Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Breathing In A Chemical Haze

[editor's note: This post was started in July of 2017 after a particularly difficult day on the farm.  Sometimes, I feel it is better to get away from the situation to consider carefully what is to be said - if anything.  I started work on it again this Winter when I realized it may just be that something needs to be said often enough to encourage change.  As a testament to how hard the subject can be to talk about, I had to take it up again in March.  So, here goes something.]

It's the end of July and the air is heavy and warm.  The sun is part way towards the horizon in the West as it tries to burn through a chemical haze.  The breeze doesn't want to come out to play this evening and I wouldn't blame it if it were more interested in an ice-cold lemonade while it sits on the porch.  However, I am certain that it would not opt to sit outside tonight if it could choose.

This evening had the potential to be a beautiful Summer evening.  While the day was warm, it was not oppressively so.  The sun was bright, but not blinding.  Since it was Friday, there were no additional workers on the farm.  That meant we could more easily run a couple of errands during the hottest part of the day and use the cooler hours in the evening to work in the fields.  There is something relaxing about the knowledge that you have a fair amount of work to do, but week-long stresses of working AND managing the work of others can be eased away by taking a productive walk behind a wheel hoe.

Unfortunately, it is "Spray Season" in Iowa.  Eighty-five percent of the land in this state is farmed in some fashion (30.5 million of 35.7 million acres according to USDA 2016 numbers).  Of the acres that are farmed, 23.4 million were dedicated to corn and soybeans (76.7%).  Another 2 million acres were planted to hay and alfalfa and about 170,000 were in small grains.  It would be safe to make the observation that nearly all of the corn/soybean acreage is farmed using herbicide, fungicide and pesticide applications as their most common tool.  And, everyone is frantically trying to get the pesticide and fungicide applications done in Bremer and the surrounding counties during a ten-day period.  But, this Friday was the peak.  Everyone wanted to spray and they wanted to spray NOW.

The buzz of airplane engines started  just before 7 AM and were still going at 7 PM.  The whine of high-boy spray rigs rushing down the road at their top speeds gave an unwelcome counterpoint, though I have to admit there were certainly fewer of those since aerial spray seems to be the thing to do.  If there were birds singing - and I actually doubt that they were - you couldn't hear them.  In fact, I found myself hoping that the birds and other critters we like had found good places to hide.  Unfortunately, with the human tendency to tear out every brushy area or stand of trees because it is "not productive land" I doubt there were many places they could go to find sanctuary.  In just five years, as a response to high corn and soybean prices, 97,000 acres of woodland in Iowa were cleared (from 2009 to 2013).  Three quarters of these losses are due to agricultural operations and Iowa now has 100 million trees fewer than we did in 2010.

 Agri-chemicals are to commodity crops what pharmaceuticals are to the health industry.  We all want to a take a pill or spray a chemical and make the problem go away.  The case study of bifenthrin, which was registered for use in 1985, illustrates the expansion of use for many chemicals in agriculture.  You can find similar maps and view them to your heart's (dis)content at the United States Geological Survey site.

While it is true that not every chemical shows the same trend as bifenthrin, you should take note of the state that is most often completely covered to show heavy use for a wide range of herbicides, pesticides and fungicides.  Why, yes, that is our state - Iowa.  To further make the point, I suggest that you go to the survey site linked above and check out Atrazine, Trifloxystrobin, Glyphosate (Round up) and whatever else you are curious about.  If you wish to see these maps better, click on them to see a larger image.

A new hatching of dragonflies were zipping around the East fields of our farm this morning and I took pleasure in watching them go from hovering in one spot to hovering in another after a quick movement in what seemed like an impossible direction.  Then, I found myself apologizing about all of the pesticides that were certain to be added to every surface of the county over the next few days.  I muttered something about 'bad timing' and 'I hope you all survive this.'  What a strange thing to say to a creature that has ancestors that were on this earth 300 million years ago.  A dragonfly is a fantastic predator (if a bit indiscriminate) to have on our farm since it will eat any number of pests that might cause problems with our vegetables.  The adults can live for several weeks to a couple of months if a bird or other larger predator doesn't take them.  This batch was seen on our farm for two days.  Fill in the blanks.  We may work to provide habitat and a safe haven on our farm that these critters favor, but they don't see borders the same way we do. 

But, then again, airborne spray doesn't see borders like we do either.  And, let's be honest, the sheer volume of pesticides being dumped on acre after acre of land in Iowa results in coverage that is not limited to just the target crops.  We all know this, we just don't want to think about.  In fact, we are so adverse to thinking about the possibility that we are willingly poisoning our world that we aren't even doing much research to either prove or disprove this.  It's a good deal like avoiding seeing the dentist about the tooth that hurts because you are afraid that she'll say you have a cavity.  The sheer volume of spraying going on during the end of July helped to make the air heavy and difficult to breath.  A quick look to the skies reminded me of smog we had witnessed during visits to certain larger cities.  And, it didn't just look that way on our farm.  It looked and felt that way when were in Tripoli... and Sumner... and Waverly, as we ran errands during the heat of the day.

So, what does that mean for us as we consider the 200 foot rows of broccoli and onions that need a pass with the wheel hoe?  Are we supposed to go shut the windows of our 100+ year-old farmhouse and hide?  Does that mean we are supposed to stay inside for this ten to fourteen day period?  How are we supposed to do the work that we do if we shouldn't be outside?  What about all of the other people who work outdoors in the Summer months?  Is it okay that their bodies have contact with all of this stuff during spray season?  Are all of the outdoor enthusiasts supposed to stay in?  Should the bike paths, swimming pools and tire swings stay empty at this time?  And what about all of the creatures on this earth that have no 'inside' to go to?  Are we just supposed to deal with it since it is the cost of living in Iowa?

My answer depends on the moment.

On bad days, I DO want to run and hide.  It hurts too much to witness this.  It worries me every time we enter each Spray Season - and it isn't just the July season - we worry during the Spring herbicide spray season too.  I wonder if I should tell our young workers who are often high school and college age that they should go home and not work during Spray season.  We have pulled them from fields before, maybe they should just never go out during that time?  And, what about us?  What sorts of physical issues are we creating for ourselves because we chose to do the work that we do?

