Sunday, September 14, 2014

Painting and Bridges

This is a just a testament to how time flies when we're having fun.  This event occurred a few weeks ago now - and we intended to put the pictures out much, much sooner.  But, that's just the way the blog bounces.  So, here we are, putting it out prior to the next painting event.  Some or all of this group will return on Sep 27 during our GF7 Festival.  We will provide the opportunity for other interested persons to paint during the 'work period' from 2pm to 4pm as well.  All of the painting is, of course, subject to the weather.

The Summer Bridge Program at Wartburg College provides incoming first year students (typically first generation college students) with an opportunity to experience a bit of college before the Fall term starts.  Last year, we were able to provide the Bridge Program students with a tour of the farm - including a chance to see some baby birds.

This year, we had a tour first.  Then, we had a painting day!

Don't forget to prep the building!
Bridge Program participants did a little research on how to paint a building and they came prepared to scrape, sand and paint.  They also got a copy of our logo and designed their own rendition for the side of the granary.

Let's slop a little paint on it too!
Rob & Tammy provided some equipment and the scaffolding.  Otherwise, they were around to help and answer questions as needed.  Once things got going, they went about doing work on the farm while all of these fine people worked on the south side of the building. 

Hmmm.  Something different going on in the middle there.
In a way, we thought it might be interesting for the participants to see some of the things that went on at the farm when the farmers weren't leading a tour.  Often, people come to the farm, get the nickel tour and then leave.  They see what things look like in 'stasis.'  In other words, they see where we left it last during our work.  But, it is quite another thing to be around when work is being done.  We realize they were likely giving most of their attention to the building, but there were tractors moving around, bins getting emptied and all sorts of other things at the same time this was occurring.

I recognize that name!
The first coat of the logo mural was completed before they left and they hope to return for GF7 and put on the second coat.  I guess we'd better have those scaffolding ready for that!

A fine group of people. Please note, a couple attendees had to leave early and missed this photo.  We like them too!
The granary has served as a palette for creativity in the past and we hope it will again in the future.  It helps keep the buidling's siding protected AND it adds a little character.  Not to mention the fun we hope these people had in creating this mural!

That's pretty cool.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Picture of What? Picture This

Rob got a wild hair/hare the other day and decided to take some pictures of...things.  See how many of these things you can identify!

Ok, this one shouldn't be too hard.

Hmmmm.  Maybe less easy?

And, I suspect it won't get much easier from there.  How many can you get right? 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Veg Varieties: Lettuce

The following is an excerpt from our vegetable variety pages that can be found here on our website.

If you are enjoying these variety posts, please let us know and we will continue to put them out here on a weekly basis.  Email us or post a comment.

We've only planted two successions of Amish Deer Tongue this year.  The first was just harvested at the end of August.  Sadly, it was a short succession since, for whatever reason, the seed didn't want to germinate this time around.  The second succession should be ready in early October.   The plan is to put a few into the high tunnel this time around and have the rest mature in the field.

We have not really noticed much difference in taste based on the time of year.  Weeds are the biggest problem for this variety and the surest way to get the plants to bolt early.  

Amish Deer Tongue
Amish Deer Tongue Lettuce
This lettuce is a little harder to describe because it is very different than many we grow. The leaves have a spinach-like texture, and that texture suggests spinach enough that some people might detect a hint of spinach taste. But, we're not sure if that's inferred or actual. The taste and texture are just different enough that they add interest to a salad with more commonly known lettuces. Plants are compact and tough. Probably a better cool season lettuce as they don't hold long in warmer weather. Note: don't plant too close or you'll get tall/thin plants that aren't as full as they can or should be. Crowding do to overplanting or weeds will encourage bolting. And, unlike other lettuce, storm damaged leaves don't just 'melt' away as the plant grows through the damage. As a result, storm damaged plants are often difficult to market because of their looks. We expected these to do well in the high tunnel and they did do well enough. But, like a romaine, they don't unfreeze like looseleaf lettuces might. So, target them for November to early December (at the latest) in Iowa, but don't try to push it too far or you lose quality. A good variety to add for different texture and taste in the salad.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Mid Season Veg Variety Winners

If the season ended today - who would make the playoffs?  I think this is how persons who are paid to cover any particular sport can manage to create something to talk about when they don't have anything else.  Well, we're in the middle of a blog blitz and there has been plenty to share.  And it is typical for us to begin evaluating how our crops have done and are doing.  Notes we make now help us to make our decisions over the Winter or the next season.

