Sunday, October 15, 2017

Covering Ground

Every year we do our best to make the current growing season our best growing season in as many senses of the word that we possibly can.  And, every year, as the season progresses, we succumb to the temptation of criticizing ourselves for our recurring failure to succeed.  Since this is our fourteenth year of growing on this land, I am tempted to say that we are being completely unrealistic.  But, I don't think the goal is unrealistic.  What is unrealistic is our interpretation of how well we have done each season to attempt to reach that goal.

The farm is full of complexities and there really is no way for us to do everything we intend to do with perfection.  Part of the challenge is figuring out what 'good enough' is and how to live with that.  Case in point - our struggle every season to incorporate cover crops into our production fields.

For those who do not know, a cover crop is essentially a planted crop that is not intended to be harvested.  Instead, it is meant to be turned back into the ground.  Examples of cover crops we grow on our farm include clovers, buckwheat, millet, sunn hemp, tillage radish and annual ryegrass.

Let's go see what we managed to accomplish in 2017 for cover crops.

Let's go out towards the field just South of Valhalla.
Our plan developed this Winter called for the removal of two fields in our rotation from cash crop production.  The intent was to put the cover crops in and let them mature through the summer.  Some of the crops would be mowed before they went to seed and others might have had poultry on them, depending on the stand and timing of those flocks.
And here's where we are right now with those fields
Our plan was to run sections of different cover crops.  We wanted buckwheat in some of the areas where we have noticed more Canadian Thistle.  It seems to us that buckwheat is a good smother crop.  A smother crop does exactly what it sounds like it does.  It germinates and grows so quickly that any other plants just have trouble competing.  While buckwheat will not remove the thistle, it sure does set it back.

What's with the bare area in the middle?
Of course, the best laid plans were not followed.  We just didn't have enough time in our days to get the cover crops in as early as we wanted.  As a result, we planted some larger seed cover crops during a very dry time of year.  Of course they (and the clover) decided not to germinate well.  So, the center area has more button weed than cover crop.  Guess we'll have to get in there and cut them down before they go to seed.  But, hey!  Even button weed residue is going to help create organic matter in the soil.

The left side of the picture shows millet and sunn hemp.  The millet is doing extremely well this year and we intend on leaving it and letting the cold weather kill it.  This crop will keep the soil covered to prevent erosion and the dense foliage will add nutrients for next year's veggies.  The sunn hemp, on the other hand, got a slow start and hasn't gotten as big as it was intended to get.  In a decent year, it easily gets taller than the farmers.  This year, we'll settle on half its normal height.

The picture does not show the tillage radish back towards the bush line.  These are daikon-like radish that grow strong tap roots that break up the soil.  We felt that some of the area in the East of this field area was compacted, so we put this cover crop, along with clover, in that area. 

The clover is just getting started after all of the rain we have gotten. Better late than never, but it did nothing to keep the weeds from taking off as well.  We may have to mow this area to keep the weeds from going to seed, but the clover is short enough, we should be able to get away with it.  Clover and vetch are great cover crops to add nitrogen to the soil.  We felt that some of the middle areas in these fields could use a nitrogen boost, which is why we made the choice we did.

Guess I have to mow the buckwheat!
Buckwheat is a short season crop that flowers well and then sets seed.  Typically, we want to kill the buckwheat before it forms seed.  The dry weather resulted in smaller plants that went to flower quicker than usual.  We WERE counting on a frost kill.  But, it is October 11 and... no frost!  So, we need to mow it down.  By cutting it and letting it lie, the residue will break down naturally on the soil. 

We have had people ask us if we were going to let our chickens graze the buckwheat.  However, everything we have read suggests that will not be a good idea.  It's one thing for a chicken to find a buckwheat plant here and there.  But, if they eat too much of it, we will not like the results.

Of course, we had plans for cover crops in other parts of our farm as well.  But, such things do not always happen as planned.  For example, we intended to cover crop the field West of Valhalla.  Instead, we still have kale growing there.  And, we have some fallow soil as well.  What happened to our plan for this?  The answer my friend is blowing in the wind.

No, seriously.  It was the wind.  Some of our early storms packed a solid punch.  As a result, some tasks on the farm got pushed out of their slot because we had to address some situations brought about by storms.  Cover crops in this field just got bumped.  It happens.  And, the kale has just continued to do well, so there is no reason to take them out just yet.  We could have cover cropped around them - we just didn't.  Such is life.

The good news about this?  Well, we've identified the labor bottleneck that prevented us from executing some of these plans in a timely fashion.  Now we can explore ways to address the problem.  I consider that part of this season's success.

And, of course, we'll do better next year.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Celebrating 1000 Posts

While you may not have been counting, it just so happens that the Blogger software does.  This is the 1000th post on the Genuinely Faux Blog - the "official" blog of the Genuine Faux Farm.  I have heard somewhere that a 1000th blog post deserves some sort of celebration.  So, we thought we'd celebrate by highlighting GFF bloggishness (yes, I did just make that word up - isn't that great?) by just sharing all sorts of things blog.

Hey, it doesn't have to make any sense - it's the farm!  We would now like to introduce our host and Spokescat, the Sandman!
"I would like to state, for the record, that I am celebrating this 1000 thing under protest.  I, the Sandman, have spoken"
Um.  Thank you Sandman.  In case some of you have missed it, the Sandman has spoken before on our blog.  He would probably appreciate it if you checked it out.  Or, perhaps, he won't really care.  We can't always be sure.  But, he does like a good skritching.

We were curious what posts landed on other "milestone numbers" and here is what we found:
 Interestingly enough, these four posts don't do a half-bad job of representing some of the things that matter to us.  Clearly, a sense of humor - such as it is - is required here.  Add in a decent dose of introspection and some honest to goodness farm reporting and you've got the blog.

