm and sell product does not go towards better growing of the crops.  And, it takes time for improvements on the farm to take hold. 

For example, I'd love it if the bushes we've planted along our Easter fields were a nice big hedge already.  But, it takes some years for that to happen.  Until then, we deal with more exposure to corn and soybean fields than we like.
Copenhagen Market cabbage in August
Which brings us to a brief update on some of our crops so far this year.  We hope you find this interesting.

Tomato Resurgence at GFF
While we aren't at levels that Rob would like things to be, we've had some improvements this year after a couple of down years.  High tunnel production has really pulled us through the last couple of years, but production in the high tunnels was actually not up to par last year either.  This year, tomato production in the high tunnels is running on track with 2015 and 2014 numbers, which is re-assuring to us that 2016 was an aberration.  Field tomatoes, on the other hand, have very nice quality tomatoes on them.  Last year, we removed most of them as not being good enough to distribute.  Our target each year for slicer sized tomatoes is about a one ton weight in quality fruit.  Last year, we landed South of a half-ton, with high tunnel production carrying the load.

the Cucumber Conundrum
Thus far, 2017 has not been a great cucumber year.  This would figure since we were positioning ourselves to sell some cucumbers in bulk this year after three years where we didn't bother picking all of the good fruit (and fed them to the birds as they got too big) and five years in a row of similar production.  So, of course, our harvest numbers sit at a 'paltry' 1200+ for the year.  Before you send that beverage out of your nose in reaction to what we're calling a 'bad' number, consider that we were running full season numbers between 5000 and 6000 for five years running.  But, there is hope on the horizon.  We decided to run a third succession this year (rather than just two) and the third succession plants look the way they should.  If all goes well, we'll have a nice flush of fruit in mid-September.  If we get an early frost (which seems unlikely to us right now) then we'll just say we gave it a shot and leave it at that.

Onion Patience
Onions went in later than we wanted this year.  We're currently harvesting the short-season sweet white onions (White Wing) and we've been very pleased with the taste and quality.  They are, perhaps, a bit smaller than prior years, but nothing to be ashamed of.  The question is how well the rest of the onions will finish out.  They look healthy and strong.  And, we've run late with onions before with good results.  But, it still can be a bit nerve-wracking to hear about everyone else celebrating their completed onion harvest and yours is yet to happen.

Squish for the Squash Fanatics
This might be the best our winter squash field has EVER looked.  The field is pretty clean and has a good cover of vines and leaves.  Yes, there are some weeds creeping back in after our last weeding - which is annoying.  But, that's not abnormal for this time of year to get a few tall weeds poking through.  We've seen strong pollinator activity in the borage and prolific flowering on the vines.  Once again, we have to wait and see what makes it to maturity prior to the event of colder weather.  Regardless, it's looking good.

On the other side of the spectrum, we're looking at a melon crop failure this year.  We should still get a batch from the Minnesota Midgets in Valhalla, but it's nothing like what we've come to expect over the past few years.  Chalk it up to putting them in the wrong field and some timing issues and there you are.  Such is life.

Bean There Done That
We had some nice beans early in Eden until they flooded out in late July.  We tided everyone over with some beans in the field that also had some issue with the heavy rains at that time.  We are patiently awaiting what should be a bumper crop from Valhalla.  Again, no records here, but probably as much as we or our CSA members could want for a season.  And, probably all we can manage with the number of hours it takes to harvest them.

We hope you've enjoyed this GFF farm report and we look forward to giving a positive report of yields for all of these crops (except melons -sigh) at the end of the season!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

What's Wrong With This Picture

Getting a different viewpoint from above seems to get everyone's attention.  After all, unless you are a pilot or you do a good deal of air travel, you don't see things from this perspective.  If you do travel by air and look out the window, you don't necessarily get to see a aerial view of where your home is - so satellite images can be intriguing and very hard to turn away from.

For your viewing pleasure, here is a satellite image from 2016 (we believe) that includes our farm and the surrounding area. 

This picture is a little odd because it shows some imagining from later in the year at the bottom part of the frame, so corn and soybeans are starting to germinate in those fields while the field in the upper portion are not showing much.  The town of Tripoli is at the bottom right and some of the Wapsipinicon River greenbelt runs through the picture from lower right to the center top.  Our farm is located just above the road that takes a sharp right turn at center left.  We're the smallish green rectangle.