Besides that, you might get a little insight as to why we are growing some of the things we grow (or if you are a CSA farm share member, you'll see why you are getting so much of X this season).


We're in the middle of the peak picking season and we're always dismayed by how many fruit go bad before we can pull them out and find homes for them.  But, rather than go into that, let's talk about what is going right so far.

Nebraska Wedding

This variety has been with us for a while and we've usually been pretty impressed with it.  Fruit started a little small this year, but the current pick is yielding some bigger fruit.  Plants are a bit on the smaller side and work very nicely in the square cages we have.  Average size this season is barely over a half pound and the taste has been good.  About 140 have been pulled in so far with another 20 or so ready to come in today.  Considering the low growing degree days for the season, these plants are doing just fine.

Nebraska Wedding

Black Krim
It's always a good thing when a variety you tout as having the best taste also produces reasonably well for you.  This year, we have a batch of Black Krims in the high tunnel in addition to the field.  Again, these are smaller plants that are in the small cages.  You're going to see a theme here with plants that tend to be smaller doing better than those that tend to be bigger. 

We are noticing higher loss levels of Black Krims in the high tunnel than we are used to, but we think it has more to do with using stake and weave trellis rather than cages.  The leaf cover isn't protecting the tomatoes as well as we need it to.  As a result, some of the fruit are getting scalded. 

We've pulled in over 280 Krims so far this season and we see a second set in the field getting ready to turn.  It has been a goal over the past five years to find ways to improve our production methods for this particular tomato and we seem to be doing just that.  This is one of those cases where it is possible that the variety gets consideration as much for our growing practices that favor it as for its characteristics.
Black Krim

Just like the tomatoes, it seems like plants with smaller growth habits have done much better than those with larger growth habits.  However, we are getting some September surprises that may very well change our minds about which peppers are doing best this year.

We recently featured Purple Beauty, so we won't talk about it much here other than to say we've picked more Purple Beauty bell peppers than we have Jimmy Nardello's Frying Peppers.  Normally, that would be an absurd statement.  But, the weather has not favored the latter.  On the other hand, our next picking for Jimmy should change that status easily.

Garden Sunshine
The picture you see below is from 2012, which was a good year for peppers (except for the event that prevented us from eating any of them).  If we took a picture of this year's plants, there would be more peppers than leaves.  These peppers hold on the plant for a long time and we like to make sure the pepper turns fully yellow instead of yellow-green before we pick them.  A little bit of orange on them is even better for full flavor. 

The difficulty of picking a winner so far this year is that nearly every bell pepper variety we are growing is doing quite well.  Even if we think some of the plants have been less than stellar in quality.  In fact, if you look at the plants, you might be tempted to say that we're having a poor pepper year.  They are inconsistent in size and leaf cover.  Except for Purple Beauty and Garden Sunshine.  Both are consistent in size and shape and production throughout.  They might be about 80% their normal size for September.  But, it doesn't appear to be hurting production levels.

Garden Sunshine
We are focusing on plants in the same family today.  This is partly because we are in the midst of peak production for each of them.  And, these are continuously producing plants, so we're seeing the most activity here.  Things like lettuce, garlic, potatoes, pok choi, etc all get one picking.  So, they are harder to analyze with harvest numbers in the middle of the season.

This year, the eggplant are a mixed bag, but this is partly due to splitting up our eggplant to multiple locations.  It appears to have paid off since we didn't have complete losses that we might have had if we had put them all in one spot.