Well, that and - there have been quite a few cool pictures in the blog. 
Like the 2016 Photo of the Year
 It seems like the high tunnels get a fair amount of 'press' on our farm.  But, when you think about it, they have been a pretty big deal since the first build in 2010 and have perhaps made the most difference between a farm failure and a farm success.

And, there is all sorts of silliness in this blog if you are looking for it.  We actually pick some of them out every year in our Best Medicine posts.  For example:

We flipped a chicken to see who got the first shower.  Heads, Tammy got to shower first, tails, I got to shower first.  While Tammy was trying to catch the chicken, I ran inside and took a shower.

From Slivers and Onions - May 3, 2012

...do you think there is a market in "pre-tested" zucchini?  The hardest part would be trying to figure out how to attractively package this product.

What?  I was thinking about zucchini with a bite taken out of each one.  What were you thinking?!? 
From Counting Pre Tested Zucchini from August 5, 2013

Our blog has chronicled a wide number of topics, including our involvement in the Gang of Five (it was Four) farms.  We get together with our farm friends each month during the growing season to do work on one of the farms and then share a meal. 
And the group believes in getting kids started using real tools early in life.
We have identified posts that we feel are some of our best work and we will share links throughout this blog post.  If you want to get a flavor for what we think is some good reading, check these out:
Best Post: A Choice of Litany
Best Pun Post: Minding Your Peas (and cukes)
Best Story Post or Series: The Oh Well Saga, post III (has links to I and II)
Best Post about the Environment: Eyes Wide Shut

We'll be sure to share more "best" posts as you scroll down.  But, things have gotten too serious here and we need to share some more "lines of merit" for your amusement.

*cue Indiana Jones music*

Wait a minute.  Why does this music have castanets in it?  I don't remember those.  Oh.. that was your teeth chattering?  Umm never mind the music then.

 From Adventures in the Negative - January 27, 2014

So, you know all of those spots that look like they've gotten REALLY wet in the ceiling?  Yep, the spots that actually have holes starting and the insulation falling through?  That isn't from a leaky roof.  It's from a raccoon leaking....  And remember, when you ask a raccoon "Number 1 or number 2?"  It will usually say, "Both."

From Poo d'Etat - April 25, 2012

It might be tempting to think that all we do on the farm is think up puns and things to write about.  But, much of this is driven by the fact that Rob does spend a good deal of time working on the farm.  Some of the tasks he has to do are repetitive in nature, which leaves his mind free to roam.
So, blame the farm the next time he puts out a pun that makes you groan!
Now, that's a word I think has alot going for it - "obliquely."  But, I probably shouldn't talk about it directly - it might be offended.
From November - A Quality Month : November 18, 2015

I keep telling myself - "Self, get the digital camera out.  People want to see pictures."  Unfortunately, my self replies with, "YOU go get the camera, I'm busy."   I'm not sure if this is a good sign when one's own self is indignant with a request...  I'll have a word with him later.

From Mad Dash - May 20, 2011

There are a couple of annual posts that seem to get a fair amount of attention each year.   Our yearly April Fool's post and our Thanksgiving post probably get more reaction than anything else we put out there.  We took a moment and selected the two examples of these posts that we thought were the best on our blog:

Best April Fool's Post: 2017 April Fool
Best Thanksgiving Post: 2015 Thanksgiving

We have been able to share the things that happen on the farm with the hopes that it will help others to make more of a connection to their food and to the land.  We see this blog as an educational tool, as a promotional tool and as a personal recollection that we share with those who care to see it.

All that, and we like neat pictures of garlic.
And, there has to be an outlet for some of this.. erm... stuff:
 
We have noticed that one of the few plants that suppress Canadian Thistle is Crab Grass.....  As Anden said so well, "The enemy of our enemy is.....uh... still our enemy."

From All We Are Saying - June 29, 2011

We can plant if we want to
We can leave clean hands behind
'Cause the seeds must grow and if they don't grow
We're in the unemployment line

From  The Safety Plantz  - May 8, 2010

And, we had a few more categories that we thought would be fun to share as "Best of" posts:

Best Post Featuring a GFF Critter: Mr Wren's Day
Best Post for other Farmers to Relate to: The Season for Farmer Delusional Syndrome

Best Philatelic Post: Misunderstandings and Irony
The "We can even make numbers (somewhat) enjoyable" Post: Things (Farm) Records are Made Of

Squish - ya, that's a squash. There is a summer squish, pumpkin squish, butternut squish and rotten squish that goes 'squish' when it's squashed.
2009 Mutual fascination between kids and turklets
Our blog is a chance to view the journey that is our time making the Genuine Faux Farm work.  There are difficult times, mistakes, successes and big projects.   In all cases, we remember to not take ourselves too seriously and above all that we must see the positive side and use humor to help us get past things that threaten to drag us down.


If the number of items with high VAPCONs is ridiculous and your VAPWWYTRat is high enough to warrant a farm-wide Red Flag Warning, then you are probably not actually dealing with VAPs.  Instead, you have succumbed to the temptation of creating OAPs (Overly Ambitious Plans).  And, we all know what that leads to...

A NAP (No Ambition Plan).

From VAP : July 8, 2016

Because You Need to Laugh Post: Know Your Okra, Know Your Farmer

Thank you for joining us for the first 1000 posts of the Genuinely Faux Blog.  Here's to 1000 more.

2016 Farmer Selfie!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Oh, Give Me A Home

Every day, we do chores to support our chicken and turkey flocks in the morning and we do chores for them every evening.  They need to be let out of buildings.  They need food.  The need water.  They need to be locked back in safely at night.  And, of course, we need to collect and clean eggs.  If something happens during the day that requires attention with respect to any of our flocks (hens, henlets, broilers (aka nuggets or boyus) and turkeys) we give it to them.

