Saturday, October 20, 2018

Of Course It Did!

At some level, we were actually prepared for this to happen, believe it or not.  It was Sunday, October 14 and we knew it was supposed to be cool, windy and perhaps raining.  We were scheduled to go to Wabi Sabi farm for our Gang of Farmers gathering and we were prepared to do a little work in less than idea conditions.  We ended up working in the high tunnels and as we weeded, we heard a sound that didn't quite sound like raindrops on the plastic.

It was sleet.  Then, it was snow.  By the time we left, there was about one inch of the white stuff on the ground and it was good for snowballs.  We drove back to Tripoli in snow and found an inch of the white stuff on the farm.  It was still there in the morning.
An October 14 snow this year.
 I had actually told someone that this year was perfect for a Halloween snowstorm.  Close enough.

Just like the April snow, October snow can be pretty
If I might be so bold, let me remind you of our April 25 blog post entitled Paths to Produce.  In that entry, we discussed the multiple snowfalls in April, including a final one on April 18.  The snow pattern was kind of odd considering how little we'd gotten in the prior 'Winter' months.  Let me reminder you all that we actually got over 2 inches of RAIN in one storm during January.  Snow in April wasn't completely unheard of, so we reminded everyone (including ourselves) that we shouldn't be getting upset

If you actually took the link to the Paths to Produce post, you will notice that we were more concerned about how cool things were (and a relative lack of sunshine).  It had caused some issues with many early crops.  Of course, we got to the end of May and we were talking about the Heat Being On.  Our five inches of May rain all happened in the first week.  Spring, we hardly knew ye.

You've heard us talk about gnats in prior years, but conditions were perfect for them for a significant period of time this season.  They started in May and we fought them through July and into August (with a few additional appearances even later).  They were bad enough that we actually dedicated a post entirely to them

We are used to periodic June storms.  But, once they started, it seemed they didn't want to stop.  Our total rainfall for June was right around 9 inches. An average June would see 5.35" of rain.  Nine is not entirely unusual, but it is wet enough to cause some issues.  And, it was enough to encourage more gnats. 
There are still tomatoes and peppers in that high tunnel!
July was actually a decent month for weather, with only three inches plus of rain.  The gnats were awful, but we were learning to deal with wearing various protective clothing despite the warmer temps.  Sadly, we had to deal with chemical spray issues again.  If I was wondering why we feel so beat down at the end of this season, I am beginning to understand it.  We finally get a month where the weather is relatively kind to us (setting aside the bugs) and our neighbors find a way to add a level of difficulty.

Things started to get absurd in mid-August.  In fact, we got another 8 and a half inches of rain that month, which was again well above the average amount.  It encouraged another hatch of gnats and delayed our potato harvest, which would have later consequences for us.  Why?

Well, because the Rain of Terror that was September started on.. well, September 1.  We considered building an ark, but we tried to be philosophical about it all.  It should stop sometime soon, we thought....
You all know what has happened since.  We were able to work in the fields only two days for the entire month of September and through the first week of October.  Of course, we DID do work in the fields, but it was only to get what harvest we could out of it in difficult conditions.  Hey, we got over 14 and a half inches of rain for the month.  That's quite a ways over on the right-hand tail of a bell curve folks! Simply put, it's been a tough, tough season.

I believe this record has been surpassed now.
 Waterloo has set a record for the wettest Fall and Fall has done all of its bit yet.  Nothing like giving yourself plenty of clearance when you jump over the bar!

 And so, it snowed on October 14 this year.  We've already had multiple nights under freezing, so when people ask if we'd had a frost yet I tend to laugh.  Sorry if I do that, I'm not laughing at you.  I'm just laughing because there is nothing else I CAN do.  It's ok, we're coming to grips with all of this and we'll make all the adjustments we can.
The "cacophony" is on the move!
 Speaking of adjustments, the Redwing Blackbirds were using the oak trees on the farm as a quick resting spot as they fly South.  So, while I was out taking pictures of the pretty snow, I tried to record their passing as well.  I thought I heard them telling me I should flap my arms really fast and maybe I could join them.