On better days, I get angry and I want to see change.  I want to see more meadowlarks and tiger swallowtails.  I want to see the skill and art of farming return with the use of a bigger toolbox than the one provided by application from a sprayer boom.  I want to see dragonflies darting around me as I walk behind a wheel hoe amid the broccoli and onion rows.

What do you want?

Sunday, March 11, 2018

An Appreciation for Cultivation

I have taken on a side project for my postal history hobby that allows me to write about the hobby without necessarily inflicting it on persons who are looking for farming related posts.  I hope to periodically put things out on my own postal history blog (with concentration in winter months - I wonder why?).   The intent is to give me a forum to collect my thoughts on what I know (or think I know) and work on arranging them in a way that I like.  The following was in response to an interesting idea another philatelist suggested.  I felt that it actually might give insight to some of the things I like when I work outside on our farm.  The base text was written in December of 2017 and it has since been edited.
The wind came howling through Iowa today and I decided it was not a good day to be working outside.  While I am glad that I am entering the 'off-season' on the farm, there are days when I actually miss walking behind the wheel hoe.

For those who do not know, a wheel hoe is a two-handled tool that has some sort of cultivating blade.  The back of the top cover shows five people using two-wheeled wheel hoes to cultivate on either side of a crop.  The front of the cover shows a farmer with a seeder that has a similar configuration to the wheel hoes.  The lower cover shows a 'walk-behind' tractor.  We actually use both types of cultivation tools on the farm.  The machine powered tool certainly has its uses, but it's a combustion engine, so it makes its share of noise.  And, before you start thinking the powered tool is easier to use, I can tell you that it will work a fair share of your muscles.  If you would like to view these items more closely, you can click on the picture below.

Some of my best days on the farm have been those where the weather was not too windy and the soil was JUST RIGHT for cultivation.  If you pick up the right amount of speed, the soil just rolls over the top of the cultivating blade, easily exposing the roots of the weeds I am targeting.  Wheel hoe work can be mildly strenuous, but not so much that it can't also be pleasant.   You can listen to nature - or listen to music - or just be alone with your thoughts.  All the while, you're getting real work done.

The soil and steel have a sound and a feel on days like this that is soothing.  That sound confirms that progress is being made without drowning out the goldfinches exclaiming over the gift of sunflower seeds ("For meeeee?!")  Sometimes you walk close enough to the crop that your leg brushes against its leaves.  If you're lucky, that crop is basil (ok, you're lucky if you LIKE the smell of basil).  Maybe a butterfly will land on the bill of your cap.  The iced tea in the thermos tastes especially good when you stop at the end of a row and a little bit of sweat tells you that you're earning your keep.

The wheel hoe is your companion as you take a tour of the world that is the Genuine Faux Farm fields.  The 'cucumber frog' jumps out just in time to startle you a little bit and you notice a new hatching of lady beetles.  You remind yourself to trust that they will find enough of the aphids to make a difference for your peas and lettuce.  It looks like one of the tomatoes was broken by the storm a few days ago and it is not going to make it.  Well, that happens.  The other three hundred plants in this field look pretty good.

The sunlight's angle this time of day allows you to see the world in a different way, with the contrast of light and shadow.  The zinnia flowers can still dazzle, but the cool blue flowers on the borage love the way the light shows off their beauty this time of day.  A light evening breeze actually reminds you that the weather isn't always as hot as it was just a little while ago.

It looks like the green beans will have their first picking by next week - our favorite veggie.  Lightly steamed with some real butter.  The sun is telling me it must be about time for a break to have dinner.  Maybe we'll just pick a pot full of beans, even if they're a little small, and go cook them up now.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Break Week

It is March and Professor Tammy gets to be on the farm during Winter Break week!  While she still has to be Professor Tammy and do lots of grading and plenty of other school related things, she also has been able to put on her "Farmer Tammy" hat.  It's always amazing how much more work gets done on the farm when there are two farmers running around and finding ways to look busy.

Sunday, Sunny Sunday (and Saturday too!)
The week started with warmer than usual weather and lots of sunshine.  Our initial plan was for Tammy to try to get school work done early during break so it wouldn't be weighing on her during the rest of the time she had "off."  But, one look at the forecast and we were sold on revising that plan.  The only downside?  It was a bit windy.
Garfield by Jim Davis
We started the day out with the mundane task of putting fresh straw into the hen room after we let the birds out.  It's always easier to do that on a nice day and most of the birds aren't in the way.  However, there are always a few that just HAVE to see what you're doing.  We don't mind it too much - but we'd love it if they would WAIT until we leave the room before they start kicking the straw OUT of the laying boxes when we worked so hard to put that same straw IN to the laying boxes.
But we LOVE to kick straw around!
There were all sorts of 'treats' for us on Saturday.  It was warm enough to hang laundry outside - something we prefer to do rather than use the dryer.  And, we'd had a couple of long weeks and the laundry got backed up, so there was plenty of it to wash and hang.  We were able to work in Valhalla and begin prepping the ground in that building for early Spring planting.  While it was windy outside, the high tunnel provides us with some protection.  The only negative here is how ridiculously noisy it is in that building on a very windy day.  Sunday was even windier than Saturday (but still nice) so we did some tree pruning.
We're hoping to get MORE than one pear this season.
Weather took a turn on Monday, so we made it a 'paperwork' day.  Tammy put on her "Professor Tammy" hat and Rob was still wearing his "Farmer Rob" hat.  Speaking of which... when does Rob wear any other hat than the "Farmer Rob" hat?  Inquiring minds want to know!  Rather than regale you with all of the exciting paperwork we did, I will move on to Tuesday afternoon for this fine telling of farmer tales of daring do - hopefully without too many incidences of doodoo.

Perhaps some of you have read here or elsewhere that we are trying to fix the kitchen in our old farmhouse.  (Imagine that!  The farmers live in a farmhouse!  Who woulda thunk it?)  Anyone who has done this sort of work while living in the house knows what that means.  And, if you don't know, I'll tell you.  It means you have to find ways to move your kitchen around in stages so you can go about your normal daily business.  That was a good bit of Tuesday.  And now you know.

