Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Meanwhile, Back at the Farm...

I am upset and worried.  Maybe more accurately - I am disappointed and grieving.  And I think it would be inappropriate for me not to recognize that fact and say it out loud.  Why?  Because those few who read this blog frequently will likely sense that there is more than pictures of iris floating around in my head.  If I write without acknowledgement of the elephant in the room, then nothing will feel credible.  So, let's get to it, shall we?

Throughout my life I have found that I have little tolerance for those who have power and resources but apparently are unwilling to hold themselves to the highest standards - for they have the raw materials at their disposal to do so.  With privilege and power come responsibility.  Part of that responsibility is to lift up those for whom the playing field is not level.  In fact, it would be great if we could bring in some loads of dirt and level the grounds.  And, instead I am seeing abdication of that charge by many who should know better and should act better.  I have seen more evidence of bullying of all sorts at all levels in the past four years.

So, what can I do about it?
Well, for one, I can do a little writing. 
And for two, I can recognize things to bring balance so that perhaps I can be effective when moments come that I might be able to make even more of a difference.
Which means (number 3) I can do my best to be a good steward of the Genuine Faux Farm, while being alert to opportunities to make more of a difference elsewhere.

So, let me take you back to the farm for a few minutes.  If you are hurting too - maybe this will give you a little solace.  If you are angry, maybe you can balance it with some compassion.


 The iris on the farm just started blooming in the past couple of days.  You know it is iris season when the hot winds blow and knock a bunch of the tall stems down on the farm.  That means we go out and grab them the next day and put them in vases.  They never last long enough, in my opinion.  But, perhaps that is part of the reason why Tammy and I value them so much.

It's not just the colors and the shape - it's the fragrance that usually comes along with them.  Certainly the German Bearded Iris is an audacious flower (sorry, I am enjoying playing with my vocabu... vocabu....  my words today).  It's big, bold and probably not all that great for most pollinators on our farm.  The pollinaotrs much prefer the lilacs, silky asters, dandelions and highbush cranberry flowers right now.  But, they make us smile and think kind thoughts.  They remind us to stop and view nature - and recognize what it does for us.


The Supervisory Crew on the farm have liked the fact that we have departed the farm much less this Spring than we normally do.  What they do not appreciate is those odd days when the two of us decide we aren't getting up as quick as we usually do.  On one such day, I opened the door of the house to find the outdoor supervisors (Inspector and Soup) both on the grill.... intently watching the house.

Did I feel at least a little bit guilty?  Um.  Well.  No.  But, I suspect I should have.  Poor starving critters!

Actually, they are both pretty good about it.  The Inspector might be the most good-natured cat we have ever had on the farm.  Concerns kind of roll right off of him and after he gets to know a person he treats them just like anyone else.  As in, if he knows you, then you are someone who should give him a skritch.  We are ALL made for the purpose of giving Inspector a skritch as far as he's concerned.


We accumulated some amaryllis over the years.   Most people might recognize them as a popular bulb to force in the winter months to provide some big, beautiful blooms.  I suspect most people toss the bulbs once they are done.  We don't, and we have let them cycle to a more normal process of growing in the summer.  Sometimes, we're able to both grow them in the summer and then force them during the cold months.

The pollen all over the petals of this one might give you a hint about the wind we've been having out here.


We've been grumpy about excess rain and water on the farm, but the frogs have been pretty happy about it all.  In fact, our frog population has taken a jump in recent seasons.  Oh.. .did I say that?  Dear me, a pun in THIS blog?  Who dares to be surprised by that?

In any event, we wonder if we are seeing more frogs ON our house than prior years because the siding is a light color or if it is because it is siding they can cling to more easily?  I tried to ask this guy, but he didn't want to talk.

Today, we found a Green Tree Frog on the side of Valhalla.  I had to roll down the side and it was not in a good place for that.  So, I had Tammy come over and pick it up before I finished rolling it down.  Tammy passed the frog to me because.  Well.  It's COOL to hold a tree frog for a second or to.  They are neat little creatures.

I tried to put him back in roughly the same location we had removed him now that it was safe and this frog wanted nothing to do with it.  In fact, it settled on my hand - taking the same pose as the frog above.  We had chores to do, so I had to be a bit more insistent after a bit, even if it was still really neat to have a relaxed tree frog in my hand.  After trying one more time to get it to walk off my hand, it decided it had enough and jumped... onto my shoulder.  After that, it jumped into the ditch by the high tunnel.

Oddly enough, I was actually HAPPY after that encounter, and so was Tammy.  Neither of us is certain we should speak for the frog on this matter.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Becoming What You Were Meant To Be

A seed is the carrier of a pattern that is followed as that seed germinates, becomes a seedling and then grows into a plant.  That plant, in turn, produces seed that carry a similar pattern - perpetuating the life of that particular type of plant.

As a grower, I rely on the patterns carried by those seeds.  Because it would be those patterns I am counting on to produce the fruits and leaves that we end up eating.

Sometimes, it becomes clear that there is a flaw in the design being carried by a particular seed.  We have had instances where the seed stock was contaminated by cross-pollination.  For example, we had a tomato variety that we had relied up on for years to give us big, round yellow tomatoes.  Suddenly, they weren't available from nearly all seed companies except one.  We went with that seed company and planted some of the seed.  The plants that grew produced tiny, thin skinned yellow tomatoes that had no taste whatsoever.  Apparently, this particular variety was not being maintained in terribly many locations.  So, if one seed stock was tainted, it became likely that the entire variety could become extinct.  In fact, it seems likely that this one is gone for good.  Alas for Golden Sunray.  I hold out hope that some storage stock exists, but I never seem to find the time to hunt it down and find out.