I think I'll pass.  I've heard the weather isn't necessarily better in the South anyway.  Besides, I want to throw some snowballs still.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Confidence Builder

Something I said to Tammy a couple of days ago just might be the turning point we need on the farm for this season.  I said something to the effect of, "I'm not letting this season beat me.  We're going to come back next year.  And, if we're tired of farming after that, or we can't figure out how to turn this around, we'll know we gave it our best shot and I can be content that we did what we could."

The sun is setting on this particular season
A couple of posts prior to this one on the blog found us feeling a bit less certain about our future at the Genuine Faux Farm.  You can certainly find similar sentiment at various points since we started this blog post in 2008.  After all, farming is very much a bit of a roller coaster ride all by itself.  If we were to portray it as anything other than that, you would receive an inaccurate picture and I think that would be a mistake.  We put many of our posts out here because we want to facilitate learning.  If we were to paint a picture of perfection, it would be a lie and if we paint a picture of abject misery and failure all the time it would be a sign that our lives need a new direction.

It Stopped Raining
The first thing that significantly helped me to think more positively was the appearance of the sun.  It is absolutely amazing how long we went without seeing it AT ALL.  On the other hand, it is interesting how Mother Nature decided to terminate that cycle of dreary and wet days.

Yes.  It decided to snow.  The official reading was one inch in Tripoli.  The first full inch of snow is more typical of mid-November than mid-October.  But, given the history of 2018's weather, it actually seems appropriate.  I was actually predicting that we would have a Halloween snowstorm, but I think this actually qualifies well enough.  I just had the feeling that some early snow was going to happen - and there it was last Sunday.

Fall Crops Are Historically Our Strong Suit
I took a couple of moments to remind myself that August through October is typically high time for crops and crop variety on our farm.  Yes, it is true that the Summer crops quickly dwindle in September (cucumbers, zucchini, melons).  But, we've also used our high tunnels to good effect to extend tomatoes, peppers and green beans most seasons.  Broccoli and cauliflower are often wearing their best clothing for us at this time.

Just like last year's cauliflower
In fact, our September CSA shares were actually still quite strong this season.  But, we saw how things were shaking out with the weather and we have seen significant losses.  October has been (and will continue to be) uncharacteristically weak for us.  And that is the key.  This is NOT normal for our farm.  And that is one reason to have hope for the future.

Better Results Are Only a Year Away
Last year was not our best season on the farm, though it did have a number of highlights.  We broke long standing farm records for broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage.  We also set shorter-term records for things like cherry tomatoes and turnips.  Other crops did more poorly than usual (cucumbers and melons to name a couple) and we had continuing issues with chemicals and normal issues with weather and life as usual. 
Early reports on 2017 Winter squash was very good.
The point here is that we can have another chance at this if we want it and better results have occurred as recently as last year.  For that matter, we had better results for some crops THIS year.  We've just been so overwhelmed with the difficulties the wet weather has presented us that we have trouble seeing that many of the tomatoes were looking pretty good up until the point things got wet in mid-August.  The broccoli was doing pretty well and we did harvest many beautiful heads of broccoli this season.  The sunflowers looked great, as did the zinnias.  And the apples?  They were fantastic.

It Isn't Because We Don't Know What We're Doing
Ok.  Ok.  You could argue that we don't know what we're doing if you don't agree with what we're doing.  That's fine.  In fact, I frequently criticize myself for how things end up getting done (or not getting done) each and every season.  But, we do have documentary proof that our techniques continue to evolve as we learn and that they have resulted in some decent results at least once in a while.
The early beans on the left look FANTASTIC!
What we need to recognize is that the game rules keep changing.  There has always been seasonal weather variability.  There have been droughts and floods, cold snaps and heat waves, etc etc.  It's the human tendency to want to shape, mold and control everything that is actually leading to more, not fewer variables for farming operations such as ours.  I believe that most people who work on the land have recognized for generations that humans can create micro-climates with things as simple as a hedge row.  It shouldn't be much of a stretch to recognize that billions of human beings living on this planet at the same time are going to be able to impact global weather patterns.

The point here is that between issues created by a changing climate and issues created by alterations in chemical applications by agribusiness, there are some harsh realities that growers are going to have to face.  One such reality is that we will continue to see an increase in lost crops every season.  Happily, a farm such as ours is able to replant many of our crops until the window opens up for a crop to be successful.  We just need to set ourselves up to be even more willing to terminate failures and try again.  We've had success before, we can have success again.  We just have to persist.

