Saturday, February 8, 2020

Water Obsessed

It was morning and there was only a light breeze.  A heavy dew coated the leaves of the plants and our feet were damp after having waded through some of the longer grasses to get here.  Rays of sunshine shot through the gaps in the canopy provided by the trees.  One of those beams of light directed our attention to a droplet as it swelled slowly to a size that would finally cause it to give up its tenuous hold on the underside of a leaf.


Until we started farming, I suspect we did not fully appreciate how necessary and how pervasive water is in a typical horticultural system.  Even now, I can be surprised by how much of our day revolves around water.

Most who read this blog can identify some of the basic uses of water on our farm.  We need to provide water to all of the animals - typically on a daily basis, but sometimes more often.  Our plants need water as well, once or twice a day when they are in pots or trays, but less often if they are in the ground.    Perhaps some of you will remember that we use water to clean much of the produce we provide to our customers.  Anything beyond that might take a little more effort to identify.

The containers we use to carry and store produce and meat need to be cleaned regularly.  Our truck that carries all of this food needs to be cleaned.  Our clothing and the towels we use in the cleaning and delivery process need to be washed.  And, oh yes, the eggs need to be cleaned before we package them and sell them in neat dozens.  We're not large scale producers, but we still ended up washing over 20,000 eggs a year.  With all of that cleaning, we also find that we must spend time managing how the 'dirty' water is moved.  In fact, we would love to manage that side of the process better - fodder for a future post!

Even more important is the role that lack of water, or excessive presence of it, can play on our farm.  Over the last few years, you have heard plenty about how difficult heavy rains can make it for us to even go about our daily chores.  It is less frequent that we deal with days when the water is short, but they occur as well.  Some of the hottest, driest days result in multiple trips to the animals to make sure they stay hydrated.  The irrigation systems are usually used in a tight rotation to provide adequate moisture and cooling to the crops in the ground.  We find ourselves working harder to capture the 'waste' water so it can be used in other ways.

A farm such as ours ignores management of this resource at its peril.  If you fail to treat it as having great value, your farm will falter when it runs short.  If you don't take the time to consider how you will manage the excess when it comes....   Well, we've been talking about that a great deal lately.  We are finding that we have to be obsessed with water if want to continue.

Perhaps that is why we were willing to watch a water droplet form, hesitate and fall from a leaf that stood in the spotlight of the morning sun.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Saving the Birds

It has been difficult trying to find something to write about for the farm blog the past several weeks simply because every topic I come up with seems to require a great deal of effort.  Don't get me wrong.  I do not mind expending effort to accomplish something that may have some value.   The problem has been that so many of the topics that I've been coming up with are difficult to handle and are, quite frankly, depressing.  Depressing because they are topics that show me how unworthy we all are to expect anything more than what is left of the hand we were dealt now that we (humanity in general) have squandered so much of it.  Even more difficult is the fact that I wonder if what I write here will make any difference anywhere at all.

So, I find myself writing this blog post anyway.  Why?  Because it will make a difference to me.  Hopefully it will solidify some of the things I feel I can try in hopes that it makes even a little difference.  I refuse to quit trying to do what I can to make things better - and so should you.

I've been concerned for some time about our declining bird and insect populations as evidenced by this 2013 post.  Even more recently, I discussed concerns about how we farm at the Genuine Faux Farm and I wondered if we could do more. In that post, I mentioned a songbird I had to euthanize because it was clearly suffering and on its way out of this world.  Since then, I have witnessed another songbird going through the same process.  Once again, I found myself in the position of deciding if the merciful thing to do was to end a life.  This time, the bird took the decision out of my hands by expiring before I could reach it.

Graphic from Cornell Daily Sun story
 For a very brief moment in time, the news outlets and social media sources were flooded with the news that North American birds had declined by 29% since 1970.  That is 3 billion birds people.  Three.  Billion.  Birds. Fewer.

Barn swallows at GFF in 2010
Exhibit A from our farm is at the left.  This was the normal barn swallow population once the second hatching was completed for all of the nests on our farm.  The photo only shows the most densely packed areas of the electric lines as the fledglings and their parents took rests from flying and hunting lessons.

Now, ask us how many barn swallows lined up at the same time of year in 2019 (or 2018 and 2017 for that matter).  In 2019, we observed four adults and six young on the line.  Ten.  Contrast that to the approximately 50 birds in the picture at left and remember there were many more birds that were not in this picture. 

Giving you full disclosure, we will point out that our barn has been falling apart for the past several years, removing some of the nesting habitat that they had in 2010.  On the other hand, there is still plenty of available sheltered space in that old barn, in the granary and in the poultry pavilion that they could use.  In fact, they had used these in the past.  Usually, the granary would have three to four nests (one last year) and there were normally a few in the poultry pavilion as well (none last year).


I now give you exhibit B, which is presented in our June of 2018 post titled Bugged!.   We continue to see an increase in Buffalo gnats on the farm that seems to be corresponding with the decline in our insect eating machines (aka Barn Swallows).  Certainly some of the population change has to do with weather conditions, but don't you think a reasonable habitat with a plentiful food supply should result in an increase of our Barn Swallow population?  Yes, I think so too.

