Tuesday, December 12, 2017

December Newsletter

December - You're Not Done Yet?
Tammy and I start scheduling things that we normally can't get to during the growing season for late November into December.  Surely we will be able to get to those things by now - right?

It's December where I realize, yet again, that farming never shuts down completely.  Yes, there are cycles.  The pace is very different in December than it is in June.  But, how is it that we still make the mistake of assuming that things will be all under wraps by the time we get to the month of December?  It is true that there are only four CSA deliveries remaining in December.  It is also true that we have moved Eden to its spot for next year and all of the garlic for next season is in the ground.  Our first presentations of the 'off-season' were successful and are behind us as well. 

On the other hand, we still need to mulch the garlic, there is still equipment to clean up and store and there is plenty of field clean-up to do.  We would like to get the hen room mucked out soon and the turkey room still needs cleaning.  Plenty to do before we start on our Winter projects on the house.

At least we're not frantically trying to open an access to this building this year - this was last year's project in December.

October Calendar of Events

  • December 1 - 2: Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario Annual Conference
  • December 5: Delivery 25 Waverly and Cedar Falls
  • December 7: PFI Cooperator's Meeting
  • December 19: Delivery 26 Waverly and Cedar Falls
It never fails.  One season ends and we have to start working on the next.  We have been keeping our current CSA members informed, but we feel like we should make sure everyone else is in the loop as well.

We are planning on offering CSA shares again in 2018.  We will begin promotion on January 15, 2018 - which is a departure from our prior seasons.  We are hopeful that this will allow us the opportunity to finish this season properly and well before we start trying to juggle sign ups for next year.  The "promotion season" has just gotten too long for us and we needed to do something to bring it under control.

We felt some explanation would be appropriate.

First, we realize that many of our valued customers are in life situations that make it very difficult to make a commitment to something for the following year.  So much can happen between now and next Spring.  We have always understood that, but the idea of deposits and reservations was an attempt to reduce some of own uncertainties from year to year.  However, we have found that trying to promote next year's CSA while still finishing the current year AND trying to promote turkeys, chickens, eggs AND fall season extensions seriously diluted our efforts for each.  We are also certain that we wear ourselves out in the recruitment effort that has ended up spanning the period from September to almost May each of the last five years.

We are needed take some time to reflect on where Tammy and I are at with respect to the Genuine Faux Farm and our lives.  We try to do this every year, but it becomes difficult to do so if you're already putting everything for the next year in motion.  I think we both feel that we are a key decision making point and we need to put some real focus on it so we can enter the next year with renewed energy and purpose.

Do You Have Feedback For Us?
If you have been a customer or are a current customer OR you might be a future customer, we'd like to hear from you!  Let us know what you like about what we do and what you'd like us to improve on.  Your feedback helps us to become a better farm. 

Song of the Month
More Heart and Less Attack by NEEDTOBREATHE.  Just a reminder to myself that an angry and aggressive response is often the easy way out and perhaps the least likely to succeed.

Recipe of the Month
Just in time for the turnips that will show up in the last CSA shares in December!

Turnips (Young) Stewed in Butter
4 Servings

Take two pounds of young turnips; cut them into small squares or make them any shape that may be preferred; dissolve two ounces of fresh butter in a saucepan sufficiently large to hold the vegetables in a single layer; put in the turnips and simmer them very gently until they are tender, without being broken. A few minutes before they are finished cooking through, sprinkle a little salt and white pepper over them; put them in the center of a dish, and arrange fried or boiled cutlets neatly around them. Time: three quarters of an hour to stew turnips.

Picture of the Month
From our trip to Ontario - we give you this picture:

EFAO Conference in Ontario

Of course, Iowa weather decided to be nice while we were away.  Now that we're back... 

Rob and Tammy attended the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario Annual Conference in Collingwood in late November to early December where Rob was an invited speaker.  The staff and membership of EFAO were kind, supportive and very interested in what Rob had to say about on-farm research and intercropping vegetables (two sessions). 

While we were there, we were struck by both the similarities and differences of diversified farming in Ontario and Iowa.  One thing that remains the same is the fact that farmers who operate on smaller farms such as ours dedicate themselves to raising good food - and doing so in ways that try to work with, rather than against, the environment.  In Iowa and Ontario, there are issues with access to land and capital and there is tension between larger agribusiness components and these smaller farms.  And, just as is true in Iowa, each farm finds its way forward using a path that is unique to its assets and challenges - or they find no way forward at all.

But, behind it all is YOU - the people who support our farms.  We exist because of that support.  Without it, we would all go do some other thing - and perhaps we (you and the farmers) would all be lessened in some fashion.

Time to Have Pun
Courtesy of Jason Edgington.  You can only blame me for being the messenger this time:

Veteran Pillsbury spokesman Pop N. Fresh died Wednesday of a severe yeast infection. He was 71.

He was buried Friday in one of the biggest funerals in years. Dozens of celebrities turned out including Mrs. Butterworth, the California Raisins, Hungry Jack, Betty Crocker, and the Hostess Twinkies.

The graveside was piled high with flours, as longtime friend Aunt Jemima delivered the eulogy, describing Fresh as a man who "never knew he was kneaded".

Fresh rose quickly in show business, but his later life was filled with turnovers. He was not considered a smart cookie, and wasted much of his dough on half-baked schemes.

Still, even as a crusty old man, he was a roll model to millions. Fresh is survived by his second wife. They had two children, and one in the oven.

The funeral was at 3:50 for 20 minutes.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Top Ten Veggies for Ten (2008-2017)

We have been putting together our Top Veggie Varieties every year since 2007 based on our farm's production.  One of the shortcomings of those lists is the wide range of weather and personnel factors that can make a "perfect storm" for a particular crop.  For example, Blizzard snow peas won the 2015 list in a year where peas were just ridiculous on the farm.  The weather was perfect for them.  The crew bought into keeping them picked so we could set a new farm record.  We got the plants in at the perfect time, weeded them at the perfect time and got them trellised right on time.  But, would Blizzard make a top ten list based on the results over several seasons?  Well, read on to find out!

Welcome to the Top Ten Veggie Varieties at the Genuine Faux Farm for the years 2008 to 2017 (10 years).  The rules are similar to our yearly list.  We evaluate for production, quality and taste.  In this case, we will eliminate any F1-hybrid varieties and go with only open-pollinated.  And, unlike our yearly lists that often err in favor of a variety that did well but hasn't been on the list (or in favor of a variety that surprised with an exceptional year) we will be rewarding those cultivars that make us happy year in and year out.

 For those who want to see what has gone before:

10 (tie). Bloomsdale spinach
#9 - 2014

This one may seem a bit odd because we have not had the spinach harvests we are used to for the past year or so.  But, we're still putting Bloomsdale on here because most of the issues have been due to circumstances beyond varietal control.  One of those issues is simply how much time the farmer is willing to spend harvesting spinach in the cooler months.  We could probably grow much more spinach than we do right now - but it would require a different farmer attitude.  If we did grow much more spinach, most of it would be Bloomsdale.

This variety can be harvested for baby leaf or full leaf production.  As you let them mature, the savoyed nature of the leaf gets stronger and the taste (in our opinion) gets better.  We like the texture of the larger leaves and love to eat them raw in a salad or on sandwiches.  The taste gets even sweeter in the colder weather and the over-wintered spinach is absolutely the best you can get.

Our production records show us harvesting almost 100 pounds in 2012 and 2015, with most of it coming from our over-Wintered plantings in high tunnels.  But, the really crazy year was 2011 when we harvested 181 pounds of yummy spinach leaves from Bloomsdale. 