Of course, there are things that have to happen on a semi-regular basis as well.  We need to move buildings and fences.  We need to add straw to nest boxes and overnight rooms.  We repair shelters and deal with any bird that is injured or ill.  

In other words, we do spend a fair amount of time dealing with our poultry flocks each year.  This is why it sometimes hard for us to recall exactly how we USED to do things with the birds.  We get so many repetitions with new things in a short period of time that the "new" thing doesn't seem all that new for long. 

 For example, the building above was in poor repair at the end of last season.  Caleb and Rob spent some time on it this Spring (or maybe it was early Summer?) so it could be used by the henlets.  While it wasn't the most difficult job to do in the world, it still took time and effort. 

But, I use this as my case in point simply because I couldn't remember for sure WHEN we had refurbished that hoop building.  We've been dealing with it all Summer (and for nearly as long as the young hens (aka henlets) have been alive on the farm).
However, it has been time to integrate the young hens into the regular laying flock and move the 'retirees' out of the main flock.  The problem?  We can't just swap buildings.

Well, ok.  We CAN.  But, it isn't the solution we would prefer.  In fact, we've had a dream of creating a much more portable hen building for a few years now.  So, we decided to take this:
And modify it. 

If you'll notice in the picture above, we have used this flair box pretty much "as is" to shelter our retiree hens for the last couple of seasons.  It worked reasonably well... I guess.  But, collecting eggs was pretty difficult since we had to climb INTO the trailer to get them.  And, the roof was a slap together affair that wasn't terribly water tight.

Well, that trailer looks pretty different now:
Bryan has done the lion's share of the work on this, but we've had lots of other participants in the project.  Caleb helped Bryan and I put the roof on.  Darrell, Sue and Tammy got it painted.  Jocelyn, Caleb and Emma helped take the old flair box off the running gear.

It's been a project that's taken some time.  But, once it is done, we think we'll have something that will work well for some time to come.

Ah, chickens!  They've never had it so good!

Monday, October 9, 2017

October Newsletter


October, So Close - So Far Away.

Life on the farm always has its two faces.  One faces the light and the other is always turned away from it.  You may take that any way you want, of course.  But, I have been seeing the pattern from month to month this year as I've worked to create interesting monthly newsletters.  Each month has its positive, hopeful side.  And, of course, each has the reverse of the coin.  September was the month of despair and hope.  October is the month of  (to quote Grover) near and far....

We're so close to being done with the growing season.  Yet, there is so much to do and the end of the growing season is actually far, far away!  Unlike the despair and hope of September, it is not so clear to me that one of the opposites is entirely positive, nor is the other entirely negative.  There are many times where we rail against the marching of the days.  There is so much to do and so much potential still.  We don't want that killing frost and we're not ready for the growing season to end.  Except... we really would be ok if the growing season ended sometime soon.  As long as we get everything done first.

I suppose you could say we're conflicted about October.

Conflicted or not, here we are!  Enjoy our October newsletter.


October Calendar of Events

  • Delivery 21 ***My Garden is Dead Shares Begin***
    October 3: Delivery 21 Waverly
    October 5: Delivery 21 Cedar Falls
    October 10: Delivery 22 Waverly
    October 12: Delivery 22 Cedar Falls
    October 17: Delivery 23 Waverly
    October 19: Delivery 23 Cedar Falls
    Delivery 23 ***Traditional 20 Share ENDS***
    October 26: Turkeys go to "the Park"
    October 27: The Great Turkey Pickup
    October 31: Delivery 24 Waverly
Adding Some Members in the Fall:
If you are a current member with a Traditional 20 farm share, you can extend your season with deliveries 24-28 for only $150!  You will continue to get fresh produce until mid-December.  That includes a delivery of fresh veggies right before Thanksgiving.  Can you imagine being able to provide your extended family with some GFF lettuce as part of the Thanksgiving day meal? 

If you are not a current member, we are still willing to add some folks for the remainder of the season.  Contact us and we can quote a pro-rated price for the remainder of the season.

Poultry Orders - Get Those Turkeys Ordered!
Our broiler chickens usually taste very good and we have a hard time eating chicken sourced from elsewhere. 
This isn't just us trying to build up our own egos - it's just a fact.  We like how our chicken tastes.

BUT, people who have purchased broilers from us in the past are noticing that they taste EVEN BETTER this year.  Perhaps a bit more moist and tender.  It's really hard to quantify.  It's been enough of an improvement that we've now had multiple people ask us what we are doing differently this season.

Well, it's not the weather, we're pretty sure that's not it - though it has been fairly friendly for our birds.  It's not how we treat the birds, though we always try to do better with them every single season.  We don't think there are any huge changes in our treatment that would alter the taste.

But, we have changed to getting feed from the Canfield Family Farm this year.  While they are not certified organic, all of the grains are grown on their farm and the feed is processed on their farm.  They are located in Dunkerton, so they are fairly close to us AND they're just plain good people trying to make a diverse farm work.  We like the fact that there is a bit more variety of grains in this feed and we like that we can trace all of it (except the added trace minerals) to their farm.

While we can't prove that this is making a difference, we suspect it could be a contributing factor.
Here's the good news.  We have many more broiler chickens available for purchase.  And, the turkeys are being fed grains from the same farm.  We know you've enjoyed the turkeys in the past.  In fact, you got to enjoy some at the GFF Summer Festival if you attended.  What would you say if we're thinking this batch might taste even BETTER?

You'd better get on the ball and get one ordered!