Wednesday we became the 'Traveling Farmers' as we ran errands all over northeast Iowa.  While some of the errands might make us sound normal (going to the bank, the pharmacy, recycling, dropping some neat things at Trinkets and Togs, etc) there were others that clearly identified us as 'different.'  A trip to Nolt's to pick up drip tape, plant starting soil and other supplies made sure to make the trip up with Chumley, our truck, worthwhile.  But, perhaps the most disturbing thing about Wednesday is that we left the farm after chores at about 6:20 am and we returned about 12 hours later.  Look, when errands take you to places near Waverly, Charles City, Protivin and Sumner, there's going to be some serious road time.
The farmers even paid attention to the Supervisory crew!
As far as Thursday has been concerned - do you remember that kitchen project?  Well, there are now fewer cabinets in the kitchen.  We got one set of them down and once another set is down, we can start fixing the walls and ceiling.  We're a bit out of practice for this sort of thing, but it is coming back to us quickly.  We even found time to do *more* school/farm paperwork, participate in an interview AND take a tom cat that has taken to hanging around in to the vet so that certain parts of him wouldn't continue hanging around - if you know what I mean.

Tomorrow's big task?  Lots and LOTS of seeding!  Hang on to your hats kids, this is going to be fun!

Just keep your eyes open for clouds that look like a cow.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

March Newsletter

Mud Season
Every person I know that actively farms refers to "Mud Season."  For those people who do not farm, you can probably guess exactly what we are referring to, but I suspect you might have a difficult time fully appreciating the significance Mud Season has for those of us who farm.  There is no getting away from the mud and you can't just stop doing farm chores and wait for it to dry up.

Mud Season starts when it decides to start and ends when it is finished.  Sometimes, you can get a reprieve from Mud Season only to have a recurrence of Mud Season and you can get reminders of Mud Season at times that are not actually Mud Season.  Mud Season is a time to give up on keeping the entryway clean in the house, keeping the car or truck clean is a hopeless task and a trip outside without the muck boots is NOT advised.  A farmer might think that she has managed to go form point A to point B on the farm without getting muddy only to realize hours later that there are mud spatters on the back of her pants leg as she stands in front of students in the classroom (yay for Tammy!).

On our farm, Mud Season could begin any time there is a thaw after the frost has really set in the ground.  But, it normally starts in earnest in late February into early March.  There is still plenty of frost in the ground, but the top couple of inches have thawed out due to warmer temperatures and stronger sunshine.  The combination of snow melt (assuming there was snow) with a little bit of rain can get Mud Season going in earnest.

At present, we are at the stage of mud season where our farm is covered in puddles that have ice chunks floating in them.  You can take one step and sink into the mud about six inches and in the next step the ground is rock hard.  Much of our ground is a soft and slippery 2 inch layer of top soil over the still frozen dirt (at last report our frost line was 3+ feet deep).  The gravel roads around us work hard to pull vehicles into (or out of) the wheel tracks and we are unlikely to drive our tractor anywhere on the farm unless we REALLY need to for fear that the vehicle we need to pull things out will also get stuck.

So, welcome to Mud Season.  See you all on the other side - whenever that is.

Picture of the Month

Just a taste of Mud Season

Farm News Shorts and Announcements

  • Chicken shares are nearly completed for all participants for this round.  We will be taking reservations for the upcoming year's chicken shares as of now.  These will start when our first batch of broilers are processed around July 4th.
  • CSA Shares are now available.  We will be offering the same set of shares as 2017 with the same price structure.  Information is RIGHT HERE on this blog if you are interested.  Don't let the year date stop you if I don't catch all of the 2017's and change them to 2018!
  • Speaking season has come to a close for Rob with his completion of speaking engagements at Wartburg, UNI and Hawkeye Community College.  At this point, we typically change to farm tours with an occasional exception for other speaking opportunities.  Thank you to all who have given him an opportunity to share.
  • The annual Nota Conference is held by the "Gang of Five Farms" every January/February to give us a chance to enjoy each other's company and help each other plan and handle life's challenges on our farms.  It was a bit later than usual this year, but it was every bit as valuable as it has been other seasons.  We're not sure what we would do without our peers' support and kindness.
  • The season of "Service Trip Groups" is beginning at the farm as well.  A high percentage of Wartburg students participate in service trips and they are required to do something to help fund these trips.  Each Spring (and often Fall) we have from one to three groups come out to the farm and do things that many hands can accomplish sooner than just two or four hands.  One example of a group visiting can be seen in this blog post.
February Calendar

  • March 14 (Wed) -  Egg sales Waverly and Cedar Falls
  • March 27 (Tue) - Egg sales Waverly and Cedar Falls
Weather Wythards
Rob is writing this post AWAY from the weather station and the farm.  It is difficult to get the information from it when you can't see it (and it is not internet enabled).

But, if you want a summary.  It was cold for a spell and warm for a spell.  There was rain, snow and ice.  Some days were windy.  Others were calm.  We saw the moon and stars sometimes.  One day, the sun came out and we were happy.

You are welcome!

Song of the Month
King's X is a group that has been a long time favorite of mine.  In my opinion, they've never settled for easy - which gets my respect.  This month's song is Fly - a reminder to me that I don't need everyone to agree with everything I do and say. 

Time to Have Pun
It's been pretty cold the last several months.  Cold enough that we've been forced to use the furnace much later than usual (and much more than usual).  The extremes to which we have gone this Winter (and early Spring) to stay warm are best illustrated by a recent trip a couple of friends took kayaking down the Wapsipinicon River.  In case anyone cares, that river is only a little over a mile away from us. 

In any event, the river was open, but it was pretty cold.  And, of course, they hit a snag and flipped the kayak.  They righted themselves easy enough, but now they were very cold and had a ways to go to get out of the river.  So, they floated close to shore, grabbed some dry twigs and proceeded to start a fire on the kayak to warm up.

Of course, the kayak sank and they had to wade to the bank and hike to the road.

Why am I telling you all of this?