Listada di Gandia
If you asked most vegetable farmers to place a bet at the beginning of the season between an open pollinated eggplant and a hybrid eggplant for production numbers, I suspect most would go with the hybrid.  We favor the open pollinated (often heirloom/heritage) eggplant.  However, we grow one hybrid standard purple eggplant (Black King).  Our past experience has been that the hybrid will outproduce most of the other eggplant, but not by all that much if it is a good year for eggplant.

Well, this year has been a slightly poor year for growing eggplant (a bit too cool).  But, we must have hit the window that Listada likes this year.  The fruit have been gorgeous, with excellent size and texture.  The plants have been healthy (with one exception).  On the other hand, Black King has struggled with health and consistency.  We actually have one more Black King plant than Listada AND the rows are next to each other.  Both are next to green beans.  The results so far?  Black King : 139  Listada di Gandia: 248

We're easily going to push past 10 marketable fruit per plant for Listada this year.  And they are cool looking to boot.  What's not to like?

Listada di Gandia

Friday, September 5, 2014

Summer Festival and Heirloom Tomato Tasting

Now, that's a fair number of choices!

Our annual Summer Festival was highlighted by a tomato tasting table this year.  We've been a bit more informal with this in the past and have done tomato tasting at the farmers market in Waverly.  But, we've always wanted to do a bit more with it at the Summer Fest.  We didn't actually hold a vote like some heirloom tomato tastings do, but we did listen to the comments.

Here's what we heard:

1. Black Cherry - please, please, please start a whole bunch of these plants next year so we can buy them!
2. Tasty Evergreen - is that really ripe?  It is?  Oh my.... that IS gooooooood.
3. Black Krim - I'm not surprised.  It's just a good tomato.
4. Wapsipinicon Peach - I don't want a PIECE of a Wapsi Peach, I want a WHOLE one. (wish granted)
5. German Pink - I'm just imagining putting this one on a BLT.
6. Dr. Wyche's Yellow - Ok, now I'm imagining putting this AND German Pink on a BLT.
7. Are any of these bad?  For some reason, I doubt it.

There were other comments, but these were the ones that I remember at this time and thought were worth publishing.  While we did not vote, we suspect the winner would have been Black Cherry or Tasty Evergreen this year.  But, maybe that's because we heard the loudest comments about them?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Recipes from Our Farm Share Members

Thank you to all who have shared some of their favorites!  If you have some you are willing to let us share on the blog, please send us a note.  If you can give us the recipe in a format that is easy to copy/paste, we would greatly appreciate it!

Two from Chip Bouzard.  Thank you Chip!

Sunomono (Japanese Cucumber Salad)
Makes 4 servings
    2 cucumbers, very thinly sliced                                     
    2 teaspoons salt                                               
    1/3 cup rice vinegar                                           
    1 tablespoon sugar                                             
    2 teaspoons soy sauce                                          
    1/4 teaspoon fresh grated ginger                               

Cut cucumbers into very, very thin slices; place in bowl and sprinkle with salt. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes, or until cucumbers are softened. Drain and squeeze out excess liquid. Combine vinegar, sugar, soy sauce and ginger in serving bowl; add cucumbers and mix well. Chill thoroughly before serving.

Beet Pesto
Makes 6 servings  45 minutes

This is an eye popping side or an excellent main course. Beets are not the dominant flavor in the final pesto. Very good—I promise!

    3 larges purple beets                                          
    3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed  (or 4 or 5…)                          
    1/2 cup shelled pistachio nuts                                 
    1/4 cup fresh lemon juice                                      
    1/4 cup olive oil                                               
    1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese                            
    Salt to taste                                                  
    1 pound dry spaghetti                                          


Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the beets. Boil until fork tender. {this took me about 30 minutes}

Drain the beets and skin them. Chop into quarters and place in the bowl of a food processor. Add the garlic, pistachios, lemon juice and olive oil and pulse into smooth. Add the Parmesan and continue pulsing until you have a relatively smooth thick spread.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook to al dente. Drain when done and toss with pesto. Serve immediately.

Note: I have frozen this to good effect.

A suggestion from Mariah Birgen.  She feels this recipe at this site would be worth a try for those who are leery of eggplant.