My original point still is that there exist patterns for things that could be fulfilled or.. not fulfilled.  Or perhaps a better way of looking at it is that the patterns in life are so complex that we may not be capable of determining for ourselves what it means for a pattern to be fulfilled or not.  And, when you take into consideration the conditions in which something grows and develops, you begin to realize that there are ways that the original pattern can be altered - both for the good and the bad.


So, what were we meant to be? 

I believe that we are meant to be the people who are the helpers Fred Rogers referenced.   We are meant to be stewards of this earth and caretakers for each other.  We are meant to be compassionate and considerate.

At least that is the pattern I want to believe was intended for us.

Yet, we put a knee on the neck of another human being until they die because we wield more power than they do.
We decide that it is ok to take guns to the capitol and threaten others because we don't agree with something that is being done.
We're willing to accept a "few deaths" for workers because it is important that those businesses 'keep going' without really addressing the reasons for the spread of illness or increased risk of injury.
Apparently it is ok to break the law if you have money and the right connections, but it is not ok to be someone with little money or influence - whether you are breaking a law or not.  And heaven help you if you are in the United States and you do not happen to be a white male.
We love to jump to conclusions before the facts are revealed so we can score points with the people in 'our camp' who cheer us on - until, of course, we stumble - then everyone else can jump to conclusions and destroy us.
We mock others who are not like us, but cry foul when we are mocked - or worse yet, when we are challenged.
We'll listen to one person and dismiss what they say and accept the same words from another because they are a certain gender, race, ethnicity, religion, etc etc...  And, we'll fail to recognize that we are doing it.

We're flawed and we're not becoming who we were meant to be.

At least that is what it feels like to me right now.  But, I still hold out hope that the flames we are in might help us to see our way to the forms we should have.  And maybe we can all do something right now to alter the path of what we are becoming.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Petunias

 My grandparents house (on Mom's side) had a smallish front yard that had the typical sidewalk down the middle that met up with the sidewalk down by the street.  The yard sloped away from the house and was a bit higher than the driveway on the south side.  To hold the soil back from the pavement, there were cinder blocks.  And inside of those cinder blocks was some decent black dirt.

And growing in that black dirt, every year that I can recall, were petunias.


Usually, the petunias were in the purple/blue range of shades and they were the varieties that tended to have the larger, softer flower petals.  The kind that, if you put them up to your nose and inhaled deeply, they would flop against your nostril. 

How do I know this?  Well, it was the kind of thing that kids do with petunia flowers.  They had a very light fragrance and it was something to do.  Fair enough. Look in the manual for kids, that book has instructions for enjoying flowers.  It's in the book, page 54.


I am not entirely certain why I remember those flowers so vividly.  Nor am I certain why it is so easy to recall how fragile they seemed - all the while showing they were quite resilient, flourishing in a small bit of soil in cinder blocks that surely wicked the moisture out and magnified the heat of the sun.

I remember being asked to water them more than once.  And I didn't mind doing that, really.  Being a kid, I suspect I might have given the adults a little feedback that I didn't want to do it.  But, that was likely more out of principle than anything.  If you are a kid, you have to do that - it's also in the book - look it up.

Now, we have petunias in various pots on the farm this year.  We don't plant them every year, and I am not sure why.  They are one of the first annuals to bloom - throwing out colorful flowers that are as big or bigger than the rest of the plant.  If you take a few moments to 'deadhead' them, they really get going.

Oh yes, I remember learning about dead-heading at the grandparents too.  I bet they did not mind having the grandkids deadhead their flowers for them.  We knew it was something that needed doing, so we just sort of did it if we were hanging around outside.  After all, the grownups were having their conversations and we needed to amuse ourselves.  And, really, most kids actually don't mind being helpful, especially when there is waiting around to be done - but they have to act like they don't like it.  That, too, is in the book.

So, we have some petunias this year.  And I am finding comfort in their presence at a time when comfort is desparately needed.  Tomorrow morning, I'll go deadhead some of the plants.  Then, I am going to pick the biggest bluish/purple flower of the batch and I'm going to hold it up to my nose.

And inhale deeply.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Chestnut

We have a chestnut tree in our front yard - planted next to the spot where one of our Bur Oaks used to be.  The memory of the oak is a hollowed out stump and a break in the canopy the other oaks still respect - as if the old tree were still around to use that patch of the sky as its personal solar collection area.

Naming things is often important for me.  Or, more accurately, having the correct name for a thing is important to me.  I have gotten less hung up on this over time because the farm simply gives me other things I need to worry about.  But, it still bothers me that I did not properly record this tree type when we planted it.  Perhaps it is because we have enough experience on the farm with trees, bushes and plants that just didn't make it.

If you name it - it's harder to watch it die.  Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of healthy trees, bushes and plants on the farm.  But, we have had enough issues that it kind of wore down the desire to be as attached to naming.

We both seem to recall that we purchased the tree a couple of years ago when we became aware that there had been a breeding and genetic engineering effort to bring back the American Chestnut tree.  And it appears that there may be an attempt to re-forest some areas with this new strain of the American Chestnut.

I admit that I have mixed feelings about this.  But, this is also not a surprise to anyone that knows me.  I appear to have mixed feelings about most everything.

A big part of me would love to see these trees returned to the North American landscape.  I would also love to see American Elms returned to the parkways of our Midwestern towns.  I am saddened by the current losses of ash trees in the United States as well and wish they weren't also leaving us with a bit less shade to rest under.

On the other hand, I am sad, angry and disappointed that, in each of these cases, humans precipitated these losses.  Dutch Elm Disease was brought in from France with infected logs purchased by a furniture company.  The chestnuts were lost to a blight that was imported by people who wanted to plant Asian chestnut trees.  And, the Emerald Ash Borer probably came across the ocean in wood shipping crates.  In other words, humans are often unkind to nature.

Now, we have groups who are working hard to bring the chestnut and the elm.  I want to applaud because I miss the elms that I remember.  I want to applaud because I would love to have experience the beauty of a chestnut forest.

