Tuesday, September 23, 2014

September 23 CSA Email

CSA day tomorrow.  Farm Festival on Saturday.  Broilers and ducks still available.  I swallowed a fly.  Lettuce was planted in the ground today.  The turkeys have been informed that they will be guests of honor or Thanksgiving dinners.  They are pleased.  There is a kitten on the farm that could use a home.  A katydid did and another didn't.  What if a katydid catered?

What?   CSA Farm Share Distribution
When?  Tues Sep 23, 3:30-6:00 pm
Where? Waverly Farmers Market
Who?   Rob (319 610 9201) and Jeff Cornforth
Why?  If a katydid did cater, you'd probably have aphids as a main course.

What will be in your share this week:
     Melons/watermelons - again, it depends on what is ready to go.  Probably Pride of Wisconsin this time (orange flesh).  Oh, and there may be some Minnesota Midget (orange flesh) in the high tunnel as well!  We have taste tested each of these... Well, ok, we haven't taste tested the melons we will give you.  Honestly... what were you all thinking?!
    Tomatoes - there are still some hanging in there.  Mostly yellows at this time.
    Peppers - Ace bell peppers and others if we need to supplement.
    Sweet Peppers - we got you hot peppers last week, so you get sweet peppers this week.  Probably Jimmy Nardello's, Tolli Sweet and maybe a few Marconi Red, Chrevena Chushka and Golden Treasure.
   Lettuce - we expect that Australian Yellow Leaf will carry the load this time.  It is a yellow to pale green leaf.  It has slight singeing on the top leaves from the frost, but otherwise is in fine shape with good taste.
   Onions - there are more White Wing onions out there.  So, we'll trot them out to your share one more week. 
   Carrots - Jeff Sage has a crop of carrots for you!  It's been a long wait, but here they are!
   Broccoli, Romanesco, etc - we'll pick enough for everyone to have a choice. 
   Kohlrabi - here comes the fall kohlrabi!  yay!

This is where I usually say - and whatever else I find.  So, I 'll stick with that for now.

-----------FARM NEWS-----------------
1. GFF Poultry
Chickens are now available for purchase.  plenty available.  Cost is $3.30 per pound.  Respond to this note or our prior note if you have interest.  If you know someone else who is, feel free to send our contact information.

Ducks are also available at this time.  $6.50 per pound.  We have about 12 remaining.

If you want to reserve a turkey, now is the time to let us know.  Respond to this note and we will take the reservation.  There will be about 45 birds this year.

2. Most Recent Blog activity The most recent blog posts include:

  • A September Picture This post.  For those not familiar with these.  Rob takes recent farm photos, uploads them to a post, then writes about them.  Among the things mentioned is the "Tomato for Five."  Hmmm. What could Rob possibly mean by that?  I guess you'll need to read.
  • Also, part II of Lessons in Farming.  This one is "I don't have a solution, but I admire the problem"
3. GF7 Festival
Sad that you missed some of our prior festivities?  Well, never fear, GF7 is near.  The annual Genuine Faux Farm Fall Festival and Fetid Fruit Fling will be on Saturday, September 27 this year.  Take the link and read all about it.  This will be our last on farm festival of the year.  If you have been thinking about coming to the farm for a festival this season, I guess you'd better try and find a way to get to this one!  We've ordered some good weather for this one!

4. Here Kitty Kitty
It seems that someone dumped a kitten at our farm.  Sadly, this is not an uncommon occurrence in the country.  This little critter is as thin as a rail and needed to see the vet.  We took her in and she is now on antibiotics and has the first round of distemper shots.  She is about four months old and is a friendly little thing.  We do not currently have a vacancy for a new cat on the farm.  so, if you are looking for a kitten, we've got one that is available.

5. Remember, there are recipes available
We have many on our website on our recipe pages.
There are more on our blog with this topic tag line.
Also, we will consider ordering more of the MACSAC A to Z Cookbooks if there is interest.  Let us know.

6. A Throwback Blog Post
This week, by way of entertainment, I will copy part of a 2010 blog post.  It seems that every September lands Rob with a day or two where he is late to a CSA distribution for any number of reasons.  Here are some examples of what can happen:

  • If you reach Stage 3 or higher of our "rainy day stages" and you have a distribution or market to go to, you will be required to change your attire. Have you tried recently to change clothing QUICKLY when you are soaked? I think you all know what I mean. Shirts, underwear, etc all like to roll up into a ball as you try to take them off. There is no way to do this quickly. But, wait, there's more. Try putting dry clothing on quickly! It doesn't work. If you've gotten rain soaked you just can't dry off with a towel as effectively as you can when you take a shower. You either have to be patient and air dry a bit or go through the whole "rolling up" thing with the dry clothing too. UGH! *and no, I did NOT hear your suggestion about au naturale* And, the side effect is seen in the laundry as well. Those tightly rolled balls of cloth are SOCKS. I think.
  • And in reference to the Law of Expanding Lists. Imagine being in a hurry. But, you have to record something before it gets forgotten. And, it WILL be forgotten if you don't write it down. You get the paper, you get the writing utensil, you write it down. You pause. Something else just came to mind. No, you have to hurry. But, you MUST write it down or you will forget. So, you write it down. Then two more things pop into your brain...... Try explaining this to people when you aren't on time.
  • Playing weather predictor is always a good way to stop the train that is our departure for distribution or market. "Hm... those clouds look semi-serious. Should we?" "Do we HAVE to?" "Ya." Put down the cold frame covers, close the house windows, roll down the high tunnel sides, put anything that might blow away into a building, move the tools into the building (you know, the ones you should have put away anyway but wisely thought could wait until you came back). etc etc.
  • You packed the truck. It is well-packed. In fact, you are all the way to the back of the truck now. And someone points out that there are three white trays sitting over there (who cares where exactly) that need to go too. The only way to get them into the truck? Unpack the truck and stack the trays in the front with one more tier.
  • Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Where are my keys. I just had them. Are they on the key hook? No. In one of the pairs of jeans I had to change out of because of a pair of stage 4 events? No. In the car? No. Garage? No. Kitchen table? No. Desk? No. um.... How about ignition of the truck. oh.