From Shannon and Graham
found at this website.
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Total Time25 minutes
Yield4 servings
These easy pancakes are the perfect side dish or appetizer to any meal. And best of all, they don't even taste "healthy"!
  • 1 pound zucchini, grated
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup corn kernels, frozen, canned or roasted
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Place grated zucchini in a colander over the sink. Add salt and gently toss to combine; let sit for 10 minutes. Using a clean dish towel or cheese cloth, drain zucchini completely.
  • In a large bowl, combine zucchini, corn, eggs, basil, oregano and garlic powder; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Stir in cheese and flour until well combined.
  • Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Scoop tablespoons of batter for each pancake, flattening with a spatula, and cook until the underside is nicely golden brown, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side, about 1-2 minutes longer.
  • Serve immediately.
A second recommendation from Shannon and Graham can be found at this location on the web.   It is called Spicy Beet-Green Crostini.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Trials of Photographing Garlic

Tammy has been trying to take more of the farm photos this Summer, but apparently there is an issue with this.  We have a resident "photo bomber."  (A photo bomber is someone who either intentionally or unintentionally ruins an otherwise normal photo - from the Urban Dictionary).

Tammy's first attempt to show a wonderful harvest.
Most photo bombers are opportunistic and don't usually go too far to seek out opportunity.  This one probably isn't any different from the rest.

Oh we're getting silly.
Of course, most photographers don't keep taking shots if there is a photo bomber actively trying to ruin the picture.

Is it possible that Tammy could get a 'normal' picture of Rob (or the garlic)?
And, then, there is the response the photographer gets when she asks the photo bomber to get out of the picture. 

I can't see you, therefore you can't see me.
Sometimes, you have to ask more than once.

What?  That didn't work?
In any event, we had a nice harvest of garlic this season and we're looking forward to sharing them with you!

One row of Northern White garlic.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Irrigation rather than Irritation

We're doing a mid to late August blog blitz in an effort to show everyone that we DO want to share with you all things GFF.  And, maybe other things not so GFF?

Our Practical Farmers of Iowa Field Day on August 17 reminded us that many things that are normal sights for us on our farm can be breakthroughs for others  It's also good reminder to us that there is a long list of things that, at one point in time, were a big deal to us and are now just a part of every day work on the farm.

Just to make myself perfectly clear, these are things we are grateful for and we do our best not to take them for granted.  But, it never hurts to see things through someone else's lens.  so, today we focus on irrigation that does not irritate.  I believe this dispenser made its first appearance in the blog during our Oh Well Saga part III

the drip tape dispenser dispenses drip tape well
Last year, I gave Tyler a description of something I wanted to create for use of unrolling drip tape.  After some discussion and some plan modifications between the two of us, Tyler went to work and produced what you see above.  The bottom wood frame is sized a bit smaller than the base of the green garden cart.  Two vertical 2x4 boards have a hole drilled far enough up to allow a full roll of drip tape to spin freely on some galvanized piping we had laying around the farm.  Two diagonal pieces help hold these verticals steady.  It was actually a nice twist that the pipe had a t-connection and a little pipe extending on each side to give us a handle of sorts (see the right side of the pipe in the picture).

the holes in the side of the garden cart are sufficiently wide to thread drip tape through.  This allows a single person to lay drip tape if it is not too windy.  Threading it through these holds keeps the end by the roll somewhat contained.  We regularly keep two rolls on the drip tape layer since it stores just as well this way as any other.  And, the cart provides a nice place for us to put a box of fittings, a scissors and other commonly used tools for irrigation with the drip tape.

I suppose if a person wanted to, they could adapt this for rolling up used drip tape, but in our experience the used drip tape has usually degraded too much to make reuse a feasible choice.  Regardless, this is a simple solution that has made laying out drip tape so much easier.