Remember - You can't have your kayak and heat it too.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Genuine Fun Facts

Every once in a while, Tammy and I see something and say, "Hm, that might be interesting for other people to see on the blog."  Sadly, most of the time, we say this when neither of us is prepared to write it down.  As a result, there are a whole bunch of great ideas that fall out of our brains and rattle around on the floor.  So, if you see some of our ideas sitting on the edge of street somewhere, please direct them to us.

Genuine Faux Farm By the Numbers
Many of you already know that Rob likes his numbers.  Sometimes, the numbers actually interest other people as well, so we thought we would share a few that might be enjoyable.

Mr Aubergine wants to know...
 120,297 - the number of eggs our laying hens have produced from 2012 to 2017.  No, it's not the same group of laying hens every year.  We have a great post about the ladies that answers a number of questions about how we raise the birds.  Now is a good time to point you to the Poultry Slam post from 2015.

36,827 - the number of cucumbers harvested on our farm since 2006.  Yep, that's about 3000 a year.  All that time picking cucumbers and wondering when the cucumber frog is going to startle the farmer...

164 and 11.1 - the number of songs a typical GFF month's music play list contains and the number of hours that playlist would normally take to play in its entirety.  Last year's Harvest Festival play list was only 134 songs, so I guess I fell short on that one, but the days were getting shorter, so 8.8 hours was usually pretty good.

250, 350, 400, 500, 600, 800 - the number of dollars it takes to sign up for one of our CSA share programs.  There are many options that may fit you and your family.  Luckily enough for you, we have openings and are now taking reservations!  Prices on the website are current, even if the farmer missed changing the year date on the web.

Genuine Faux Farm, A History

There WERE Foxes on the Genuine Faux Farm

Take a look at the larger crack in that foundation.
 In 2007/2008, after the old hog building came down, a vixen decided we had the perfect place to raise a few kits.  We were able to get a few pictures and were also able to contact photographer, Kip Ladage.  Kip came out and got some great pictures (one of which is signed and hanging on our kitchen wall).  Once he had captured his photos, we went about our normal business of farming.  This was too much for Mama and she moved the kits away soon after.  Frankly, if they would have entered a contract of not killing all of our chickens, we'd have been happy to have them stay.  But, having us as their neighbors was just a bit too close for comfort from their perspective.

 That Old Barn Was Good for Something
 Those who have been to the farm over the last five or so years, but not prior, have not seen the old barn with a roof and siding.  While was still largely intact it was the perfect nesting space for barn swallows.  There were always two major hatchings of chicks and once they fledged we'd get to see the grand line-up on the electric lines.  Sadly, with fewer nesting spots, we don't get to see this any more.

The Year the Cucumbers Would NOT Grow
Just... pitiful
The farm is full of lessons of humility.  One of our earliest such lessons came in 2008 when we had a year where one of the 'easiest' crops to grow simply wouldn't.  The following year was a bit better, but 2010 was the year of the cucumber.

You Did What When?!?

Young Horticulturalist?
Would you like your plants to get big and healthy this year?  Diligently prune off the flowers just as Tammy did in her family's garden.  Just remember that you won't get any fruit if you take off ALL the flowers.  But, then again, if that's the goal you want....

Deliveries by GFF Started Earlier Than You Think
Officially, the Genuine Faux Farm started operations in 2005.  But, the very first deliveries were made years earlier - even before Rob and Tammy met.  The produce came from the 'garden' Grandpa Faux maintained and he was happy to have a high school baseball player available to run the gauntlet that were essentially 'drive-by vegetablings.'

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Enough is Enough

Every year, the farmer gets big ideas about all of things he will accomplish.  Every year, the farmer gets an enforced "vacation from everything" as he fights some virus or another in the latter part of January or early part of February.  Every year, the farmer has to fight to maintain some level of progress on all of the fronts he has chosen to engage.

And, it doesn't work.  Or at least, according to some measures, it doesn't appear to work.

Then, the farmer takes a moment and finds a picture like the one above.

And the farmer decides.  He can't do it all.  But, he can do enough.  In fact, he can do more than enough.  Sometimes we have to realize that enough is enough.

How's that for an introduction to a blog post?

So, What's Up For February at the Farm?

February is the month where we begin to plant for the new season.  We will be starting our onion plants in trays along with some herbs and a few flowers.  It is likely that we will be seeding some spinach and other early season crops for the high tunnels as well.  There won't be too much planting just yet, but there is enough to keep us involved in the growing process.
Whatcha doin'?

Perhaps the biggest thing to accomplish in February is the purchase of supplies and new equipment for the upcoming season.  The seed orders get made (and paid for).  Plant starting mix, drip tape and numerous other items also are identified and ordered (and paid for).  In short, there is a good deal of research and evaluation of product that is paired with budget projections so we can figure out where a significant portion of our money will go for the season.

Of course, we still have laying hens on the farm, and they require daily attention.  On the colder days, there are many visits out to the hen room to collect eggs before they freeze.  On the warmer days, we try to encourage the hens to run around the pasture more.  Apparently they aren't too keen on aerobics classes, so we'll settle for throwing a few treats out there for them to chase.
I am NOT thrilled about this.

While it is not a 'farm' thing, we are also engaged in trying to get some home repair projects going.  It is true that we might prefer to do some of these things in warmer weather.  But, growing things tends to take up our time in the warmer months.  I guess that leaves January and February for home projects.  

As I write this, I realize how sneaky-busy February is for us at the farm.  We set up research projects, do our taxes, promote the new season's CSA, work to find other outlets for our produce and we continue to sell eggs, chickens and whatever produce remains from last season.  The organic certification paperwork is due and Rob has a few presentations scheduled.
Natural farmer habitat in February?

If that all sounds like too much office work and not enough "real" farm work, then we'll remind you that we also have to do some repairs to the high tunnels and there is still old trellising to take down in one building.  We've got containers to clean and some electrical to run in a couple of the buildings.  That ought to do it!

And now you know what this farmer is doing this February.

Research Agenda 2018

The research agenda for the Genuine Faux Farm in 2018 is very nearly set and, per the norm, it is an ambitious list.  But, before you point me to the Farmer Delusional Syndrome issue that happens every year during the Winter months, please allow us to share the agenda with you.  THEN, you can tell us to go look at our own post regarding Farmer Delusional Syndrome.