 See you tomorrow!
Rob & Tammy

Monday, September 22, 2014

A September Picture This

It's been a while since we took recent pictures and use them to create a blog post.  Let's see if we've still got the chops to do this!

Growing the "Perfect" Tomato

As you might know by now, we're more concerned with the taste and eating quality of our produce than we are with picture perfect looks.  After all, the whole point of what we grow is for people to consume the produce.  If it looks great and tastes bad, what good is that?  On the other hand, there are times when you can manage both.

The perfect Black Krim tomato
Black Krim tomatoes are notorious for radial cracking at the top.  They also are known to split easily at the point where they ripen.  Thus, we tend to pick these on the slightly early side to avoid the tendency for them to split open on the bottom.  They are ripe enough to eat at that point and already have excellent taste.  These also tend to have green to greenish/black shoulders.   So, it is rare to manage to get the color you see above.  A typical Black Krim tomato weighs in between a half and three quarters pound.  The one above came in at about 0.8 pounds.

The perfect Paul Robeson tomato (times 2)
We equate Paul Robeson with Black Krim (whether that is fair or not) because it tends to grow similar sized tomatoes and because they both exhibit some of the most complex tastiness for heirloom tomatoes.  Again, the color of the Robeson does not tend to be a solid color, with some changing on the shoulder area.  Unlike the Krim, they split out from the stem, but they have the same problem if you pick them a bit late with splits on the bottom.  I couldn't decide between two tomatoes as to which was most photogenic, so I took a photo of both of them together.

So - how did we grow the perfect tomatoes?  That's for another post in the future!  (Ha!  A teaser!  I'll have you reading this blog for months just waiting for our secrets! Bwahahahahaaaaaaaaaaaa!)

Tomato for Five?
Consistency from our plants this year has not been the operative term.  Tomatoes, for example have exhibited a wide range of quality and size.  One Black Krim tomato in the high tunnel grew so large that the only way it could be harvested was to break it into pieces.  That single tomato was used for BLTs for us and the work crew that day.  All five of us had enough tomato from this one fruit to make us all happy.  And, yes, those who wanted seconds were able to have seconds.  We wish we'd gotten an official weight on that one, but we were more concerned about getting it to the table for lunch!

Give Me an "O"
The only crop that has really been outstanding for us this season has been the onions.  And, perhaps they haven't been as fabulous as we think they are.  After all, we have had crop failures in this area recently.  So, when you compare crop failure to getting an actual crop...

The big differences between 2013 and 2014 were the later occurrence of wet weather AND the Williams Tool Bar for our tractor.  Last year, the fields were wet during the early planting times and we just could not get into the field to put in onions.  If onions don't get in early enough, you might as well give up on them because they won't bulb out for you.  This year, the wet weather started after the onions were in AND after we ran the Williams through them once.  Well, ok, we ran it through three rows.  The other row and a half weren't ready at that time and we lost them to weeds. 

So far, we've pulled in three quarters of the White Wing onions.  Next up, Redwing and Ailsa Craig.  Yellow of Parma runs the anchor leg.

We're pleased with the White Wing onions this year
Truck Tetris 2014
Once August hit, the game of Truck Tetris began in earnest.  The big winner so far was the day Rob had to put three coolers in the seat next to him in the cab of the truck.  Thus far, we have avoided pressing a second vehicle into service.

Don't worry, we weren't done packing yet.  We had more to put in.

The Day After
The day after the CSA distribution is a sneaky one at the farm.  By the time we get to September, much of the day is taken over by less exciting, but necessary tasks.  The difficulty here is that Rob often plans on doing things that are not specific to a CSA distribution.  For example, last week he thought he might do some weeding on Wednesday. 
A twice weekly occurrence

But, then he starts on the cleanup.  Towels need to be washed, containers need to be cleaned.  Remaining produce needs to be sorted out.  Some was identified as having problems during distribution and goes to birds.  Some has other homes to go to and some becomes the farm's share of produce.  Before you know it, half the day is gone.  Then, you realize you need to start picking for the next distribution.  

In the end, I remind myself that this is all symptomatic of a good thing!  We have lots of produce to give to our members, thus we get to play Truck Tetris and we have lots of containers, etc to clean up.  I'll take it.

We saw you unload the truck.  Where's our cut of the produce?