Song of the Month
Paper Route is a group that is new to us, even though they have been around for a while.  Balconies is a song that came around for us at a time when we needed to hear it.  Therefore it gets "song of the month" status.


Recipe of the Month
October shares feature potatoes, onions, kale and garlic - a perfect start to some Zuppa Tuscano!

Zuppa Tuscano (Kale and Potato Soup) - GFF version

Ingredients

  • 3 brats, precooked or grilled, cut into cubes
  • 3 potatoes, cut into cubes
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 6 slices bacon (we find that cut up brats could work as well)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2-3 cups kale - washed, dried, and shredded
  • 2 tablespoons chicken bouillon powder
  • 1 quart water
  • 1/2 T salt
  • 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
Directions
  1. Cook bacon and onions in large fry pan until bacon is crisp and onions are almost clear.  Remove bacon and crumble. Set aside.
  2. Add garlic to the onions and cook an additional 1 minute.
  3. Transfer onions and garlic to large saucepan. Add chicken base or bouillon, water, and potatoes, simmer 15 minutes.
  4. Add crumbled bacon, brats and kale.  Simmer 5 minutes.
  5. Add cream and stir. Turn off heat, let sit 5 minutes and serve.
Yields approx 6 servings.


Field Report
If you have been reading our blog you've probably gotten enough "field report".  But, we'll try to give you some additional information because... well, it's tradition...  We're a farm, we have to give a field report, right?
Our September picture (top) as opposed to August (bottom)
The most difficult thing for Rob to do this time of year is to walk the fields and do an inspection.  Why?  Well, many of the crops look terrible now.  The once healthy summer squash vines are a shadow of their former selves.  The fields that were weeded and so clean have weeds in them again because we've had little time to do anything about them.  Most of the flowers are past their peak and are looking a little tired.  It can be hard to see all of that because after a season of hard work, you'd like to think that things would look great.  But, it's the way of the growing season for things to fade this time of year.

And then, we notice the monarchs on the clover that we mowed in late August.  We were hoping the timing for mowing was right and it appears that it was.  And the bees have been all over the basil.  Yes, the basil is looking a little rough now.  But, there is still plenty of flowers on the plants and the bees are more than happy to visit.  And, the thousand-flower asters are in full bloom  (and the insects like them too!).

We've got three rows out of twelve potato rows dug and in.  As we expected, we're going to get a mixed bag this year.  We have also pulled in most of the pumpkin-type winter squash.  The average size is a little smaller than usual, but not terribly so.  The numbers are about average, so we should be fine.  The butternut squash are scheduled to come in soon, but they're showing that they would like just a little more time on the vine.

The field tomatoes are telling us they are pretty much done, but the field peppers are actually wanting to give us something before it gets too cold.  Better late than never!  Meanwhile, our fall root and greens crops look fine - as long as we can keep the rabbits and deer out them.  Always something to do on the farm.


Picture of the Month
Guess what?  We like our borage flowers!  You could probably have guessed since there are two pictures of borage in this post.  The first is a more typical picture for us.  But, the dew and sunlight was just right, so I took the picture below.  It looks a good deal better if you click and see a larger rendition of this one.
Farm News Shorts
  • The West field for Eden is planted and the time is coming where we move Eden onto that plot and off of the East plot.  We're hesitating some because the tomatoes are doing so well in Eden East.  We may end up doing some covers on the West crops just to give the tomatoes a little more time.
  • We finally made time to clean and paint the shelves in the truck barn.  This may not sound like a big deal to you, but it's often 'little' things like this that become big accomplishments in October because it is something we managed to do that was beyond our normal farm work.  It hasn't hurt that outdoor temps are warmer than normal.


Time to Have Pun
We wanted to let everyone know that our flakiness in our blog is reflected in other ways at our farm as well!  For example, we name our compost piles.  Yes, yes.  We can be a little odd at times.  However, it might help you to understand if we tell you their names.  Mount Evermess and Mount Brushmore.  A few years ago we had a Mount RainHere and then it started raining and didn't stop.  We removed that compost pile.  We are still considering putting a small shed and fence around the asparagus patch.  The shed would have to have an overhang so it could be the Awning of the Cage of Asparagus.  I know, I've done that one before.  But, it would be SOOO good to actually build that thing.

Speaking of building, we're building a portable hen coop and I've considered putting a fireplace in it so we can have a "flue de coop."  But, since that is unlikely, I'll just tell you that we have a portable coop  so we can move them to fresher pasture areas.  In other words, it could be considered a coop de grass.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

2017 Crop Report


We have done this for a couple of years running and a few people have said they liked it.  So, here it is!  The annual crop status versus crop goals post.  We will continue to update this post as the harvest season continues for as long as we pay enough attention to do it.  I suppose you could say it will get updated as long as we enjoy doing it. After all, you can see the last update for 2016 was November 4 and there were still some crops coming in (but not too much).