Things we usually have in the cart:
  • repair fittings
  • shutoff valves to connect drip tape to the header line
  • end caps
  • scissors
  • old hoe
  • duct tape
  • shovel
  • tubing cutter
  • valve installation tool
 And, we should probably have a clean, dry rag in the cart too.  I'm sure there are other things, but these are what come to mind.  Of the things on this list, the hoe, shovel and duct tape might need some explanation.  The shovel is used to pile dirt onto the drip tape every so often to keep it in place.  The hoe is used to help us pull the drip tape.  We use duct tape OR we tie the end of the drip tape to the handle end of the hoe.  We can the walk the row while standing upright by holding the hoe by the 'business end' and pointing the handle end down.  The duct tape is also a reasonable 'quick fix' for leaks, but the dry rag does help prepare the surface.

It seems to work to run irrigation over paper mulch for us
 Some other observations and pieces of information that may or may not be helpful to others are included here, but we're not going to go into too much detail.  First, we have found that the irrigation works fine if it is run OVER paper mulch.  Part of the trick is to fill the drip tape right after laying it.  This helps hold it in place.  And, since we usually transplant into paper mulch, the plants hold it in place as well.  We have, at times used a pile of dirt or a ground staple if it doesn't want to stay in place.

Each plot on the farm has its own header line
 We've created multiple header lines for our different plots.  A short hose connects to the 'main' water line and to the header.  The trick is finding the nifty pipe thread to hose thread converters.  You might also note a part in the picture above that prevents water pressure from getting too high.  We're finding that we don't always need these, but they are a good safety precaution to prevent blowouts on the drip tape.

What?  Us make mistakes?
 Another reality is that we are bound to hit header lines, drip tape and the main line with a tool or tractor now and again.  Repair is a normal process for drip irrigation.  This is the most likely time that irrigation becomes irritation.  No, wait.  The MOST likely time is when you know you need to run drip tape but you have to weed first.... and the soil is as hard as a rock.

Plants are less irritated if they are irrigated.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Variety Feature: Peppers

The following is an excerpt from our vegetable variety pages that can be found here on our website.

If you are enjoying these variety posts, please let us know and we will continue to put them out here on a weekly basis.  Email us or post a comment.

Every year is different, we already knew that.  But, it seems that each growing season has been more wildly different than they used to be.  The oddity that is this year has resulted in smaller than usual plants that want to overachieve with fruit production.  The trick is getting them to be big enough plants to handle it.

The good thing about Purple Beauty is that these tend to have smaller plants to begin with.  We have noticed with Purple Beauty and Garden Sunshine that they are working extra hard to give us excellent fruit this year.  Other peppers are doing fine - especially the bell peppers.  Keep them picked and you'll be getting more rewards!

Purple Beauty

These are very attractive fruits with a mild bell pepper flavor. For the most part, a person grows these for the color as their taste isn't much different than most green bells. An heirloom variety, fruit are purple on the outside, green inside. Sometimes we allow a pepper to ripen to a red with purple overtones. Smaller plants are very bushy, hiding the fruit deep inside the plant protecting them from sunscald.  Picking these is not always easy as they tend to hide well in the middle of the plants. And, since they are in the middle, they seem to get wedged between branch forks and defy efforts at picking the fruit without breaking off a significant portion of the plant. They take less space than most plants and have a low profile for windy areas, but we still recommend that you grow them to add color to your pepper offerings, but not as a main crop.

2014 report:
As of August 23, we picked 89 peppers that weighed out at 31.2 lbs.  In other words, it takes a little under three peppers for a pound.  That means they are pretty blocky with good size.  This is very consistent with our 2012 numbers for size.  And, in 2012 we had an average of 5-6 marketable peppers per plant.  This could be exceeded this year.  But, we just have to wait and see (of course).  

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Not Too Much of a Good Thing

'Tis the season of lots of produce in the CSA shares!  It's the time of year when your farmers' hum a happy tune as they pick the bounty, looking forward to the moment that you come and pick up your share.