Ok, there is no disputing that our bird populations are declining worldwide.  The next question is 'Why?'  What is causing this precipitous drop?  One obvious culprit is reduced habitat - both in quantity and quality.  This is actually something we can address!  Take a look at the figure below that summarizes more of the data from the research showing population trends since 1970.

Graphic from this ABC news story.
Waterfowl numbers have actually gone UP.  And, over that period of time, Bald Eagle populations have recovered significantly.  Why?  Because people recognized they were causing problems with these populations and they were motivated to change a negative trend.  Admittedly, some of the motivation was because hunters want to be able to have waterfowl to hunt.  As far as the Bald Eagle is concerned - well, they are a 'national symbol,' which makes it harder to ignore their decline.  This is one case where the motive isn't pure, but the results are still worth noting.  If we prioritize something as valuable, we can make positive changes.

But, what are the changes we need to be making?  Part of the problem is that we have some suspicions about what is causing bird decline, but we don't have the whole picture.  For example, researchers in Europe have been finding that birds are exhibiting a deficiency in thiamine levels.  Additional research has found that some of the same symptoms could also be due to botulism, but there is no dispute that thiamine levels were lower than they should be in the birds tested.

I ran across the article above and this article which gives a fairly decent summary of the research in this area.  What I read here is frightening for many reasons.  First, it is likely that thiamine deficiency has to do with problems lower in the food chain.  These deficiencies are likely caused by a combination of factors, including climate changes, pollution and the use of various pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. Second, research is beginning to show that these deficiencies may be showing up in other wildlife.  And finally, the two songbirds I mentioned on our farm exhibited exactly the symptoms described for thiamine deficiency syndrome.  I am not an expert, so it could have been botulism or some other issue, but I find it interesting that my search for the exhibited symptoms led me to these pieces of research.

So, it the decline in our bird populations has been dramatic.  It's a scary thing.  Now what?

1. Retrain our values to give more priority to wildlife.

Clearly NOT a Ladage photo - but we did see this Snowy Owl
Get the kids outside.  Get yourself outside.  Learn a little something about a different bird or animal every week (or every day if you can handle that 'difficult' assignment).  Encourage research in our natural systems and give respect to the people who are experts in these fields.  Appreciate the fine work photographers such as Kip Ladage do in capturing creatures in their natural habitat.   If you like games, pick up enjoyable games that include educational components that feature nature.  Try Wingspan out if you like (or might find you like) birds.  Do you love watching birds already?  Then consider being involved in some 'citizen science' and record your findings in eBird.  I recall participating in the first public iteration of the online system by Cornell's Lab of Ornithology in the early 2000s.  It was a pleasant surprise to find the current version.

I believe that it much harder to ignore nature when you expose yourself to it on a regular basis.  Let others see your enthusiasm and let that enthusiasm light a fire in those around you.

2. Think hard about the things you can control that might make even a little difference.

You might be surprised by how much you do that is part of the problem and how many things you can do that move us toward workable solutions.  One simple step might be to not use lead ammunition when you hunt, if you are a hunter.  Or perhaps you can think a whole lot harder at what you get for your perennial garden.  And, you can consider more plants that are native and support wildlife while you are at it.  You can plant a little habitat in the corner of your yard.  Or, if you are like us and are stewards for larger chunks of land, you can plant bigger habitat areas.  You can think harder and longer about the herbicides, pesticides and fungicides you use and truly take the time to research what they do and what impact they will have on the small slice of the environment over which you have the most control.  You can make the decision not to let "Fluffy" outside and you can do things to help control the population of feral cats.  Of course, you can think harder about where your food comes from too - but you've read that here before.  And, you can take the time to tell your public servants (our representatives in government) and those businesses you patronize that you want them to do their part as well.
Look!  A Space Chicken!

3. Do NOT Give Up

I recognize in myself a tendency to become overwhelmed by things that are, in my opinion, wrong in this world.  I also recognize that my sphere of influence is small compared to that of others.  These problems I see are far larger than me and perhaps the world would give me a pass if I abdicated my portion of the the responsibility I feel for what goes on in this world.

But, I don't believe that.  I would not accept a pass, even if it were offered to me.  You should not give yourself a pass either.  We're all better than what we've done.  So let's be better.  To be better, we have to persist in our efforts.

Persistence does not mean we should be blindly stubborn.  It does mean we should be relentless in our search for the right in all things.  It means we should be aware that we can be mistaken and we need to be able to changes as we learn more.  It means that we recognize big change takes time.


And it means we take joy in seeing Cardinals on the farm after more than a year's absence.  Perhaps all is not lost.  And, even if it is, it will not be lost because I did not work to save it. 

Is this my one saving grace?  I can live with that.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Fresh Start


Every year, the turkey flock goes through its cycles.  We have our triumphs and our failures.  There is no denying that the work surrounding them can become a bit of a trial at time - despite our efforts to become as efficient as our system and resources will allow.  Despite this, I find that raising these birds remind me of the joy that a fresh start can bring.