Building Confidence for Future Success
It is tempting to think that someone who has done something since 2005 has no need to build confidence.  After all, if our farm is still going in 2018, we must have had some success and surely there is no self-doubt. 
This is where I think humans often err.  We have this tendency to believe that any business, organization or service that has been around for five or more years has been around "forever" and we forget that while they might have more stability than newer groups, they still have struggles.  One struggle that is specific to farms like ours is the realization that there isn't really a magical point in time where it all "gets easy."  If you are doing things right (in my opinion) may parts of farming "get easier," but a good farm is one that is perpetually looking to improve.  And improvement is hard.

A season like this one, however, is more than just the trials of struggling to improve.  This one was a gut check that shook even the parts of the farm that we felt had 'gotten easier' for us.  That is why we are taking time now to plan for 2019 before the lessons of 2018 have any chance to fade.  It is also why we are looking to prior success to build confidence that we can do again what we have done in the past with one difference.

We intend to do it better.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Little Things

We recently had a group of students from Waverly Shell-Rock at the farm and it was interesting to get a glimpse of what the farm looks like through the eyes of others.  No matter how many times I give presentations or provide tour opportunities, I can still be presented with questions that make me pause and think a bit more.  One such question was a very simple one - "How do you know where each crop is?"  It's a great reminder to me that I take various landscape cues for granted and I don't always recognize that other people cannot see exactly what I do without a little guidance.  Another person asked me what "small" changes we had made that worked out well for us.  Rather than quibble with defining what a "small change" might be, I thought I would dedicate a post to some of the "little things" we have done over the years that had more impact than you might think.

August, 2008 on the farm.  Look!  We had rain then too!
Running Rows the Long Way
It doesn't seem like a big deal, but we made a switch on the orientation of our rows in our Eastern plots several years ago.  The picture above shows our rows with a North-South orientation.  Our plots are oriented East-West, so the rows essentially went the "short-way" on our plots.  We changed our row orientation to go East-West with the "long-way" on the 60' by 200' plots and it led to improvements in mechanization that has helped us to continue with the farm.

Sure, the short rows made it easier for weeders to feel a sense of accomplishment.  You can certainly finish 60 foot rows faster than 200 foot rows.  The short rows also provided more natural breaks for crop successions and crop variety.  But, if you run any sort of equipment, you spent an awful lot of time just turning around.  In the end, the simple idea of changing the orientation of rows in our plots may have had as much impact on changing our farming strategies as any other thing we've done on the farm.

July 2010, yep had rain then too.
These Are Not Show Gardens
The earlier versions of the Genuine Faux Farm leaned closer to obsessive gardening rather than horticultural farming.  We had visions of beautiful fields with easy to read signs so the flocks of people who would come to visit the modern marvel that was our farm would thoroughly enjoy the experience.  We even considered growing a 'show garden' that would highlight specific veggies in one plot.

I will grant you that there was nothing wrong with that plan if our goal was to provide more of an agri-tourism business versus what we actually ended up doing.  We also didn't have a good enough feel as to how much we could actually manage to do without being able to afford unlimited labor.  Everything looks doable when you plan it out during the Winter months.  But, when fields get too wet to work, or the delivery and market schedule eats up more of your time and energy than you thought it would...  Well, let's just say, you re-assess what your goals are.

Once we made the decision that we do not have the temperament to take the agri-tourism route (and our location probably wouldn't make that work anyway) we spent less time on things like cute little signs showing the pepper variety in a field that was flooded during a year where several hundred plants gave us seven peppers.  But, we also learned that putting together a decent operating farm is actually interesting to others and provides good learning opportunities in and of itself.  Once we got rid of the old attitude, we were able to figure out how to do what we do well - which usually results in some pretty good looking fields anyway.  We'll call that a win.  

Happy to get new chicken crates in 2011.
Sometimes Making Do Doesn't Make Sense
When we first started raising chickens for meat, we did not have our own cages for transporting birds to the "Park."  Initially, we would borrow a batch of old, patched wooden cages from a neighbor.  They hadn't been used for a while and they were in awful condition.  In some cases, the chicken wire was attached to chicken wire which was attached to the rotting wood of the remaining frame.  Usually, we would have to cobble together some additional repairs just to keep chickens in them.