Who Said it Could be Fall?
We have learned that Mother Nature does not need our permission to do anything.  But, we're still unhappy with her decision to start the growing season late and try to end it early.  We've had two frosts on the farm so far.  The second was light and did minimal damage.  The first frost found us outside after dark doing our best to cover things.  We couldn't, of course, get everything.  So, many things are pretty much done now.  We're most unhappy with the damage to the Winter squash. 

It looks like the breeze is still too much for the covers....

But, on the other hand, frost adds clarity to our tasks on the farm.  Summer squash and zucchini get hit pretty hard?  Yep.  I guess we look at removing them and putting in a cover crop.  You get the idea.

Fall is Planting Time!
And, then there is Fall planting.  We hope we're getting the timing right this year.  But, every year has been different and it always seems like our available work time sneaks away from us before we know it.  The picture below shows some of the plants we have that are going into the high tunnel this Fall.

Yes, it is September.  yes, these are new plants.
We're pretty certain we got some Fall root crops in at the right time. 

Some turnips anyone?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Lessons in Farming II - I don't have a solution... BUT I admire the problem

The following is part of a six part series.  The first being Every morning is the dawn of a new error....

Before we get into this too far, I'd like to put out the caveat that I certainly do NOT know everything.  I'm not trying to put myself out there as a self-proclaimed expert.  On the other hand, I see value in sharing experience and thoughts related to the kind of farming we do at Genuine Faux Farm.  If you are a farmer, I hope these things help you to think about what you are doing and how you do it.  If you are not a farmer, I hope you take a moment to realize that these topics can provide you with depth to the story of where your food comes from.  Then, when the next choice you have about food comes around, you can add a bit more thought to the process.

I don't have a solution... BUT I admire the problem

The idea of paper mulch is fantastic, but there are issues
I'm writing these "Lessons" as much for us at GFF as anyone else.  These are things we have learned and re-learned as we work our way through each season.  And, it does us some good to remind ourselves in hopes, at the very least, we don't make the same mistakes.  But, perhaps, they will also inspire us to new and useful solutions.   

That said - I hereby refresh my memory from our prior Lessons in Farming post.

1. There is NO "silver bullet"
2. Farming isn't and should NOT be easy. 
3. Every farm has key differences that force the need for solutions that are unique to that farm.

The problem I admire enough to keep trying my hand at finding the most elegant solution is as follows:

Providing targeted plants with the best competitive advantage in healthy soils in a way that utilizes resources responsibly.

In other words - I want to grow great vegetables in ways that avoid negative impacts on the environment and soils, provide us with reasonable income AND don't wear the two of us down completely.  This is not a simple problem and, as far as I can tell, there may be multiple solutions that are reasonable approximations of a 'best' answer.  But, in the end, there is likely no perfect answer or system - especially when the rules seem to change every time you take the field.

Case in Point: the paper mulch dilemma
The idea of paper mulch has been attractive to us since even before we began to farm professionally.  We placed old newspaper under cut grass mulch in our gardens to help keep weeds down and hold moisture in the soil by the base of our plants.  The paper did its job and broke down, providing organic matter for the soil.  But, as we increased our growing area, it was no longer feasible to lay out newspaper.  I won't even bore you with all of the reasons for that.  Just imagine what it would be like to lay 200 feet of newspaper one page at a time... in a 20 mile per hour wind.
Paper mulch laid out for the study this year.

Many commercial vegetable growers use plastic mulch to control weeds.  We certainly understand the attraction, but we aren't terribly happy with the need to remove the plastic in the fall and put it in the landfill.  I also suspect that there are negative impacts on the soil biology when plastic is used.  On the other hand, paper breaks down and just becomes part of the system.  It allows water to seep through, whereas plastic diverts it.  In both cases (paper and plastic mulch), we have to fight the issue of weeds growing up through the holes where the crop is growing.  We also have to deal with weeds on the edges of the mulch.  Mechanical methods run the risk of tearing up the mulch, so this tends to be a labor intensive job.  But, then again, we would have had to hand weed right next to the plants anyway - so you're just moving the labor to something a little different.

At some other time, I may get the gumption to write about what I think the perceived trade offs might be in our options here.  But, for now, I'll just relate our past year's experience and our thought process.

Until a couple of years ago, we had not used any 'manufactured' mulch (paper or plastic rolls).  When Sunshine Paper Company came up with rolls of NOIP (ok for certified organic operations), we decided to give it a try.  We had already decided that plastic mulch was not in keeping with our farm's guiding principles.  We decided to target vine crops (melons in particular).  We are running a SARE grant research project that included a control (no mulch) in hopes that we could more formally learn some things about using paper mulch.  But, sadly, this year presented us with some new (to us) challenges that set the study back.  Of course, we still learned alot, but it wasn't at all what we intended to concentrate on.

Look carefully and you'll see sections missing at this point.

We got our melons in pretty much on time.  The trial grid with control and treatment rows were set out and all was ready to go.  And, we got the last few plants in as the wind was picking up and the rain was imminent.  What happened next was a perfect storm of events - or maybe a set of perfect storms to prevent the paper mulch from being as successful as it should have been.

First - high winds came before it rained.  The wind lifted the mulch up in places.  It didn't pull out, but it shifted a bit.  So, when the driving rains came, it pushed the mulch back down.  But, it wasn't always put back down so that the growing hole for our plants were lined up with the actual seedlings.  This could have happened (and I understand, has happened) with plastic mulch.  I spent some time a couple of days later trying to open up the holes for the seedlings or otherwise shift things so the vines could see the sun.  Not an optimal situation, but not the end of the world either.  We lost a few seedlings at that point, but nothing terrible.