The first reminder is when we receive the call from the post office that our shipment of chicks have arrived.  There is some resignation when this happens because it means we are introducing ANOTHER flock of birds that will need daily care.  But, once the brooder area is prepared and the chicks are carefully added to their new home we can't help but walk away feeling good about the fresh start that these babies represent.  Those that don't plop down to sleep after the trail of going through the mail will turn their heads to look up at us... wondering who these strange (and very large) birds must be.

The next 'fresh start' is when the newspaper is removed from the surface of their brooder and they have fresh straw.  There is an initial bit of panic followed by a genuine excitement for this new world.  Some of them dash back and forth.  Others pick at the straw, trying to figure out what to do with it.  Others notice a small insect that gets stirred up - that will keep them busy for a while.

Each time we expand their space is yet another fresh start with new things to explore.  They are getting bigger and more agile.  Sometimes they get so excited they they remind us a little of popcorn.  At the point we think they need a lid to keep them in their division for the brooder room we start preparing the larger room for them.

The move to the big room is a monumental day.  Some years we have carried birds to the room.  This year, we actually had help to move them by 'herding' them.  It worked - for the most part.  We were afraid that we might have stressed them a bit much.  But, after a few minutes, eyes began to brighten.  A moth flew up out the fresh straw and one of the birds decided to hop after it.  Soon after, most of the birds were making happy turkey noises.  Some dashed around.  Others checked out new straw to see if it was truly different from other new straw they probably have forgotten about (after all, they are turkeys).

They might get fresh straw another time before we actually let them out on pasture - talk about a fresh start!  Every time we introduce something new, there are moments of uncertainty and concern, followed by the excitement for a fresh start that turkeys seem to bring with them on our farm.

After a while, even their limited turkey brains gather enough experience that they recognize patterns and maybe get a little less excited about some of the things that used to represent a fresh start.  Then, the day comes when the farmers take the birds to "the Park" and they go on to serve a purpose in bringing quality nutrition to people.  The day after this event the farmer usually walks around their pasture and their room, picking up feeders and other odds and ends.  He's feeling a mixture of feelings.  Of course he's relieved to have been successful in raising the birds and there is some real satisfaction in doing this well.  But, there is also a bit of melancholy.  Maybe even some concern for the future.

Then he realizes that this is another fresh start.  And his eyes start to brighten.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Limits


We were treated to a freezing fog December 2013 that was followed by a gloriously clear day.  I suspect it was a weekend and we had nothing scheduled, so we spent some time walking around looking for interesting photo opportunities.  The two mature ash trees on our farm reside South of the old barn and just far enough from the road that road crews and line workers have never seen a need to take chunks off of them.  It just so happened that the best seed production year for the ashes had just concluded and they were still reluctant to release them, clutching them as if they were afraid to allow their babies to find their own way in the world.  This resulted in a chance for these seeds to be dressed in hoarfrost so the farmers could come out and appreciate what nature can do.

We had another chance to take pictures of hoarfrost on the farm a few days ago as well - and we didn't go out to admire as we normally might do.  Did we acknowledge the beauty?  Of course we did.  But, the energy to do more than that wasn't available.  It's our loss, as I am certain Mother Nature is secure in the knowledge that she dresses up well whether we say so or not.

For a moment, I even thought it might be nice to recognize the hoarfrost with a post on our blog.  Again, I suspect the inhabitants of this world went about their business just fine without a writing and photo contribution from me.  I did, however, start to wonder.  Why is it that we have only seen seed pods hanging on these trees in December only two or three times since we arrived at the farm?  Trees are known to have cycles when it comes to seed production, often responding to seasonal extremes.  For an ash tree, which is wind pollinated, drier conditions during flowering is probably a good thing.  Well, that fit 2013, which may explain the extremely good production.

I also figure that trees have limits as to how much energy they have to expend over a given season.  They can expend that energy on root development, seed production, etc etc.  Conditions may expand or contract those limits and they may also influence how the energy is spent.  For example, if conditions are such that the plant might feel its time is nearing an end, it may increase the amount of energy it spends on seed production to perpetuate its kind.

I take some solace in the idea that one indication of productivity rarely gives the whole picture.  Our limits may prevent us from accomplishing the fanciest of achievements every time out.  Sometimes the energy is going to the roots.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Best Medicine 2019

A "year in review" of humor in the blog was started back in 2009.  We're not sure how many people enjoy it, but the farmer has fun with it - so that will be enough.  There are two categories.  Line of the Year may appear in any type of post.   Post of the year was selected for the perceived entertainment value.  Of course, entertainment value is subjective.  And, since the farmer and his lovely bride were the only two judges, you can feel free to comment and correct our flawed insight!  

If you wish to read any of the posts that have been highlighted here, feel free to take the links provided.

Previous Best Medicine posts are linked here: 2018, 2017 2016, 2015201420132012, 2011, 2010, 2009

======================================================
There are days when you feel you can laugh and have fun, and then there are days where nothing feels even remotely humorous.  As I reviewed our posts for 2019, I found there were fewer posts entirely dedicated to 'silliness' and fun.  But, happily there were many nuggets put in some of the more serious posts.  Lines of the Year typically come from that sort of post - a post where the humor is embedded in the serious.