All numbers with * are subject to change as the season continues. Updated 10/9/17


Green Beans
   goal -500 pounds                                                 
   2017: 377.2 pounds *                                             2016: 499.8 pounds
Broccoli
   goal - 500 pounds                                                   
   2017: 764.2 pounds *                                               2016: 210.6 pounds
and yes, this is a record for those of you who might be curious after our Things Farm Records Are Made Of post.
Cucumber
   goal - 3000 fruit                                                       
   2017: 1672 fruit                                                         2016: 3023 fruit 
Garlic
   goal - 3000 head                                                     
   2016: 2926 head                                                        2016: 3176 head
Bell and Sweet Peppers
   goal - 3000 fruit                                                     
   2017: 1162 fruit *                                                       2016: 3749 fruit
Zucchini
   goal - 800 fruit                                                     
   2017: 1099 fruit                                                         2016: 868 fruit
Lettuce
   goal -  500 pounds                                                 
   2017 -  339.9 pounds *                                            2016 -  868.6 pounds
Melon
   goal - 350 fruit                                                      
   2017 - 137 fruit                                                      2016 - 541 fruit
Onion
   goal - 2500 bulbs                                                 
   2017 - 1381 bulbs *                                                 2016 - 3205 bulbs 
Winter Squash
   goal - 600 fruit                                                  
   2017 - 991 fruit   *                                                  2016 - 938 fruit
Snow Peas
   goal - 150 pounds                                             
   2017 - 126.9 pounds                                             2016 - 134.8 pounds
Potatoes
   goal - 1500 pounds                                             
   2017 - 1095.2 pounds                                           2016 - 1597.4 pounds
Carrot
   goal - 300 pounds                                              
   2017 - 302.9 pounds *                                           2016 - 122.0 pounds
Kale
   goal - 350 pounds                                             
   2017 - 355.0 pounds    *                                       2016 - 245.8 pounds   
Pok Choi
   goal - 250 pounds                                              
   2017 - 265.9 pounds    *                                      2016 - 268.0 pounds
Snack Tomato
   goal - 2000 fruit                                               
   2017 - 2479 fruit    *                                            2016 - 2207 fruit
Beet
   goal - 150 pounds 
   2017 - 165.7 pounds *
Cabbage
   goal - 200 pounds
   2017 - 434 pounds
Cauliflower
   goal - 150 pounds
   2017 - 201.6 pounds
Eggplant
   goal - 800 fruit
   2017 - 881 fruit  *
Kohlrabi
   goal - 750 head
   2017 - 527 head  *
Tomato (slicer or larger)
   goal - 2000 pounds
   2017 - 1827.5 pounds *
Cherry Tomato
   goal - 2000 fruit
   2017 - 3539 fruit *
Turnip
   goal - 600 root
   2017 - 983 root *

This doesn't show all of the crops we grow, but we have added a number of them to the list this year.  I didn't quite feel like taking the time to put in 2016 numbers for some of the new ones - but that could change if I get a wild hair to do it.

The Good


We've already talked about the broccoli in our blog this year.  And then, we talked about it again in a post that also included discussion about our snack tomato crops.  It's just natural for a person to want to discuss something that is going well.

This has clearly been a good year for brassicae family crops on our farm.  The cabbage led the way by setting a farm record for most weight of produced, marketable heads and this was followed by the broccoli showing us enough side shoot love that we broke that record as well.  The cauliflower has followed suit, but it looks like we won't quite break the 200 pound mark. 

We feel like we can attribute some of this outstanding production to our own efforts and choices, but we also have to admit that it was probably just a darned good year for this sort of crop on our farm.  The cool August helped a fair amount.

The Good Enough
Most of our crops fall into the "good enough" category this year, which is perfectly fine with us.  In general, the quality has been very good to exceptional with the yield being reasonable, but not exceptional. 

The green beans are a good example.  The taste has been fantastic and the amount of green beans has been enough to keep our farm share CSA customers happy.  But, we don't have much extra beyond that this year.  Some of it is due to an issue with the wet weather in late July and some has to do with the time intensive nature of green bean harvest.  Because we lost the summer crop in Eden, we are stuck with a heavier load in the Fall - when we have less help to harvest.  Such is life.

In fact most of our crops are producing 'enough,' which is a nice thing to be able to say.  But, we would be lying if we didn't have our disappointments.

And the Ugly

Our biggest disappointment has got to be the field melons this season.  We really believed that we had the system figured out with these.  And, frankly, we still do.  However, they ran into the buzz saw that is field E1.  E1 has a history of making us feel like idiots and it did not fail in doing that this season as well.  We still got melons from the high tunnels, but it sure wasn't the bonanza we had dancing in our heads at the beginning of the year.  For those who are curious, we are permanently retiring E1 from annual vegetable production now.  We've "moved it" out of production and put cover crops and poultry on it to rehab it in the past.  But, there just is some bad karma going on there - so we're going to do something very different there starting this Fall.

Other disappointments have tended to be warm weather crops this season.  The cucumbers were less than they usually are and the field peppers have really had a tough time of it.  But, in each case, there is the potential for redemption even at this late date.  The third succession of cucumbers (a gamble) is actually starting to produce.  If we can keep the temps above 40 degrees F, we should get a nice little bump in that yield.  Similarly, the field peppers have fruit that are approaching readiness.  It won't be what we hoped for, but it will be better than what we've had thus far!

And Crops with Potential
It is still very early to report on all of our crops.  Three-quarters of the potatoes are still in the ground (which is not abnormal for us) and the winter squash is just now approaching readiness (also not abnormal).  Both have the potential to be reasonable crops, though we do not expect super high yields.  The 75% of the onions are still in the field after a late start and are approaching readiness as well.  We don't think they will be super big, but the taste thus far has been extremely good and the numbers should be fine.  There is plenty of season remaining for kale, spinach, lettuce, turnips, choi and other cool season crops.  In fact, it is often surprising how much comes in during the month of October.

Feel free to check in on this post every so often and see how we progress with our harvest.  And, if you have questions, feel free to post them!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Sometimes, It's Not About You

It's only natural for there to be some variability in our crop production from year to year.  The whole point is to become skilled at figuring out how to manage for that variability in a way that overall farm production is consistent.

HOWEVER (you had to know that was coming, didn't you?)

It's only human to wonder what you did wrong when a specific crop does relatively poorly and to take credit when that crop does exceptionally well.  But, sometimes - it's not actually about you.  Sometimes, it just wasn't a particularly good year for a given crop in your area (or for your farm).  In some seasons, the weather just doesn't favor that crop.  It may not matter what you do, the results are not going to be there.