Then, it rained more.  And things stayed wet for an extended period of time.  Since paper DOES break down, it should surprise no one that the perfect conditions for moisture and bacteria at the edges of the paper encouraged a faster decomposition than we normally see.  The third picture in this post illustrates a few sections where the paper tore off and took vines with it.  So, we started bringing out straw mulch to help hold the paper down.  Sadly, we didn't get to it all in time (after all this was an unscheduled task) and we lost more vines to paper lifting up and beating them to death.  But, again, it wasn't the end of the world.  We're still getting melons from this plot.  But, the real shame is that the need to throw mulch over the paper effectively ended the study for the year.  These things always look so good on paper in December. 

Now that it is September, we can still tell you that the vines that were on the paper were still more productive for us than the ones off of the paper.  But, one has to consider that paper flapping in the wind can take out rows that were NOT paper mulched as well as those that were.  Then, there was the issue of keeping things weeded. 

In the end, we still believe there is a place for the paper mulch in our system.  We refuse to consider one exceptional situation to be the rule.  Instead, we simply acknowledge that early wet weather will increase decomposition.  There is actually still paper under the straw that has held in there the rest of the season.  But, now we have to consider the economics and well as the logistics.  With Fall here, the time for contemplation of where we go with this next is coming.  But, we will say this, we hope to try the experiment once again next year on the melons.  I suppose we are stubborn - but we also have seen enough in prior years to feel that there is something there worth investigating.  It's all part of learning to use the tools in the tool box.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Painting and Bridges

This is a just a testament to how time flies when we're having fun.  This event occurred a few weeks ago now - and we intended to put the pictures out much, much sooner.  But, that's just the way the blog bounces.  So, here we are, putting it out prior to the next painting event.  Some or all of this group will return on Sep 27 during our GF7 Festival.  We will provide the opportunity for other interested persons to paint during the 'work period' from 2pm to 4pm as well.  All of the painting is, of course, subject to the weather.

The Summer Bridge Program at Wartburg College provides incoming first year students (typically first generation college students) with an opportunity to experience a bit of college before the Fall term starts.  Last year, we were able to provide the Bridge Program students with a tour of the farm - including a chance to see some baby birds.

This year, we had a tour first.  Then, we had a painting day!

Don't forget to prep the building!
Bridge Program participants did a little research on how to paint a building and they came prepared to scrape, sand and paint.  They also got a copy of our logo and designed their own rendition for the side of the granary.

Let's slop a little paint on it too!
Rob & Tammy provided some equipment and the scaffolding.  Otherwise, they were around to help and answer questions as needed.  Once things got going, they went about doing work on the farm while all of these fine people worked on the south side of the building. 

Hmmm.  Something different going on in the middle there.
In a way, we thought it might be interesting for the participants to see some of the things that went on at the farm when the farmers weren't leading a tour.  Often, people come to the farm, get the nickel tour and then leave.  They see what things look like in 'stasis.'  In other words, they see where we left it last during our work.  But, it is quite another thing to be around when work is being done.  We realize they were likely giving most of their attention to the building, but there were tractors moving around, bins getting emptied and all sorts of other things at the same time this was occurring.

I recognize that name!
The first coat of the logo mural was completed before they left and they hope to return for GF7 and put on the second coat.  I guess we'd better have those scaffolding ready for that!

A fine group of people. Please note, a couple attendees had to leave early and missed this photo.  We like them too!
The granary has served as a palette for creativity in the past and we hope it will again in the future.  It helps keep the buidling's siding protected AND it adds a little character.  Not to mention the fun we hope these people had in creating this mural!

That's pretty cool.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Picture of What? Picture This

Rob got a wild hair/hare the other day and decided to take some pictures of...things.  See how many of these things you can identify!

Ok, this one shouldn't be too hard.

Hmmmm.  Maybe less easy?

And, I suspect it won't get much easier from there.  How many can you get right? 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Veg Varieties: Lettuce

The following is an excerpt from our vegetable variety pages that can be found here on our website.

If you are enjoying these variety posts, please let us know and we will continue to put them out here on a weekly basis.  Email us or post a comment.

We've only planted two successions of Amish Deer Tongue this year.  The first was just harvested at the end of August.  Sadly, it was a short succession since, for whatever reason, the seed didn't want to germinate this time around.  The second succession should be ready in early October.   The plan is to put a few into the high tunnel this time around and have the rest mature in the field.

We have not really noticed much difference in taste based on the time of year.  Weeds are the biggest problem for this variety and the surest way to get the plants to bolt early.  

