Friday, September 21, 2018

What It Looks Like When II

We have continued to post the wisdom of our Farm Supervisors on Facebook using the hashtag #GFFWhatItLooksLikeWhen and, as we did with the first batch, we are summarizing and editorializing a bit more on the blog.  We will continue to do this as long as the inspiration and available photos are in good supply.

I was asked by one individual what the motivation for these posts were.  From a farm promotion perspective, I suppose having a consistent series does serve as a reminder to those who might patronize us that we are still here, though it likely won't do a thing to encourage a specific sale.  But, that's not really the motivation behind this.

In the end, the motivation comes from two places:
1. The need to be creative and see humor and value in everyday life.
2. The need to remind those who care about the farm (and the farmers and the Farm Supervisors) that we are real people (and cats) who are just trying to muddle along as best we can like everyone else.  And, in that process, a little support along the way is always appreciated.  Just as we are willing to lend support when others need it.

Pre-amble now complete, we bring you more of

What It Looks Like When

This is what it looks like when you want the farmer to think he's just run over you with a tractor!
 Inspector is prone to using soft spaces under vehicles as a napping spot during warmer days.  The good news is that he knows to get away (and quickly) when an engine starts.  The other good news is that we do have a tendency to take a quick look under our vehicles for Farm Supervisors when we are ready to start one up.  We actually do not think it would be consistent with Inspector's catitude to pull the "oh no! You ran over me!" trick.  But, when Doughboy was with us, that cat might have played the trick.

This is what it looks like when you will do whatever it takes to get your "alone time."
Soup has probably been the most creative cat we've had with respect to finding places to be when she wants to lounge.  She doesn't really move all that quickly and she doesn't tend to leave the area around the main buildings on the farm.  Yet, she can disappear when she wishes.

This is what it looks like when the entire team put forth their best effort and have nothing left to give.
This fine, October day a few years ago found us working to get squash under cover prior to some cold temps.  The humans had to do a great deal of lifting and running around.  That, of course, wore out the poor Farm Supervisory crew consisting of Sandman, Mrranda and Cubbie.  The work was not yet done at the point the photo was taken, but we know from experience that Farm Supervisors still count themselves as being capable of supervising when their eyes are closed.
This is what it looks like when the shoulder angel says, "Be polite and say hello" and the shoulder devil says, "Go back to sleep!"
Sun puddles are a cats best friend in the Winter months.  This is especially true in an old, drafty farm house with humans who keep the temp on the lowish side.  Of our Indoor Farm Supervisors, Bree is typically the most 'polite' of the two.  She usually responds if a human says "hello."  But, you can see her have this debate at times when she really doesn't WANT to acknowledge the human - but she knows she should.  After all, humans are so fragile and they need constant affirmation from the felines on the farm.  This was one of those cases where she was not as gracious with her greeting as she normally is - perhaps it had to do with the camera in the farmer's hands?

For those who have interest: Here is the first in the series of the What it Looks Like When blog posts.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Build An Ark?

At the risk of overloading the blog with too much about too much (rain, that is), we thought we'd do a bit more with regards to the wet weather we had to start the month of September (and slightly less wet, but still annoying mid-September).  The post, Rain of Terror, got that ball rolling, so we'll try not to revisit the content there too much.  Instead, we consider this a bit of a documentary post for us with some thoughts of what we can do when this happens again.  Please note that we do NOT believe the phrase is "if this should happen again."  It is definitely preparing for WHEN it happens again.

Grass tends to hide the water.  Water up to the ankles (or higher) in this entire area.
 What got us thinking about this post?  The mundane reason is that I don't have many September farm pictures other than the ones we took after our first batch of heavy rain.  But, as I viewed these, I realized that there might be some lessons here that could be learned for our farm.  I try not to avoid a chance to learn - even if I don't really want to dwell on some of the harder lessons.  The other prompt was the fact that we had ten days after that event without rain - and I was still slipping on some mud in one of our pastures as we transferred broilers to their pasture.  And the final prompt?  It rained again today.  I have to admit that I am a little 'gunshy' regarding any kind of rain right now.

Hilling saves crops, but what else can be done?
We determined that hilling did, in fact, save many of our crops.  We did still have some issues with the loss of a couple hundred heads of lettuce (among other things).  But, it seems like the late broccoli, cauliflower and romanesco successions will live to try to produce veggies another day.  This process is worth the extra effort on our farm and we intend on refining and expanding its use.  Yet, it did not solve the water problem for many things, which means we have room for improvement. 

Before you come to the wrong conclusion - we have used this technique in seasons prior to this as well.  What we're beginning to think is that we may always want to use it for every one of our crops during all times of year.
Hilled vs Unhilled
Well, there were seedlings there!
One of the mistakes we made was having unhilled beds next to hilled beds.  The hilled beds shed water (of course) and might have increased the amount of water in the unhilled areas.  Granted, there was going to be a problem no matter what we did.  But, we shouldn't have relied on the 'normal' late Summer to early Fall reduction in rainfall.  We should have just done the extra work and created the raised beds even though the odds said August and September are supposed to be drier.

There are some plots on our farm where this might be more important than others (like the ones shown here).  So, we could simply identify plots in the rotation that must always have hilled beds and then not let ourselves take a shortcut because it might be drier.

But, why hesitate?  Well, if we raise the beds, they tend to dry out faster.

Yes, that's the point, right?

Turnips are not water plants.
But, what happens if it doesn't rain?  Then, we have to irrigate more!  And, we are also concerned about responsibly using ground water and not wasting it.  However, the current trends for our farm is for more heavy rain events and wetter seasons.  Since we do have the option of drip irrigation if it should swing the other way, maybe we need to play that hand and see how it works.