And I wonder if we actually know what the heck we're doing.
And I wonder what all of the unintended consequences are going to be.

Crazy Maurice (our Weeping Willow) was just telling me yesterday that I think too much.  But, I don't think he really means it quite that way.  Because I often wonder if a big part of our problem is that we don't think enough.

You see, trees have a good deal of time to think, in a very deliberate and thorough way.  While Maurice is likely considered to be 'positively hasty' by many other trees, I suspect he might be reminding me that I flit around the issues quite a bit.

I guess I'll have to think on that for a while.

Friday, May 29, 2020

And the Skies Opened Up

Well folks, it had apparently been too long since our farm has been a giant puddle.  Thursday mornings rain took care of our 'dry' conditions quite well, thank you very much.  (warning - there just MIGHT be some sarcasm in that last statement)

Actually, we already had some decent puddles on the farm, but nothing awful or unusual.  But, when you get over 3.5 inches of rain over the course of half a day AFTER there were puddles, you tend to start thinking about stocking ponds instead of raising vegetables.

Ah, lake front property!
Our neighbor's field to the West was pretty much under water.  But, his tiling system will likely drain it out before the field corn sees any damage.  But, it does make for a dramatic picture.

Raised beds in Eden save the crop, but...
 Once again, Eden had water seeping in via the water table, but our raised beds appear to done their job.  Unfortunately, it did mean that Rob had to stand in mud to harvest today's spinach.  Let's just say it adds to the level of difficulty and leave it at that.

The swale south of Valhalla almost did its job.
 The swales got their first real test.  Unfortunately, we do not have plants established in the swales, so there will be some erosion we'll have to put back to rights.  In other years, this entire field would be UNDER water.  Now the area at left is mostly out of the water.  We'll call this a partial success.

Is that wheelbarrow well over half-full?  Yep.
 The total rainfall for the past couple days is closer to five + inches - nicely accumulated in the wheelbarrow above.

We still need to figure this out.
 This is the area East of the field with the swale we showed above.  We're ok if this is where the water wants to go as long as we don't create a stagnant semi-permanent pond here.  I think we could potentially hollow this out a bit more so it doesn't spread back into the field or the high tunnel.  We shall see.

Same field, other direction.
Why did I take all of these pictures?  Well, if I am trying to build waterways to direct water, I need photo reminders so I can make adjustments (or get help making adjustments).  What?  Did you think I was enjoying taking these?

The moat by Valhalla
 Our ditches on either side of Valhalla continue to do their job.  Ideally, I'd like to give them a gentler slope someday.  But, we don't have time to mess with something that appears to be working.

So, how are the East fields?  I asked... knowingly.
 The East fields definitely were going to have problems.  Part of the issue is that we took out the old paths so we could work on putting in swales and change the orientation of the fields.  It's a project that is in-progress.  All that means is that the water could wreak more havoc.  Alas.  But, the lone swale did its best to do its job.

Aw, poor birds.
The real issue that Tammy and I were on the way to dealing with was the flooding that was effecting our broiler flocks on pasture.  We have two such flocks - and one had four inches of water in it.   Tammy and I had a significant amount of fun (note.. .sarcasm meter is going crazy again).  We tried moving the building, but gave that up for a bad job.  Instead, we brought out pallets and straw - making a bedding area.  Then we picked up each of the birds and put them on that until the water receded.  We know we lost eight birds to hypothermia and will likely lose three or four more. 

I had made a joke earlier in the week about both of us getting our first official 'soaking' of Spring when we dashed out to close high tunnels and close up birds as a storm approached.  It did not take us long to go from "gee, it's been a while since that happened" to "Oh no!  Not again!"

Ah well!  It wouldn't be our farm if we weren't all wet now would it? 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Available from GFF May 28

We will be putting our available items up on the web the day of a delivery each week on the blog in addition to our email newsletter list.  The email list goes out the day prior to the blog posting, so if you wish to get in on the earlier version (and avoid having things sell out) then contact us at our email address.


Available This Week:
  • eggs - $3.50/dozen (limit 2 doz per family)
  • rhubarb - $2.50/lb
  • asparagus - $5.00/lb (from our farm and Jeff Sage will supplement if needed)   
  • spinach - $4/bag

The asparagus and rhubarb are from our own farm and supplemented by Jeff Sage's gardens.  We have been faithfully keeping the spinach watered and it is looking very good for tomorrow's harvest.

Pick Up Locations Today
  1. 5:00-5:15PM  Cedar Falls - Jorgensen Plaza West parking area
  2. 5:30-5:45PM  Cedar Falls - Hansen's Outlet - back parking area
Drive by delivery.  Drive up/park, open your trunk or tailgate, stand aside and we'll put your order in your vehicle.  Do not approach us, even though we would love to see you. 
If you are biking/walking, we will place your order where you can get it after we step back.

We will NOT take payment at delivery, please see below for how payments will work.

Thank you so much for tolerating this process to help keep everyone safe and healthy.  We will modify the process as the season progresses and available product dictates the need to do so.

How Do I Order?
For the time being, we are taking orders via email.  We are asking those who wish to place orders to participate in our Pre-Paid Farm Credit Program.  The program is simple and easy to join.  You get better prices and you will help us to limit transactions (and remove the process of passing money back and forth during deliveries).

How Can I Participate?
2020 Pre-Paid Farm Credit Program
We will run the system in $50 increments.  In other words, you can purchase a minimum of $50 of farm credit at a time.  We will cap the maximum amount of credit at $200 and you can refill your farm credits at any point.

Like the CSA program, this gives you the advantage of not having to pull out money at each delivery.  Instead, we will have a ledger with tracking for your current credit balance. Farm credits can be used for ANY farm product the Genuine Faux Farm offers.  If you buy farm credits, you can apply them to purchasing meat chickens, vegetables, eggs or any other thing we offer this year.