Line(s) of the Year Category

The Runners-Up


We are realistic enough to have a picture of 'reasonable success' that resides super-imposed over both the 'perfect success' and 'imminent failure' that are in our mental files.
From Reasons for Optimism, March 17

The old man looked at me through cracked, ice-rimmed glasses and wheezed, "I ain't done yet, or my name ain't Winter."
From Old Man Winter, March 30


We asked the henlets for a volunteer to take some pictures on the farm and we were roundly rejected.  Instead, they just wanted the food Tammy was carrying at the time.  We asked Inspector, but he just looked at the camera and then walked away.  We'll take that as a rejection as well.
From Always More to Do, June 25

Other days, the list is something along the lines of "WEED!"  Yes, you could split that into smaller chunks.  But, why?  Other than giving everyone a starting point for weeding, there really isn't much need to say more.
From Reflections, August 28 


I also went out and asked them if they might like to be called Gnarly Gobblechickens.  The general consensus was that they liked being 'gnarly' and they were fine with the 'gobble' part.  On the other hand, they were not so certain that the proposal that all of these birds be some type of chicken was such a good one.  
From Frost's Eve, October 11

Let's just say that I know enough to know that I don't know enough.
Maybe I should go to the library and check out a book on the subject.
Maybe it's in the first-grade section.

From Not Smart Enough,  October 14

My to do list is never done because I keep adding more on to it.  "If I could only get X done before the snow flies" becomes "if I could only get X and Y done" which then becomes "X, Y and Z."
From Disbelief ,  November 11


...we do like to clean up at least a little bit - I am sure you appreciate that.  After all, you all look more attractive when you aren't wrinkling your noses at that smell that seems to be accompanying the farmer today - so I appreciate it too!
From Sustainability by Doing, May 14 

Of course, this bird did this on what was to be one of our colder nights so Rob went out the next morning and found frozen chicken in a block.  A chicksicle, if you will.
From Really Something, February 24 
 
...where do we put that on our list?  Number 214, I suspect.  Not good chances it will reach the actual, "it could get done" section.  Not that I am asking for something to occur that puts it up higher on the list.  That sort of thing is usually mildly catastrophic in nature and we really don't need to do that, thank you very much.
From What Do I Do With That?, February 18 

We grew some pretty smart lettuce on the farm this past season.  Too bad we cut them off at their base and gave them to people to be eaten.  Aren't you glad you aren't lettuce? 
From Reflections, January 11 

And the winner is....
No, seriously, YOU can write a poem to YOUR lovely bride.  My lovely bride knows my poems tend to be silly and are always off-the-cuff.  Ok, they're not really poems.  They're more like exercises in silly rhyming.  Always better to NOT write those down. 
From ...Five Weird Tricks, February 10

=====================================================

The Post of the Year Category focuses on posts that have more of a focus of being entertaining or humorous.  So, if you are in the mood for more amusement... take the links shown after the featured teaser lines.

Post of the Year Category

The Runners - Up
 
 "I'm laying an egg!  I'm laying an EGG! I'm laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaying an EGGGGGG!  Hey!  New bird!  Stay away from my EEEEEEGGGGG!"
From Crazy Maurice Talks About Neighbors, August 20


I tried to cross the field without touching the ground by leaping from the back of one young cow to another.  After that, I took stock of the situation and realized my calves were sore.  Now THEY had a beef with me.  I guess it was time to moove on.
From Are We Amused Yet?, December 17 


If you look closely at the picture above, you can see the snow up against the long-side of Valhalla.  That's about 100 feet of deep snow "goodness."  And, when I say goodness, I mean "GOODNESS! Look at that!"
From The Ides of March, March 13 

We can go on record that fans don't really work.  Neither do giant straws.  And, we couldn't move the giant sponge once it soaked up all it could hold, so never mind.
From Click Here for Shocking Ways to Revive Your Meme ory, February 12


You can still roll your eyes after you say it - especially if you do that while reading the blog because we can't see you.
Or can we?   Hmmmmmmm.   NOW, I've got your attention!

From 12 Things You Didn't Know, February 5

Every photo was blurred beyond recognition.  Every single one.  We had no proof.  We only had our experience and our word to you.  The Ents are alive and they walk in the woods.  
From Meeting the Ents, January 24

And the Winner for 2019?  No surprise - it's the April Fools post!

You probably have noticed the 'tiny house' concept for humans - well, here is the next new thing for pets - the litter bucket tiny home!
From A Dollar Short, April 2

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Busy as a Bee Hive?

It is no secret that there has been some activity at the farm over the past few weeks.  We have continued with our campaign to address significant problems with the farm house and the current focus has been on replacing the deteriorating siding (two layers of it) with new.  This, of course, means we have to address rot and other issues as we find them.  We realize there are some people out there (and I suspect you know who you are) that want to see what sort of progress is being made. 

The good news?  There has been progress!