If you look closely at the picture at the right, you will see that the seedlings in this picture are completely under water.  Usually, a mid to late August planting of turnips on our farm will give us some nice small to mid-sized turnips that people seem to like.  None of these made it through the rains.  I guess they weren't into the 'hydroponics approach.'

The next thing we may want to address is that some of our non-growing areas could be candidates for swales.  For example, the picture below shows the edge of one of our fields and the grass/clover path between it and the bush line.  Clearly, we are seeing plenty of water sitting there and all of the beans on that edge are no longer with us.  However, they are still doing reasonably well about 10 feet in from the edge.  Perhaps we should consider lowering these edges and replanting grass/clover (and maybe some perennials covers that can handle damp situations.  We have multiple opportunities to do this since we have permanent greenways between each of our field plots.  The thing that stops us is finding the time and resources to accomplish this task.  Maybe we can not afford to not do this?
On the other hand, critical paths that get us from one part of the farm to another can't be continuously under water either.  This important junction on our farm (below) nearly got us stuck a couple of times.
And then, there are pastures.  These are actually a good bit harder to figure since there are so many factors involved - among them is how one does the work on that area when you have birds that have to be somewhere!
One option is to consider building some semi-permanent buildings on the highest spots so the birds always have a dry spot to start.  The down-side is that chickens really beat on the pasture, leaving the area around their home-base close to bare.  We rested the area close to the Poultry Pavilion this year prior to recombining the flock in their permanent room again for the Fall/Winter. 
Of course, we could try tiling.  But, we believe a significant part of our current problem is that EVERYONE uses the 'get the water away from me as fast as possible' approach.  That's part of the reason we have been having so much trouble with the heavy rains in our country.  While we only have fifteen acres, it is the attitude that we, as individual farmers, aren't a significant part of the problem.  Sorry, we don't get a pass, nor should anyone else.  We all have responsibility and we're not about to shirk ours at the Genuine Faux Farm.  If we're going to tile, we're going to need a place for it to go.  We've considered the option of creating a wetland or pond area on the farm, but the land we own is a bit small to make it work.

And so, here we are, continuing to find ways to make this work.  And we're not going to wait and save it for a rainy day.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Crazy Maurice - His Two Cents Worth

 Hello everyone!

My name is Maurice and I am the resident weeping willow tree at the Genuine Faux Farm.  I have had more opportunities this year than in years past to interact with my farmers and they asked if I was willing to write a blog post.

I have always wanted to write and both farmers (the Pretty Lady and the Fuzzy Guy with the Red Top) are so polite when they come out to visit that I couldn't say no.  The Fuzzy Guy with the Red Top helped me figure out how I should share my thoughts.  He brought two round, copper disks and buried them at the base of my trunk.  He said I could now give my "two-cents worth" whenever I wanted. 

You might be a bit surprised to learn that a tree, such as myself, is perfectly able to read and write.  But, when you put down roots like trees do, you tend to be a home-body.  So, of course, I spend lots of time observing, considering and composing my own thoughts about all that I see.  I started converting my own words to English when the farmers were kind enough to lend me some reading material so I could teach myself.

I am not certain WHY they left me what they did, but I saw it enough that I have it memorized:  "Helpful Hints: Read the directions before assembly.  This seeder comes partially assembled.."   I can still tell them anything they might need to know about the Earthway Seeder.  But, they do seem to have that well-enough in hand.
Maurice's baby picture
 I arrived on the farm in 2014.  Maybe you can see me in the picture above?  You can't?  Well, I was pretty small.  The Fuzzy Guy with the Red Top told me he thinks they have some better pictures somewhere, but he couldn't find them right away. 

I don't remember much when I was that little, but I do know that the area around me has changed as I've grown.  For one, I have more friends than I did back then.  The picture at the left shows you my friend Blaise the Maple (at right).  He joined me in this section of the farm the same season I arrived.  Blaise tends to be pretty ostentatious, but I still manage to get along with him just fine.  He's already talking about the color he intends to throw at the farmers this Fall.  Ya, whatever, Blaise.

I have other tree friends that have arrived in subsequent years.  Minnie the Mighty Oak is one of the newest arrivals.  She doesn't say much, but I understand.  Things are pretty overwhelming when you're a sapling.  I don't mind Hansel and Gretel (the Austrian Pines), but I have a harder time communicating with the conifers.  They just don't get the whole dropping leaves thing that we deciduous trees do.  On the other hand, every field seems to have a ... a... what do you call someone who doesn't seem to fit in?  Well, I would call that someone the Locust tree we have out here?  That tree doesn't seem to have any pride.  I don't know.  I just don't get it.  But, I'll try to be accepting and supportive. 

The farmers asked if I would help them keep an eye on a bunch of feathery critters this year. At first, I thought they meant the butterflies that I enjoy seeing float on by.  Sometimes, they will roost in my branches.  I'm not sure I like that so much because it tickles a little bit.

They explained that these things called "chickens" were a bit closer in style to Mr. Bunting.  I actually enjoyed Mr and Mrs Bunting.  Very nice neighbors, even if they were a little quick to judge themselves.  Apparently, they had tried to nest closer to the farmers' abode and found it a bit too busy for their tastes.  I told them that I wished the farmers would come visit me more often.  I wonder if they let the farmers know that I wanted company because they came up with this "chicken proposal thing" soon thereafter.

They moved this rolly red building out into the area near me, put up a fence that tickles when I touch it with a stray leaf or two and then moved in these noisy, busy little creatures.  I really am not sure what the farmers see in them.  But, their presence has encouraged the farmers to visit more often - sometimes as much as four times in a day!