And, now we get to the fun stuff.  You can guess why I am writing about it.  If you need a hint, here is a crop report post from October of 2016 (last year).

A Decent Start
We can point to a number of factors that might indicate why we are seeing some success this year with our tomatoes after last year's 'woes.'  We felt like we did a nice job getting things done this year with our tomatoes and we felt that perhaps we didn't do nearly so well last year.  Except, we have evidence that we really weren't doing so badly.  Below is a picture of some of this year's field tomatoes in August for comparison.
Certainly, there was some difference in our performance between 2016 and 2017.  But, the big difference was that we didn't get to caging some of the tomatoes in 2016.  This year, we just planted fewer tomatoes because we realized we can't handle as many as we planted in the prior year.  Otherwise, we had just about the same number of tomatoes caged, trellised, mulched, etc at about the same time in both years.  In other words, our care for the plants wasn't so different that we should expect much change in the yield.

Different Years, Similar Treatments, Different Results
We still have plenty of tomato harvest to go for 2017.  So, keep in mind that our 2017 numbers are incomplete.  And yet, they are already good enough to make it clear that 2016 wasn't a good tomato year from a yield perspective.  For example, we consider one of our favorite early producing tomatoes by looking at the fruit count for the entire 2016 year versus 2017 thus far:
                                                 2016   2017
Italian Heirloom (high tunnel)       201     225
Italian Heirloom (field)                 117     352
Number of field plants are the same.  High tunnel plants are up by 4 plants from 2016.

A 2.8 pound tomato is bound to create slices that cover your sandwich well.

I selected this variety for comparison because it is one we have a long history growing.  We grow more of this tomato than any other because it has been reliable for us over the years and we like the quality of the fruit.  Last year's production for this variety was abysmal (from our point of view).  Even the SIZE of the Italian Heirlooms in the high tunnel were disappointing as compared to other years:

Average Weight per fruit of Italian Heirloom in high tunnel production:
2015    .71 lbs
2016    .57 lbs
2017    .71 lbs

Huh.

Signs That All Things Are Not Equal
There were a number of indicators that there were some factors that were likely beyond our control last season.  For example, we had an issue with basil blight last August that pretty well finished our basil by mid-August.  This is a problem we have never seen before and was not really known in the Midwest - but it popped up in the Midwest last season.
But, our basil is still going in late September and it is attracting lots of pollinators this year.

And the high tunnel plants just seem much more vigorous and much more willing to reach for the sky (so to speak).  The picture below shows plants in Eden in early September.  They've put on a good deal more growth since that time.

Cluster of Red Zebra tomatoes
And, unlike last year, we're seeing the normal clustering fruit development that we expect in many of our snack tomatoes.  Last year, clusters were sparsely populated, which would explain some of these numbers:

Jaune Flamme per plant production in Eden
2015     142.8 fruit
2016      86.0 fruit
2017     124.4 fruit

And frankly, the Jaune Flamme plants in Eden don't look like they'll quit for a few more weeks (if then).  150 fruit per plant is definitely in reach this season.

I find it particularly telling that the downturn in production last year could also be found in the high tunnels.  We can control more variables in our high tunnel production environment and we tend to stay on top of our weeding, irrigation and other tasks in our high tunnels even more than we do in the open fields.  In fact, it was because of our high tunnel production that we had enough tomatoes to keep our farm share CSA members happy with heirloom tomatoes.  I'm not sure that could have happened if it were only field production last year.

Even Reliable Producing Cultivars Took A Season Off in 2016

Consider some of these numbers:
                               2016     2017
Wisconsin 55:              7         282
Nebraska Wedding:     57        164
Rutgers                     103       152

And, after you consider them, remember that we have more to pick for this season. 
Nebraska Wedding
 Perhaps it isn't all about us.  Maybe next year I'll just drop a bunch of seeds in the ground and let them do their thing?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Raining Cats and Dogs

It has been very dry at the farm since we had some very serious rain at the end of July.  At the point of those downpours, we were well ahead in terms of moisture for the year.  Now, we're probably at about the normal amount of rainfall for the year thus far (which tells you how far ahead we were).

I have to admit that I tend to prefer drier weather from a work perspective most of the time.  Obviously, if it gets so hot, dry and windy that all you do is water things, then it doesn't help.  But, drier this time of year on our farm, with our soil types and with the wetter start we had.. well, it's been okay for us.

For example, the field tomatoes tend to taste better if there is less rain during the ripening period.  The fruit also tend to hold a little better so we get nicer fruit.  On the other hand, crops like lettuce don't really want to get going because they apparently know the difference between irrigation and real rain.  Oh sure.  They'll grow and do decently.  But, give them a nice little soaker at about the point they are half-sized and you'll have some awesome lettuce!
West of the farm Sep 25 in the late afternoon.

As of this writing at 9:00 pm on September 25, the farm has received exactly 1 inch of rain for the day according to our weather station.  We can't complain since we did need it.

Bree, one of our Indoor Farm Supervisory Staff, has been complaining.  She is not particularly fond of thunder and we had a good bit of that earlier.  She found a rug in the kitchen that was near where her human was working and she hasn't left all evening (even when the human moves elsewhere).

The turkeys have not had much experience with thunderstorms.  In fact, I just realized that the last time we had serious thunder, they really didn't gobble because they were too young.  Apparently, they felt thunder required a response.  So, for each peal of thunder, they let loose with a "crowd gobble."  I, at least, found some humor in that.