Grow little plants! Grow!
It is difficult for us to remember that the extra full bags, buckets and boxes may not represent the same thing to you (as farm share holders) as they do to us (as the growers of your food).  What you are seeing in shares now are a part of what we've been working diligently for all season long.  Finally we're giving you a bonus return for your investment in our farm.  We are also getting to see the payback for the effort we put into nursing those tiny plants along for weeks and months prior to getting any benefit out of them.  It is no wonder that we, as your farmers, are happy to give you more produce than usual at this time of year.  We want you to celebrate with us!

Zucchini season only last through about 2 months of a 12 month year - enjoy them now.

We are reminded, however, that most share holders can only get through so much produce in a given week.  We recognize that extra produce received isn't always viewed as a 'bonus.'  Instead, it might be an additional stress during a busy time as you ask yourself, "How do I deal with all of this produce?"  But, we don't want you to feel this way.  We'd like you to celebrate Summer and the strong harvest portion of the growing season with us.  So, here are some tips that we use and that other share holders have used with success:

1. Cook a BIG stir fry now and reap the rewards of soup in January!

There are only two of us in our household, but we have successfully consumed a large share (plus some) with reasonable success.  Granted, as the farmers, we can (and do) customize our share to go with our favorites and to dovetail with our available time.  But, that doesn't mean this approach is not valid.

Pok choi may seem a little strange at first, but it isn't hard to use.

When we have a great deal of things like zucchini, summer squash, onion, pok choi, kale, chard, eggplant and peppers, we find ourselves making a stir fry with some or all of these items.  The trick is to not expect to eat anything more than a normal serving as a part of that meal.  The rest goes into quality freezer bags.  They get a label that says "soup starter" and they are put into our freezer.  When January comes around and fresh produce is no where to be found, use these bags to start a fabulous soup or stew that can go in whatever direction you prefer.  These vegetables could be added to a creamy base, a tomato base or... well, use your imagination.  It works great and doesn't take much more time beyond what you would normally use to make dinner with fresh vegetables.

2. Vegetables for Breakfast are OK

Tammy and I will admit that we do not associate the use of vegetables with breakfast.  Fruit, yes.  Veg, no.  It's a social norm that should not stop us from using vegetables in our breakfasts.  We have the benefit of farm fresh eggs and farm fresh vegetables - which makes it a good time to do a frittata!

Veggie Frittata
Easy vegetable dish for breakfast or dinner. Experiment with additional vegetables, spices or meats. This is REALLY GOOD!
1 summer squash or zucchini, sliced
      (or about 1 cup of any sauteed vegetable)
1 sm onion, chopped
½ c sliced mushrooms
2 cloves diced garlic
1-2 sweet peppers, chopped (or a hot pepper if you want spicy)
1-2 T butter or olive oil
1 c chopped kale - or chard - or pok choy
1/8 c. chopped basil (if you like)
4 lrg eggs
1/3 c shredded cheese
Sautee vegetables in skillet with oil until tender (use 2-3 T water to help steam veggies). Add chopped basil and stir. Don’t over cook vegetables. Make sure some oil remains in skillet so eggs won’t stick.
Whip eggs until fluffy. Add shredded cheese. Pour into skillet, cover and cook approximately 5 minutes over medium heat or until eggs fluffy and cooked through.

Kale in frittatas, stir fries and soups.  Yep, that'll work.
Remember - you don't have to follow this recipe exactly.  In fact, Tammy will tell you that she just goes with the flow.  No two frittatas are alike at GFF!  We have successfully used chard, pok choi, spinach, kale and chinese cabbage instead of basil.  We've added sweet potatoes, potatoes and eggplant as well.  The biggest trick seems to be finding the right amount of cooking time for each item so that the texture is the way you want it. 

3. Freezing some of your veg during peak season is not hard

There is a myth that if you are going to process food for long-term storage that it is requires you to invest great amounts of time and effort into it.  This is not a 'go big or go home' proposition.  You can put a surprising amount of food up for later use in small increments.

For example, if two people can only eat a half bound of green beans and you have a full pound of green beans, cook up the half pound to eat.  Then, freeze the other half pound.