As I said, I like the farmers.  They know how to phrase a nice complement that we trees like to hear.  The chickens, ON THE OTHER HAND...

"That's my spot, get out of my spot!  That's MY spot! Get OUT of my spot!"
"I'm laying an egg!  I'm laying an EGG! I'm laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaying an EGGGGGG!"
"Give me food!  I want more food! You call that food?!?  I want food!"

They can be so rude and annoying at times.  But, once I learned to stop listening to what they were saying, I started realizing exactly how amusing they are.  I especially found it funny watching them trying to figure out how to get out of their building without getting wet - even though our entire field was a giant puddle!  Ha ha ha!  I know what's so funny about "wet chickens" and I also have no idea what could possibly be madder than a wet hen.

Pretty Lady put the food holder for the chickens under my branches for a while.  She was so nice about it, asking me if it was ok with me.  They left the feeder there until the rains stopped.  I did my best to keep the food dry just bit longer - but that was A LOT of rain.  While the food was there, I learned that hens like to gossip while they eat.  Actually, I didn't know what gossip was until the Fuzzy Guy explained it to me.  I felt much better when he let me know that nearly all of their gossip isn't based on fact.  In other words, they are nothing like a seeder manual. 

There is so much more that I would love to give my "two-cents worth" on in the future.  It might be fun to write about the dancing swallows or the snake in the Goldenrod.  I've also observed that the dragonflies are not particular about much of anything, even which direction they want to fly at any given moment.  I think I LIKE this blog writing thing!  I'll tell Pretty Lady and Fuzzy Guy.  I bet they'll let me do more in the future!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Rain of Terror

Lettuce on "lake-front" property?
When your work has so much to do with Mother Nature, you have a tendency to take a great deal of interest in any prognostication that might give you a glimpse into the future whims she might have so you can make an effort to plan.  Tammy and I watch the skies and make our own guesses about what might be coming our way.  We look at the radar and other tools provided by NOAA and other sites, such as Intellicast.  We listen to people who have far more training and knowledge than we have when it comes to climate and weather events.  And, even though we know that the tools are just tools and meteorologists do their best to make forecasts based on the facts as they see them - we still can't help getting upset when they are wrong.  We know it is illogical and unfair.  But, we can't get away with blaming Mother Nature because she'll do what she'll do (and frankly, we might be a bit frightened to confront her).  If Mother N reads forecasts, she probably takes delight in chuckling at our attempts but I am guessing it is beneath her to alter events just to spite the forecast.  And, right now, what she is doing is making things difficult.  We are dubbing the current stretch of weather the

Rain of Terror

If you read our blog semi-regularly, then you have probably noticed that our monthly newsletter posts have a "Weather Wythards" section that summarized the weather on the farm for the prior month.  Our July Newsletter highlighted a wet June with 8 1/2 inches of rain - far more than normal.  More recently, our September Newsletter highlighted a wet August with another 8 1/2 inches of rain - again far more than normal.  In fact, we had recently had some significant rain on the farm and we still had decent sized puddles at the point we saw the following forecast:
 We often try not to get too excited about anything in a forecast much further out than a couple of days.  We were a little dismayed by the significant rain amounts shown here, but we were relieved to see that we could get through Thursday's harvest and veggie deliveries without more rain.  Yes, we still harvested in mud that required much more effort to clean the produce - but it wasn't horrible.  Besides, we were (and are) fully aware that others are having bigger problems with too much rain.  For example, southern Wisconsin has been dealing with flooding and excessive rain for the past three weeks. 

Then we saw the extended forecast
This set of forecast icons come from Intellicast for Tripoli, Iowa as we saw them on August 30 and we have learned over time if you get a series that looks like this - things WILL become exceptionally wet - even if not during the exact timeline depicted here or in the amounts shown.  We verified that most sources were calling for wet weather during this period.

Then, an amazing thing happened.  It didn't rain on Friday during the day.  Rob had a chance to work outside all day and try to do things to preempt the problems too much rain might cause.  Caleb was also working that day, so we gave it our best shot.  Tammy came home in time to lend a hand with trying to pull melons out of the field.  But, things get dark much more quickly in September and our time was up.

From 1:58AM on Saturday until 9am, we received 2.74" of rain.  You could argue that the meteorologists were fairly accurate if you add the Friday/Saturday totals together and move them all to Saturday AM.

And then add another inch to it.

forecast late in the day September 1

no, we do NOT do hydroponics...
Ever hopeful, we looked at the forecast in hopes that maybe Mother Nature had compressed the event and just gave it all to us at one time.  But, it was not to be.  The new forecast had even higher amounts of rain and much higher likelihoods for that rain.  In the end, rainfall totals for the first five days of September made us wonder what we were complaining about when we talked about the wet August we endured.  The crazy thing about is, we are aware of several places that got much more rain than we did!

Storm total at the farm: 8.71"
Sat, Sep 1: 2.74"
Sun, Sep 2: 2.66"
Mon, Sep 3: .89"
Tue, Sep 4: .95"
Wed, Sep 5: 1.47"

Our farm is not next to a body of water that would tend to flood us.  But, the soil is heavier and the "water table" is often high.  We are pretty flat out here too, so the water doesn't have anywhere to go, especially when the ground is already saturated.  The net result is that we can get a fair amount of standing water when we have excessive rain events.  Like any farm, we have some places that tend to puddle up with any decent rain.  We have worked to move some of those 'trouble spots' but most are scattered in areas we use for poultry pasture.  The trick is to make sure the poultry buildings aren't sitting on one of the lower areas.  But, what happens when the entire field becomes a puddle?