We finally gave ourselves permission to look into and purchase new, uniformly sized crates for transporting.  Yes, it cost us some money to do this.  But, it really did not cost all that much in the grand scheme of things.  It is amazing how much savings in time and effort this simple acquisition has provided over the years.

Let's just use a quick example:  Each cage will hold thirteen to fifteen full-grown broiler chickens for a total of 100 to 120 pounds of weight.  It's dark, late and raining.  The two of you have to lift this crate up high enough on the truck to stack it on another crate.  If crates are uniform size, don't have various wires sticking out everywhere and do not threaten to fall apart when you lift them then life is good.  If we were still trying to use crates that were in poor repair and various sizes and shapes, we wouldn't be using them.  Why?  Well, we wouldn't be raising broiler chickens anymore.  It's just that simple.

Heirloom tomatoes at market in 2012
Not Returning Home With More Than Half

We are asked periodically if we are willing to return to farmers' market sales and our answer remains the same.  No.

This is not an indictment of farmers' markets in general, but it does highlight the limitations.  There is not enough of us to go around to spend the hours it takes to prepare, set up, staff the table, tear down and clean up for each market for the limited return we can get from the smaller farmers' markets in our area.

The table you see at left was our heirloom tomato offering September of 2012.  Frankly, the trays full of different types of heirloom tomatoes look pretty impressive to me (and there was more in the truck).  We even had lettuce and offered BLT specials.  And, we DID have several fine customers who purchased from us that day.  But, we still went home with more than half of those tomatoes after the market was done.  And this was not the exception to the rule.  You had to have plentiful product to get people to come to you, but there wasn't a chance that you could go home with an empty truck.

Simply put, if we wanted to move more product we had to try something else.  We could have gone to another farmers' market that was located in a larger city, but that didn't address the time consideration and still didn't guarantee that we wouldn't come home with significant amounts of produce.  And there you have it, an explanation as to why we pursue the types of sales we pursue at our farm.  CSA shares and other direct sales that are order based means we don't have to lug excess from the farm and then back TO the farm.  If there is excess on the farm, it can stay there and get processed or fed to the poultry without the extra travels.  In both cases, we get more value out of them without the extra expense of loading them into a truck twice.

Tyler finishes a gate at GFF in 2013
You Won't Believe the Good a Fence Can Do
Neither of us grew up on a farm and our backgrounds really didn't lend many opportunities to develop fence building and maintenance skills.  Thus, we were grateful to receive assistance from farmer friends when the hen pasture fence went up.  We just can't quite list all of the things that become easier once you have a good, solid fence in place.  It's enough to make you think that we would find the energy to put up some other fences that could be equally as valuable on the farm.  But, while we're much more certain about what we would need to do to put up new fences, they always seem to reside just below the last item on the VAP that gets done. 

It really shouldn't come as a surprise.  After all, putting up some good fencing requires some capital as well as a decent investment of time.  Argue all you want that you will have a net savings of time once the new fence is up.  But, if you don't have the necessary chunk of time to put the fence up in the first place, the point is moot.

That, and a fencing project won't really go all that well when any post hole you dig fills up with water immediately.  Given our current situation, we can't find the ground in some places because there is too much water already in the way.   So, I guess fence building continues to reside on the 'do this later' list.

 Don't Be Stubborn - Stake and Weave is a Fine Solution
All out with stake and weave in 2014
Many years ago, we participated in a research trial involving multiple trellising techniques.  One of those is called the Florida Stake and Weave method.  We found that this technique tended to be troublesome for us in our fields because the plants kept getting blown out of the weave.  You could argue that it was because we weren't particularly good at stake and weave and that wouldn't be completely unfair.  But, we actually weren't stubborn about stake and weave either.  We trialed it in different situations over time and eventually opted for square collapsible cages in the field and... stake and weave in the high tunnels.

It might be more accurate to state that the 'little thing' we are highlighting here is a willingness to keep trying something that has promise until that promise is realized OR it becomes clear that this is just not the right solution for us and our farm.  We have seen so many people give up on something after experiencing failure on the first try and we don't want to be that way ourselves.  After all, what makes us think that we can pick up a skill without any practice?