So, what am I seeing that makes me concerned?  It's the lack of green.

However - our little patch of 15 acres should not be so easy to see.  There should be more hayfields.  There should be cereal grain fields.  There should be orchards.  There should be alfalfa fields.  There should be field borders.

Simply put, we don't need as much corn and soybeans as we grow.  We only grow as much as we do because there is a small subset of people who use it as a vehicle to generate money.  Note, I am not saying they use it to generate an income.  I am fully cognizant of many people who farm and rely on these crops to generate their income so they and their family can live.  I am also aware of people who earn incomes because they have jobs that have something to do with corn and soybeans.  They generate their incomes within the current agribusiness/government constructs.  I get that.

But, in my opinion, there is a subset of people who already have a good deal of money that spend time speculating on ag futures or that drive large ag industry businesses that have too much say as to what is grown and how it is grown.  The world does NOT need this much corn and soybeans.  It's just that there is a huge system in place that gives these two crops more value than they probably deserve at this time.

Rather than continue to rant about how things are not right in the world, let me say this:
I think many of the farmers and land-owners in this state want things to change.  But, I also suspect that there are two things that are stopping them.

1. Change is scary and it is hard to know where it will lead and whether it will hurt you or not.
2. People aren't sure how to go about making change.

Let me throw out a few suggestions for some small changes.  After all, ranting about how bad things are doesn't get anything done unless you have some ideas to make things better.

A. Use GPS in modern equipment to intercrop
If we've got the technology to have self-driving tractors, we have the ability to run strips that are one planter wide of crops that complement each other.  Is it a bit more complicated to do?  Sure.  But, the tools should be making this so easy now.  It's more a matter of figuring how to deal with borders.  Please don't tell me we don't have the tools or ability to figure that issue out - after all, that would be insulting given the other problems we've found solutions for...

B. Use some of our federal ag funding to push late season cover crops to hold the soil
If we're going to continue to provide funding to our row crop farmers then maybe we should do something that has been shown to help maintain soil health, cut down on erosion and diversify the landscape.  If we work on figuring out the best way to do a fall winter-kill cover crop we don't have to add more herbicide spraying to get rid of the cover prior to planting.

C. Start putting buffer strips between all fields
I get it.  It's your land and you need it to earn you money.  That's why you till as close to the edges as you do and that's why you see the idea of buffer strips between fields (and fence rows or tree rows or ...) as bad things.  In fact, this is the reason so many farmers didn't maintain green areas to handle rain run-off without it taking soil away.  Now that there are Federal programs that pay farmers to put in these green strips, farmers will do it.

But, it shouldn't just be about the money.  It should be about doing things right.  In the end, doing things right will pay back.  It just might not be in a paycheck this week... or the next.  Perhaps some of the payback will come in ways that aren't monetary - and that should be ok.

But, why do you pay the insurance premiums you do for spray drift insurance?  It's partly because you want to till right up to your neighbor's fields.  Have you considered the possible cost savings that might offset the yield lost for a simple buffer strip - say 20 feet on your side of the fence and 20 feet on the other side?

D. Apply ourselves to simply farming better
I refuse to believe that every farmer wants to do just the minimum on their farm.  I prefer to believe that many (and perhaps most) farmers want to do a better job with the land they work.  But, we need to change from 'working' the land to being 'stewards' of the land.

A good steward doesn't just run monetary numbers for the bottom line.  A steward looks to the health of the entire system - the whole farm.

Just some food for thought.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Hightlights of the Summer Harvest Festival Playlist

While we did not have live music at the Summer Harvest Festival this year, we did have some good music.  And, while the farmers were hosting, they also noticed when people were singing parts of a tune, humming along or even moving a bit to the music.

Here are a few we noticed some reactions to:
A cover of Safety Dance anyone?
And the whole crew yelled "Mamaaaaaaaaaaaaa!"
How about a little cello with Takenobu? Song title is "Limbo":
One of our favorite bands, the 77's, playing "Nowhere Else":
Now, this tune is very catchy "If" you let yourself listen to House of Heroes:
One of Tammy's all time favorites, Sister Hazel and "All For You:"
You had to know we'd have some of the Choir playing and I caught someone paying attention to this one!
We even got a little Irish Fest style music in there with some Scythian:
And, if we'd been thinking we would have ordered the playlist so everyone would hear Alison Brown towards the end of the festival.
And we would have ended with Kerosene Halo:

Thank you to everyone who attended this year's Summer Harvest Festival, it was an honor to host it for you!