1. put the half pound of green beans into 1-2 inches of boiling water (do not fully immerse them) for 4 minutes
2. remove the beans immediately and get them into ICE COLD water to stop the cooking (the beans are now 'blanched').
3. once cold, put the beans into a freezer bag.
4. Fill the bag with cold water to remove the air pockets.
5. leave the water in and seal the bag.
6. place the bag in the freezer.
Broccoli holds its flavor and substance well when frozen.

When you want beans in February, take the bag out, open it up and put the whole block of frozen beans into the pot and cook them as you would normally.  While they aren't quite as good as they were fresh out of the garden, they certainly do well enough!

You can use a similar process for broccoli, cauliflower and peas (for example).

It can be easy to see why your farmers enjoy harvesting peppers.

Some veg you can simply cut up and freeze without blanching (peppers and basil come to mind).

Friday, August 29, 2014

Just Venting

This is another post that was inspired by our Field Day on August 17.  We are hopeful that others might find this to be helpful.  Granted, CSA members or farm customers may only  find this an idle curiosity, but some of our farming friends might like learning more about these vents.

Venting the high tunnel is critical to provide a better environment to the plants inside
What is the problem?
the basic issue - heat rises, the plastic roof of a high tunnel holds the heat in, plants can only withstand temperatures that reach certain levels.
The solution, put vents on the end walls of the high tunnel building towards the peak.  These vents are typically just a framed in square that has a pivot point on the sides at the center point.  That pivot point is usually just a heavy duty bolt.   The very basic solution is to provide rope ties at the top and bottom of the vent to hold the vent in an open (or closed) position.

At issue here is the fact that the farmer has to be willing and able to go out and open or close the vents manually as temperatures change.  This can be a bigger deal on very sunny, but cool days.  The heat in the high tunnel might build up significantly and will need to be vented.  So, what happens if you go to a farming conference in last February and the sun comes out and the high tunnel gets warm?

The Gigavent opener can be oriented various ways to do its job
There are certainly all kinds of vents that exist that open and close using a small electric motor.  Funny thing about electric motors - they require electricity.  And, we did not want the expense of running electricity to this building.  There are solutions that might include a solar panel to convert the sun's energy to electricity.  After all, the days you want to open the vents are typically sunny days.  But, this is more complex and expensive than is necessary.

We were pleased to find the Solar Vent Works pages.  These pages provide some decent descriptions and gave us enough data to point us to the Gigavent as our choice for our high tunnel end walls.  They are now in their second season of use and we have no complaints.

Installation included a fair amount of exploration and discussion between Tyler and myself.  In the end, I have to admit that Tyler did most of the work.  But, that's because he likes doing that kind of thing much more than weeding.  Go with our strengths!

These vents have held firm in wind and they are reasonably easy to adjust if you feel they are not opening soon enough (or too early).  The only issue we have had is that the cylinders worked their way lose in February.  So, clearly, you need to recheck how well seated the cylinders are on a periodic basis.

We have yet to purchase a replacement cylinder, but understand they are available.

Other places you could order these vents include:
    Grow Organic dot com
    ACF Greenhouses

We just like the colors in this picture.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Top Ten Business Decisions - Part I

Earlier this year, Rob was involved in a Practical Farmers of Iowa event in Cedar Falls called the Next Generation Retreat.  Beginning farmers attended and were working on budgets and business plans for what they hoped would be new farm businesses in Iowa.  Rob's job was to share some insights for potential vegetable and CSA growers.

We felt it might be enjoyable to share various "TENS" as a part of our "Ten Year Tenure" celebration.  This will be one of several series we hope to maintain throughout the second half of the 2014 season.

This will, of course, be a Ten Part Series.  We are not putting them in order of importance as that's just too much work.  Instead, we'll do them as we feel like writing about them.

Adding the tractor and various implements to our tool set.

That is one daunting task....
Up until 2010, the largest tools we had on the farm were the lawn tractor(s). Our model was to try to build equity before making farm purchases and it took a few years before we really let ourselves begin investing capital into tools.  In fact, one of our favorite early photos (2005) is above.  Other than a lawn tractor used to mow and pull a small cart, our big tool was the walk behind tiller you see here.  Our first crash course about needing good tools occurred soon after this picture when the tiller 'threw a rod' and was down for the count when we still had things to do.  Our first response at that time was to have a new engine put on this tiller.  The second was to purchase a tiller attachment for our lawn tractor.