Interplanting Flowers in Cucurbits
Part of the reason for the optimism I have this year in our ability to accomplish these research projects is that most of them are built upon prior work, rather than being a complete fresh start on a topic.  We have been sold on the value of putting flowers in many of our crops from the beginning.  We even held a field day for PFI at our farm in 2016 that focused on pollinators on the farm.  While we may be convinced of the value of growing flowers as companions, we'd like to help grow the database of knowledge in this area to encourage others to do the same thing.

The Genuine Faux Farm applied for a two-year Farmer/Researcher grant with SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) to help fund a project where we will attempt to measure the value and/or cost of our preferred growing system versus one devoid of all of the intercropped flowers.

Essentially, we will grow one of our 60'x200' fields the way we want to grow melons and winter squash.  We'll add our full rows of borage and zinnia and other flowers to the field.  We'll interplant nasturtium and other flowers in the row with the cucurbit vines (melons and winter squash are cucurbits - in case that flew past you).  Then, we'll do something that neither of us really wants to do.  We'll plant a different 60'x200' field with the other half of our melons and winter squash.  And we will make sure to plant NO intercropped flowers.  This field will be all cucurbits ALL the time.  We'll even keep the border path clover mowed to reduce flower availability.

Why do this?  After all, the way I see it - we're putting half of our crops at risk of failure.  (hint - it's not the field with all of the flowers in it)  But, the reality is this - even growers that I consider to be highly interested in sustainable methods fail to dedicate themselves to diverse planting techniques.  They need more data to encourage change.  Hopefully, we can provide some of that data.

Broccoli Variety Trials
Two years ago, our farm participated in broccoli variety trials sponsored by Practical Farmers of Iowa that compared Belstar, Gypsy and Imperial.  What happened?  Well, we had the worst broccoli crop we had seen in years.  It was just a bad year for broccoli state-wide.  We wanted to run the trial again in 2017, but Imperial was not available.  We still took records of Belstar and Gypsy, which we had done for several years prior to 2016 as well.  But, we really want to run the trial with what we hope will be a "normal" broccoli growing year.   The odds are good, given 2016 was an aberration as compared to all other years of production since 2012.

In fact, last year was a record broccoli production year at the farm.  We'd be happy for average production that can give us a good gauge as to how each of these varieties might fare during most seasons on the farm.

Lettuce Variety Trials
Lettuce can be difficult to grow once we get into the warmer months.  Even so, CSA farms, such as our own, often hope to have lettuce for large percentage of the deliveries we make.  In particular, we hope to have beautiful lettuce during some of the more difficult share weeks in July.  This motivated several PFI cooperator farmers to trial the varieties, Magenta, Muir and Coastal Star last season (we were among those farmers).  The results were favorable for both Magenta and Muir.  On our farm, we were most pleased with Magenta and found Muir to just be acceptable.

This year, we will be trialing Concept, Nevada and Winter Density.  Magenta will return as the "check crop."  For those who might not know, a "check crop" is usually a crop that has an established record (if you can call one year an established record).  If the check crop performs in a fashion that is abnormal, you can guess that the results you are getting from the other crops might not be their normal performance as well.

Fertility Delivery Trials
Once the farm acquired Rosie, the tractor, and her loader/bucket, we became much better at turning compost piles.  The net result is that we have had access to more 'black gold' than we've ever had on the farm.  We will run a randomized/replicated trial in our romanesco planting this year that will test the viability of our own compost versus a purchased product and compare the results with a no-product control.

As is true with most every research project we attempt, we have a pretty good idea as to what we want for a result.  But, the whole point of research is to see what actually DOES happen.

Cherry Tomato Enterprise Budget
We don't tend to grow too many cherry tomatoes on our farm because they are labor intensive during harvest.  However, we have had inquiries as to whether we might be willing to grow more cherry tomatoes for sale.  Add in a PFI project that will help participants to take measurements regarding the costs and returns of the crop and you see an opportunity to learn that shouldn't be passed up.

Heirloom Tomato in the High Tunnel Trial
In prior years, we have watched while other Practical Farmers of Iowa Cooperators have measured results for hybrid high tunnel tomatoes.  Each year, when we hear about the results, we could swear our heirlooms compare reasonably well with the hybrids.  Since we already collect nearly all of the data that is used in this sort of trial, it seemed only natural to offer to run a trial with heirlooms.

The only reason why we hesitate with this one?  Well, there have been 'research trial curses' in the past on our farm.  Crops that have done well for years end up having a down year when we do a research trial.  We really need our high tunnel tomatoes to do well.  So, we wonder - is it worth the risk?    Then, we remind ourselves that we are not superstitious and that a bad (or good) year will happen whether we're running a trial or not.  It's just that you examine the bad year so thoroughly if you're running a trial!

What Makes Us Think We Can Manage All of This?
Please believe me when I say we've asked this question several times of ourselves.  And, the answer is still 'yes.'

Part of the advantage of many of these research projects is that we collect 80% of the data required for these projects in a normal year.  The broccoli, lettuce and heirloom tomato trials require no additional data collection beyond what we already do.  The only difference is that we need to plant them in replicated sections to control for soil and other variables.  The even better news here is that we've done the broccoli and lettuce trials before, so there isn't a learning curve to climb.

The Fertility Delivery Trial adds an early season sample testing of soil and compost (being sent to a lab), which is something we want to do anyway.  Otherwise, we have done these processes before.  Again, no big learning curve to climb.  The Interplanting in Cucurbits is also not changing up our farming practices significantly.  The big deal is taking the time to observe the differences (and similarities) between the two fields.  Since we are highly invested in this one, I see no problem with expending a little extra time on that one.

That leaves us with the Enterprise Budget project.  In this case, I see the extra data being collected as something that will pay us back in the following year.  In short, it's an investment in analyzing a crop for profitability on our farm.  If the numbers are poor, we may decide it's a crop to continue to limit in our production unless we're willing to make big changes.  If the numbers are good, we may decide it would be worthwhile to scale up production.