Friday, September 1, 2017

September Newsletter

September, the month of despair and hope.

How's that for an introduction to a newsletter?  Oh, you'd like some explanation? 

Late August into early September is the point in time where growers, such as ourselves, begin to fully realize that there is no longer a chance to fix any mistakes that might have been made with respect to this year's crops.  Yes, there is still some planting going on and there is plenty of harvest yet to come.  But, we just aren't going to save the crop in the far northeast field (for example).

On the other hand, if we take the moment to reflect, we will find moments of success that make us feel like, perhaps, we aren't so terrible at what we do.  In fact, we're actually pretty good at some of this stuff.  And, there are just some things that can't be helped, so success is defined by how you handle those events.  It's enough to make you start thinking about the things you'll do differently and better next time around.

Despair and hope. 

September Calendar of Events

  • September 5: Delivery 17 Waverly (Trad, WE, AltOdd, Trav)
    September 7: Delivery 17 Cedar Falls (Trad, WE, AltOdd, Trav)
    September 12: Delivery 18 Waverly (Trad, WE, AltEven, Trav)
    September 14: Delivery 18 Cedar Falls (Trad, WE, AltEven, Trav)
    September 17: Gang of Four+ at Scattergood Friends School Farm
    September 19: Delivery 19 Waverly (Trad, WE, AltOdd, Trav)
    September 21: Delivery 19 Cedar Falls (Trad, WE, AltOdd, Trav)
    September 26: Delivery 20 Waverly (Trad, WE, AltEven, Trav)
    September 28: Delivery 20 Cedar Falls (Trad, WE, AltEven, Trav)
Adding Some Members in the Fall:
We would like to add additional members to our CSA this Fall.  So, if you are someone who has returned from travels and you miss your veggies or if you are someone new who would like to try a farm share out, let us know and we'll pro-rate a share for you!

You could come to next year's festival and get a green cart ride too!
Look for future promotional efforts.  We'd like to add about 10 more members.

Broiler Chickens Available
The second batch of broiler chickens went to "the Park" on August 23 and then "Freezer Camp" on August 25.  We have at least 100 birds looking for homes.  Would you like to invite some of them to yours for dinner?

Price is $3.50 per pound for a whole bird.  The average weight for this group was around 4.8 pounds.  They are day range birds, which means they go inside for their protection at night, but run in pasture during the day.  They forage and receive feed that was mixed at the Canfield's farm near Dunkerton.

Turkey Reservations - Time to Get Them In
Our turkeys are getting bigger and we are teaching them all about their opportunity to join families all over the Cedar Valley for Thanksgiving as the guest of honor.  They are excited by the prospect.  Would you like to host on of these birds at your home this year?  Let us know.

Song of the Month
Rob 'discovered' Thrice a few years ago even though they have been around for a while.  They reappeared this year with a new album and it appeals to some of the heavier rock vibes Rob appreciates.  But, why did we select this song?  Well, "There are Fauxes in the garden..."   When, the lyric references you, you have to include it.  What?  Not that kind of Faux?  Hmmm.  Now I'm confused.

Recipe of the Month
This recipe uses a large number of the things you get in August and into September from a CSA share:

1 lb of yellow onions, chopped (white or red onions fine too if you like sweeter onions)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lb zucchini, chopped
1 lb yellow squash, chopped
Bell peppers, seeds removed, chopped into 1/2 inch square pieces:
--1-2 lbs bell peppers (other sweet peppers work too!)
1 lb eggplant, 1/2 inch cubes
1 lb fresh ripe tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
salt to taste
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1 sprig rosemary
3/4 cup vegetable stock (or thin tomato juice)
fresh ground pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Using a large oven-proof pan over medium high heat, saute onions in olive oil until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and reduce heat to low.
3. While the onions and garlic are cooking over low heat, put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a another frying pan over high heat. As soon as oil starts to smoke, quickly add enough zucchini cubes all at once to cover the bottom of the pan. Keep on cooking over high heat, stirring, until zucchini is lightly browned on all sides. Remove zucchini cubes, and add them to pan with the onions.
4 Repeat process until all of the zucchini cubes have been cooked. Do the same with the yellow squash. Make sure to add a little olive oil between each new batch. Continue with the bell peppers, then the eggplant cubes, adding the browned vegetables to the onion pan as soon as they are cooked.
5 When all the vegetables (except the tomatoes) are browned and in the pan with the onions, increase theheat to high and stir, making sure they don't stick to the bottom of the pan. Add salt to taste, thyme, bay leaf, and rosemary, the vegetable stock, and stir well. Place in oven for one hour.
6 Boil water in a saucepan on stove. Remove stems from tomatoes, and crisscross the bottoms with a knife. Plunge into boiling water for a minute or two, until skin starts to fall away. Rinse in cold water and remove skin. Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise, remove seeds, chop coarsely, set aside.
7 After the vegetables have been in the oven for an hour, remove from oven, drain vegetables in a colander set over a bowl. Clean browned bits (if any) off bottom of pan with a paper towel. Return any liquid to the pan and reduce to a thick glaze over medium high heat. Keep on adding juices to the pan as they run out of the vegetables into the bowl.
8 When all the juices have been reduced, return vegetables to the heavy pan. At this point the ratatouille should be moist and shiny, with very little liquid. Turn heat off. Add the chopped tomatoes and cover. If serving as a warm side dish, let the ratatouille stand for 10 minutes, just enough to "cook" the tomatoes. The ratatouille can be served at room temperature or refrigerated and reheated the next day.
9 When ready to serve, remove the bay leaf, and season to taste with salt and pepper.


Field Report
The past month saw us dry out a fair amount.  We got a bit of rain here and there to keep it from getting serious, but we wouldn't say no to a gentle rain about now.  Temperatures have been much cooler than usual for most of the month of August.  So, things that like cooler weather have been happy.  Warmer weather things - not so much.  But, we've had plenty of sunshine, so that offsets the negative impact of cooler weather somewhat.  
Zinnias, winter squash and borage.
The winter squash crop continues to look good, even if it seemed to start slowly for us this year.  We got the field weeded/cultivated in a timely fashion, so this may be the best this field has looked in years.  We've had lots and lots of squash flowers out there, but it has yet to be seen if we have the pollinators to lead to a nice big crop.  We remain hopeful, as always and things are looking decent so far.

We're starting to gear up for the tater digging sessions.  We never know for sure what the crop will give us until we dig it, but we can take some guesses based on the health of the plants.  Some varieties are going to be pretty sad.  Others should be fine.  We planted twelve beds of taters this year.  Tammy and I agree that if we can get a good, solid harvest from five of them, we'll be just fine.  It's not what we were hoping for, but it's what we need to be reasonably successful for the season.

The high tunnel peppers are trying their best to carry this year's load.  They've been high quality fruit with excellent taste, but it is still a fraction of what we expect most years.  We just remind ourselves that these things happen - which is exactly why we split crops between field and high tunnel (among other things we do to 'hedge our bets').

We mentioned the pollinators for a reason.  Our summer squash and zucchini plants have been fine this year, but production numbers continue to lag behind what we brought in per row foot prior to 2010.  Soil tests tell us we're doing fine with fertility and composition of the soil.  Our growing techniques have gotten better since then.  We've even moved to some F1-hybrid varieties for the increased production per plant.  The weather doesn't account for the decline entirely, which leaves us with the pollinator issue.  Once again, we put in the plug that we (all of us) need to work to reverse the damage we are doing to our insect population with the overuse of pesticides and destruction of habitat.

Picture of the Month
You've probably figured out that our picture of the month comes from the prior month at the farm by now.  We had a seriously good crop of broccoli that came in during August, so this seems only fitting.

Farm News Shorts
  • We are considering some special activities for our September CSA pickups.  Keep your ears open and see if you might enjoy participating.  Rumor has it there might be some recipe sharing involved for one of these.
  • We can't remember if we've shared this in a newsletter prior to this or not.  Rob has been asked to present at a conference in Canada late November/early December.  He will be sharing some of our intercropping methods with interested persons.
  • Brian Golay has been kind enough to work with us on building a better hen shelter for the hens that are our 'traveling flock.'  Here's what we have so far:  

Time to Have Pun
Did you hear about the photographer?  He died from exposure.  It wasn't a pretty picture.  Some people say that it wasn't an accident and another photographer was arrested under suspicion of murder.  I think he was framed.  We'll tell you more as the situation develops.  Film at ten.