We are trialing some transplants this Fall in an effort to improve uniformity of production and give us a bit easier time with weeding and harvest.  Hopefully this works out for us because we like eating Bloomsdale spinach as much as our customers do.  We just need to make adjustments so the farmer is willing to work with it more.

10 (tie). Oregon Sugar Pod snow peas
#10 - 2013

No, Blizzard did not and will not make the list.  See, that didn't take you long to find out!  Instead, Oregon Sugar Pod makes the list to represent the peas.  While we love Blizzard, seed sources are inconsistent, which makes them a bad year-in/year-out choice for our farm.  On the other hand, Oregon Sugar Pod (and now Oregon Sugar Pod II) is consistently available, tends to germinate well and it produces for a longer season than most snow peas.

The snow pea taste of Oregon Sugar Pod fits in well with either raw eating or stir fry.  If we have a choice, we think Blizzard has a sweeter taste and appreciate it more.  But, we're not at all unhappy with Oregon Sugar Pod.  Pods can be decent sized, but land in the 'average' snow pea size with Blizzard and Golden Sweet being smaller and Mammoth Melting being.... um... mammoth?

The original Oregon Sugar Pod, which we actually liked better on our farm, vined 4 to 5 feet tall.  Oregon Sugar Pod II tends to stay a compact 3 and a half feet tall.  Pods can often be hidden, so harvest is not the easiest job in the world.  But, how many other harvests are there where you can snack a bit while you work?

Production numbers are pretty consistent at about a half pound per row foot each season.  The exceptional monster year for peas of 2015 saw us harvesting a similar amount per row foot, but for many more row feet than we normally planted.  Oddly enough, the other snow peas produced at much higher rates per row foot that season, but they tend to produce at a lower level nearly every other year.  And that, my friends, is why Oregon Sugar Pod gets put on this list and the others do not.

9. French Breakfast radish
Honorable Mention - 2014

Radishes are not the first vegetable crop we think of when we contemplate our top varieties each year.  The reasons become obvious once you think about it.  Radish crops are in the ground for a very short period of time as compared to most other things we grow.  Usually, early season is the time period for most of our radish planting - so when we work on our lists in November, they are not at the top of our mind.  And, finally, radish are rarely considered the "main-event" of a veggie growing season.

On the other hand, if a radish variety fails, the knowledge sticks because we need them to help fill up early season share offerings.  This brings us to the very reason French Breakfast is on the list.  It germinates well.  It bulbs out well.  It holds as well as any radish.  Simply put, it produces when we plant it.  None of this "all top and no bulb" silliness that some varieties might give.  And, people like the taste.

Of course, French Breakfast likes the cooler weather and the size of the radish often depends on temperatures and amounts of water.  Like most crops, they don't care to be surrounded by weeds either.  But, that's the joy of radish.  They like the cool.  They grow better than most weeds during those times of year.  If you irrigate, you can solve the water problem if it is too dry.  If it is too wet - well, French Breakfast will tolerate it for a time.  We have tried many radishes over the past ten years and only two have consistently returned: French Breakfast and Helios.  Now that's saying something.

8. Waltham Butternut squash
#2 - 2016, #3, 2017, Honorable Mention 2009
Record fruit harvest of 370 in 2017 exceeds 2007's 354.
Average fruit size around 3 pounds.

Butternut squash are favored by many growers simply because they have the solid stems that prevent vine borers from eliminating young plants.  Waltham has been the standard bearer for a very long time in the squash industry, and its performance on our farm is consistent with that observation.  After all, seed developers have been trying to improve on it for years.  There are now some hybrids out there that claim superiority with respect to one virtue or another.  But, when it comes to all-around goodness, we still see no reason to stop growing Waltham.

We prefer to grow our Walthams in two rows about five feet apart and then we surround those two rows with flowers on either side.  Our hope is that the flowers help attract more pollinators to increase fruit set.  Because we seed our flowers heavily and we choose sturdier flowers like zinnia and borage, these hedges of plants also tend to keep the squash vines contained in their beds.

Our farm's soil and weather situation often results in delays in our Spring planting schedule, but Waltham still produces even with a later planting.  The size may be smaller and the production numbers may be lower, but we still get something.  Fruit size can be variable which suits our model as well.  We find that people have an idea about how big a squash should be, so it is nice to have options that run to all preferences.

In the end, I would like you to reference the factoids just above the picture.  Our old record for Waltham was in 2007.  It shows up again in 2017 with a similar number to just barely set a new record.  Proof positive that we've stuck with this variety and that it earns its keep on our farm.

7. Jimmy Nardello's Frying pepper
#1 - 2007, #8 - 2013, Honorable Mention - 2009
 Over 3400 fruit harvested from 2012 to 2017.
20.3 marketable fruit per plant in 2009
Likely record production year in 2012 negated by spray incident.

How do you know you have started taking a particular cultivar for granted?  You know when you develop top 10 vegetable variety lists every year and a variety that has consistently good production of tasty fruit over a six year period hasn't been mentioned since 2013.  I suspect this statement will be true of all of the varieties at some level that land above Jimmy Nardello's on this list.  But, isn't that the point of creating the Top Ten for Ten list in the first place?  These are all cultivars that we've come to expect that they will succeed in producing quality food for us every year.
Jimmy Nardello's is best harvested at full red.  However, they turn quickly to red on the counter if you harvest them with a little bit of red on the fruit, just like several in the picture above.  Fruits look a good deal like a hot pepper, so it's a good idea not to mix them up.  The fruit tastes great raw and provide a little light crunch for sandwiches or salads.  However, once you cook up a Jimmy Nardello's, you figure out why they are called a "frying pepper."  The taste sweetens up considerably and lends itself well to all sorts of applications.  For example, they are very good in a sautee mix or on pizza.

Plants are of average size and generally keep enough cover to protect fruit from sunscald.  As is true for most peppers, fruit that touch the ground can have some problems, but culls (fruit that tend to get thrown) are not the norm.

6. Dwarf Curled Blue Scotch kale
#3 - 2008, #10 - 2013
Typical bunch of 10 Dwarf Blue stems is a half pound
Highest production 440 bunches in 2014.
Have never recorded a crop failure year for this variety.

I checked my last statement in our 'factoid' list for Dwarf Curled Blue Scotch five times.  As a grower of a wide range of crops and varieties, it is unlikely there hasn't been a failure, no matter how good the variety is, over a period of ten (or in our case,13) years.  "Why is that?" you might ask.  Well, I'm not going to wait for you to ask, I'll just tell you.  It's just plain HARD to grow this many crops every season and not make a mistake that ruins a crop or land a crop in conditions that the variety just can NOT handle.  It's a fact of life for a highly diversified vegetable grower.

The picture to the left shows Dwarf Blue flanking Scarlet before Scarlet got MUCH taller than our curly kale friends.  That is one of the things that I like and don't like about Dwarf Blue Scotch - it's dwarfness.  Harvest requires that you have to get down to its level, which can get a bit old over time.  On the other hand, the low growing nature tends to keep the soil shaded near its base, even after multiple harvests.  As a result, you tend to maintain a more consistent soil moisture with less irrigation AND there is a solid canopy that prevents weed germination.  Since my job requires that I be able to crawl, kneel and/or bend over, I guess I can handle that part.

Since Dwarf Blue Scotch is an open-pollinated variety offered by Seed Savers, it is not unusual to see a little inconsistency in the leaf structure.  Sometimes you get finely ruffled leaves and sometimes they are not quite as curly as you might like.  However, the texture is fairly consistent, as is the taste.  The plants will sometimes send a 'sucker' up from the bottom and it helps to nip those before they go much of anywhere.  Otherwise, as long as you have reasonably fertility, you're going to get good results with this variety every season.