If you want to send us a check via mail - email us for our farm address. Want to use Paypal? You may send cash to gff@genuinefauxfarm.com We are accepting purchases of credits now and throughout the season.

Upcoming Schedule
  • (Thus) May 28 - Cedar Falls, Jorgensen Plaza and Hansen's Outlet
  • (Wed) June 3 - Waverly, St Andrew's Church & Yogi Life
  • (Thus) June 14 - Cedar Falls, Jorgensen Plaza and Hansen's Outlet
  • (Wed) June 20 - Waverly, St Andrew's Church & Yogi Life

Tammy and Rob's Weekly Challenge
Kids (and people who still identify as kids) send us a letter (the mailing address is further down in the email) and ask us a question about the farm.  The farmers will answer, but they'll also see if one of the farm animals can help with that answer.  We actually have one letter already! YAY!
Maude is ready for a letter to the farm.

Crop and Poultry Report
We received about 1.5" of rain in the latest events.  Happily, we didn't get a downpour and this was a good amount for us to be getting.  We got the first succession of summer squash and zucchini in the ground and we planted some of our first green bean seeds of the season.  We are adding a second bee hive today on the farm.  The first is looking pretty good - it managed to make it through the Winter (first time ever for us!).  The broiler chicks go out to pasture today and the hens get moved to a new pasture later in the week.  After we clean out the hen room, the henlets will move into that room and have plenty of room in there to explore and make the place their own before we let them into the pasture.  In the interim we will be doing some reseeding in that pasture to make it more attractive for them.

Feel free to share information with others 
Since we are not doing a CSA this year, there isn't really a cap to the number of people who can join our program.  We certainly have the capacity to deliver more produce and poultry than will likely be taken over the course of the year with the current group of people on our list.  Feel free to send people our way to join our farm share program.  And, if you still receive these emails and wonder if you missed the deadline - there IS NO DEADLINE.  Join us when you are ready or when the things you really want are in season.

Starter Plants We will have some starter plants available to those that want them. Once again, we won't know for sure how many or what types until we put a bunch into the ground over the next ten to fourteen days. Please watch our announcements to see when we have them available for you. You WILL be able to use farm credits for these plants, just as with anything else we offer.

Be well!
Rob and Tammy

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Just a Little Rain


After the past few years, I think I can be forgiven if I still cringe a bit when I see a forecast with potential rain for a period of a week or more.  I recognize that a forecast that shows rain each day does NOT mean it will rain every moment, nor does it mean we will get much rain.  In fact, as Monday showed, there were long stretches of time where the sun graced us with its light and warmth and the clouds in the sky passed us with no intention of dampening our spirits (or the rest of us).  Tuesday, was a bit more of a roller-coaster.  How many times can a farmer get soaked to the skin as he runs to shut down high tunnels?



Monday's rain waited.. mostly.. for us to complete our evening chores.  It is more accurate to say that we packed most things up for the day, had some dinner, packed more things up for the day - and then it rained a little.  After that, we had to dodge some raindrops to close up the birds for the night.

The best thing about closing the birds up for the night when it rains in the early evening hours?  Well, after a full day outdoors, most of them had already gone in a bit earlier than normal just to get out of that rain.  That meant we did not have to wait until after 9 PM for them to meander their way into their respective shelters.  If it had been raining all day, they would not have been so cooperative.  If this doesn't make sense to you, that is ok - you are not a chicken.

I suppose there could be some chickens covertly reading the Genuine Faux Farm blog.  Since I cannot be entirely sure about this, you all know now why we call it "the Park."

This morning, we got up and found the puddles full and water droplets on the flowers.  Early morning featured some sunshine as well (something we haven't had much of lately).   So, I grabbed the camera and tried to capture a couple of photos.  I am often fascinated by water droplets on plant leaves or flower petals.  But, it is also May, so I don't usually allow myself a lot of time to be 'fascinated.'  Is there such a thing as a 'passing fascination?'


The amazing design of a hosta leaf is worthy of some of that passing fascination.  The leaves have a slightly waxy feel that encourages water droplets to form and then get funneled toward the stem.  From there, the droplets fall to the ground nearest to the roots of the plant.  These leaves serve so many purposes.  They collect the sun so it can be converted for energy, leaves protect the stem and roots with cover and they shade the ground, reducing competition.

For all of the things humans have done, or try to do, it is pretty difficult to top the design and function of the natural world.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Momentum


Memorial Day weekend has traditionally heralded the start of heavy planting season at the Genuine Faux Farm.  At least, that is true assuming the weather allows us to do any work.  Thus far, we have not been completely soaked this Spring, so we have managed to get some things done.  There are other things we wanted to get done, but can't because it IS too wet.  But, it is what we deal with semi-regularly around here.  Pretty much it goes from too early/cold to too wet and we just keep getting more anxious to put things in.  It is just the cycle we live on the farm.

The past several days, going into the end of last week have seen a number of changes.  The nuggets (the broiler chickens) have been moved from the brooder and on to the pasture areas.  The two buildings you see in the photo above provide shelter for these birds.  They were moved from this location to the pasture area a little over a week ago to prepare for the move.  Each of the buildings is surrounded by electric netting.  We open the doors every morning to let the birds out and we heard them back in and close the doors to protect them at night.  We move these buildings every other day to keep the pasture healthy and to give the birds fresh areas to sleep.

Needless to say, we'd love to show you some pictures of that process, but we are usually too busy actually DOING the move to take pictures.  In fact, that will be the case for most of what we talk about in today's blog post.

We managed to put 50-60 tomatoes into Eden (one of the high tunnels), got a couple hundred lettuce plants put in and managed to put in 750 to 800 row feet of potatoes.  That is good news, because that means we are done planting taters, precious!  All of the house plants finally made it to their Summer outdoor locations and we've potted a bunch of flowers to make our world a little prettier.  The mower saw a good bit of action and we harvested asparagus.  All in all, we got a fair amount done.