Well, that puts a crimp in our pasture-raised poultry plan.
Something you have to know about chickens - they can be rough on a pasture.  The picture above makes it look like we placed their shelter in the lowest spots because you see more water.  However, you need to consider that the chickens have been beating down the grass in this area more than they have further from the buildings.  Trust me when I say there is just as much water in the green as there is in the areas with visible water.  To make matters worse, these broilers were due to go to the park on Tuesday night.  We had to stop loading half-way through when a cell with significant lightning came through.  After a quick downpour (our weather station recorded a rain rate of 8"/hour), we were able to go back out and finish the job (about 45 minutes later).  Let's just say neither of us is up for doing that again anytime soon.
Many of our crops are winding down much more quickly than they would have in an August/early September with average rainfall amounts.  The tomatoes were loaded, but the plants have crashed over the past two weeks.  I guess they aren't fond of being this wet at this point in their development.

We're beginning to think we should have pulled all of the green tomatoes in addition to the ones that were starting to ripen prior to the rain.  A recent scouting effort showed a significant number of them cracking.  Well, what do you do?  You do what you can and deal with it.  That will have to be enough.

We did take the time to raise the planting zone for many of the rows in our fields this season.  We've done this more and more over the past three years as it has become apparent that excessive rainfall is becoming a new norm for our farm.  Please note that when I say "excessive rainfall" I am not referring to a single storm.  Instead, I am referring to a series of rain events that lead to completely saturated soil to the point that we have standing water for a week or more in areas that are not our normal 'puddle zones.'

If you look at the picture at the right, you can see that the lettuce is up on hills that we created with Rosie (our tractor) and a disc hilling implement.  This does not solve the problem of farmers losing boots in the muck when they try to pick, but it buys the plants just a little more time so they have a chance to survive.  It's a little early to tell if we bought enough time, but at least we gave it our level best to prepare for this situation.

On the other hand, we did not hill every single bed on our farm.  In our defense, it does take more time and effort to make these hilled beds.  Second, rainfall normally gets more scarce the deeper you get into the season.  With the picture at left, you can (maybe) see some of the seedlings that were just coming up at the point the rain started.  These are not planted in hills and they are under water. 

You might notice some yellowing of plants at the right showing an older crop that has not been liking the moist weather even prior to the beginning of the "Rain of Terror."  This picture was taken after a bit of a "break" after the first four inches or so.  I figured it had gone down a bit and wouldn't get much worse.  I was wrong.  But, I didn't have the gumption to take the camera back out to record it.  I've got enough of a picture in my head thank you.  I will say it was odd to see spinach and turnip seedlings looking a bit like plants in a fish tank.  While we are on flat ground, water still moves with the slightest change in elevation.  Those poor little seedlings were moving with the current.  At last check, many of the seedlings were gone.  Now to wait for things to dry out so we can try to seed it all again!

The turkey pasture was looking very good this year.  I think we managed to cut it at just the right time prior to letting the turkeys out on the field.  The key is to not have the grass too tall when they first get out there.  But, you want the grass to be tall enough and healthy enough that it will last into early October.  Unless it rains buckets and barrels in early September.  If the turks don't tear it up, the grass should survive just fine.  For now, the birds have their own private swimming pool.  Some actually liked running around in it for the first couple of days.  They have since decided it isn't much fun.

Crazy Maurice, our weeping willow, may be one of the few creatures on the farm that is happy for the excessive amounts of rain. 
 The hens are certainly grateful that he's out there because he does provide some protection for them.  But, once again, hens can really beat things up - especially when it is wet.  Honest, we take care of our birds.  The pasture did NOT look this bad a week ago.  But, we can't move their building.

Where would we move it to?

Who will pull the tractor out when it gets stuck?

How will we get out from under the

Rain of Terror?

 Tune in next week when our topic is making sweaters out of toe jam!  (oh! are you still reading?  Good for you!  I hope you aren't too disturbed the toe jam thing, it's really a pretty amazing project.)

Monday, September 3, 2018

Sayings That Might Be Better Unsaid

Tammy and Rob are fairly busy people during the month of September.  Tammy has the academic thing going on, but still keeps her hand in things at the farm.  Rob has the farm thing going on.  Otherwise, he writes blog posts.  Now, if that isn't an over-simplification for what the two of us do in September, I don't know what is!

One of the things that we can both still find time for is to engage in a little wordplay.  It keeps the mind sharp, requires no additional materials and we can continue to do work while we make our sad little attempts at humor.  Ok, mine are often sad attempts.  When Tammy throws one out there, it usually has much more quality.  Otherwise, she just rolls her eyes at Rob.  The best time for this sort of silliness is when we are traveling in the vehicle together.  Sometimes, we see a sign or some other item that gets us going.  For example, we sometimes see a sign advertising a business and we can't help ourselves but expand upon what we see (or deliberately/accidentally misread it).

Tag Lines that Should Exist:

We are reasonably certain that the House of Wong is a restaurant, but it was interesting to note that the building in the Twin Cities that was the actual House of Wong did not have any characteristics that would confirm its purpose as a restaurant.  Granted, we were trying to keep an eye on where we were going, so we were NOT looking all that closely.  Besides, but we had an opportunity and couldn't leave it alone.

Our conclusion was that the House of Wong should be a paint store.  After all, if Caucasians can relate to Sherwin Williams, then maybe persons with an Asian ethnicity might relate better to the House of Wong?  We decided that their tag line should be "House of Wong - Make it White!"
Please! Make them stop!

My guess is that persons with the name Wong who happen to live in the United States probably roll their eyes at jokes like this and say, "Wow. Never heard THAT one before."  It's ok, we'll let everyone with the name of Wong write a blog post about our family name and some joke we've "never" heard before and it will be even.