Amish Deer Tongue
Amish Deer Tongue Lettuce
This lettuce is a little harder to describe because it is very different than many we grow. The leaves have a spinach-like texture, and that texture suggests spinach enough that some people might detect a hint of spinach taste. But, we're not sure if that's inferred or actual. The taste and texture are just different enough that they add interest to a salad with more commonly known lettuces. Plants are compact and tough. Probably a better cool season lettuce as they don't hold long in warmer weather. Note: don't plant too close or you'll get tall/thin plants that aren't as full as they can or should be. Crowding do to overplanting or weeds will encourage bolting. And, unlike other lettuce, storm damaged leaves don't just 'melt' away as the plant grows through the damage. As a result, storm damaged plants are often difficult to market because of their looks. We expected these to do well in the high tunnel and they did do well enough. But, like a romaine, they don't unfreeze like looseleaf lettuces might. So, target them for November to early December (at the latest) in Iowa, but don't try to push it too far or you lose quality. A good variety to add for different texture and taste in the salad.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Mid Season Veg Variety Winners

If the season ended today - who would make the playoffs?  I think this is how persons who are paid to cover any particular sport can manage to create something to talk about when they don't have anything else.  Well, we're in the middle of a blog blitz and there has been plenty to share.  And it is typical for us to begin evaluating how our crops have done and are doing.  Notes we make now help us to make our decisions over the Winter or the next season.

Besides that, you might get a little insight as to why we are growing some of the things we grow (or if you are a CSA farm share member, you'll see why you are getting so much of X this season).


We're in the middle of the peak picking season and we're always dismayed by how many fruit go bad before we can pull them out and find homes for them.  But, rather than go into that, let's talk about what is going right so far.

Nebraska Wedding

This variety has been with us for a while and we've usually been pretty impressed with it.  Fruit started a little small this year, but the current pick is yielding some bigger fruit.  Plants are a bit on the smaller side and work very nicely in the square cages we have.  Average size this season is barely over a half pound and the taste has been good.  About 140 have been pulled in so far with another 20 or so ready to come in today.  Considering the low growing degree days for the season, these plants are doing just fine.

Nebraska Wedding

Black Krim
It's always a good thing when a variety you tout as having the best taste also produces reasonably well for you.  This year, we have a batch of Black Krims in the high tunnel in addition to the field.  Again, these are smaller plants that are in the small cages.  You're going to see a theme here with plants that tend to be smaller doing better than those that tend to be bigger. 

We are noticing higher loss levels of Black Krims in the high tunnel than we are used to, but we think it has more to do with using stake and weave trellis rather than cages.  The leaf cover isn't protecting the tomatoes as well as we need it to.  As a result, some of the fruit are getting scalded. 

We've pulled in over 280 Krims so far this season and we see a second set in the field getting ready to turn.  It has been a goal over the past five years to find ways to improve our production methods for this particular tomato and we seem to be doing just that.  This is one of those cases where it is possible that the variety gets consideration as much for our growing practices that favor it as for its characteristics.
Black Krim

Just like the tomatoes, it seems like plants with smaller growth habits have done much better than those with larger growth habits.  However, we are getting some September surprises that may very well change our minds about which peppers are doing best this year.

We recently featured Purple Beauty, so we won't talk about it much here other than to say we've picked more Purple Beauty bell peppers than we have Jimmy Nardello's Frying Peppers.  Normally, that would be an absurd statement.  But, the weather has not favored the latter.  On the other hand, our next picking for Jimmy should change that status easily.

Garden Sunshine
The picture you see below is from 2012, which was a good year for peppers (except for the event that prevented us from eating any of them).  If we took a picture of this year's plants, there would be more peppers than leaves.  These peppers hold on the plant for a long time and we like to make sure the pepper turns fully yellow instead of yellow-green before we pick them.  A little bit of orange on them is even better for full flavor. 

The difficulty of picking a winner so far this year is that nearly every bell pepper variety we are growing is doing quite well.  Even if we think some of the plants have been less than stellar in quality.  In fact, if you look at the plants, you might be tempted to say that we're having a poor pepper year.  They are inconsistent in size and leaf cover.  Except for Purple Beauty and Garden Sunshine.  Both are consistent in size and shape and production throughout.  They might be about 80% their normal size for September.  But, it doesn't appear to be hurting production levels.

Garden Sunshine
We are focusing on plants in the same family today.  This is partly because we are in the midst of peak production for each of them.  And, these are continuously producing plants, so we're seeing the most activity here.  Things like lettuce, garlic, potatoes, pok choi, etc all get one picking.  So, they are harder to analyze with harvest numbers in the middle of the season.

This year, the eggplant are a mixed bag, but this is partly due to splitting up our eggplant to multiple locations.  It appears to have paid off since we didn't have complete losses that we might have had if we had put them all in one spot.

Listada di Gandia
If you asked most vegetable farmers to place a bet at the beginning of the season between an open pollinated eggplant and a hybrid eggplant for production numbers, I suspect most would go with the hybrid.  We favor the open pollinated (often heirloom/heritage) eggplant.  However, we grow one hybrid standard purple eggplant (Black King).  Our past experience has been that the hybrid will outproduce most of the other eggplant, but not by all that much if it is a good year for eggplant.

Well, this year has been a slightly poor year for growing eggplant (a bit too cool).  But, we must have hit the window that Listada likes this year.  The fruit have been gorgeous, with excellent size and texture.  The plants have been healthy (with one exception).  On the other hand, Black King has struggled with health and consistency.  We actually have one more Black King plant than Listada AND the rows are next to each other.  Both are next to green beans.  The results so far?  Black King : 139  Listada di Gandia: 248

We're easily going to push past 10 marketable fruit per plant for Listada this year.  And they are cool looking to boot.  What's not to like?