Monday, February 5, 2018

February Newsletter

Annual Traditions We Can Do Without

Here we are, now in the month of February and it is time for the monthly Genuine Faux Farm newsletter!  It's an exciting moment, especially considering the lack of posts for the past couple of weeks on this blog.  We did manage to get all of our "year in review" type of posts out there to bid adieu to 2017, but that's really all we managed to do in January.  Apparently, this is a trend (if not a tradition) since there were not many posts in January and February for 2016 and 2017. 

The "tradition" behind the trend has to do with Rob's knack of catching some sort of nasty virus in late January that knocks him down for a week, or two... or more.  In this case, it was more like a week - so that's not so bad.  But, everyone knows how that sort of thing can really mess with motivations and habits.  And, of course, the nice long list of things that need to be done got no shorter during that time.  Things that I thought I was right on top of are now behind schedule.  Little things become bigger things and big things become daunting.  Add in my tendency to want to do things "well" and a reticence to do just enough to "get by" and you have a recipe for a January/February slump.

The third part of the puzzle is the natural desire I have to do things that are NOT farm related during the Winter months.  Don't get me wrong, I do like doing farm things.  But, I also like doing OTHER things.  During the growing season, it is difficult to do any of the "other" things, so it is perfectly natural to want to put the farm down the priority list for a while.  The hard part is giving myself permission to do that without feeling guilty and then still managing to keep myself in farm mode enough to get things done that need doing in a timely fashion.  After all, say what I will, the farm never gets to be down on the priority list.  Something needs to be getting done all the time.

Here's to breaking the annual tradition of struggling to finding the balance again after annual "virus enforced vacation."  Time to get back into VAPs and the accomplishments that hopefully come with it.

Picture of the Month
It's been a pretty brown Winter so far.  Our biggest 'snowstorm' for the year actually ended up being lots and lots of rain (2 inches) in January.  Point North and West got the snow, but we just got the rain.  Forecast was for a half inch, but we like to do better than expected around here!

Frozen ground with rain results in all sorts of puddles.  But, did I get the camera out to record this momentous event?  Of course not, that would have been useful for the blog.  Bad farmer, bad!  He'll get back at it and take some pictures once the forecast snowfall makes things beautiful again.

Farm News Shorts and Announcements
  • 2018 CSA Sign up has begun.  Promotional posts are scheduled for the next two weeks.  Please consider signing up for this coming year of veggie goodness!
  • The official 2018 Speaking tour began with a co-presentation with respect to On-Farm Research at the Practical Farmers of Iowa conference and a presentation to the Rotary Club in Sumner.  The month of February has Rob speaking at Hawkeye Community College, University of Northern Iowa and Wartburg. 
  • This is a repeat of our January newsletter, but we felt it should still be publicly noted.  It is now official that there was chemical drift on the northeast corner of the farm this year.  The plot impacted by this drift had no crops harvested in 2017 and is not going to be placed in production for 2018.
  • The annual Nota Conference with our friends from Blue Gate Farm, Wabi Sabi Farm, Grinnell Heritage Farm and Scattergood Friends School Farm is scheduled for this month.  As always, we are looking forward to this opportunity to recharge with people who know what it takes to farm.
February Calendar
Subject to change since February is "Set the Calendar for the Farm Month:"
  • February 7 - Rob speaks at Hawkeye Community College 12-12:45
  • February 13 (Tue) - Egg sales Waverly and Cedar Falls
  • February 20 - Rob speaks at University of Northern Iowa (12:30-2:20)
  • February 27 (Tue) - Egg sales Waverly and Cedar Falls
  • February 28 - Rob speaks at Wartburg College (6:30)
Weather Wythards
The summary will be a bit skewed because our weather station battery died in the middle of the coldest days at the beginning of the month.  I think we can be forgiven if we decided we didn't want to go out and change the battery when the windchills were at their worst.  As a result, our numbers, while still somewhat impressive on the colder extreme, do not accurately portray what happened during the super cold spell.

January Summary
High Temperature: 53 F

Highest Barometer Reading: 30.89
Highest Recorded Wind Gust: 29 mph out of NW
Rainfall : 2.09 inches
Low Temperature: -20 F (missing reading for coldest days)
Lowest Windchill: -34 F (ditto)
Lowest Barometer Reading: 29.39

Song of the Month
February's song of the month is quite a bit 'louder' than most of our songs of the month.  Nothing More's "Do You Really Want It?" is a reminder that if you don't like what's going on in the world, change starts with you.  But, sometimes, changing yourself is the hardest thing to do:

Recipe of the Month
We are continuing to take a break from recipe of the month.  These will appear with regularity as the growing season gets going.

Time to Have Pun
A combination of colder weather with some strong winds and the wonderful respiratory distress that comes with the annual "virus vacation" tends to make trips out to deal with the chickens and other farm chores a bit less pleasant than they might be.  But, we still get to see the small snow birds flitting around, which can be pretty enjoyable.  On the other hand, we have noticed more activity from the crows around the farm lately.  If you're already feeling under the weather, you may tend to think less positively about crows and all of their noise.  If you're feeling particularly gloomy, you may begin to think about all of the reasons why a group of crows could be called a "murder."

I guess it all depends on whether or not you think there is probable caws.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Look in the Mirror - 2017

We try to create a "year in review" type of post every January and we succeed - sometimes.  Last year, we did just fine, using the 'original' idea of using a by the month approach for 2016.  The year prior to that, we used the 'original' approach of doing our 2015 year in review and posting it in September of the following year (oops).  And, in years prior to that, we succumbed to ye ole Top Ten List for our year in review.

This year, we actually produced for ourselves a schedule of "year in review" posts that can be found in our January Newsletter.   We're actually going to meet our self-imposed schedule and get them out there on time.  I know, it's amazing and fantastic - but we won't let that go to our head now, will we?
onions and lettuce just getting started in 2017
Saying Good-bye to Things We Have "Always" Done
When I first started looking at doing this post, I was having difficulty trying to figure out what to highlight.  It's a normal product of working day to day on the farm.  If you are submersed in the environment, it is amazing how quickly you begin to accept a major change as the "new norm."  Then, I realized that last Winter we were making some very difficult decisions that led to some significant differences in how the Genuine Faux Farm operates.