Things we wish we had completed include putting in the 300 asparagus crowns that just arrived at the farm.  Sadly, it is just going to have to wait until things dry out a little.  The onions still need to go in, but they just have to wait as well.  We'll get there, it just takes us a bit more time now that the farmer has another job and we have no farm crew.

Here's hoping for a good week or two of weather so we can get things in the ground!

Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day


Memorial Day had its beginnings as 'Decoration Day' in 1868, and it was typically celebrated by placing flowers, flags and wreaths on the graves of those who had given their lives during the American Civil War.  New York was the first state to create a permanent holiday to commemorate those who had died in 1870.  While other states and cities followed suit, it was not until after World War I that observation of this holiday became more widespread.

I recognize the purpose of the holiday is to honor the men and women who have given their lives in service to the country.  But, I would also like to propose that we have much more capacity for honor and respect than it takes to repeat a platitude or two about those who served... or to place a pre-arranged bouquet of flowers on a grave. 

If we truly wish to honor and respect those who gave their lives for our country, then perhaps we would do well to concentrate on being good stewards of this world rather than just consumers of all that we see.  It would be good to remember that with freedom comes the responsibility to care for and be gracious to others, regardless of whether they come from your family, clan, tribe, clique (pick a word here that references the people you are most comfortable with).

The ultimate goal here is to stop adding names to the list of those who have given their lives in conflict.  That would truly make the sacrifice of those we commemorate now something we could really celebrate.


Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sweet Marsh Wildlife Area

Tammy and I have been trying to go semi-regularly to the Sweet Marsh State Wildlife Management Area, which happens to be not all that far from our farm.  Typically, we go to sit and just watch birds, fish, turtles, muskrats, dragonflies and the rippling water.  We realize we could walk around the dikes or various paths.  But, we typically get plenty of walking on the farm, so just taking a seat is the more relaxing option.  Sweet Marsh is a place where we can go and just observe nature as it goes by us - at least for a little while.


Many people go to the marsh to dip a line in the water and others might hike - and that's just fine with us.  We also know some folks go there and capture some amazing pictures of the wildlife (especially the birds).  Kip Ladage is an outstanding photographer and we enjoy checking in on his almost daily notes and photos - often featuring Sweet Marsh wildlife.  Here are his notes from a day in mid-May.  I encourage you to visit his posts and photos further.


I am painfully aware that I am not a photographer in the artistic sense of the word.  I have a camera that works well enough and I enjoy trying to frame pictures to capture things I see.  Oddly - I haven't brought the camera to Sweet Marsh - until yesterday.  I was not sure I would actually take it out, but I was really liking the dark, slate gray color the water was showing me.  The high, overcast skies did not help much, but when some darker clouds came in, I decided to give it a go.


I liked the first two pictures in this blog, but the others were a little less satisfactory.  But, one trip with a brief point and shoot session is enough to encourage me to try it again another time - perhaps even giving myself permission to spend a bit more time on it.  As it is, this still gives me a chance to share with others one of the things we do to calm ourselves and gain some perspective in our lives.




We have enjoyed the opportunity to see some birds that neither of us have observed before.  Please note that I say 'observed' versus 'seen.'  It is entirely possible we have seen many of these birds in the past, but we have not really observed them.  To me, observation implies that we really took a moment to recognize and appreciate their presence.  Over the past few weeks we have identified Common Yellowthroats, Yellow Warblers, Trumpeter Swans, Sandhill Cranes, Scarlet Tanagers, Wood Thrush, Forster's Terns, Baltimore Orioles and much more along with Cardinals, Robins, Blue Jays, Red-winged Blackbirds, Canada Geese, American Coots, Great Blue Herons, Bald Eagles, etc.  There have been numerous other birds we have not identified or I have forgotten for this list.  Spring-time at the marsh is amazing because the bird populations can change from day to day.  It seemed like one day we were enjoying Wood Ducks and Northern Shovelers and the next they were replaced by a host of other migratory birds.

If I can't remember all of the birds we have seen - it's ok.  If I see them again in the future, it will be just like I am observing them for the first time.  I'm fine with that, as long as I can continue to have the opportunity to appreciate the diverse wildlife our world has to offer.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

If You Look At It That Way


The interesting thing about a photograph is the fact that you can frame a picture in such a way that it might suggest a completely different set of surroundings than actually exist if you were there in person.  The picture above is from a location and angle that I rarely frequent in the front yard of our farm.  The house is to the left, the road to the right and our driveway is straight ahead.... but you can't really see any of these things.

You might notice a flair box in the background and maybe part of the barn in the back left.  Otherwise, this looks like a much wider expanse than it actually is.  I also recognize that the farm is more familiar to me than it is to most everyone else - so it means something if I look at a picture of the farm and feel like I am seeing something in a new way.

I have exercised these muscles before - and even recorded some of it on the blog.  For example, we have a post from 2018 that took a look at our Harvestore from different angles and explored the farm crisis at the same time.  A 2017 post had me taking pictures from one location, but in different directions.


One of the most sure-fire ways I know of to get a new look at something is to look at it real close.  The picture above is from part of our 3 point blade for the tractor.  I was interested in the texture I found there and took a quick picture.  Artistic?  Meh.  But, it recorded something I found interesting at the moment.


Sometimes, there doesn't need to be any help.  This section of one of our oak trees illustrates a scar it received several years ago from a lightning strike.  The texture and the color variation makes me happy.  So, I thought I would share it.

Have a good weekend!

Friday, May 22, 2020

The Purpose of a Test

I may not be an active Software Engineer, but I still have the heart of one.  And, as such, there are a couple of directives that I personally find very compelling:

1. Test often.
2. A successful test is one that finds a problem.

As an instructor, I tried to hammer this philosophy home, with varying degrees of success.  The first issue is that everyone has a tendency to grow tired of something you have to do all of the time....  (Oh, geeez, I've got to go give water to the birds AGAIN!)  Many programmers and software designers are much more attracted to the building of new things.  It is not nearly so glamorous to expend great amounts of time and effort in devising and then employing test after test to see if that creation is working correctly. 