5. Marketmore 76 cucumber
#5 - 2016, #10 - 2010, #14 - 2015
Over 1500 fruit in 2010 (the monster cucumber year) with 17.2 fruit per row foot.
2015 succession II with a production rate equivalent to 60,000 pounds/acre
Typical production before farmers give up is 7 fruit per row foot.

When we started farming in 2005, we were told by some people who seemed to know that we could not hope to grow successfully unless we adopted F1 Hybrid cucumbers (and peppers - but that's another story).  We took their advice and ran a couple of hybrids.  But, at the same time, we were running through the possible open-pollinated cucumbers that were available to see if we could find cultivars that worked on our farm.  Marketmore is a variety that has been with us since our early farming years and we do not regret putting our faith in this variety.

At one point in time, we tried Marketmore 97 and had some trouble with the speed with which the fruit got overly large.  Marketmore 76, on the other hand, tends to give us a little more time until the fruit gets too large.   We feel that the fruit are best from a half pound to a full pound in size.  Happily, harvesting them small doesn't destroy the taste either.  Vines are healthy, but not overly aggressive and bees seem to like the flowers, which leads to decent pollination.  But, the best thing about Marketmore 76 from our perspective is the fact that it helped us get to the point where we have no F1-hybrid cucumbers on our grow list.  This was the variety that started that ball rolling.

4. Jaune Flamme / Wapsipinicon Peach snack tomato
Jaune Flamme: #6 - 2017, #4 - 2009, #4 - 2015 (with Wapsi)
Wapsi: #1 - 2013, #4 - 2015 (with Jaune)
Per plant production numbers in the field for 2010 41.4 (Jaune) and 21.8 (Wapsi)
Per plant production numbers in high tunnel for 2017  153.6 (Jaune) and 123.4 (Wapsi)

When we started the Genuine Faux Farm we thought it was required that we grow cherry tomatoes for our customers.  After all, they are typically productive - and who doesn't like a nice bowl of cherry tomatoes on the table during the Summer months?  But, it became clear to us fairly quickly that growing cherry tomatoes for commercial purposes is a completely different animal than growing them for your own enjoyment.  The biggest issue - the amount of time it took to harvest.

So, we began exploring possible 'salad sized' tomatoes as an alternative and fairly rapidly settled on Wapsipinicon Peach (that river is only a mile away from our farm), Jaune Flamme, Red Zebra and Green Zebra.  It became apparent that some of these varieties would vary in production in the field depending on the season, with Jaune Flamme being the most reliable.  Once we started growing them in our high tunnels, Wapsi Peach and Jaune Flamme just took off!

Wapsi Peach tends to like drier and warmer seasons, so it really performs well in the high tunnel environment.  These plants produce the light yellow fruit with a fuzzy texture and a sweet taste.  They are extremely juicy, so they are probably not the best for date night - unless you want to find out if your potential significant other either has a sense of humor or can handle looking a little silly while tomato dribbles down their chin.  Jaune Flamme, on the other hand, also has the potential to be roasted and then frozen for future use in pizzas and other tasty concoctions.  But, don't think that Jaune Flamme isn't a good snack as well!  They are a bit less juicy and have a slight tang to them.  Apparently, they taste pretty darn good because our workers never say "no" when Rob offers them either Jaune Flamme or Wapsi Peach as a reward for good work. 

It is difficult to sing the praises of what these two varieties have done for our farm, especially since the point we moved their production space to our high tunnels.  But, if you want a little bit of an idea as to what we really think of them, they were part of the motivation for naming our first high tunnel "Eden."

3. Jade green bean
#2 - 2012, #8 - 2015, #9 - 2013, Honorable Mention 2009 and 2014
1,941 pounds harvested at GFF since 2012
more than 2.5 lbs per row foot in high tunnel production, .75 lbs per row foot in field

Pictures of green beans are usually uninspiring, so we're going to show you a picture of our chief bean picker (no she doesn't count them) and Queen Boss of the farm.  To our left (and her right) is one of the two bean rows in Eden this Summer.
When we first started the farm our green bean of choice was a variety called Benchmark.  We were then introduced to a key reason why you never put your stock in one variety of everything when Benchmark suddenly disappeared from all seed catalogues due to some sort of crop failure that has never been satisfactorily explained in our opinion.
We had the good fortune to select Jade and have immediate success growing it.  But, perhaps most importantly, we found ourselves rapidly forgetting about Benchmark as Jade set for us some new standards for taste.  Jade beans work well for us because the beans hold taste even when they get larger.  In fact, it is best to not pick them too small.  The fruit have a fantastic texture after being steamed and the two of us often will celebrate a first picking by eating a whole pot of them for dinner.

Unlike Provider, Jade doesn't mind if we run a double row in a bed and Jade rows tend to have a virtually continuous production rate. Many varieties, like Provider, will give 'flushes' of beans, usually losing quality after the second flush.  Jade does provide flushes if you look carefully, but the plants actually keep going for much longer than you might think.  This makes them ideal for high tunnel production where you can run the row over a much longer period during the growing season.  We thought we were sad when Benchmark went away?  Well, the disappearance of Jade would be far worse.  It's actually enough that we are beginning to consider doing some seed selection of Jade for our own seed supply.

2. Black Krim tomato
#4 - 2012, #10 - 2015, Honorable Mention - 2013
High tunnel Spring planting averaging 20 pounds per plant and 30 marketable fruit per plant
High tunnel "Fall" planting averages 10 pounds and 20 fruit per plant.
Average fruit size between .53 and .61 pounds.

Our history with Black Krim actually goes back further than we often think since we actually grew a plant in our personal garden when we lived near Decorah.  We recall having a difficult time knowing when these fruit were ready to harvest and had most of them split before we were ready to pick them.

Fast forward several years to our current location at the farm and you will find us trying to figure out if we were going to grow open pollinated heirloom tomatoes or F1-hybrids.  During our first farm season, we ran a trial with German Pink and Wisconsin 55 against standards like Better Boy and Early Girl.  Needless to say, the heirlooms won and here we are extolling a variety that we committed ourselves to learning how it should be grown.

The road has not been as clear cut or easy for Black Krim as it has been for many of the varieties on this list.  In fact, as I write this I am trying to figure out exactly why it beats Jade (for example).  The largest part of the answer is simply taste.  We should probably remind you that Rob did not eat raw tomatoes prior to starting the farm.  That changed after he tried German Pink and now he can tell you the difference in taste between a German Pink, a Paul Robeson, a Moonglow and a Black Krim.  And, Black Krim is the champion when it comes to taste.

Black Krim actually had to defeat Cherokee Purple, Black from Tula and Black Sea Man to earn a permanent place on our growing list.  We had to learn how to successfully grow the black/purple - type tomatoes and the process of learning has been a long one that has included a number of modifications in our growing system - even up to the present day.

So, why does Black Krim deserve the number 2 spot on our Top Ten for Ten list?  Certainly, the taste is a primary reason.  And, of course, since 2012 we have been able to produce a significant number of top quality Black Krim fruit, much to the delight of our customers.  We would be more than just a little disappointed if we suddenly couldn't grow this tomato variety.  And, we have had consistent production over a number of years.  These are all good reasons for this ranking.