Perhaps one of the biggest decisions was to remove ourselves from the Waverly Farmers's Market entirely.  We realized this was the correct decision when it seemed as if people didn't really notice that we were absent from the Saturday market until they ran across us at some other venue on a Saturday morning.  A corollary decision was to cease the early season plant sales that we had been doing since our farm started in 2005.  We still raised plants for people who pre-ordered from us, but we did not grow an "additional couple thousand" plants for sale to customers.  The net result is that we "re-acquired" many hours of labor for use on doing a better job on the farm at the cost of an acceptable income loss.  In fact, the net result for us in labor savings was better for the bottom line.

We also restructured our CSA program in an effort to serve the changing needs of our customers and our potential customers.  By the time we reached October, we were so immersed in the new system we almost forgot this was the pilot year for the new system.  The good news here is that there actually WAS a reduction in management required by us by adopting the changes we did.  The bad news is that it did not really prevent membership from continuing to decline, but it does appear that the decline slowed.

There was one theme that led us to all of these changes - the desire to find our balance once again.  Certainly some of the motivation for change had an origin in maintaining a reasonable success in running the farm business.  But, most of the drive for adjustment came from our need to stay healthy in body, mind and spirit.  The old processes were no longer serving us for where we are in our lives.  Rather than walk a path that led to discontent and resentment, we took a leap or two in other directions.

Iowa Ingredient came to our farm in 2016 to feature our farm and Muscovey ducks used for meat and egg production.  We had raised duck for several years, even doing some PFI sponsored research on duck breeds.  Sadly, the cost for raising duck and the relatively low demand in our area led us to the decision to only raise duck if we received sufficient pre-orders.  We didn't actively pursue those orders and we did not raise ducks in 2017.
Not going quackers so much in 2017
Perhaps we will return to raising Muscoveys in the future.  But for now, we periodically bask in the irony that our farm is featured in re-runs of the Iowa Ingredient show featuring duck production and preparation.

Pesticide and herbicide drift issues are the number one challenge our farm has at this time.  You could argue that the weather is actually the number one challenge and you would have a point.  However, we agreed to deal with the weather when we signed up to farm.  We did not sign up to deal with the misapplication of chemicals by others in the state.  Rather than let this topic over-ride everything else that is here, we will simply acknowledge that it is there and move on.  There will certainly be other posts that deal with this topic in the future.

Celebrating Consistency In a Year of Change
Our farm has been in operation since 2005 and you could argue that it really started during the Summer of 2004 since we did attend a few farmers' markets, but we did so without a farm name or a CSA program.  We celebrated our 1000th blog post this year and we estimate that we have now presided over 750-850 CSA distribution sessions since the farm started (no, I am NOT going to carefully count that!).
Red Express - consistent producer of small red cabbage
We continue to find a way to get a wide range of crops to produce enough that our CSA customers can't usually tell if we're having a bad year with any particular crop unless we tell them about it.  While we're at it, we can still manage to set new records for production as we did for broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage this past year.  Experience does have a pay-off it seems.

Speaking of Pay-Offs
Rosie the tractor is now entirely ours!  Our final yearly payment was made this past Spring after her initial acquisition in 2014

Rosie is now completely part of the family.

Renewing Commitments to Local Resources
The more I look at 2017, the more amazed I am by the number of changes we made in one season.  Another fairly major change was to move to using poultry feed from the Canfield Family Farm near Dunkerton.  The Canfields are working hard to get away from the pervasive 'commodity-based' agriculture you find in the state of Iowa.  A big part of their effort to take their destiny into their own hands is to use their own crops to make feeds.

We often talk about how we want agriculture to change in Iowa and this was one way we could put our money where our mouths are.  If we want farms being run in ways that support local economies, work reasonably with the environment and provide opportunities for farming families then this change made a great deal of sense.  The Canfields are close to us and we like what they are doing.  It's a good change.

We also continue to take our birds to the "park" at Martzahn's in Greene, we buy about 40% of our veggie seeds from Seed Savers in Decorah, we get our seed starting mix from Iowa businesses and we have acquired trees, bushes, etc from K&K in Hawkeye, Cannon's in Westgate and Tiedt's in Waverly.  We like to do business as close to home as we can and 2017 was a good year to review and renew that commitment.

Praise for the Helpers
We can usually find help for the farm most Summers, but we don't often have the opportunity to have returning workers.  This year, Emma and Caleb returned for a second season of weeds and veggies and Jocelyn joined them, each a vital part of the group.  When you have three quality people working on the farm consistently, everything just goes more smoothly.  We can even have a little fun listening to Bohemian Rhapsody and dealing with 'garden zits' (that's Colorado Potato Beetles if you want to know).

Watch out, there might be horned, fanged bats!
We were pleased to have interested and genuinely helpful groups from Wartburg Service Trips join us in some Spring tasks and Mrs. Borglum's Waverly Shell-Rock High School group came out and helped for part of a day as well.  And we had excellent help from many of our members in set up and clean up for the Summer Harvest Festival.

Then, there is Bryan.  We have a walk-in cooler and a portable hen building because this man likes these sorts of projects.  This is yet another instance where the farmer learns that it could actually be a good thing he can't get everything done himself.   If he could, he would not have had the opportunity to interact with each of these quality individuals who have come to help on the farm.

Incremental Improvement vs Delayed Perfection
Ohhh!  That's why it's called S-tine.
Every year we make adjustments to how we do work on the farm.  Each season we improve in some way and we work to avoid taking steps back as we make changes.  It can be difficult to explain some of these efforts to those who are not involved in day to day operations, but we will still give it a try!

The addition of the walk-in cooler space is a huge improvement that is still on-going.  One reason why it is a big deal - Rob did not have to haul several tons of produce down the slippery stairs into the basement of the house (and then back up again to make deliveries) once the weather started turning too cold for produce to stay in out-buildings.  We have nothing against exercise.  We still pick up and move produce regularly, so there is still lifting and movement going on.  The main difference is that it is now reasonable and MUCH safer.