Hey!  I want water - NOW!

Then, I had the gall to tell everyone that it isn't necessarily a good thing if the tests you design fail to uncover any problems!  If you have ever written code to create a computer program or an app (or whatever), you know exactly how difficult it is to get a program to run in the first place.  The suggestion that successful tests cause a program to break is usually not received well!  How terribly rude of me.

Why Testing for Failure is a Good Thing
In the world of software development, it is my belief that the last person you want to discover a problem with the code is the client who is trying to use the software to do their task.  They are the least likely person to be able to fix the problem once it arises and they are most likely to move on to a competitor's product, if they can, as the solution. 

What's worse?  What if they can't move on to another product (or they don't see the problem in the first place)?  What sort of harm might this cause?  This is a bit easier to measure if we are talking about programs for air traffic controllers or automated tools that deliver doses of radiation to cancer patients.  But, don't discount the ripple effects that come from things not working as they were intended because they were not tested for failure!  Case in point, an email program that reports that emails were sent correctly to customers - but were instead deleted.  Now the customers begin to wonder if the business really cares about their customer base.  The business owner wonders if there really is any demand for the product.  The ever fragile trust between the two is tested.  How do we measure that potential damage?

To the dismay of my students, I often employed this strategy with the exams I gave them to assess their learning.  It would be fair to say that most of my tests were considered to be difficult (at the least).  What was I doing?  Yes, I wanted them to have success.  But, my viewpoint was that they would see more success if we could identify some of what they still did not understand.  Granted, this approach was hard on all of us.  I didn't like that the scores made them unhappy and I really didn't want it to be about that.  But, there was no avoiding the fact that there was value in the exercise.  In the end, it wasn't an issue that solid communication couldn't solve.


The green carts in front could have used some testing.

Real Life Testing Needs
Here is a case for testing that applies to the farm.  The two green carts at the front in the picture above are likely familiar to anyone who farms at our scale or to people who have gone to any number of nurseries to buy plants for a garden.  The green payload area is actually pretty sturdy.  The design of the overall cart is pretty good.  In fact, I bet the prototypes tested out (if they tested them at all) pretty well.  But, they clearly stopped testing once these things went into mass production.

What is wrong with these carts you ask?  After all, these two have been with us for nearly 15 years.  They must be successful, right?

First, you should note the other carts in the picture.  The smaller cart is a left-over from our pre-farm days, so it doesn't really count in the discussion.  But, the black cart is something we have purchased in the time SINCE.  So, why did we move on?

The nice 'pneumatic' wheels they highly touted for these carts have a tendency to break on the single weld at the axle.  Of the three carts of this type we have, there are NO original wheels remaining.  We've had to replace them all.  Some of them were replaced more than once until we could find a better manufacturer for replacement wheels.  To top it off, we know we are not the only clients who have dealt with this flaw.

The Gingko may have failed the late freeze test this year.
No Test Means No Problem?
Mother Nature is always testing for failure, creating stresses that remove the weak and favor the strong.  Gingko trees do not tend to take well to late frosts and freezes.  If the tree is strong and healthy, it can pull on reserves to send out new leaves.  We're not sure our Gingko will do that because it has been under stress during recent wet years.  We shall see.

Humans, on the other hand, seem to prefer to have their testing done in real time - rather than employing some patience and a bit of their smarts to run tests BEFORE the consequences are dire.  Even sadder is our tendency to ignore test results that point to a problem without addressing them OR at the least, determining that the likelihood of that problem occurring is very, very low.  I have a hard time understanding the apparent preference for surprises that we could have prepared for - yet we all seem to do it at some level.

In the end, I think the true Software Engineers in this world have it right:

1. Test often.
2. A successful test is one that finds a problem.
And, now, I will go test my limits for giving water to the poultry.  Have a good day everyone!

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Another Farm Walkabout

We took another walkabout with the camera in tow on Tuesday.. or was it Wednesday?  Does it really matter?  We took another walkabout with the camera.  That's good enough!

Things seem to change so much as Spring progresses that it seems as though we almost need to take the camera on these tours daily.  Since that is unlikely to happen, we'll just share when we manage it.

Public Service Announcement
Are you a registered voter in Iowa?  If you are, you should have received something that looks like THIS in the mail.

 Fill out the form in this mailing and mail it back to your county auditor so it is received in Friday's mail delivery.  This will put you on the list to receive a mail-in ballot for June 2nd's Iowa primary.  We have an opportunity to have a say in who runs for federal Senate and House seats as well as Iowa Senate and House seats.  If you didn't receive one of these or you have lost it, you can go here to request a mail in ballot

And Now, For Baby Oak Leaves!
Aren't they cute?!?
The oaks on the farm are taking their own sweet time with their leaves this year.  We are VERY ok with this because we may be past most of the atrazine spraying in our neighborhood for corn... because most of the corn is done.  Why does this matter?  Well, we seem to have trouble with Oak Tatters on our trees in years when the pre-emergent herbicide spraying happens concurrently with the point the leaves on these trees unfurl.  Here's to a hopefully good year for the oak trees!

Take a Deep Breath (but not too deep, you might snort a bee!)


Actually, I don't usually notice a whole lot of honeybee activity in lilacs.  On the other hand, there are often some smaller bees and other interesting insects in our lilac bushes.  I've also noticed that there is a snake that enjoys the lilacs by the southwest corner of our farm.  If you don't like snakes and you come visit the farm, I'll check before you go down there.  But, trust me, this snake isn't particularly fond of humans either and it prefers to be well hidden when we go near.