Sometimes progress looks a bit like regression.  Ok... sometimes it FEELS like it too.  And, it can get a bit nippy when the wind picks up out here.  But, we are within shouting distance of getting the North side finished as well!  Tammy and Rob have been doing tear-off and Travis and Rory of Duncan Home Services work to make it look good after that.


While we are at it, you might remember that we had a couple of "Pooofs" this past Summer that did a little damage.  It was a little un-nerving to watch the metal on the Poultry Pavilion ripple and emulate the ocean's waves during one of those poofs.  A second poof not long after the first sent several panels flying.


Well, December was the month of making things right.  The guys at J.D. Builders did a nice job, I think.  We had some insurance coverage to help pay for this AND we fully realize that if it were only Rob doing the work, it would take much more than two days.

Much MUCH more than two days.


And, we wanted to show you that we are also making progress on the rest of the house... even though it might look more like regression at the point these pictures were taken. 



All of this is not without some backlash.


Bree says, "I have a drill, a toolbox and a cooler.  Stop the insanity or I will be forced to use them!"

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Look in the (Rear-view) Mirror

We fall prey to the idea of looking back at a prior year when the first week of January rolls around, just like everyone else.  When done in moderation, looking in the rear-view mirror is healthy and instructive.  When done excessively?  Huh?  What was that?  I was just looking back at some interesting things that happened this past year...

As I prepared to write this post, I looked a bit further back to see how we handled year in review posts in prior years.  I don't think we really wrote one for 2018, but we do have installments for 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2008.  One of the things that struck me as I looked at these was that we do not tend to sugarcoat life as seems to happen with so many online posts by farms and small-businesses.  We're not entirely negative either - rather we try to balance the pluses and the minuses in hopes that we give a true picture.  We are not sad sacks who never smile (well, Rob never smiles) nor are we skipping around our fields tossing flower petals into the pathways (those poor flowers!).  Instead, we are the REAL Genuine Faux Farm.

Without further ado, we bring you 2019 in review for the Genuine Farm Farm:

January - A Chance to Exhale

The farmers had the chance of a lifetime and they took it, going to Kauai for four weeks so they could look for the Ents.  We had the opportunity to decompress and see nature's beauty while taking stock of our lives.  We fully realize that most people do not have a chance to have this sort of experience, which makes us even more grateful that we were able to take this trip and restore our souls.

February - Retreating and Advancing
The farmers returned to the Genuine Faux Farm in February in time for the weather to get REALLY cold and the snow to REALLY get started (we set records for snowfall during the 2018/19 Winter and precipitation for the Fall-Spring period).    But,the real news is that we came back prepared to make some changes in the coming year.  We moved to the farm in 2004 and officially started the Genuine Faux Farm and its CSA in 2005.  Our farm has been far from static since that time, but it had become apparent to both of us that we needed to do more than make adjustments to our status quo.

The highlight of the month was the Farm Retreat that Tammy and I called for ourselves.  We reserved a conference room with lots of white board space and gave ourselves a 9am-5pm day to explore what we could - and maybe should - do in the coming year(s).  We put everything on the table and agreed that no idea was too stupid to mention.  Yes, moving to Kauai was one of the things we mentioned...  I do think we abstained from thinking about joining a traveling circus.

One of the things that came out of this was that we were both concerned that the farmhouse was in need of significant work that kept taking a backseat to the rest of the farm.  The other interesting item that came up was the idea of fulfilling our desire to put up solar panels.  Hmmmm.  Of course, we talked about plenty of farm ideas as well, including how we needed to adjust our CSA program and growing plans to fit market, weather and other conditions that have become prevalent over the years.

March - The Madness Begins
And March is when it all got a bit crazy.  We followed through with contacts made after a meeting in February that introduced a 'group buy' for solar panels and we continued with deconstructing our kitchen.  The first seeds for the season went into trays and the hen chicks arrived at the end of the month.  We held a planning meeting with the kitchen staff at Jorgensen Plaza and contacted other potential customers for our produce and poultry.

It was in March that the magnitude of the amount of snow (and total precipitation) was becoming fully apparent to us.  In fact, we were starting to get an inkling or three that the Spring was going to be challenging for us because the patterns matched prior years that forced us to put things in the ground late.  To be honest, we saw this coming after the extremely wet Fall, but the certainty of what we would have to deal with was increasing on a daily basis.

March was a month full of activity and we still managed to hold our annual "Nota" conference with our friends from Grinnell Heritage Farm, Wabi Sabi Farm, Scattergood Friends School Farm and Blue Gate Farm.  There was a quick visit to Jacksonville for Tammy to go to a conference and for us to briefly see Tammy's sister and family.  We had a chance to see the Choir (our favorite musical group) in concert and we even had time to start planning an event at the farm for 150 elementary school kids.  Madness, I tell you! 

April - Trying to Get Ahead of it All
We heard our first frogs of the year on April 5 and our first Brown Thrasher on April 7.  We started having some volunteers come to the farm and help us with farm work on Wednesdays (thanks Jared, Megan, Jaden, Matt and Ben).  We also managed to attend Weather Spotter training sessions, promote our CSA and take signups and visit the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture in hopes that we could promote some changes with respect to pesticide drift and misapplication.