Some time ago, we saw billboards advertising a military equipment history museum.  They didn't really have a tag line, but I should think it is an obvious choice: "Tanks for the Memories"

Stories From Nothing:

It doesn't have to make sense, it just has to be amusing.  If you've stopped at any of the combination convenience store/truck stops in Minnesota recently, you may have noticed the Cat Scales they have.  

My first thought was that these were scales for people to take their little feline friends to get a proper weight for them.  I can see it now:

"SEE!  I told you Fluffy ate the goldfish!  She's a good quarter ounce heavier than she was this morning!"

The second look revealed that these are pretty darned big scales, so that eliminated their use for small cats.  That means people used the scale for their exotic pets:

"Look, that's the second scale operator your tiger has eaten this week.  If you can't control your pet, we just can't weigh it for you anymore."

Hmmm.  Yes.  Yes.  That appears to be a scale.

A third look revealed that these are actually Cat "Certified" Scales.  We believe the Sandman would have been a great scale certifier.

Vegetable Farm Public Service Announcements:

Don't Eat Bell Peppers Alone

We're not entirely sure what motivated us to come up with this one.  Maybe it was this picture?

Songs You Probably Don't Want to Hear:

Sometimes things will cause Rob to make up silly song lyrics.  The only goals are to make the words fit the original tune and make it absolutely as silly as possible.

Puffy-cheeks the Magic Goldfish
lived in a bowl
I told you not to flush it
That whirlpool took its toll.

Obviously sung to the tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon"

Saturday, September 1, 2018

September Newsletter

The Perils of Plenty
When we hit August at our farm it seems like we finally get to the point where we have more than enough produce.  Now, before you go too far with that on your own, you need to remember that we are a farm business and we WANT plenty so we have more opportunity to sell and keep our farm going.  You also need to remember that we had a slower than usual start with late snow and cold soil early on, so the Genuine Faux Farm was anxious to start pulling in a bounty.  That said, August's peak harvests often set the farmers up for a let down in September when we tend to get our first frost.
Rob will be the first to admit that harvesting cucumbers can start to get a little bit tiresome at times.  But, as long as there continue to be opportunities to move them, he happily continues to harvest them.  At the very least, the turkeys and chickens think cucumbers are great.  Summer squash and zucchini can really load up the trays in a hurry and I know there are plenty of jokes about locking your vehicles during zucchini season.  Yet, we live the growing season in its entirety and this IS the time we live for - the time when we keep pulling in harvest and we can say yes to practically any order we get for that produce.  This is where we start getting payback for the days when buffalo gnats tear up our arms, ears and forehead and for the weeks when we were carefully budgeting the harvest to be sure everyone gets a fair share and walks away reasonably happy.

We understand that our experience is contrasted by many of our CSA customers who go home with a couple bags bursting with produce each week.  In many cases, school is starting and life schedules are changing.  It can be a difficult time to receive plenty from your personal farmers.  It is the time of year when people say things like "it is Tuesday/Thursday ALREADY?!?"  Just in case some of you might be tempted to think we don't understand, please remember that Tammy is going back to teach and two of our three workers are also going back to school.  We also have to deal with the plenty in our own kitchen (and, yes, our kitchen is STILL destroyed - we did tell you it would be November before we could do much more with it, didn't we?).  We offer up the Culinary Corner topic on our blog with a few posts that address dealing with plenty.  Remember, the period of plenty is remarkably short even though the Genuine Faux Farm has gotten increasingly better at extending the season for many crops.  Let's all do what we can to remember to enjoy the bounty by saving what we can and sharing with others.  I wonder if there will be stories about locking cars because it is broccoli season?

Veg Variety of the Month
The Minnesota Midget melons have been doing us proud in Eden (our smaller high tunnel) this season.  The Minnesota Midgets in Valhalla aren't quite as happy because they went in a tad late, but we're STILL getting some nice melons from that planting as well.  As of the writing of this portion of the newsletter, we had already tied the 2015 record for Minnesota Midget production on our farm.

The best news about this year's production is that we have been able to give our CSA members at least one melon for multiple weeks this year so far AND our field melons haven't started until now.  If you like melons, this has been a good year to be in the CSA.  If you don't... well.  I'm not sure what I should say to you.  It certainly won't be "sorry."  Because we like melons.  We'll eat yours if you don't want it.

Turkeys and Chickens - Oh My?
The time of year for reserving turkeys and considering the purchase of broiler chickens is upon us.

Batch number two of broiler chickens go to "the Park" on Tuesday, September 4 and then they make the trip to "Freezer Camp" on September 5.  If you want an unfrozen chicken, you need to reserve birds and let us know you want them unfrozen prior to the trip to "the Park."  We will find a way to get them to you before they are frozen.  Cost is $3.50/pound with average weights 4-6 pounds.

Turkeys are entering the stage where we call them "Knuckleheads"  Essentially that means they are starting to be big enough that we are telling them about their future as honored guests at various homes for Thanksgiving.  They will perform a 'crowd gobble' if Tammy yells "Thanksgiving Dinner!"  Our prices will remain the same as it has been for the past few years.  $3.75 per pound for birds under 20 pounds.  $3.50 per pound for 20 pounds and over.

Weather Wythards
We like this picture, so we're using it again.
Once again, we get a month with nearly twice the normal precipitation.  This just seems odd to us in part because many of our farming friends have been dealing with exceptionally dry years and we just can't seem to dry out all the way:

August's Report
High Temp: 89
Low Temp: 52
Dew Point High: 75
Dew Point Low: 50
Highest wind gust:37 mph
Rain: 8.45"

For those who are curious, the average rainfall for Tripoli in August is 4.69 inches.  According to Weather Spark, this falls outside the 90 percentile range for August.  Hurray!  We're above average!