Listada di Gandia

Friday, September 5, 2014

Summer Festival and Heirloom Tomato Tasting

Now, that's a fair number of choices!

Our annual Summer Festival was highlighted by a tomato tasting table this year.  We've been a bit more informal with this in the past and have done tomato tasting at the farmers market in Waverly.  But, we've always wanted to do a bit more with it at the Summer Fest.  We didn't actually hold a vote like some heirloom tomato tastings do, but we did listen to the comments.

Here's what we heard:

1. Black Cherry - please, please, please start a whole bunch of these plants next year so we can buy them!
2. Tasty Evergreen - is that really ripe?  It is?  Oh my.... that IS gooooooood.
3. Black Krim - I'm not surprised.  It's just a good tomato.
4. Wapsipinicon Peach - I don't want a PIECE of a Wapsi Peach, I want a WHOLE one. (wish granted)
5. German Pink - I'm just imagining putting this one on a BLT.
6. Dr. Wyche's Yellow - Ok, now I'm imagining putting this AND German Pink on a BLT.
7. Are any of these bad?  For some reason, I doubt it.

There were other comments, but these were the ones that I remember at this time and thought were worth publishing.  While we did not vote, we suspect the winner would have been Black Cherry or Tasty Evergreen this year.  But, maybe that's because we heard the loudest comments about them?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Recipes from Our Farm Share Members

Thank you to all who have shared some of their favorites!  If you have some you are willing to let us share on the blog, please send us a note.  If you can give us the recipe in a format that is easy to copy/paste, we would greatly appreciate it!

Two from Chip Bouzard.  Thank you Chip!

Sunomono (Japanese Cucumber Salad)
Makes 4 servings
    2 cucumbers, very thinly sliced                                     
    2 teaspoons salt                                               
    1/3 cup rice vinegar                                           
    1 tablespoon sugar                                             
    2 teaspoons soy sauce                                          
    1/4 teaspoon fresh grated ginger                               

Cut cucumbers into very, very thin slices; place in bowl and sprinkle with salt. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes, or until cucumbers are softened. Drain and squeeze out excess liquid. Combine vinegar, sugar, soy sauce and ginger in serving bowl; add cucumbers and mix well. Chill thoroughly before serving.

Beet Pesto
Makes 6 servings  45 minutes

This is an eye popping side or an excellent main course. Beets are not the dominant flavor in the final pesto. Very good—I promise!

    3 larges purple beets                                          
    3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed  (or 4 or 5…)                          
    1/2 cup shelled pistachio nuts                                 
    1/4 cup fresh lemon juice                                      
    1/4 cup olive oil                                               
    1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese                            
    Salt to taste                                                  
    1 pound dry spaghetti                                          


Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the beets. Boil until fork tender. {this took me about 30 minutes}

Drain the beets and skin them. Chop into quarters and place in the bowl of a food processor. Add the garlic, pistachios, lemon juice and olive oil and pulse into smooth. Add the Parmesan and continue pulsing until you have a relatively smooth thick spread.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook to al dente. Drain when done and toss with pesto. Serve immediately.

Note: I have frozen this to good effect.

A suggestion from Mariah Birgen.  She feels this recipe at this site would be worth a try for those who are leery of eggplant.

From Shannon and Graham
found at this website.
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Total Time25 minutes
Yield4 servings
These easy pancakes are the perfect side dish or appetizer to any meal. And best of all, they don't even taste "healthy"!
  • 1 pound zucchini, grated
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup corn kernels, frozen, canned or roasted
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Place grated zucchini in a colander over the sink. Add salt and gently toss to combine; let sit for 10 minutes. Using a clean dish towel or cheese cloth, drain zucchini completely.
  • In a large bowl, combine zucchini, corn, eggs, basil, oregano and garlic powder; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Stir in cheese and flour until well combined.
  • Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Scoop tablespoons of batter for each pancake, flattening with a spatula, and cook until the underside is nicely golden brown, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side, about 1-2 minutes longer.
  • Serve immediately.
A second recommendation from Shannon and Graham can be found at this location on the web.   It is called Spicy Beet-Green Crostini.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Trials of Photographing Garlic

Tammy has been trying to take more of the farm photos this Summer, but apparently there is an issue with this.  We have a resident "photo bomber."  (A photo bomber is someone who either intentionally or unintentionally ruins an otherwise normal photo - from the Urban Dictionary).

Tammy's first attempt to show a wonderful harvest.
Most photo bombers are opportunistic and don't usually go too far to seek out opportunity.  This one probably isn't any different from the rest.

Oh dear....now we're getting silly.
Of course, most photographers don't keep taking shots if there is a photo bomber actively trying to ruin the picture.

Is it possible that Tammy could get a 'normal' picture of Rob (or the garlic)?
And, then, there is the response the photographer gets when she asks the photo bomber to get out of the picture. 

I can't see you, therefore you can't see me.
Sometimes, you have to ask more than once.

What?  That didn't work?
In any event, we had a nice harvest of garlic this season and we're looking forward to sharing them with you!

One row of Northern White garlic.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Irrigation rather than Irritation

We're doing a mid to late August blog blitz in an effort to show everyone that we DO want to share with you all things GFF.  And, maybe other things not so GFF?