But, the biggest reason for this high ranking for our farm is how well this particular variety represents what we've been through and how we have adapted as a farm since its inception in 2005.  We stuck with Black Krim because we identified how it fit with our farm's goals and ideals.  We wanted to find cultivars that gave us the best tastes and textures for each vegetable on our farm.  Once we identified Black Krim, we learned and adapted how we did things until we could consistently grow Black Krim reasonably well.  Our farm has grown and evolved, and the production of this variety has moved through those growth steps with us.

1. Bronze Arrowhead lettuce
#1 - 2010, #4 - 2011, #6 - 2013, #10 - 2016, Honorable Mention - 2014
Over 1200 lbs and 3000 head harvested since 2011.
.44 lb per head average over that 7 year period.

Bronze Arrowhead can be grown in the high tunnel and it can be grown in the field.  Bronze Arrowhead can be picked small or you can let it get bigger.  Some people report that they can pick leaves off a Bronze Arrowhead plant for an extended period of time before the plant finally gives up.  Bronze Arrowhead holds better than most lettuces and rarely tastes bitter.  Bronze Arrowhead can be grown in cool weather, warm weather and may even make it through some of the hottest periods with some help.  And, Bronze Arrowhead can, in some years, be overwintered with some shelter.

From a texture standpoint, this lettuce tends to run in the middle between the 'harder' and 'softer lettuces.'  The taste is stronger in heat and milder in cold, but when it is stronger, it is not the bitter 'spit it out' taste many lettuces move towards.  In short, it is really hard to go wrong with Bronze Arrowhead.  And that is good enough reason to put it at the number one spot on this list for our farm.

But, we aren't going to stop there.   Our CSA customers are disappointed when we don't have Bronze Arrowhead among the lettuce varieties.  This variety has been so good for us that we have purposely eliminated from contention in our Top Ten lists just so we can talk about some of our other worthy varieties.  Every time we seed a succession of lettuce (sometimes as many as 10 in a growing season) Bronze Arrowhead would be conspicuous by its absence.

Like Black Krim, we see a little of us in Bronze Arrowhead as well.  Our farm has shown resiliency and flexibility over the years.  We adapt to the seasons and the odd weather - but perhaps with more complaint than this lettuce cultivar.  And, in the end, we are still here, doing the things we think we should be doing.  In this case, producing good food for people who want and need it.  And, Bronze Arrowhead is going to be right there with us - as long as we both are able.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Mail to Britain (and Beyond) in the 1860's

Earlier in the month, I highlighted a sixteen page exhibit called Genuinely Farming in our blog.  Genuinely Farming went on to win the Most Enjoyable Award at the Philatelic Digital Rendezvous this Fall.  This was the second year of that event.  Last year was the first iteration and there were a large number of interesting and enjoyable exhibits being shared at PDR 16.

Since these exhibits are purely digital files, it was possible for me to take a subset of my larger showing of postal history and pare it down for the 2016 event.  As a result, I put together an exhibit that focused on items bearing the 24 cent stamp of that time on mail that went to (and through) the British Mail system in the 1860's.

Please note: you can see a slightly larger version of these pages by clicking on them.  OR you could go to PDR 16 and view the entire 16 page exhibit and any other exhibit there that gets your interest.

I can claim to have been a stamp collector since the age of three, when my mother would give me pretty stamps off of the mail.  I would proceed to glue them into a little notebook and then draw (mostly carefully) around them.  Needless to say, that's not the recommended method for preserving stamps.  But, it got (and kept) my interest.

At a later point in time, I was fortunate enough to see some of these 24 cent stamps up close and found the fine engraving to be pleasing.  Some time after that, I had an opportunity to purchase an envelope that had used this stamp to properly convey mail to England in the 1860's.  Since then, I have been hooked on this theme.

Yes, it is a little nuts.  But, hey - you are reading this, which means you are used to it by now!  You've got to be a little nuts to farm like we do too.  No surprises here!

The cool thing about postal history is that you can get a window into a different time and place.  You can dig as deep or as shallow as you want into the back story.  For example, all three envelopes (known as "covers" to postal historians) shown above were delivered to an intermediate recipient who then forwarded the mail to a new address.

The top item was sent to Brown,Shipley and Co in Liverpool.  The sender was apparently aware that Mrs. R.W.Leigh would have left forwarding instructions Brown and Shipley.  Many companies existed (like Brown and Shipley) where travelers could maintain an account for expenses and mail holding or mail forwarding services.  The red one-penny British stamp pays postage from Liverpool to Leamington.

What we need to remember is that mail from the United States to England would take about 9-12 days to arrive (assuming a northeast US origin).  So, a reply would not be received for 20 days at best.  There was not a really good way to contact people about new mailing addresses and locations as a person moved throughout Europe.  On the other hand, mail could travel through Europe in as little as one day.  So, it made sense to have a location for a temporary address while a person moved around the continent.

Another aspect about mail in the 1860's that might seem foreign to us today is the concept that each country had to have agreements (known as a postal conventions) that outlined how mail would be exchanged between the two countries.  These conventions set the postage rates, the routes the mails would be allowed to take between the two nations and numerous other details.  In the case above, we see an example of a rule that might seem pretty harsh to all of us today.  The letter was underpaid by 24 cents.  Since it was underpaid, the convention stated that the letter should be treated as COMPLETELY UNPAID and the recipient would have to pay the full postage due.

In this case, that amount would be four schillings (see the black '4' on the envelope), which was the equivalent to 96 cents at that time.  I have, in fact, written about this particular item once before and it can be found on this post from 2012.

If you do visit the PDR 16 site and view the whole 16 page exhibit, I will remind you that the descriptions in the exhibit are not terribly detailed.  It's a function of the audience it was intended for - but never fear - I like to answer questions and I am hoping to improve on that presentation in the future!

Now you have something more to look forward to.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Goodbye Ontario

Rob and Tammy are saying "farewell" to Ontario after a brief visit to allow Rob to speak at the recent EFAO (Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario) conference and the Farmer-Led Research Symposium.  These events were located in the Blue Mountains just South of Lake Huron's Georgian Bay.
Farmer selfie - Waving a friendly 'good-bye' to EFAO.
The EFAO staff and the members of EFAO (in particular those who attended the Research Symposium) made both of us feel welcome and let us know that our contributions to their events were of value.  We felt that both sessions went very well and we were extremely impressed by the positive participation levels.  The questions were on point, clear, and worthwhile to consider and discuss.  We feel that, at the very least, participants could leave with better questions to be asking themselves so that they could improve how they farm within their own systems.  And, perhaps, they might even leave with an idea or two that they could adapt and make work on their own farms.

For some reason, we left the camera in the room and didn't pull it out during the conference.  But, since Rob tends to favor pictures of himself like the one above, I guess all is well on that front.  Maybe EFAO got a few just to prove to people that he really did talk?

After leaving the conference, we took advantage of Rob's first trip out of the United States to do a little exploring.

A couple of highlights included...

Inglis Falls
We haven't really had time to digest all of the pictures yet.  Per the norm, we took several shots in hopes of landing a couple we really like.  This one is nice because it shows nearly the entire structure of the falls area.  The sun came out in patches, so we were trying to catch those moments with the camera as we were able.

After Inglis, we tried to check out Indian Falls and found our way blocked with a flooded path to the falls.  We headed up the Bruce Peninsula and made sure to see Lake Huron while we were there.  Just so we could say we have now seen each of the Great Lakes.

Road construction obscured the access to Jones Falls, so we missed it as well.  But, we pressed on and managed to catch one more site just as the sun was setting.
Eugenia Falls
And we were super pleased we made it in time to visit Eugenia Falls.  Of course, given the opportunity for hindsight, we would trade some of the time spent at Indian Falls hiking back only to be blocked and some of the time hunting around for Jones Falls for more time at Eugenia Falls.  But, we couldn't have known if we hadn't tried.