What are these bushes?  Well, the tag (which I am amazed I just found on my desk from years ago) says it is a Pearlbush.  It is pretty.  So, we just call it a "pretty bush."  Good enough for us.

Speaking of Bees (we were?)
We added a second hive of honey bees to the farm yesterday.  They moved in next door to the hive that over-wintered successfully with us.  Tammy and I both welcomed them to the farm and expressed our feeling that there were PLENTY of things for both hives to visit on the farm.  I tried to take a representative with me to the apple trees, but it didn't stay with me the whole way.

So, I just let it be.

Middle Earth is Planted
Not that you can really tell - but the plot we call "Middle Earth" is now fully planted.  Beans, potatoes and flowers.  Since the beans and potatoes are seeds that have yet to show their faces to the sun, we'll just point out the lovely fence that is intended to keep Mr. Chucky McChuckster Woodchuck out and the line of flower seedlings. 

Have a great Thursday everyone!  If.. in fact... that is what today is.  If it isn't, don't bother telling me because it won't actually make a difference.  I still intend on having a good day.  Doesn't matter what you call it!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Available from GFF May 20

We will be putting our available items up on the web the day of a delivery each week on the blog in addition to our email newsletter list.  The email list goes out the day prior to the blog posting, so if you wish to get in on the earlier version (and avoid having things sell out) then contact us at our email address.


 
Available This Week:
  • Eggs - $3.50/dozen (sold out)
  • Carrots - $2.50/pound (sold out)
  • Asparagus - $5.00/pound 
  • Spinach - $4.00/bag

The asparagus is from two sources.  Our own farm and Jeff Sage's gardens.  The rains and warmer weather have really kicked our patches into gear!  Even so, we were close to selling out as 9pm on Tuesday.  The spinach in Eden is peaking right now and loving this weather.  Sadly, temperatures in the 80s usually means the end of the spinach, so enjoy it now while we have it!

Pick Up Locations Today

  1. 5:00-5:15PM  Waverly - St Andrew's Church parking lot
  2. 5:30-5:45PM  Waverly - Yogi Life Studio parking lot
Drive by delivery.  Drive up/park, open your trunk or tailgate, stand aside and we'll put your order in your vehicle.  Do not approach us, even though we would love to see you. 
If you are biking/walking, we will place your order where you can get it after we step back.

We will NOT take payment at delivery, please see below for how payments will work.

Thank you so much for tolerating this process to help keep everyone safe and healthy.  We will modify the process as the season progresses and available product dictates the need to do so.

How Do I Order?
For the time being, we are taking orders via email.  We are asking those who wish to place orders to participate in our Pre-Paid Farm Credit Program.  The program is simple and easy to join.  You get better prices and you will help us to limit transactions (and remove the process of passing money back and forth during deliveries).
 

How Can I Participate?
2020 Pre-Paid Farm Credit Program
We will run the system in $50 increments.  In other words, you can purchase a minimum of $50 of farm credit at a time.  We will cap the maximum amount of credit at $200 and you can refill your farm credits at any point.
Like the CSA program, this gives you the advantage of not having to pull out money at each delivery.  Instead, we will have a ledger with tracking for your current credit balance. Farm credits can be used for ANY farm product the Genuine Faux Farm offers.  If you buy farm credits, you can apply them to purchasing meat chickens, vegetables, eggs or any other thing we offer this year.
If you want to send us a check via mail - email us for our farm address.
Want to use Paypal?
You may send cash to gff@genuinefauxfarm.com
We are accepting purchases of credits now and throughout the season.
Upcoming Schedule
  • Wed) May 20 - Waverly, St Andrew's Church & Yogi Life
  • (Thus) May 28 - Cedar Falls, Jorgensen Plaza and Hansen's Outlet
  • (Wed) June 3 - Waverly, St Andrew's Church & Yogi Life
  • (Thus) June 14 - Cedar Falls, Jorgensen Plaza and Hansen's Outlet
Tammy and Rob's Weekly Challenge
Inspector, the cat, loves to converse with us and he wants MORE questions than those he got last week.  We challenge all of you to come up with questions for Inspector!  We'll ask him and post his answers on the blog next week. 
 
Crop and Poultry Report
We received about 1.5" of rain in the latest events.  Happily, we didn't get a downpour and this was a good amount for us to be getting.  We got the first succession of summer squash and zucchini in the ground and we planted some of our first green bean seeds of the season.  We are adding a second bee hive today on the farm.  The first is looking pretty good - it managed to make it through the Winter (first time ever for us!).  The broiler chicks go out to pasture today and the hens get moved to a new pasture later in the week.  After we clean out the hen room, the henlets will move into that room and have plenty of room in there to explore and make the place their own before we let them into the pasture.  In the interim we will be doing some reseeding in that pasture to make it more attractive for them.
Iowa's Re-Opening and GFFWe had a couple of people ask how or if we will change anything with the announcement that restrictions were being relaxed in Iowa.  The short answer is "no."

The longer answer?  Natural processes, such as the spread of a virus, do not read calendars and do not heed government mandate.  Until we believe that there are proven therapies to address this threat, we will continue to use our cautious approach.  It is important to us that we do things to help keep you safe and healthy in whatever ways we are able. 

Thank you for continuing to support us in this matter by following delivery instructions.  We do appreciate it.
Do You Need Help?
Perhaps we can help in some small way.  If you are stuck at home and you need something we can pick up for you as a part of our delivery process, let us know.  We could swing by Meyer Pharmacy or Fareway in Waverly if you need it.  We can pick up some milk and cheese at Hansen's.  It's a small thing we might be able to do to help.  
 
Remember to Vote in the Iowa Primaries
The Iowa Secretary of State maintains a list of those who have filed to be eligible to run for Federal and State of Iowa offices in the upcoming primary.  All of our federal offices (both the Senate and the House) are being sought by multiple persons and several of our state seats also have competition within the respective political parties.