Our Practical Farmers of Iowa Field Day on August 17 reminded us that many things that are normal sights for us on our farm can be breakthroughs for others  It's also good reminder to us that there is a long list of things that, at one point in time, were a big deal to us and are now just a part of every day work on the farm.

Just to make myself perfectly clear, these are things we are grateful for and we do our best not to take them for granted.  But, it never hurts to see things through someone else's lens.  so, today we focus on irrigation that does not irritate.  I believe this dispenser made its first appearance in the blog during our Oh Well Saga part III

the drip tape dispenser dispenses drip tape well
Last year, I gave Tyler a description of something I wanted to create for use of unrolling drip tape.  After some discussion and some plan modifications between the two of us, Tyler went to work and produced what you see above.  The bottom wood frame is sized a bit smaller than the base of the green garden cart.  Two vertical 2x4 boards have a hole drilled far enough up to allow a full roll of drip tape to spin freely on some galvanized piping we had laying around the farm.  Two diagonal pieces help hold these verticals steady.  It was actually a nice twist that the pipe had a t-connection and a little pipe extending on each side to give us a handle of sorts (see the right side of the pipe in the picture).

the holes in the side of the garden cart are sufficiently wide to thread drip tape through.  This allows a single person to lay drip tape if it is not too windy.  Threading it through these holds keeps the end by the roll somewhat contained.  We regularly keep two rolls on the drip tape layer since it stores just as well this way as any other.  And, the cart provides a nice place for us to put a box of fittings, a scissors and other commonly used tools for irrigation with the drip tape.

I suppose if a person wanted to, they could adapt this for rolling up used drip tape, but in our experience the used drip tape has usually degraded too much to make reuse a feasible choice.  Regardless, this is a simple solution that has made laying out drip tape so much easier.

Things we usually have in the cart:
  • repair fittings
  • shutoff valves to connect drip tape to the header line
  • end caps
  • scissors
  • old hoe
  • duct tape
  • shovel
  • tubing cutter
  • valve installation tool
 And, we should probably have a clean, dry rag in the cart too.  I'm sure there are other things, but these are what come to mind.  Of the things on this list, the hoe, shovel and duct tape might need some explanation.  The shovel is used to pile dirt onto the drip tape every so often to keep it in place.  The hoe is used to help us pull the drip tape.  We use duct tape OR we tie the end of the drip tape to the handle end of the hoe.  We can the walk the row while standing upright by holding the hoe by the 'business end' and pointing the handle end down.  The duct tape is also a reasonable 'quick fix' for leaks, but the dry rag does help prepare the surface.

It seems to work to run irrigation over paper mulch for us
 Some other observations and pieces of information that may or may not be helpful to others are included here, but we're not going to go into too much detail.  First, we have found that the irrigation works fine if it is run OVER paper mulch.  Part of the trick is to fill the drip tape right after laying it.  This helps hold it in place.  And, since we usually transplant into paper mulch, the plants hold it in place as well.  We have, at times used a pile of dirt or a ground staple if it doesn't want to stay in place.

Each plot on the farm has its own header line
 We've created multiple header lines for our different plots.  A short hose connects to the 'main' water line and to the header.  The trick is finding the nifty pipe thread to hose thread converters.  You might also note a part in the picture above that prevents water pressure from getting too high.  We're finding that we don't always need these, but they are a good safety precaution to prevent blowouts on the drip tape.

What?  Us make mistakes?
 Another reality is that we are bound to hit header lines, drip tape and the main line with a tool or tractor now and again.  Repair is a normal process for drip irrigation.  This is the most likely time that irrigation becomes irritation.  No, wait.  The MOST likely time is when you know you need to run drip tape but you have to weed first.... and the soil is as hard as a rock.

Plants are less irritated if they are irrigated.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Variety Feature: Peppers

The following is an excerpt from our vegetable variety pages that can be found here on our website.

If you are enjoying these variety posts, please let us know and we will continue to put them out here on a weekly basis.  Email us or post a comment.

Every year is different, we already knew that.  But, it seems that each growing season has been more wildly different than they used to be.  The oddity that is this year has resulted in smaller than usual plants that want to overachieve with fruit production.  The trick is getting them to be big enough plants to handle it.

The good thing about Purple Beauty is that these tend to have smaller plants to begin with.  We have noticed with Purple Beauty and Garden Sunshine that they are working extra hard to give us excellent fruit this year.  Other peppers are doing fine - especially the bell peppers.  Keep them picked and you'll be getting more rewards!

Purple Beauty

These are very attractive fruits with a mild bell pepper flavor. For the most part, a person grows these for the color as their taste isn't much different than most green bells. An heirloom variety, fruit are purple on the outside, green inside. Sometimes we allow a pepper to ripen to a red with purple overtones. Smaller plants are very bushy, hiding the fruit deep inside the plant protecting them from sunscald.  Picking these is not always easy as they tend to hide well in the middle of the plants. And, since they are in the middle, they seem to get wedged between branch forks and defy efforts at picking the fruit without breaking off a significant portion of the plant. They take less space than most plants and have a low profile for windy areas, but we still recommend that you grow them to add color to your pepper offerings, but not as a main crop.

2014 report:
As of August 23, we picked 89 peppers that weighed out at 31.2 lbs.  In other words, it takes a little under three peppers for a pound.  That means they are pretty blocky with good size.  This is very consistent with our 2012 numbers for size.  And, in 2012 we had an average of 5-6 marketable peppers per plant.  This could be exceeded this year.  But, we just have to wait and see (of course).  