This made us think - "hobbits"
 A couple of other immediate picture favorites came from the Inglis Falls area.  There were some very nice opportunities there for Rob to pretend to be a photographer.

But, more importantly, we took the time to look at things from different angles and to appreciated nature in all of its forms.

Good-bye Ontario.  We enjoyed seeing some of the best you have to offer.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Picture This

Spring chive anyone?
The grass isn't nearly as green as it was even a month ago and a day over 45 degrees feels warm to us.  The bees are rarely, if ever, active this time of year and so much of the small wildlife on our farm are hibernating.  No crickets or katydids singing.  The leaves on the trees and bushes are down except for a few stubborn, brown and crispy ones clinging desperately to branches.  Perhaps they are afraid of heights and just don't want to let go for fear of the fall?

Cucumber Frog isn't currently plotting a new way to startle the farmer, he is nestled in somewhere dreaming of the next time he can get Rob or Tammy to jump higher than the last time.  I am sure it is a happy dream (for him).

The outdoor supervisory crew of Sandman, Inspector and Soup all have their winter coats on and they've entered the "I'll take every moment of attention I can get" phase of the year.  After all, the humans aren't outside as much as they used to be.

And the clover that has been so prevalent throughout the farm is no longer as robust as it once was. But, we remember what it was like to have huge patches of blooming clover.  The sweet odor, the hum of a bee going from flower to flower and the soft, yet firm texture of a clover flower.

The farmers look forward to some of their own hibernation from the continuous farm work as well - in hopes that they can encourage life on the farm yet again next season.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

If It Were Easy, I Wouldn't Do This

One of the things we try to do every year on the blog is author a Thanksgiving post.  But, what do you do when inspiration isn't there?  What happens when something you usually enjoy feels more like an obligation or a duty than anything else?  How do you get motivated to accomplish something?  What if you aren't feeling particularly grateful at the moment and you're feeling guilty about not having all of the 'warm fuzzies' you should have for all of the truly good things in your life?

This has been our favorite holiday for a very long time.  We will celebrate with family on Saturday, which is wonderful.   But, what did the two of us do today?   Well, today we moved our smaller high tunnel, Eden.  We emptied a water tub for the Winter.  We did some laundry - which, by the way, is still out on the line (oops).  We brought scraps to the hens.  In other words, we worked on the farm.  And it was tempting to feel a bit cheated in some ways.  Where is the "holiday feeling" that Tammy and I cherish so much?  Why don't I have that glow of gratitude burning brightly like I am supposed to?
Hobnob and Bree are NOT looking too pleased in this picture....
Over the last couple of days, I have spent a little time reflecting on prior Thanksgivings and I realized that these feelings are not new to me.  Just last year, I titled our blog post Trials, Tribulations and Thanks.  Of course, there is the element of fun because I could use alliteration in the title.  But, on re-reading the post, I realized that I was struggling with similar thoughts.  My approach in 2016 was to go back to the people who mean so much to us for inspiration.  People who support the farm.  People who help when help was needed.  People who remain friends, no matter what.  A family that continues to love us.  Again, no matter what.  I concluded,

"We cannot repay, we can only give thanks"

But, there is still no denying that I was struggling a bit trying to get where I wanted to go.  Yet, I managed to get there by considering the wonderful people in our lives.  What will it take to get there this year?

Two years ago, I find that I may have again been in a similar state of mind.  The title of this one was What Are You Going to Do About It?  That post was motivated by my own feelings of being powerless and overwhelmed by the state of the world we live in.   I re-read that post looking for inspiration and actually found myself wondering how I could even hope to compete with what I wrote.

The contents of the 2015 post are wonderful.  I made myself read the old post again - carefully.  And I hit this line:

"By giving thanks for the good things, I am reminded of their value and worth.  These are the things that can be part of what sustains me when times are difficult."

That's when I realized - giving thanks is not always easy.  In fact, being truly grateful can be extremely difficult.  However, if I can manage to find gratitude, it has the power to lift me when I am down.

Soon after that I came to the conclusion that if gratitude were easy, it would not be nearly so wonderful and fulfilling as it is when we work to give meaningful thanks.

Here I was.  Waiting for the warm glow of Thanksgiving to just pop up and make me feel good.  Hoping for the cheap happy ending that magically appears, despite all logic.   I was wasting time when I could have achieved what I wanted with just a little bit of effort.

Is it possible that a significant part of the beauty is in the struggle?  Perhaps the rewards are proportional to the effort?

Let's go back to how Tammy and I spent our Thanksgiving:
  • We turned off the alarm this morning and decided we could sleep just a little bit longer.  It was something we both needed and we both appreciated.
  • The sun was out all day long.  There was little to no wind.  The temperatures hit a "balmy" 49 degrees F.  Frankly, given some of the weather we've had in recent weeks, it felt wonderful.  It would have been a shame to spend it inside.
  • Tammy took some time and made some rolls.  She did it because she wanted to do something nice that she new I would like.  Warm rolls out of the oven.  Yum!
  • We still had a couple of tomatoes in the walk-in cooler that we had harvested 4 weeks ago.  They were hanging on just enough to be useful.  We also had some lettuce.  And we had some bacon.  So, we had BLT's for lunch.  On Thanksgiving?  Hey, they were Gold Medal tomatoes.   On Thanksgiving.  That IS special.
  • We went and took the car down to Sweet Water Marsh mid-morning.  This year we made a habit out of going to a particular boat access and enjoying seeing the marsh on a semi-regular basis.  It's a place where there is no school, unless we want to bring it with us.  There is no farm, unless we want to bring it with us.  There is just nature.  And us.  We can talk about the frogs in the marsh or our hopes and dreams.  It has been a liberating escape for us and we hadn't been down there for over six weeks.  We went today.
  • And, we moved a high tunnel today without too many hitches in the process.  We have a few more things to do tomorrow to finish, but none of it is terribly serious.  We got to work together.  The weather was perfect for moving Eden.  Two people and less than four hours of work.  Building moved.  Not bad. 
  • I participated in a couple of pleasant email conversations with some fine people in philately circles and farming circles.
  • I was able to rub out a couple of knots in Tammy's shoulders while we took a rare moment to watch a little football.  It helped both of us to relax.
  • ALL of the cats (supervisors) on the farm were super-friendly today without being pains in the neck.  That is something of an accomplishment in late November, when they all start getting a bit needier.
Gold Medal tomatoes can get BIG

Today wasn't just a good day, it was a GREAT day.  I was able to spend time doing things with my best friend.  We accomplished a huge task that had been weighing on both of our minds.  That task did not prevent us from doing other things we wanted to do.  We treated ourselves to some things that we don't normally do.  And... we did all of this without getting horribly stressed and feeling like we were running around every minute of the day.

Here's the part about today I didn't list.  I started this post yesterday.  I read the prior year posts yesterday.  I recognized that gratitude requires some effort on my part.  And, I spent today working to see all of the good things that were going on.  And I made sure that I made a mental note of everything I should be thankful for.

And now, I feel the way I wanted to feel when I started writing our annual Thanksgiving post.

It wasn't necessarily an easy process.  But, then again, I believe there is less value in easy.  I also believe I wouldn't write a Thanksgiving post every year if it were as easy as just listing a bunch of things and saying I am thankful for them.

If it were easy, I wouldn't do this.