We even got Tammy all suited up and prepared to add an apiary to our farm.  We have had tame honey bees on our farm in the past, but it was always managed by someone other than us.  This was our first attempt at taking care of a hive on our own.   We'll call it successful if we find we still have bees this coming Spring.  But, it was pretty nice having them around and seeing all of the activity around the hive.

More seeds went into trays.  We prepared equipment to get work done in the fields.  Broiler chicks arrived.  But, every time we would get hopeful that fields would dry out or temperatures would moderate, other... stuff... would happen.  Like this, on April 27.


May - That Sinking Feeling
The month of May is normally one that people associate with hope.  Sadly, this past May represented the dashing of many hopes at the Genuine Faux Farm.  We did what we could.  This blog sums it up well enough without rehashing it all in this post.  We actually ended up cancelling the event for the elementary school kids (scheduled for May 21) because the gravel roads to our farm were impassible for school buses.

Of course, all was not lost.  We did manage to plant onions, even if the soil was pretty damp.  And, we managed to build a pretty nice little plant starting building.  We put it right in our driveway to the garage because it was an area near water and we could isolate it from the varmints that had been munching our seedlings.  We paid for this in November/December - of course.  After all, if you want to put your car in the garage, you've got to move the building!  Arg!

June - The Ball Finally Starts Rolling
We did our level best to stay calm as the days ticked by in June.  After all, if you can't plant...  you can't plant.  But, the stress was telling in all sorts of ways.
Once we got to mid-June, we just started pushing, trying to do a months worth of work in ten days.  Needless to say, we did not succeed in doing it all, but we sure did make the attempt.  Meanwhile, our third batch of broiler chicks arrived at the farm and the first batch left for the "Park."  The kitchen project moved forward and we inched forward on the solar project and mortgage refinancing to help us fund our projects.  We had much appreciated help from a Green Iowa Americorps group on the 10th of June and our crew of Emma and Sophie started to work for us for the season.  Happily, the gnats were not as bad as last season's ridiculous numbers - but they were still a bit of an issue.

We even managed to move Valhalla - almost on schedule.

July - Big Progress
July restored some of our faith by providing us with some weather that allowed us to do work outside, all the while still trying to accomplish things inside  We were maintaining five flocks of poultry and briefly had a sixth when the fourth batch of broiler chicks arrived.

We were finding that a new tool we had purchased was working to help us use grass mulch on some of our crops.  It didn't hurt that Emma and Sophie kind of liked spreading the mulch.  The garlic crop came in and we felt that it was a decent quality harvest (we do set the bar for these pretty high, so we did fine). 

The kitchen continued to move forward, culminating in a working faucet/sink by the end of the month.  Let's just say that having running water for dish washing, etc in the kitchen made many things that much easier for us.

And, somehow, something happened AHEAD of schedule.  The solar panel array was up, but not functional, on July 23.

August - Accomplishments and Farewells
The month of August went like so many Augusts have before it... We worked hard for the first couple/few weeks and then everyone (except Rob) left.  I realize that sounds blunt and maybe a little bitter.  I assure you it is mostly the former and not so much the latter.  It is what August is for us at the farm because most of our workers attend or teach school.  When the school year starts, they go do their things!  This includes Tammy, who also works during the Summer - but her schedule at that time is much more flexible then.

Jared and Megan volunteered for us for part of the Fall in 2018 and through the Spring and Summer in 2019.  Once their Americorps positions terminated, they moved on to the West Coast.  We are grateful for their willingness to help and we hope their time at the farm was beneficial to them in some fashion.  They pose above after completing the planting of a bed of onions (early June).

And, of course, we cannot forget Emma and Sophie!  These masked women braved the elements (and gnats) dealing death to weeds, giving unwanted baths to potato beetles and training tomatoes and melons to stand up straight.  Well done, ladies!

And, in August, two long-term goals were accomplished.  Rob finally won a 'grand' award for his postal history exhibit and the farm flipped the switch on the solar array and began to produce electricity to off-set our use on the farm with some "clean" energy.

September - The Sinking Feeling Returns
The plants in the high tunnel were finally looking good.  Some of our field crops were doing reasonably well.  But, we were already noticing it in August - many of the field crops were not terribly happy.  The reasons for this are too complex to enumerate here.  But, we were reminding ourselves that August/September is when the reality of failures on our farm can hit us hard.  There had been a fair number of successes as well and we were working to assess whether we were just letting the time of year get to us or if we had proper reason to feel a bit disappointed in how the season had gone.

It turns out, we had reason for concern, because we were experiencing ANOTHER wet September.  It was not as severe as 2018 (thank goodness!) but it was enough to cut many of our crops short.  Yes, the very crops that went in four to five weeks late.  But, we were doing our best to keep our heads up and our attitudes positive.  We did have wonderful sights to see - like the sweet alyssum peaking out from under the high tunnel tomatoes in Eden (at the left) and we were still harvesting some green beans from Valhalla.  And... there were actually TATERS, precious!