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Not Too Much of a Good Thing

'Tis the season of lots of produce in the CSA shares!  It's the time of year when your farmers' hum a happy tune as they pick the bounty, looking forward to the moment that you come and pick up your share.

Grow little plants! Grow!
It is difficult for us to remember that the extra full bags, buckets and boxes may not represent the same thing to you (as farm share holders) as they do to us (as the growers of your food).  What you are seeing in shares now are a part of what we've been working diligently for all season long.  Finally we're giving you a bonus return for your investment in our farm.  We are also getting to see the payback for the effort we put into nursing those tiny plants along for weeks and months prior to getting any benefit out of them.  It is no wonder that we, as your farmers, are happy to give you more produce than usual at this time of year.  We want you to celebrate with us!

Zucchini season only last through about 2 months of a 12 month year - enjoy them now.

We are reminded, however, that most share holders can only get through so much produce in a given week.  We recognize that extra produce received isn't always viewed as a 'bonus.'  Instead, it might be an additional stress during a busy time as you ask yourself, "How do I deal with all of this produce?"  But, we don't want you to feel this way.  We'd like you to celebrate Summer and the strong harvest portion of the growing season with us.  So, here are some tips that we use and that other share holders have used with success:

1. Cook a BIG stir fry now and reap the rewards of soup in January!

There are only two of us in our household, but we have successfully consumed a large share (plus some) with reasonable success.  Granted, as the farmers, we can (and do) customize our share to go with our favorites and to dovetail with our available time.  But, that doesn't mean this approach is not valid.

Pok choi may seem a little strange at first, but it isn't hard to use.

When we have a great deal of things like zucchini, summer squash, onion, pok choi, kale, chard, eggplant and peppers, we find ourselves making a stir fry with some or all of these items.  The trick is to not expect to eat anything more than a normal serving as a part of that meal.  The rest goes into quality freezer bags.  They get a label that says "soup starter" and they are put into our freezer.  When January comes around and fresh produce is no where to be found, use these bags to start a fabulous soup or stew that can go in whatever direction you prefer.  These vegetables could be added to a creamy base, a tomato base or... well, use your imagination.  It works great and doesn't take much more time beyond what you would normally use to make dinner with fresh vegetables.

2. Vegetables for Breakfast are OK

Tammy and I will admit that we do not associate the use of vegetables with breakfast.  Fruit, yes.  Veg, no.  It's a social norm that should not stop us from using vegetables in our breakfasts.  We have the benefit of farm fresh eggs and farm fresh vegetables - which makes it a good time to do a frittata!

Veggie Frittata
Easy vegetable dish for breakfast or dinner. Experiment with additional vegetables, spices or meats. This is REALLY GOOD!
1 summer squash or zucchini, sliced
      (or about 1 cup of any sauteed vegetable)
1 sm onion, chopped
½ c sliced mushrooms
2 cloves diced garlic
1-2 sweet peppers, chopped (or a hot pepper if you want spicy)
1-2 T butter or olive oil
1 c chopped kale - or chard - or pok choy
1/8 c. chopped basil (if you like)
4 lrg eggs
1/3 c shredded cheese
Sautee vegetables in skillet with oil until tender (use 2-3 T water to help steam veggies). Add chopped basil and stir. Don’t over cook vegetables. Make sure some oil remains in skillet so eggs won’t stick.
Whip eggs until fluffy. Add shredded cheese. Pour into skillet, cover and cook approximately 5 minutes over medium heat or until eggs fluffy and cooked through.

Kale in frittatas, stir fries and soups.  Yep, that'll work.
Remember - you don't have to follow this recipe exactly.  In fact, Tammy will tell you that she just goes with the flow.  No two frittatas are alike at GFF!  We have successfully used chard, pok choi, spinach, kale and chinese cabbage instead of basil.  We've added sweet potatoes, potatoes and eggplant as well.  The biggest trick seems to be finding the right amount of cooking time for each item so that the texture is the way you want it. 

3. Freezing some of your veg during peak season is not hard

There is a myth that if you are going to process food for long-term storage that it is requires you to invest great amounts of time and effort into it.  This is not a 'go big or go home' proposition.  You can put a surprising amount of food up for later use in small increments.

For example, if two people can only eat a half bound of green beans and you have a full pound of green beans, cook up the half pound to eat.  Then, freeze the other half pound.

1. put the half pound of green beans into 1-2 inches of boiling water (do not fully immerse them) for 4 minutes
2. remove the beans immediately and get them into ICE COLD water to stop the cooking (the beans are now 'blanched').
3. once cold, put the beans into a freezer bag.
4. Fill the bag with cold water to remove the air pockets.
5. leave the water in and seal the bag.
6. place the bag in the freezer.
Broccoli holds its flavor and substance well when frozen.

When you want beans in February, take the bag out, open it up and put the whole block of frozen beans into the pot and cook them as you would normally.  While they aren't quite as good as they were fresh out of the garden, they certainly do well enough!

You can use a similar process for broccoli, cauliflower and peas (for example).

It can be easy to see why your farmers enjoy harvesting peppers.

Some veg you can simply cut up and freeze without blanching (peppers and basil come to mind).