Gratitude is something you need to work for.  But, once you put forth the effort, the rewards are significant.  Give thanks today.  Give thanks tomorrow.  Give thanks every day you are able.  And, when a day comes where giving thanks is difficult, let those things of value and worth that have led you to be grateful sustain you until you are able emphasize the positive once again.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Annual Thanksgiving Posts

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Veg Variety Winners for 2017

Every year we attempt to identify the top varieties that were grown on the farm during the year.  Criteria include production, quality of fruit, taste and plant health.  Additional factors that may increase the rating for a variety might be performance as compared other varieties of the same type or one that surprised us by doing far better than anticipated.  You might also note that we will give a tie break to a variety that has not been awarded a top slot over one that has.

The October 28/29 deep freeze insured that there won't be significant changes in crop results for the year.  Yes, there is still lettuce, choi, spinach and other items.  But, we can see where they are going to land.

 For those who want to see what has gone before:
About 2017's Growing Season
This season was an excellent one for growing brassicae family crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale.  We set production records for broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage and a weight record for winter squash.  Therefore, it is no real surprise to us as we reviewed our records that we had to select something from each of those crop types to land on our Vegetable Variety Winner list for 2017.  Several other crops rebounded from a difficult year in 2016 as well, returning to yields that approximate our annual norms.  On the whole, this was a decent growing year at the Genuine Faux Farm. 

Of course, every growing season at the farm has its disappointments to go along with the successes.  Some of our Summer crops, such as cucumbers and peppers, had a tougher time of it this season for several reasons.  But, even with setbacks, we managed to harvest enough to keep our farm share customers happy.  We suspect none of them even realized we had some crop difficulties this year UNLESS they were reading some of our posts that told them about some of our struggles.  We did have some weather events that cut some harvests short and others that prevented planting and/or critical field work.  But, that is just the way things go.  We'll close the books on this year feeling content that we did well enough, but strongly motivated to do ever so much better in the future.

And, the way I see it, that's probably the best balance we should have on any given season.  "We did just fine and we're going to do even better."

15. County Fair Zinnia
We are actually going to break with tradition here and put a flower into the mix.  We apologize to either Tatsoi or Komatsuna, since they were slated to land here.  But, I realized that our top 10 list is actually 15 now and we've never honored a flower in the Veg Variety Winners.

Yes, yes, it's not a vegetable.  We get that.  We also understand that we dedicate a fair number of posts to our flowers on the farm.  We're still putting County Fair at number fifteen. Deal with it!

For years, we have relied on Benary's Giant or State Fair for our zinnias.  We love both of those mixes.  But, State Fair wasn't available and we wanted a certified organic seed mix.  So, we tried High Mowing's County Fair mix this year and were pleasantly surprised.

County Fair is a little bit shorter than the other two mixes, topping out at about 3 to 4 feet in height.  They branch reasonably well and bloom fairly quickly.  They attracted bumblebees early and then the Painted Lady butterflies and the Monarchs later in the season.  What really got us was the way the colors absolutely shone against the backdrop of tomatoes, or the blue sky, or... whatever the backdrop was.  In short: they made the farmers happy.  Happy farmers do a better job with vegetable growing.  Thus, you get another Veg Variety Winner list.  Blame the zinnias.  I suspect they'll be ok with it since we plan on having County Fair zinnias on the farm next year (and the year after and the...)

If we have a chance next season we'll bring back either State Fair or Benary's Giant so we can do a comparison.

14. White Wing Onion
White Wing onions are a shorter season onion that allows us to deal with wet soils in the Spring by waiting to plant until the field is ready.  Ideally, we'd like to get our onions into the ground in late April/early May.  That rarely happens for any number of reasons, so we need an onion that reliably produces even if we can't get the onions in on schedule.  White Wing is that onion.

White Wing also allows us to take a flier on Ailsa Craig Exhibition onions as our yellow sweet variety.  When Ailsa is good, she is VERY good.  When she isn't good.  Well, never mind.  White Wing also allows us to get onions into our farm shares in a higher percentage of weeks during the distribution season.  And, we've learned over time that our members love having an onion or two a week for as long as we can give them.

This year, the White Wings were a little smaller than average.  On the other hand, the size of the onions was a bit more consistent.  We had fewer onions that we felt fell below our size threshold.  Happily, the slight reduction in average size was offset by a sweeter tasting onion.  We can't claim that we did anything differently with the onions this year, so it is not our fault.  However, we also know from experience that each season can lead plants to react differently.  It may have been a timing thing or an overall season thing.  We'll never know.  But, what we do know is that White Wing will continue to show up for us each year.

13. Tolli Sweet Pepper
We finally admitted to ourselves that Tolli Sweet is just NOT a field pepper for us.  Instead, Tolli belongs only in our high tunnel plantings and nowhere else.  Why?  Well, the plants are small and the first production can be quite early as long as you keep them from getting too cold or... too wet.  Since we have heavy soils and a tendency to get very heavy rains semi-regularly every season with our "new normal," it makes perfect sense to keep them out of the field.

With per plant production numbers between 10 and 20 marketable fruit, Tolli Sweet may not be the highest producing sweet pepper you will find on the market.  However, if you consider how close you can plant them in the "high rent district" that is a high tunnel, you might find the per square foot numbers make them worth it.  This is especially true if you are committed to trying to grow heirloom/heritage varieties as we are.

Fruit size can be variable, but the taste is consistently very good.  We have found that people who have a little problem with peppers talking back to them can eat these with fewer problems.  The pepper walls are fairly thin, so if you're looking for a 'crunchier' pepper, you need to look elsewhere.  Otherwise, these are pleasant for sandwiches, nachos and any other use that calls for a sweet pepper.

Peppers on these plants do not hold terribly well, so it is best to keep them picked and we have found that aphids do like them.  One of next year's projects is to identify a proper set of flower companions to help with that issue.

12. Scarlet Ohno Turnip
We had a good germination of our Spring turnip planting this year, but we had a shortage of rain during a critical development period.  We were watching the turnips with trepidation as they didn't seem to want to bulb out.  Then, we got a nice rain.  Soon after that, we got a "too much" rain.  Except the turnips felt it was a "just right" rain so everything turned out to be as "right as rain" as far as Scarlet Ohno was concerned.

To show you how surprised Rob was when the turnip crop turned out to be pretty darned good, he failed to get any pictures of them.  Instead, you get treated to this picture where you see the small turnips and greens that were left in the row after harvest (at middle left).

Scarlet Ohno landed at #5 in 2014 and has been a consistent producer for most seasons (except 2016 - this is apparently a theme).  Possibly the best thing one can do is to be sure you do not overseed your rows if you want consistent bulbing.  Even if crowded a bit, they seem to do reasonably well.  As noted above, no amount of irrigation seems to replace a good soaking rain.  But, they'll do ok if you don't get that rain in rows that are not crowded.  Roots tend to be a nice, consistent texture with a taste that is not overbearing.  They have a better flavor than many turnips in a Spring planting.  We tend to favor Purple Top White Globe for Fall since they get a nice sweet flavor after a couple of frosts.  Scarlet Ohno does not change flavor much after frost, making it a good early turnip.

11. Paul Robeson Tomato
We favor the trio of Black Krim, Italian Heirloom and Paul Robeson for heirloom slicer-sized tomatoes in our high tunnels.  In fact, we were considering each and every one of those varieties for this slot in our Veg Variety list for 2017.  Robeson wins largely because we felt there were fewer culls due to sunscald (fruit we had to throw to birds) than the other two produced this season.