Year Through August
High Temp: 97
Low Temp: -20
Lowest Windchill: -34
Highest Heat Index: 119
Highest Wind gust: 46 mph
Rainfall: 30.19"
Barometer Range: 29.39 to 30.89

Surplus Produce
Do you need cucumbers for pickling, tomatoes for canning/freezing, zucchini for shredding and freezing?  Now is the time to ask us so you can get in line to receive some of our excellent surplus.  Certainly there will be more of some of these things later, but we know how easy it is to let time pass and you're left without those jars of salsa you expect to use every February.  Let us know what you are looking for and if we think we'll have it we'll put you next on the list as these things come available.

This year's tomato crop looks like it is getting ready to hit peak and that peak may be very, very quick this season.  We have had numerous foggy mornings, which tends to promote blight in crops like tomatoes.  Blight tends to make it difficult for tomatoes to hold on and produce further into the Fall.  We do have tomato plants in our high tunnels and they do produce much later, but we don't usually get the volume we get during peak field production.  Cucumbers begin to decline rapidly after Labor Day and rarely do much once we get to September 15.  They just do not get the heat and light they want.  And, that darned fog promotes powdery mildew on summer squash and zucchini.  So, the time is now!

Speaking of decline, the extremely wet weather and the forecast for a week of rain heralds the distinct likelihood that our crops will crash in the next couple of weeks.  We will certainly do what we are able to do, but when most of the farm is a giant puddle, there is only so much you can do.

Song of the Month
Since we seem to have spent more time wearing our Muck Boots this year, we thought we'd go with Kelly's Wellies by Gaelic Storm.  No, Wellies aren't exactly the same thing as Muck Boots, but I suddenly feel inspired to paint some laces on them, though I won't cut them down to look like shoes.

Picture of the Month
If you missed the Summer Festival, then you missed the bringer of S'more supplies! 

 A big thank you to everyone who came on out to celebrate with us.  We had a smaller, but enthusiastic group at the gathering this year.  There were numerous kid-friendly activities.  The sidewalk chalk made one of our flair box trailers beautiful.  Paper bags became elaborate and were turned into interesting hand puppets.  Chess and Mancala came out to play.  People tried out Bocci ball and the Washer Toss.  The cats got attention until it was too much attention.  There was music playing and music played.  S'mores were consumed and a turkey was cooked (yes, it was already processed - what were YOU thinking?).  There was planty of good food shared by all and excellent conversations.

The turkeys and hens had a hard time figuring out what happened for the next couple of days.  They really enjoyed all of the extra attention that came in the form of cucumbers, zucchini, summer squash and other scraps.  The farmers don't usually go out there nearly so often, so they proceeded to let us know in various ways that our efforts were insufficient after the bar was set so high during the festival.

Quick Crop Report
About this time of year, we begin to report on the yields we are experiencing for those who are curious.  Sometimes, yields go up and down depending on what we have decided to do on the farm during the current season.  For example, we did less with radish in the early part of the year than we normally do.  Of course, that means the harvest of radish will be much lower than prior years.  But, here are a few numbers for all of us to chew on.

Lettuce 319 pounds
  Last year's full-season total was 362 pounds and the ten-year average for a full-season is 687 pounds.  The average is inflated given the fact that it includes years where we were growing twice the number of CSA members, but we are trying to push the late season lettuce this year in hopes of capturing more sales in that area.

Cucumbers 2558 fruit
  Last year was a weak crop for cucumbers with only 1672 fruit harvested for the whole season.  The average is just over 3000 per year (3029).  Assuming the weather allows us to harvest again, we should get to the average.  In fact, cucumbers tend to like rainier years, so we should be fine.  

Kohlrabi 612 head
  This is a crop we don't talk about much, yet we've been very consistent with 600-700 head each of the past four seasons.  We grew nearly twice that many for a couple of years prior to that - once again when our CSA membership was closer to 110 families than the current 65.  Kohlrabi isn't usually a candidate for other types of sales in our area, so it makes no sense to grow more than what we want for the CSA.

Melons 390 fruit
  This number should be higher than this, but we're losing a significant number of fruit to the wet.  This is a crop where the average means next to nothing because we have had less consistency over the eight years of recorded melon production.  Suffice it to say that we are ok with 300 and happy when we get over 400.  Ecstatic was the years we broke the 500 (and 600!) mark.

Onion 2889 roots
  This harvest is right around average for the past five years.  While it might sound odd, we are actually disappointed in this crop because we had visions of doing much more with it.  The idea was that onions could store and be sold over a period of time to spread out some of our income.  We actually lost fully half of our onion beds because the starts were not healthy.  So, we remain thankful for a decent harvest and we look forward to another try at even better results in 2019.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Running With Scissors

One of the most common topics of conversation for veggie growers other than the weather is weed control.  We have attended numerous farming events over the years and there has yet to be one such conference that does not address this topic in at least one session.  And, before someone tells me it is my fault for "being organic," let me assure you that it has so much more to do with the diverse crops we grow than the organic certification.  If you are unwilling to subscribe to a monoculture and/or you wish to grow a crop that is sensitive to most herbicides, then you have to consider other methods of weed control.  It is merely a fact of growing.  Mother Nature prefers a diverse set of plants covering the soil (at least at our farm, she does) and she isn't really on board with a farmer's plan to have 'clean rows' where one can only see the crop being grown.