We have tried to use our S-tine harrow in our fields in the past, but we always found it to be wanting for one reason or another.  Often, the issue was a maintenance thing.  Well, we got it figured this year and we were quite pleased with how it keeps the wheel paths clean in certain fields.  We continue to improve our tool set and we are always getting just a bit better using the tools we have.

We even made more changes to our field configurations this year.  It's official, we're removing a field that has given us troubles over the years and changing its purposes.  We expanded another field to get it closer to the size of the others and started preparations for another new production area.

Off Farm Adventures
On the shore of the Georgian Bay
The farmers even got off the farm a few times this past year.  Rob and Tammy took a trip in July to Minnesota to visit Tammy's family and to allow Rob to place his postal history exhibit in a competition.  The visits were enjoyable and the exhibit won the Reserve Grand Award (essentially 2nd place overall).  Rob was also invited to speak at the EFAO conference in Ontario, Canada.  We were blessed with beautiful weather during that visit and were able to take a moment and enjoy some wonderful waterfalls.

If you recall, one of our themes for renewing ourselves this year was to refind some balance between the farm and the rest of our lives.  We're still working on improving in that area, but these instances of off-farm adventures provide some evidence of our efforts.

Weather Wythards

And yes, there were weather events.  We gave some farm statistics in our January newsletter for 2017, but we can give a bit more summary here.

The growing season started with much less sun than we're used to getting.  As a result, our high tunnel crops were very slow getting out of the gate.  They eventually got going, but it did cause a little stress for the farmers, who wanted to start things out right for our Whole Enchilada share holders.  Then, we hit the active May period where we had to deal with high wind gusts more than once in the Tripoli area (with three such events in one day from three different directions!).  The highest wind gust was estimated to have been around 70 mph.

Jocelyn had boots on the the rain.
Overall, we had a wetter than average year (40.58 inches of rain vs about 34" average) and it was actually a bit cooler for us during what we would say is some of our peak growing period.  And, of course, we had that ridiculous rainfall in July while Rob and Tammy went to Minnesota.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Real Medicine 2017

We have done our Best Medicine posts for several years and beginning last year, we gave a nod to some of the posts that are more serious in nature.  This was Tammy's brainchild as she felt our end of the year retrospective posts seemed to ignore some valuable writing.  Thank you Tammy for thinking these were worthy of another look.

Our 2016 Efforts are linked here.

Enjoy the excerpts - and if they motivate you to read the rest of some of these posts, please follow the links.

Gratitude is something you need to work for.  But, once you put forth the effort, the rewards are significant.  Give thanks today.  Give thanks tomorrow.  Give thanks every day you are able.  And, when a day comes where giving thanks is difficult, let those things of value and worth that have led you to be grateful sustain you until you are able emphasize the positive once again. 
from  If It Were Easy, I Wouldn't Do This November 23 

Until you remind yourself that there is a strength in knowledge.  If you are careful about what you share and you think hard about what goes out there, perhaps you can help inform people about things that they should know about.
from Enough to Make You Cry July 19

A combination of recent events led me to consider what some of the reasons might be for why I have reacted the way I have to them.  I must warn anyone who is reading this post that it is NOT happy.  There will be a few photos that are disturbing.  And, if they do not disturb you, then I am worried for you because they represent truly awful situations and terrible suffering.  I am sharing these photos as a reminder to myself and anyone else who might read them why should work harder to understand each other and find ways to live together respectfully - regardless of what else we might hold as our basic beliefs.
from   Dangerous Pastime August 18

Busy lives with heavy responsibility and daily puzzles that need solving can be a bit like the Winter.  The relentless weight of the cold can numb your senses and turn your thoughts toward negativity.  There are only so many days that a person can work long and hard to accomplish all that needs doing only to find that the effort wasn't enough.  It can be just as demoralizing as the upcoming windchills we are looking at for the next few days.

But, there is still that life stirring just under the surface.  And once you open your eyes there is beauty to behold.  Even in Winter.

from Baby, It's Cold Outside December 25

Rather than continue to rant about how things are not right in the world, let me say this:
I think many of the farmers and land-owners in this state want things to change.  But, I also suspect that there are two things that are stopping them.

1. Change is scary and it is hard to know where it will lead and whether it will hurt you or not.
2. People aren't sure how to go about making change.

from What's Wrong With This Picture September 5

Our favorites for 2016 are below. Enjoy. Rob and Tammy

Success is doing the right things in the right way and doing it even when the situation is difficult and maybe even in situations where it didn't seem to make a difference at the time.  
from Words to Live By April 22

One thing I need to do more often is to look at things in different ways.  So, I put together an exercise for myself on the farm.  Why?  Because I believe that if I practice changing my point of view with little things, I will have an easier time exercising it on bigger things. 
from  Point of View October 25

Monday, January 8, 2018

Best Phauxto of 2017

It is time to vote for the best GFF photos of 2017!  We have selected some pictures and put them into categories.  To vote, you may either submit a comment in reply to this post and identify your votes for each category OR you can email us OR you can tell us on Facebook what your votes are!  If you want to see each picture better you can click on it to see a larger version. Enjoy!

CATEGORY 1: Around the Farm
a) Different Point of View

b) Mr Moon Visits the Farm

c) They Went Thataway!

d) This Must Be The Place

e) Weeder's Eye View

f) Close the Hightunnels NOW!

CATEGORY 2: Just Vegging Out

a) Unsquished Squash

b) Slaw Ingredients

c) Up Close and Personal with Jaune Flamme

d) What to Dew with Kale

e) Lettuce Enjoy Forellenschus

CATEGORY 3: Ain't They Purdy?!?

a) More to Dew with Borage

b) Ambitious Daylily

c) Chive Got Something to Tell You

d) Beauty in a Small Package

e) Thornbird in the Wild

f) St Helen Returns to the Farm
CATEGORY 4: Cast of Characters
a) The Inspector Inspects

b) Turkeys in Their "Gated Community"

c) Yeah, We Did This!
d) Tomatoes Admiring Those Who Transplanted Them into Pots

e) Why Does Jocelyn ALWAYS Get to Pull the Cart?
CATEGORY 5: Off the Farm

a) Root for Me!
b) Up for Falls

c) Persistence