Paul Robeson is another of the "black" tomatoes in the vein of Black Krim, Cherokee Purple and Black from Tula.  While Black Krim (our perennial favorite at GFF) tends toward rose with greening/blackish shoulders, Paul Robeson tends towards more of a scarlet red color to go with the greenish/blackish shoulders.  The darkness of the tomato tends to vary depending on heat during the ripening period.  As you can see in the photo, the shoulders are NOT always prominent in their color difference.

For five years running, Paul Robeson has produced fruit that average a little over a half pound in weight with sizes that range from about 1/3 pound to 2/3 pound.  The taste holds a hint of a 'smokey' flavor to it that makes us think a little bit about how it might work well in a barbecue setting.  (Please note the word "hint" here)  The taste is not overpowering and it is very pleasant.  We like them ALMOST as much as Black Krim and that is saying a good deal from our perspective.

10. Scarlet Kale
Scarlet kale surprised us this year.  You can take that several ways, of course.  Suffice it to say, we have grown Scarlet since 2014 and we considered it just a nice addition to a bundle of Dwarf Blue Scotch or Vates to add some different color.
This year, the Scarlet kale did us proud and grew to sizes we had not experienced for this variety in the past.  An average bundle of 10 Scarlet kale stems actually landed right with the average for our green curly varieties (about a half pound) instead of the quarter to a third pound we've seen in the past.

So, what happened that this variety suddenly became a star at the Genuine Faux Farm?  It's not an uncommon story for us.  Each season seems to favor certain types of crops and this year it was the brassicae family (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, etc).  And, each season finds us deciding to give a variety a little more attention than it has received in an attempt to determine if it is just us or if the variety just needs to be removed from the grow lists.  Let's just say Scarlet responded and told us it wanted to stay.

Surely, there must be more to it than that, you say?  Well, of course there is!  Scarlet actually landed in our best field this year, leading us to believe that it needs a bit more attention with soil amendment or fertility additions.  Sadly, Scarlet doesn't get to stay in that field next year, so we'll see if we can't give it what is needed next year.

9. Touchstone Gold Beet
You may have noticed that we try to populate our Veg Variety Winner list with different types of veggies.  After all, you might grow tired of the list if I showed variety after variety of kale, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower that did well this year.  But, don't think that Touchstone Golden Beets didn't earn their place on this list.  The only reason there was some doubt in the farmer's mind was the fact that we never got the second succession seeded when we planned to.  We can't blame the beets for the farmer's lack of rhythm.  (you may now groan)

We planted Touchstone in Eden again this year with a sparser seeding.  The result was a larger average size of beet with (of course) fewer roots.  These beets stay tender even when they get very large.  We can attest to this after taking a 2 1/2 pound beet and cubing it for roasting.  Both Tammy and I highly recommend roasting these beets and putting just a bit of real butter on them.  Tasty.

Any small beets left after the first harvest do a fine job of growing out over a period of three or so weeks after the first harvest.  Our strategy in 2016 was to seed relatively heavily and get two harvests out of one seeding.  It worked well.  This year, we expected to harvest all of the beets in the first harvest and do a second planting elsewhere.  Either can be made to work, but if you like a larger size, seed them lighter.

8. Dunja Zucchini
Once again, an F1-Hybrid sneaks into our list.  But, it is so hard to keep Dunja out of the list because it produces so well for us!  We would love it if one of our open-pollinated varieties such as Midnight Lightning or Cocazelle or Black Beauty would consistently 'wow' us.  They just don't seem to be able to give us the numbers we need.  I know that sounds odd to gardeners who have more zucchini than they can deal with.  You'll just have to believe us that growing zucchini for commercial purposes is a different ballgame.

Dunja plants tend to stay smaller and have an open growth habit that helps us to see fruit before they get too large.  As a result, we can typically keep from growing an absurd number of "Louisville Sluggers."  They are also consistent with fruit set and tend to produce nice, straight fruit without bulbed ends.  It doesn't hurt that the seed cavity is often smaller and the texture is consistent throughout.

We ran three successions again this season and pushed the Fall edge hard with our last planting.  We lucked out with a first frost in mid-October which resulted in some nice zucchini from Dunja right up until that point.  The plants seemed to hold off the powdery mildew just fine - which is the biggest issue we have with late season plantings of summer squashes.  We have also demonstrated that Dunja will allow us to push the front edge of harvest if we plant under cover and then remove the cover as things warm up.  They seem to grow equally well if mulched or left on bare soil.

Raven was our old hybrid stand-by, but Dunja has even outperformed Raven by a significant margin.  So, once again, while we would like to find open-pollinated zucchini to fill our production needs, we have a fine F1-hybrid to hold the line for us while we explore options.

7. Copenhagen Market Cabbage
Cabbage is not our favorite vegetable for eating.   But, that doesn't mean we don't take pride in growing them well on our farm.  Nor does it mean others can't thoroughly enjoy cabbage!  And, it certainly doesn't mean cabbage can't land on our Veg Variety Winner list for the year.  Because here is Copenhagen Market in our Veg Variety list yet again (#13 in 2015)!

Copenhagen Market has been on and off of our grow list for many years, alternating with Early Jersey Wakefield.  Most years, we plan on both varieties, adjusting based on seedling health.  When the Early Jersey seedlings looked weak and the Copenhagen Market seedlings looked strong, it set the stage for a record year with incredibly robust plants. 

Some years we harvest secondary heads, but this year we have not done so.  Primary heads averaged about three pounds in size with some landing over five pounds and very few under two.  Granted, if you want more consistency in head size and days to maturity, you may not enjoy this open-pollinated variety - though it is quite consistent for a non-hybrid.  We would guess that a little over half landed at the average size while the rest scattered over the full range of sizes.  We happen to like the variety because our customers like the choice of larger or smaller heads.  Quality is consistent regardless of size.

We'll continue to start Early Jersey Wakefield and Copenhagen Market each year and go with the stronger plants.  It seems to be a winning strategy for us.

6. Jaune Flamme Snack Tomato
We call the salad sized tomatoes "snack tomatoes" on our farm because our customers admit that many of them rarely make it home to be put in a salad.  It is a common occurrence for one of the four varieties we grow in our high tunnels to make our Veg Variety Winner list each year.  However, Jaune Flamme and Wapsipinicon Peach tend to take the honors over Red Zebra and Green Zebra with their higher yield potentials.

This year, Jaune Flamme out-performed all of the other snack tomatoes by a wide margin.  Even at the late date of October 22, there were a very large number of decent sized fruit on the vines causing us to pull a bunch of green to yellow fruit just prior to the freeze in hopes that they would finish ripening.

Five plants in Eden have produced over 150 marketable fruit per plant, which lands at over 100 total pounds of production.  The eighteen pound per plant watermark is actually our goal for all of our snack tomato varieties.  We have only reached that on all four varieties in one season (2015). In fact, Jaune Flamme actually exceeded the high water mark set by Wapsipinicon Peach in 2015 when we picked 154.6 of them per plant.

Jaune Flamme is easy to harvest, tends not to split if you don't wait too long to pick the fruit and has a pleasant taste that lands slightly on the sweeter side of tomatoes.  They tend to grow in clusters, which aids in harvest and the vines take well to a Florida stake and weave trellising method in our high tunnel.  Vines have yet to exceed ten feet in height for a normal Iowa season.

5. Gypsy Broccoli
We have been trotting Gypsy and Belstar out there for broccoli since 2012 and we have had pretty good broccoli every season... except last year.  So, suffice it to say that we were relieved to get back on track in 2017 with our broccoli.  Once again, both Belstar and Gypsy did well with Gypsy outstripping Belstar once again with a higher side shoot production rate.