Onions - mostly clean?
 One of the tools we very much appreciate is the Williams Tool Bar, which is a flex tine harrow.  We can attach some squash knives or other cultivating attachments as needed.  You can actually see some of our earlier work with onions on this blog post from 2014.   The onions you see above were approaching harvest stage a the point the picture was taken.  We had, in fact, run the flex tine on this bed twice much earlier in the season.  We got one pass in during May and somehow snuck in another one in June.  The second is amazing given how much rain we had, but it was earlier in the month before things got silly.  So, considering this bed (four rows of onions per tractor bed) had not been cultivated since early June and this photo was taken in late July, it was doing pretty well.

Uh oh.
 Despite the successful use of various tools, we still "run with scissors" every year on our farm.  The scissors I allude to is the weed pressure in our fields.  Typically, there are some fields that are much easier to control and others that we still have not unlocked the most efficient processes to handle all of the variables that get thrown at us from year to year.  For example, a drier year tends to result in cleaner fields because there is less persistence in weed germination.  The moisture delivered to the field comes from our drip tape irrigation, which severely limits the areas weeds might germinate.  A wetter than average year tends to have an opposite effect, encouraging more flushes of weed germination while making it harder to get out in the field with our cultivation tools to eradicate them.

Failure to control weeds one season can lead to weed issues in future seasons if you allow the weeds to go to seed and replenish the 'seed bank' in your fields.  All it takes is one fall with the scissors and you can be wounded with five to ten years of increased weed pressure.  We are still fighting the weed bank left behind in 2008 and 2010 when we had significant issues with wet fields combined with very few tools to deal with them.  To give you perspective, we did not own a tractor on our farm until 2010 and it didn't really help us much until 2012.

I have heard the argument that if you have problems with weeds, you are doing something very wrong.  A couple of sources suggest that you have over-extended yourself if you can't keep up.  Others make the claim that you need to make better investments in tools.  Yet others suggest that a weedy field needs to be taken out of production and put into alfalfa or something else for two to three years.  And, of course, every one of these suggestions have merit.  In short, they aren't wrong.  But, they aren't always right either.

This year, we have been losing the overall battle against the weeds.  The net result is that we're stuck with some of the more drastic weed control efforts (such as mowing things down) in an effort to prevent them from going to seed.  Sometimes that means giving up on a crop.  You could say that part of the reason for our problems is that we ARE stretching what we are able to do with the number of worker hours and tools that we have.  But, if you aren't pushing the edges a bit you aren't really trying.

The main reason we're fighting the weeds more this year than most?  We had twice the normal rainfall our area gets in June, which is our most important month for cultivation and getting ahead of the weeds for the season.  We fought hard to catch up in July when things dried out a bit (we ran about 1/2 inch below normal).  But, now we have had an August that has twice the normal rainfall for the month - and we still have a few days to go as of this writing. 

Could we have done some things different?  Yes.  Should we have?  Yes, in retrospect, we could have made some different decisions that would have given better results.  But, need I pull out that trite saying about hindsight and 20/20 vision?  Oh, I did already?  Never mind.

So, here we are, running on uneven ground with a scissors in our hand.  Or perhaps it's a butcher's knife or some other sharp object Mom would strongly recommend against our running while we are holding it.  Let's just see if we can't keep the pointy end away from us this time around.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Looking for Beauty

Tammy and I have had the good fortune to have been able to travel to some beautiful places during our lives together and we have been able to do so with a nice digital camera in tow for many of those trips.  We love to try our hands at capturing what we see with the full knowledge that some of these places make it impossible to take a truly 'bad' photograph.  And, of course, with a digital camera, you can try a WHOLE 'buncha' times and it doesn't cost you anything more than your personal effort focusing and taking the picture.

When we take pictures at the farm, we often focus on flowers because, just like some of the gorgeous places we have visited, flowers dress up real nice.  If it isn't flowers, then we are taking pictures to record what is going on at the farm.  Only occasionally do we specifically look for a shot that stands out for its 'beauty.'  And yet, if we look for it, we can find beauty in all sorts of farm pictures.

Stealing a Look at Nature at Work
Sometimes, we take a picture to document one thing and we get another.  The photo below was an effort to just record what the flowers on the Swamp Milkweed looked like on this, their first full-year at the farm. 

 We just happened to capture a honey bee flying just to the left of the flower.  Once we saw that, we took a few more photos of the bee crawling around on the flowers.  While this picture will NOT win any awards (not even from me) it respresents a beauty I look for daily during the growing months.  The beauty of pollinators going about their labors collecting food from plants and, in turn, pollinating those plants.  There is a simple beauty to nature's method of successfully matching needs so that each participant comes away the better for that meeting.

A Beautiful Crop Just Before Harvest
Good friend and fellow grower, Mark Quee, said what I was thinking one day when he mentioned how beautiful a crop can look in the days just prior to harvest. 

Typically, the plants have filled out and are at their healthiest before first harvest.  Usually, the weeds are under some level of control and the color, shape and size of the plants rarely improve much beyond that point.  This is especially true for single harvest crops like lettuce.   Once the harvest begins, you can never go back to the beauty that once was.  Even if you do not pick every head from a row, there are now open spots with a stump in its place.  Usually there are a few stray leaves that were rejected that are left next to the row, wilting in the sun.  At the very least, the gaps break the harmony that had once been a solid row of lettuce.

Looking at the Common in a New Way
It's just a handle for the sliding door on the granary.  That's all it is.  The door is losing paint.  The handle isn't particularly attractive.  But, it has a bit of frost on it in this picture (no... it is not a recent picture).

 When you work around something every day, it is very easy to ignore details.  It's even easier to miss the simple beauty of an item that you use every single day.  This handle does not represent complex technology as we might know it, but it is impressive nonetheless.  Combined with the track and rollers at the top of the door, I can open a 12 foot tall by 6 foot wide door with one hand.