Today's quick cloudbursts caused a bit of consternation in the turkey flock as well.  In this case, they did not crowd gobble.  Instead, there was a good deal of chirping and running around.   Sadly, they did not figure out that they could GO INSIDE if they wanted to get out of the rain.  Instead, they just ran around the pasture.  The farmer, on the other hand, did run for shelter.  Of course, by the time he got to said shelter, he was pretty wet.  So, maybe the turkeys have it right.  Get wet, stay wet - figure out how to enjoy it.

Want to learn more about turkeys on the farm?  Try this post!

Perhaps the most difficult thing about today's rain (and tonight's likely rain - and tomorrow morning's possible rain) is that it is Monday night.  We have shares to delivery in Waverly tomorrow.  That means we have harvesting to do.  And, that work is always more difficult after and during rain events.

Some of last week's share (thank you Cynthia for the photo)
Our farm shares have been very good this year (if we do say so ourselves) with good variety and excellent quality.  Plenty of quantity without being overwhelming for any one thing.  At least that's what we think!  And the produce is usually quite good looking as the above photo might suggest.

We're pleased to be able to do a good job for our customers.  Sometimes, things may not look this nice and as often as not, the reason is the timing of rain.

Summer squash fresh out of the field after/during a rain.
This may come as a surprise to some, but plants grow in the soil.  And, when it rains, the aforementioned soil becomes mud.  Some of that mud adheres to the fruit we harvest.  It's a thing.

Really.

But, we work to clean things up as best as we can given whatever time we have prior to leaving for deliveries.  And, more often than not, we get it all done.  But, on days when the rain persists and the weather throws us a fair amount of lightning a choice is sometimes made.  Do we opt to harvest something we can't get cleaned and offer it OR do we opt to not harvest it and not give that item at all for this delivery?

The choice always depends on a number of things (what else is already in the share?  will these things hold in the field ok?) and the decision is rarely taken without some thought.  But, in the end, we have an advantage with our delivery method.  Each item has its own tray and members can opt to take or not take each item.  If a little dirt offends, people can let it be.  Happily, our farm share members know how to clean produce - which means these items are usually taken.  They get it.  Sometimes the farmers need just a little bit of understanding and sometimes the summer squash need a few seconds of rinsing before they go into that grill packet you'll be having tonight for dinner!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Stories of a Moment in Time

And now for something that is completely different from your regularly scheduled GFF farm blog!

If you like postal history and/or philately, you will find that I periodically do write about my hobby and share here.  I very much enjoy finding old postal artifacts and researching them.  During the Winter months I will make a goal to spend some time in the evening researching and writing up a page for an item or two in a fashion that I think is interesting.

If you have problem viewing any of these images, you can click on them to view them in a larger format.


Links to Another Moment in Time
I am most attracted to postal history items from the 1860's and the surrounding period of time.  This stems initially from my enjoyment of the stamp designs of the period.  But, it is also a very intriguing time in history.  But, you could also say that it attracts me for a couple of other reasons.  First, it is far enough removed from the current day that the negative events feel less immediate.  It's easier to view them from a safe distance.  And, second, there is no way I have the time to look at all eras and all places.  Pick and choose your area.  And, since it is a hobby, you go with what is interesting to you as you are looking around.


I used to think that I wanted to just do a stamp collection, until I realized that filling all of the spaces was not only impossible, but it was darned expensive.  Then, I learned about postal history and found a way to combine my love of the postage stamp with my enjoyment of history.  One of the cool side benefits is that you can actually acquire some stamps that might otherwise have been unobtainable if you are willing to gain knowledge in the postal history field.

The item above is a legal notice that was most likely ignored by the recipient.  At the time, most mail was kept at the post office for pick up.  If an item was not picked up, it might be returned to the sender (if that was known).  The interesting thing about this one is that I have actually known people who were in a similar situation and took a similar approach to a legal summons.  It caught up to them eventually.  I wonder if it caught up to this person?

Traveling the World on a Shoestring
Our choices in life have allowed us to travel limited amounts.  More than some, less than others.  But, neither of us is interested in great amounts of travel either.  The neat thing about postal history is that you can take a virtual trip, like this letter that traveled from Southwest France to Southern Spain.   

And, if you like maps, you can combine that into your hobby.  It just so happens that my grandfather had an O gauge model railroad that we used to enjoy running when we would visit.  So, the added bonus is the little factoid about the different rail set up between France and Spain. 

People Were Different, People Were the Same
Every time I see the familiar in an old piece of postal history, I actually develop a sense of belonging and a sense of kinship with people from different times and places.  The item shown below is a "prices current" that was sent with buy prices for meats, grains and other common agricultural items. 

The simple fact that people dealt in the production, sale and delivery of foodstuffs reminds me of a common thread that spans nations, cultures and generations.  But, the small differences are what make it all so very interesting.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled farm blog.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Grab A Picture, Write About It

I actually have a backlog of topics that I'd like to put in the blog, which is nothing new.  Some of these topics may percolate for months before I get enough time/desire together to write on them.  Others will sit there and never come to fruition.  The issue with those topics is that they take a bit more effort than I can often give, but I still feel like getting some new material onto the blog. 

If I can actually get myself to grab the camera and take a farm picture or two, I automatically have material.  I just have to grab the photos that seem like something can be said about them and there we are!

This posts theme?  Green and growing things CAN still look good in September!

Those of us who work outside and observe nature can tell you that many plants start to look a little bit more tired after the Summer Solstice.  Tree leaves lose a little of their luster, grass usually grows a bit slower and looks a bit browner (though that's often more because of the amount of rain one gets) and some of our longer season veggie plants look less robust.  It's just the way things are.

But, if you have a field that still looks this good in mid-September:
You know you've done a pretty good job. 