Ask our candidates how they will support the next generation of farmers in the state of Iowa and tell them why this is an important issue.  New farmers struggle to enter the business due to limited capital, land access and infrastructure.  As our current population of farmers continues to age, they are being replaced by large agribusiness concerns - often owned by entities outside of the state and country.  Our current systems and regulations favor these large conglomerates, promoting monocropping and the extensive use of pesticides while failing to protect new farmers who typically must enter the business with a diverse set of specialty crops on smaller parcels of land.  Iowa’s agricultural future is at stake and we need public servants who will support the transition to a new crop of farms and farmers.

All requests to receive an absentee ballot must be received by your county auditor by May 22 (this Friday).  If you did not receive a request form in the mail, you can download one from the Secretary of State’s website.  This same location provides a lookup so you can find contact information for each of Iowa’s county auditors.
Feel free to share information with others
Since we are not doing a CSA this year, there isn't really a cap to the number of people who can join our program.  We certainly have the capacity to deliver more produce and poultry than will likely be taken over the course of the year with the current group of people on our list.  Feel free to send people our way to join our farm share program.  And, if you still receive these emails and wonder if you missed the deadline - there IS NO DEADLINE.  Join us when you are ready or when the things you really want are in season.

Starter Plants
We will have some starter plants available to those that want them.  Once again, we won't know for sure how many or what types until we put a bunch into the ground over the next ten to fourteen days. Please watch our announcements to see when we have them available for you.  You WILL be able to use farm credits for these plants, just as with anything else we offer.
Be well!
   Rob and Tammy

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Miss Tree Ted

As I was taking my 'farm tour' a couple of days ago and taking photos of the things that I saw, I mused that our record with trees on the farm is not necessarily a good one.  Ok, it isn't necessarily a bad one either since there are plenty of success stories.  But, the reality is that our farm offers some challenges, including the high water table and semi-frequent strong wind gusts that have little else to stop them as the blow on through the farm.

Count'em - the good and the bad.
There are seven trees in the photo above that we have planted since we arrived at the farm.  There are three that were here form the beginning.  Of them, two were intentional and we're pretty sure the cedar at left of the photo was not.  We have had a reasonable amount of success in this area because it is one of the 'higher' spots on the farm.  There were, at one time, three crab apple trees (put in a couple of years ago).  One failed to make it through the first winter, so we replaced it (the smaller one at left).  A third didn't get caged before a combination of deer and rabbit took it out.  We told you about the poor Gingko tree in our Mid May farm tour.  

On the other hand, the spruces and the white pine look pretty good, though the pine is growing slower than we might normally expect. 
Sadly, the two large ash trees are most certainly on their way out.  We don't see much reason to take them down a they provide some good woodpecker habitat and they are still leafing out some.  They aren't next to any structures, so we're inclined to leave them as habitat and clean up as they come down in their own time.


The front of the house has had oak trees in front of it for quite some time.  We love Burr Oaks.  And, you know what they say?  If it ain't Burr Oak, don't fix it!  Um.  Ok, they don't say that.

Oaks are slow growers and long-lived, typically.  One of the group did succumb to a lightning strike several years ago and another has some very large dead branches.  Otherwise, they seem fairly healthy... except.  We have noticed a problem called "Oak Tatters" for the past few years.  The causes for this problem are not firmly established, however there is a strong possibility that certain kinds of herbicides could be a cause.  If you wish to hear from people I respect on this topic, Charity Nebbe hosts Bob Hartzler, Mark Vitosh and Jesse Randall on Talk of Iowa.  And, this Iowa State Extension article also discusses possibilities.

From an anecdotal perspective, years we have noted this problem on our trees have corresponded with our observing an herbicide spray event within a couple of miles on the farm when winds were in excess of 15 miles per hour.  Most of the damage has been on the side of the trees facing the observed spray.  Beyond that, we have no proof.  This year, for example, we DID have unseasonably cool conditions at the point the young buds were swelling.  But, like so many things in this world, there is likely not ONE cause, there is an aggregate of things that causes the situation.  If enough of these things are present - you get Oak Tatters.


Peach trees and the uphill battle they face in Zone 4 climates aren't unknown to anyone who has tried them.  Our poor peach trees have also had to deal with extremely wet soil AND wind that has pushed them in that wet soil.  Believe it or not, the tree above does have some leaves and blooms up at the top.  We have gotten some peaches over the years off of this fine tree.  But, I am afraid its time with us is nearly done.  That certainly won't stop us from trying again.


We have several apple trees and had two in the South pasture that have gotten to a very nice size and have been very productive.  Unfortunately, one of them got hit by wind gusts from a couple of directions in a short period of time and it simply was wrestled to the ground.  We haven't had the heart to clean it all up because it has come back each of the past two Springs.  We are almost afraid to spend time staking and pruning it for fear that the extra attention might kill it.  Sometimes you just praise the tree and let it be.


When we first arrived on the farm there was a huge Cottonwood on the northwest corner of the farm.  Not soon after our arrival, half of the tree came down in a windstorm (see a theme here?).  The other half lasted a couple more years until it, too, came down.  But, it didn't come down before it had a couple of children take root.  One is in the swampy area by the barn.  We've just let it grow and it appears to be quite happy.  In fact, it likes to talk to us when there is a nice breeze as we work in the field.


The apple trees in the north pasture have had a better time of it than those we planted in the south pasture area.  That doesn't mean they haven't had their share of adversity, but they keep on plugging on.  We've been able to feed ourselves from our own apple trees pretty well for several years now - even getting enough to give to our CSA members (and occasionally selling extra).  We still patronize a couple of our local orchards, such as Blue Ridge Orchard in Denver and Apples on the Avenue near Nashua.


At some point, we'll let Crazy Maurice, the Weeping Willow, introduce you to his friends in the northwest portion of the farm.  Until then, have a fine remainder of your day!