Beauty in Little Things
It is one thing to see the beauty in a mountain or a canyon or the ocean.  It's another to slow down and look at a single cluster of crocus.
 Crocus have the advantage of being one of the only things trying to bloom while there is still some snow on the ground.  So, of course, humans are more likely to notice them for that.  But, they are also sometimes inclined to start bloom while being partially covered by leaf litter or other debris from the Fall.  Yet, they still put on their best clothes and give us a smile in April or May at our farm.  Every year we tell ourselves we should put LOTS more of them in the ground in the Fall.  Every Fall comes and we don't get to it.  Maybe this year?

Representational Beauty
I like to occasionally use a bigger word to impress myself with my own vocabu... vocabu...   what is that word again?
 We do not take frequent pictures of the farm's chalk door.  We just keep reusing the same ones whenever we want them for a blog or some such thing.  So, that's why this has a May 30 date on it.  The beauty here is in what all of the crossed off words represent!  To the Genuine Faux Farm, crossed off words represent progress.  And... progress can be beautiful.

The Beauty of Progress
When things get done at the farm, we can have pictures like the one below:
An early New Year's Resolution for 2019?  We're going to take more pictures just after completing farm tasks.  We tend to just go out and do a picture taking spree every so often and other pictures are meant to document for research or other projects.  But, I think Tammy and I get some benefit in seeing pictures like the one above. 

Yes, there are some flowers.  The plants look healthy.  The beds are weeded.  There is diversity.  The beauty of hard work showing progress towards the goal of tasty food.  That's a pretty good picture.

Sunday, August 26, 2018


Last October, I wrote a post called Point of View where I showed a series of pictures taken from one area of the farm.  Yes, it took a bit more of a philosophic bent than some of our posts, but I think it turned out pretty well.  So, if you want something a bit more general - go to that post.  This one focuses on the perspectives relating to one particular building on our property.

I can't believe I have never actually gone over and looked up through this cage before.  We've lived on the farm since the Summer of 2004 and I just walk on by without really looking.  Suddenly, I found myself with the camera in hand in July of this year and I said, "hmmmmm."  I say "hmmmmm" fairly often on the farm, actually.  The humming birds have threatened to sue me because I keep using their catch-phrase, but they failed to copyright it, so I think I'm still in the clear.

I believe I can be forgiven for not exploring the Harvestore any more closely than I have in the past.  First of all, we have no use for the building.  We don't have the type of livestock or land where we would produce and use silage.  Essentially, this is a big, blue 'thingy' on our farm that just sits there.  You can't ignore it, yet we do - every day.  In fact, of all of the pictures Rob took for the 2016 GFF Summer Festival Photo Treasure Hunt, the one below was the ONLY one Tammy could not find.  It's just the side of the Harvestore...

These blue, low-oxygen tower silos were a new technology in the 1970's that prevented or reduced the contact of oxygen with the silage.  Oxygen is one culprit that is responsible for the degradation of the feed quality of the silage.  However, as silage ages and breaks down, it creates other gasses (such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide).  While I am not a chemist and I will not pretend to be able to accurately depict all of that can happen with the development of dangerous gasses in these silos, I can tell you that I am very aware that there are too many farm deaths form accidents relating to silos/silage.  A fairly easy read to get an idea as to how these things can happen can be found in this article for the Hay and Forage Grower.

Prior to this point, I'd only had this vague sense that a silo is dangerous.  Not necessarily this particular silo, but, I have heard about or read about farm deaths and injuries nearly every year of my life that features either a silo or some sort of grain bin storage unit.  Since I don't have a use for it AND since I am not a person inclined to enjoy heights, there has been no reason to explore or do more than look at it and wonder if anything could/should be done with it.

On the other hand, the Harvestore clearly provides us with an interesting focal or contrasting point when we take pictures on the farm.  It is also an easy to describe landmark to provide for persons who might be coming to visit that have never been to the Genuine Faux Farm before.  We have briefly considered putting some sort of decoration on it for the Holiday Season, but... you know, time, energy, and that heights thing, right?

From a more considered angle, I tend to think of these blue Harvestore buildings as a symbol of the farm crisis in the 1980s (here is a link to an Iowa Public Television production on this topic).  This interesting article in Successful Farming hearkens back to 1985 and links to current day issues.  A Harvestore this size cost around $50,000 versus $16,000 for a stave silo and $4000 for a bunker silo in 1975.  In short, it was a big investment for a new technology that was advertised to provide lower loss levels and a better return.  Unfortunately, the loading/unloading rates were slow and there were issues where the technology failed to work as represented by salespeople, as seen in this Minnesota Supreme Court case in 1994

It's an age-old story.  Conditions were right in the 1970s for profitable farming.  Farmers were encouraged to take more risks and take on debt based on future expected performance.  The Harvestore was just one such infrastructure investment.  Once some of the conditions changed and prices (and profitability) declined, there were numerous farmers left with a debt-load that could not be supported by the new income levels.  While I do not equate our farm with the farms of the 1970s and 80s or the large row crop operations today, we can still learn from these events.  There is a fine line between being innovative/forward-thinking and reckless/irresponsible.  It is not always so clear where that line lies as we look at investments on our farm.

Perhaps the Harvestore silo isn't ignored as much on our farm as I said it was earlier in this post.  It stands on the farm and reminds us to be mindful of safety as we work.  It is all too easy to get injured if we are distracted and fail to pay attention to what we are doing.  The silo towers over other buildings and reminds us of the necessary balance between caution and innovation as we make decisions for the future as stewards of our farm.

Otherwise, we still don't have any practical use for it.  But, it can provide us with excellent photo opportunities.