In the center are two rows of broccoli flanked by a bed of onions on each side.  The broccoli is now working on side-shoots.  All of the main heads have been harvested.  The broccoli plants look ok, but aren't quite as beautiful as they were a month ago.  The onion plants also look fine.  They are a bit slow for us this year.  They went in later than we wanted.  But, they are healthy now and they are getting to where we want them.  Just taking their sweet time about it.

We treated ourselves to a couple of dahlia bulbs this Spring and planted them inside of Eden.  Here's what we get to see now:
We purchased two types of dahlias.  We used to grow these and gave up because these little green bugs would got at them this time of year and destroy the flowers.  Oddly enough, the other dahlia is getting destroyed but this one is not.  Ok, we'll take it!  There are a number of blooms on both of these, so here's hoping we get to enjoy them for another week or so.
Then, there are the zinnias.  They do start to look a little bit rougher in September, but they remain beautiful.  It's just easier to enjoy the beauty if you don't spend time giving them critical once-overs.  If you do that, you'll see some browned leaves and finished flowers.  We don't have time to dead-head these rows, so that's just what happens. 

But, the Monarchs and Painted Ladies like them.  I've seen some hummingbirds checking them out now as well. 
And then, there are late plantings like our third succession of summer squash and zucchini.  They are small plants, but they are already producing.  It's nice when you take a gamble with a late planting and get what looks like a win out of it!

Since these are younger plants, they do look a bit greener than the older plants.  However, the sad thing about heat loving plants like these is that they will 'age' much more quickly in September than they do in June, July and August.  Already we are seeing some signs that they will not last terribly long.  But, we're not complaining!  Some fresh zucchini and summer squash in mid-September is a real treat and we're happy to share that treat with our CSA farm share members!

A simple stir fry with hamburger, onions, garlic, summer squash, zucchini and Pintung Long eggplant was a winner for us last night (and tomorrow's lunch!).

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Good Morning

Good Morning!

It's a beautiful day at the Genuine Faux Farm and we're glad you decided to stop by today!  We hope you're not allergic to cats, because Inspector is coming towards you.  He is our official farm greeter.

He's an incredibly friendly cat and he just loves to be picked up and held.  But, he knows it's a CSA morning.  That means his farmer friend needs to get to work harvesting for the farm's share holders.  Happily, Rob does make sure to get food and water to Inspector, the Sandman and Soup before getting started.  The Outdoor Supervisory Crew is now set for the day!

And, yes, Farmer Rob does give each of a the Outdoor Supervisors a skritch before the day officially starts.  We've got to keep the workers happy.

It's time to load up the cart with containers for harvest.  While we're at it, we'd better be sure to have the scale along for the ride and maybe a little music.  It's possible we'll forego the music for a while today so we can enjoy the sounds of nature. 

Sometimes, the music is a necessity and other times it's just a nice addition.  But, today we've got a cardinal singing to us - something that doesn't happen all that often in September.  We've got some barn swallows chittering and telling us all about their plans for today and.. wait.. what's that?
Oh, yes, that's Inspector meowing at us again.  Apparently we didn't give him quite enough attention.  You know he won't leave us alone until we do this up right and proper.  So, we'll pick him up this time and turn him upside down for a belly rub.  That ought to do it.

Now that we've met that obligation, let's take the camera with us this morning.  The light is good and I'd like to get a little recording done before Caleb gets here to help with the cleaning and packing.  Besides, once we get to harvesting, there is little time to stop and look around.

It looks like it is time to run the irrigation on the young kohlrabi plants already.  It's been very dry here since late July when we got ridiculous amounts of rain.  So, it's good that we have drip line set up and ready to go. 

These plants will put on a significant amount of growth in a pretty short period of time, but we've got to remember that the days will be getting shorter and that will slow their progress.  It looks like we might be pushing this crop a little bit, but we don't feel like it is too far off the mark.

There is a bit of dew on the grass this morning and the light is making everything seem a bit brighter today.  That makes for a great day to try and get some close-up pictures of the borage.  Borage collects a fair amount of dew and it literally sparkles when the morning sun hits them.  I try to take a moment at least once a year to look at borage flowers "up close and personal" on a morning with these conditions.  I don't always have the camera when that happens, but we've got it this time.
While we're at it, let's see if we can capture a picture of our shy nasturtium flowers.   We put them in our winter squash rows and they are often not easily seen this time of year when the vines are crawling all over the field.  We like the nasturtium because they help reduce the incidence of vine borers in our winter squash plants.  But, I realize, on days like this, that we underestimate their beauty most days.  Today is not one of those days.  They look great and I appreciate what they do for us.
We've had a large number of Painted Lady butterflies on the farm this year.  In fact, I've heard that there is a very large population in Iowa this year.  It's a bit early in the day for the peak of butterflies on the zinnias, but some are already catching some of the sun's rays and sipping nectar.  They seem to be a bit camera shy.  I can stand and watch them open their wings when I don't have the camera up and ready to go.  But, once the camera is up and I set the focus, they fly away.  Let's just take a quick shot of one with the wings closed and then let them go about their business.

This makes me think about the monarch population for the season.  We haven't seen much of them at all this year, despite all of our efforts to get plants on the farm that they like.  I can't help but wonder if they could make a comeback like the bald eagles have.  Then, I start to worry that they won't make a comeback.  Unfortunately, that's a bit of a downer thought on this glorious day, so we should accentuate the positive as a monarch appears and floats lazily down the zinnia row.

Uh oh!  Here comes Inspector again.  You know, this might be one of those times where his interruptions are a good thing.  I really do need to get to work and I can still think about and 'solve' the world's problems while I pick.

Let's give Inspector one more skritch and then go about our respective ways.  We hope you have a good day!