At this point in time, the old tiller still runs if needed.  The tiller for the lawn tractor has been down for the count for a few years now.

Durnik the tractor - resting after a little work
Of course, there were intermediate steps that lead us to 2010 and the purchase of the 1949 Ford 8n/2n you see above.  But, the purchase of this tractor represents a significant change in how we performed work on the farm.

It's amazing how much more efficient moving straw can be with the right tools.
This was one of those 'serendipity meets just enough daring to try to pull it off' moments.  That year was not, by any means, a great year for us.  And, we'd already expended significant capital on the high tunnel.  But, attendance at a recently deceased neighbor's auction brought us face to face with the possibility that we could own a larger piece of equipment that would have some people who were knowledgeable of the tractor's past.   So, we took a run at the tractor and landed it.  Members in the neighborhood, including the family, were pleased it stayed nearby.

We weren't able to use the tractor much early on because we didn't have any equipment that worked with it.  But, one of the first additions was a hayrack.  And, this purchase provided us with a crash course on 'why used equipment isn't always the best choice.'  Essentially we purchased a running gear that had no deck.  Rob was pretty confident in building the deck (and it looks great by the way) but he didn't notice that the darned thing didn't turn.  The front wheels were frozen in place.  Ugh!

Disk Harrow

Rotary Mower

Potato Digger

Two Bottom Plow (Moldboard Plow)

Since that time, we have added various implements and done a good bit of learning about how to work with and care for this tractor.  In fact, it is safe to say that we've learned what it is particularly good at doing.  And, of course, we've learned its shortcomings.  But, let's be honest, for the price of purchasing and paying for repairs on this tractor, we've had a an excellent course on how this sort of tool can be a key asset on a farm such as ours.  In short, I am not sure we would have learned as much as well as we did if we had made a leap to take out a loan and acquire a new tractor immediately.  In fact, I'll go out in a limb and say we would not have learned as much, nor would we have learned as well.  Further, we would not have been willing to invest money in several of the other tools that are used with the tractor.  A new tractor with a bucket might be nice, but if you don't have other tools for tillage, cutting, cultivating and planting - it is one-dimensional and wasted money.  Purchasing a less expensive, older, but fairly reliable tractor that had a traceable history was perfect for us.  We had capital to experiment with different tools to learn what we could (and should) be doing.

And, if we made a mistake, the loss wasn't nearly so great.  In fact, we've already removed some items from that farm that didn't work for us.  We've even replaced some items that worked, but we saw the repairs looming on the horizon.

Sometimes an auction purchase didn't work out.
This year, we took another step and added a much newer tractor to our tool lineup.  This time, financing was required.  But, we couldn't ignore the fact that it would address a long laundry list of issues we had with getting things done on the farm.

Rosie the tractor - We Can Do It!
The jury, of course, is still out on whether this, by itself, is a top 10 item.  But, we can assure you that we do not purchase things for the farm without a fair amount of thought and some wringing of hands.  It's no small thing to do this.  But, then again, consider what it will do for us:

  • turning compost piles (something we have been unable to do since they got too large for hand turning)
  • Using the tandem disk (Durnik just couldn't quite run the disk for much longer than 15-20 minutes at a time)
  • better fuel economy.  We figure what we did with the disk and chisel plow soon after purchase used 1/3 the fuel that we would have with Durnik
  • More flexibility and less time taking implements on and off (we can leave the flex tine weeder on Durnik and have the disk on this beast for example)
  • The ability to add a transplanter to our arsenal of tools in the not too distant future
  • Use of the rotary mower is no longer the adventure it is with the older tractor - and we don't mean adventure in a good way this time.
  • A warranty during the break-in period so we don't get delayed by break downs...
Keep checking out our blog and see how our new tractor gets along with the old.