And, we kept on keeping on...  The kitchen project was mostly done, so we moved on to the project of repairing the back entry to our farmhouse and re-arranging access to our basement.  Once again, we were addressing problems we had identified as needing attention years ago.  They just had not bubbled to the top of the priority list.  But, we had made it clear to ourselves at the beginning of the year that we needed to make some of these things happen now and we were getting much needed help to make these things happen.  So, while the 'sinking feeling' with respect to growing crops had returned, we were buoyed by the support from our parents, families and friends and the efforts of those who contracted to do the work (Duncan Home Services, Eagle Point Solar, Midwest Foam and Insulation)

And, as we moved through September, we decided to hold a farm festival (Gathering at the Gateway to Autumn) in hopes that we could have some of our favorite people come and celebrate our fifteen years of running our Genuine Faux Farm CSA.  We were getting a feeling that this was a good idea that had run its course, but we didn't want to give it up without some positive recognition.

October - Making Our Own 2020 Foresight

As is the norm for Octobers on the farm, the number of poultry flocks contracted until we were at the point where there was only our laying hen flock at the end of the month.  It is always amazing to us how much easier chores become when you only have to worry about a single group.  We had our first frost AND hard freeze (28 degrees F) on October 12.  In fact, the early cold terminated most of the remaining field crops.  We weren't terribly pleased by this because we still had a CSA to fulfill (weeks 9 through 13 of a 16 week season).  Yet, we were still able to pull in more potatoes and the cauliflower was coming in as well.  And, yes...  it was still wet out there.

The biggest part of our 2019 October?  We made the decision that the old CSA model that we had used since 2005 was no longer working for us.  We made the announcement and began moving forward with surveys in hopes that we could receive a little help in figuring out our new directions.  We are continuing to process options for the coming year(s) but things are much clearer now than they were then.

And, yes, we finally got a safe back entry to the house and to the basement.  For those of you that recall the wobbly cement 'steps' we had for the entire time we have lived at this farm, you will find the new entry to be quite a treat.  We may just have to hold a Spring Festival of some kind to celebrate being able to go into the house!

November and December - Re-Invention and Continued Progress

So, how far can the farmer reach to brush snow off of the solar panels?  Anyone?
The final two months of the year have been, as you might have guessed, no less busy for us than the other ten.  They just provide us with a different kind of busy.  There is still plenty of farm work to be doing.  We need to clean root crops, clean out fields, put equipment away, etc.  There are usually still crops to harvest most seasons, but this year was pretty harsh on the late crops, so we didn't have that much in that area to do.

Tammy's semester at Wartburg required extra attention - just as it usually does.  Tammy and her Social Work students helped run the Holiday Shoppe (gifts to help those who could use a little help during the holiday season) and her research class honed their professional reports to present to their community partners.  It would not be incorrect to say that Rob gets sucked into those things a little bit as well, but not horribly much.

There is always plenty of 'office work' to do.  Things like trips to the Vet for the Farm Supervisory Crew often get pushed back until this time of year because we can actually get to the appointment!  The roof damage to the Poultry Pavilion was taken care of at the end of the year as well.  The hens approve because they didn't care for the water dripping onto their perches and nest boxes.

Of course, the house projects continued as we began the process of taking off two layers of old siding so a new layer could go on.  Rob has been primarily responsible for the removal of the old so Travis and Rory of Duncan Home Services could put on the new.  We are pleased that this project is moving forward because it has become clear during removal that a couple more years with the old siding would have resulted in many more complicated issues.  Caught it just in time.

Somehow, we managed a trip to Blue Gate Farm to help put on new plastic (which had blown off a SECOND time this year).  We had a full house for Thanksgiving (yay!) and we went to the PFI Cooperator's Meeting to discuss farm research results and plan new research projects.  We even managed a quick Chicago trip (pleasure) and a quick Denver trip (business).  All the while, we were working through the uncertainty of what would happen in 2020 and beyond on our farm.

We have been exploring all sorts of options, most of which have to do with what Rob will do with himself in the future.  At this point, we are fairly certain he will continue to farm for at least the near term - but he will do so with many major adjustments.  First, we are going to attempt to raise our growing areas to deal with wetter weather.  And, we are limiting what we grow and announced our preliminary crop list for 2020.  It is still an ambitious list, but given our past grow lists, this one seems pretty tame to us.  It might not surprise you to note that most of our 2019 Veg Varieties of the Year should be returning in 2020. 

A farmer selfie to greet the new year.
As 2019 came to a close and 2020 began, we were able to take a few moments and take stock of all that we have experienced and view all that is in front of us.  We can sum it up as follows:

The Genuine Faux Farm is dead.  Long live the Genuine Faux Farm!

Maybe this time we break out of the cocoon as a butterfly?

Friday, December 27, 2019

Veggies to Look Forward To in 2020


We've committed ourselves to growing veggies again in 2020, but we have also committed ourselves towards focusing on a much smaller set of crops as we do things like ... oh... raise the growing areas on our farm to address continued/increased wet conditions.  We announced the types of crops we are anticipating growing next year and we expect to continue to follow up on the details of what we are going to do in 2020 in this blog.  If there is something you would like us to address on these pages, please let us know.