Gypsy has landed at number three a couple of times in years past (typically with Belstar), so a number five appearance is not a surprise.  Main heads averaged around one pound but the side shoots were a bit smaller than we have seen in other years.  One of the features we like about Gypsy is how the stems don't seem to get woody like some broccoli stems do.  They may be susceptible to hollow stems at times, but not frequently.

As most of those who read our blog know, we prefer to work with open-pollinated seed and use heirloom or heritage seed types when we are able.  Sadly, we just can't get reliable production from open-pollinated broccoli, so we find ourselves using F1 hybrids.  In this case, Gypsy is created using cell fusion, which makes us just a little bit ill at ease.  On the plus side, the cell fusion process should prevent migration of the traits of this variety.  But, we would prefer to see traditional breeding programs to bring types like Early Dividend to fruition for growers like ourselves.  We like what Gypsy has done for us, but we continue to investigate other options.  We continue to grow Belstar (a traditional F1 Hybrid) and we liked Imperial in last year's trials, but could not find seed in 2017. 

4. Magenta Lettuce
Some of our traditional favorites, such as Bronze Arrowhead, Bunte Forellenschus and Grandpa Admires have done just fine this season.  The hard part with putting lettuce into our Veg Variety Winner list each year is that we grow so many varieties that it gets pretty hard to select just one.  The other issue with growing so many varieties is that none of them (except Bronze Arrowhead) gets enough opportunity.  We were tempted to put Bronze Arrowhead out there yet again, but we wanted to share a new (to us) cultivar that was a pleasant surprise in our top list for 2017.

We agreed to participate in a Summer lettuce trial with Practical Farmers of Iowa Cooperators this season and we planted Coastal Star, Muir and Magenta as a part of the trial.  By the end of the trial we found that we were not impressed with Coastal Star and Muir was only reasonably good.  But Magenta won us over - which is a huge feat considering how many varieties we are already committed to.  It will return to our farm next year.

Magenta has a pleasant flavor, but doesn't really stand out in the mix of varieties we prefer.  That's actually a good thing because we love the flavors of the heirloom varieties we grow.  If it doesn't stand out, that means it fits in with this group - which is an accomplishment.  Heads are compact and dense loose-leaf style.  In fact, these were much denser than most of our other lettuces, so they were surprisingly heavy for the size.  Average weight was a half pound.

Magenta held well in the field and did not bolt until some of the trial plants we selected to stay in the field finally gave up and bolted after 9 to 10 weeks.  They also held with good texture and taste longer than many varieties.  It won't replace our heirlooms, but it will be a good addition to help us through the warmer months with our lettuce production.

3. Waltham Butternut Squash
We have grown Waltham Butternut squash from the beginning.  We see no reason to stop growing Waltham Butternut.  That might be all we need to say for this variety.  Since those who read our Veg Variety Winner posts tend to prefer to read more than that - we'll say more.

Waltham is a c. moschata, which means it has solid stems unlike c. maxima or c.pepo, which have hollow stems.  Vine borers tend to take out young hollow stem plants, but the solid stem plants are largely unaffected.  This may be the biggest single reason why you see more butternut winter squash than any other winter squash other than the shorter season acorn, spaghetti or delicata types.  But, in those cases, the fruit are not typically intended for long storage.

If we had been able to put the Walthams in at the time we desired, they may very well have blown us away with ridiculous production numbers.  As it is, they did well enough to keep the farmers happy but showed us that there is potential for an even better crop with some modifications in our system.  We getting those alterations in place for next year - so here's hoping.

Fruit size does vary, with some potentially getting quite large (some reaching 6-7 pounds this year) and a few ripening while just between one to two pounds in size.  Overall, this year's harvest averaged in the 3-4 pound range.  Once again, we like having some variability as it responds to our customers differing needs.  The family of six that likes squash can take the monsters and the family of two that finds squash passable, but not critical to their meals can take the smaller ones.  It works out rather nicely. 

2. Black Cherry Tomato
Black Cherry has been sneaking up this list from season to season.  We introduced them to our grow list in 2014 and got very positive reviews for taste.  We dedicated ourselves to growing them in the high tunnel in 2016 and Black Cherry made it to #7 on the list during a year where even high tunnel tomatoes were not at their best.  With high tunnel tomatoes back to where they should be, Black Cherry made it clear why it will stay on our grow list for as long as we can keep up with the harvest.

Plants tend to be smaller than our other cherry tomatoes (Tommy Toe and /Hartmann's Yellow Gooseberry on our farm) as are the fruit.  In fact, if you plant them too close to these other varieties, Black Cherry may be overwhelmed and have its production reduced.  On the other hand, if you give them their space and keep them picked, you can easily get 400 marketable fruit per plant.  This year's GFF harvest in Eden was 456.7 per plant - and we don't always keep up with the cherry tomatoes!

The taste of a Black Cherry is simply outstanding.  But, you can't often truly appreciate them unless you have a few Tommy Toe or Hartmann fruit for comparison.  Hint: you should eat a Tommy Toe or two first before you try the Black Cherry.  Take the time to savor - it's worth it.

Like most thinner skinned heirloom/heritage cherry tomatoes, they will readily split as they reach maturity.  We tend to harvest them just a bit earlier so we have unsplit fruit to offer our customers.  Unlike some tomatoes, these do not sacrifice much (if anything) on taste if you nab them at that stage.  Please note that we aren't talking about picking green tomatoes here.  We've just learned where the line is for ripeness prior to splitting and we harvest at that line.  If we happen to miss with some of the fruit, we have found those working on the farm are ready and willing to "find a home for them."

1. Goodman Cauliflower
We hesitated putting Goodman at the top of our list because the last thing we want to do is to "jinx" this variety on our farm.  You see, our tendency has been to put a cultivar that was an extremely pleasant surprise at the top spot each year rather than one that has many years of solid performance.  I suppose that's a normal reaction.  But, perhaps we'd be better off if we awarded a perennial winner such as Waltham, Jaune Flamme or White Wing the top spot?  No, never mind.  Goodman won this year fair and square.
We ran a trial with Amazing and Goodman in 2014 in the hopes that we could find an open-pollinated cauliflower to supplement the Snow Crown F1-hybrid we relied on for consistent production.  Both showed promise, so we have continued the experiment each year since with larger numbers of both varieties each season.  The biggest downside with Goodman has been dealing with lower germination numbers and weaker seedlings.

On the other hand, we were sold on Goodman's taste as soon as we treated ourselves to one of these rounded heads of cauliflower goodness in 2014.  If you are lukewarm about cauliflower, you'll be red hot for them after you taste this one.

Most years, head size runs from about 1 to 1 and a half pounds.  The inner leaves stay in close to the head, which removes the need to blanch them.  If they have a weakness, it's the relatively short holding time they have in the field.  When they are ready, you go and get them!  But, that's ok, because we're usually pretty anxious to have them around the time they get ready.

We had a good year for cauliflower this year with Amazing and Snow Crown doing very well.  But, the combination of production numbers, head size, taste and the sheer beauty of some of the heads that came from these plants - Goodman wins the day.

Thank you!
We appreciate all who read and enjoy what we write here on the Genuinely Faux blog for the Genuine Faux Farm.  The yearly Veg Variety Winners post is one that we are particularly fond of doing and it does encourage us when people take the time to tell us that they enjoyed reading it.  We are pleased to answer questions and/or have discussions about growing and cultivar selections.

We're looking forward to an off-season where we can renew our energy and purpose for another year of growing good food.