Bunte Forellenschus
We have a commitment from the kitchens at Jorgensen Plaza for our lettuce in 2020, so we are going to pull out the stops on trying to have lettuce for as many weeks as are possible on our farm in the coming season.  This is great news for heirloom lettuce lovers in the area because that means we should have extra lettuce to provide to those that sign up for our program for much of the year AND for those who just want some fresh, local AND certified organic lettuce, but are not signed up with us.

Bunte Forellenschus is one of our favorite butterhead types to grow and eat.  We've found that it slots in very nicely for the mid Spring to early summer slot and again in the mid-Fall slot.  Leaves display much more of the red coloration in cooler weather, but the taste stays fairly constant regardless of the season.  When this lettuce is going well, the farmer can be caught humming as he pulls a tub of these in for cleaning and distribution.

Onions have done pretty well for us each of the last five or six seasons and we see no reason to stop what has become a good thing.  The biggest issue with onions is that they need to go in pretty early.  If things are too wet early, when do you put them in?  Well, like this past season, you just find ways to get it done - even if it isn't exactly the way you want to do it.

We prefer White Wing for our early season white onions, though we also grow Gladstone and Sierra Blanca (sometimes).  The white onion harvest is actually very pleasant because, in a very real way, they always feel a bit like a surprise to us.  Why?

Well, white onions usually start sizing up in July and the speed with which they put on the bulk can be a amazing.  We typically walk our fields every day just to keep up on everything - and they still manage to sneak up on us.  The process of white onion harvest is usually a quick walk of the bed, taking stock of how many are ready to be pulled (and how many we need for CSA or other orders).  The walk back allows me to simply bend down and pull up the onions that are ready.  Usually I can hold 20 to 30 in each hand (grasped by the stem/leaves) before I have to put them in a container.  First harvests are particularly pleasant because there are usually so many onions remaining in the bed that it barely looks like I've brought anything in!



It is Winter, so an heirloom tomato is bound to make the post simply because people miss a good tasting, fresh tomato about this time of year.  Shown above is a variety called Black Sea Man - a new trial in 2019.  Will it return in 2020?  We'll put it this way, if we have seed remaining in our inventory - yes.  If not, we'll focus on our Black Krim and Paul Robeson plants for tomatoes that fall into this class.  

We love putting the 'black/purple' tomatoes in the high tunnels since that is where they perform best for us.  Typically we put them in our white nest/stack trays - never more than two deep to avoid bruising or damage.  Usually, we get to eat fruit that will not transport well.  Hey!  These are heirloom tomatoes, there will always be some that won't go to market - fresh tomatoes on sandwiches and fresh pico for the farmers.  Good deal.

 The butternut squash have a history of doing fairly well for us most seasons (just not 2019).  We plan on growing about as many row feet as we have in prior years, but we also plan on doing more things to protect this crop in an effort to avoid some of the issues we have seen in 2018 and 2019. 

The butternut harvest is not usually one of my favorite events, nor is it among those I dread.  However, the display of quality butternut squash just after harvest?  That's something I love to see and photograph.  Butternuts are a long season crop and require effort throughout the year.  So, a nice harvest neatly set out represents a significant yearly accomplishment.
And, yes, we will grow Wapsipinicon Peach tomatoes this coming year.  The positive thing about the new system of CSA this year?  People who love them will be able to get MORE of them.  Just remember to catch that juice before it lands on your new shirt.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

What Have You Got Yourself Into? Files Part II

 In our prior post we mentioned the siding project that is ongoing at the Genuine Faux Farm farmhouse and we thought people might enjoy seeing some of the "progress." 

 The East side is the first side to get torn off of the house.  As we mentioned, there is an asphalt and particle board shingle-type siding that was placed over lap siding.  The outer layer has been taking on moisture and has to go.  It is far easier to take that stuff off first, so we strip what we can of that off, often being able to just pull it off with much help from tools.

And in case you want to know - yes, my shoulders are now sore.


 There was some thought that the cedar lap siding might be in reasonable shape.  There were patches that were pretty good, but far too many patches like this.  Other areas had badly cupped siding and yet other area had other problems.  That means our decision to strip it down to the underlayment was a good one.  Also, the timing was right to address the problem.  Too many more years as it was and we would have many much bigger problems to deal with.

And here we are on the East side with no lap siding on everything we could reach with the scaffolding in its current position.  There were, in fact, a few places that needed repair under the windows and at the corner on the left.  Otherwise, the underlayment was in pretty good shape. 

That is a huge relief!  So far, this has also held true for the North side of the house as well, with even smaller areas needing repair.  We do not hold out the same hope for the South side - but we shall see.

And here is a sample of what is to come.  Tammy and I get to do the tear off and Duncan Home Services get to do the making it look nice part.  Here's hoping the weather allows us to keep plugging along on it as we enter the new year!

As of today (Dec 26), there is siding about halfway up the East side.  We have taken off the two layers of siding more than halfway up the North side and the outer layer of siding halfway up the West side.  It is actually nice to be able to expend some energy fixing up our dwelling.  But, never fear!  We did some farm work today too!