Giving Flowers Their Due
We've always had flowers on the farm and we have always had a good idea as to all of the positive things flowers could do as a part of our farming system.  But, growing flowers because you like them and think they're good is one thing.  Being committed to growing them because they are a critical component for making the farm a successful farm is something different. 
A re commitment to flowers in 2015
The natural follow-up question we get after we make that statement has to do with whether we sell cut flowers or not.  While we could certainly try to do that, I think people are missing the point here.  The flowers do NOT need the extra justification for their existence on the farm that flower sales would bring.  They bring value all on their own without requiring us to turn them into an additional enterprise. 

Like any other crop we grow, we have successes and failures.  Sometimes the weeds win.  Sometimes the wet weather wins.  And sometimes... the butterflies win.  Win or lose, we're going to keep playing this game and include flowers in the line-up.  Besides, if the only reason were because they make your farmers smile, that should be a good enough reason.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Looking for the Promise

It feels as if every day is a rainy day right now.  That isn't true and we know it.  We had some very nice days in early to mid-September and we awaited drier fields anxiously so we could get things done.  In fact, we did get a few things done.  Then, it rained some more.  And, a bit more.  Annnnnd... a bit more.  One morning we awoke with the understanding based on the weather forecast as shared by multiple sources that we should have a day without rain and we looked to the East and saw the light of a new dawn.

We looked to the West and saw.......
Clouds and a rainbow

Under normal circumstances, the relatively light rain shower that did, in fact, march right towards our farm, would not have been much more than an inconvenience.  In this case, it felt very much like a betrayal.  Isn't a rainbow supposed to be a promise?  Don't we usually associate the promises of a rainbow with positive things?  Then what was the promise of rain doing on our 'positive promise list?'   After all, we've seen this sight on the farm multiple times now this year:
October 1
Because we run a working farm, we can't just go inside and ignore the rain and water.  That used to be the case when we both worked off-farm jobs.  So, we remember what it was like when the consequences for extreme weather seemed so much less personal in nature (as long as you were not directly impacted by a flood or tornado of course).  Constant rains would be a staple of conversation, where you could roll your eyes and say, "Oh great!  It's raining again" and pretend that it had a 'real' consequence for your life.  But, the reality is that the biggest losses were cancelled baseball games, some dampness in the basement or an outdoor gathering being moved indoors.

But this?  This is a daily slog to get food to the poultry flocks.  It's losing boots in the mud and desperately trying not to fall on your can while you try to get your foot back in the boot.  It's about watching hundreds of tomatoes rot and numerous other crops drown.  It's a situation where we actually have to think carefully about what equipment we should even consider getting out to do work because we don't want to permanently tear up pathways or fields.  Caleb nearly realized this the hard way recently when he took the lawn tractor to help haul water to birds (yes, we do see the irony in that).  He doesn't usually do that job so he wasn't as aware as Tammy and I are as to what paths are safest to take right now.  It was a near thing, but he managed to NOT get stuck.
We know we have been dwelling on the excessive rains in our blog posts and in our email newsletters and we DO apologize for that.  The reality is that this has been an exceedingly difficult year for us at the Genuine Faux Farm.  We continue to fight chemical spray issues and we have continued to see a decline in demand for what we do with our CSA farm share program.  Other sales outlets seem tenuous or fragile to us right now, which leaves us wondering why we should be so upset about crop losses (except we know that the failure to have these crops contributes to the problem).  The rains only seem to be mirroring my own attitude for what we do at the farm right now. 

So, here we are.  Looking for a promise that makes sense to us.  We could just accept a 'promise' that is less than promising or we can look for the opportunities that are hiding behind the persistent rain clouds.  It's at this point in the blog that we should turn this therapy session away from "woe is me" to "I'll take that promise and raise you some determination."  But, I am having a difficult finding it this time around.

In most blog posts that we've written that explore difficulties on the farm, we cycle back to the good.  We show a beautiful picture and say, "look, everything is fine we've got this!"  And, I will say that we have every intention of making it through this and working it out.  But, there is also value in sharing the struggle.  We KNOW there are worse things than what we are experiencing here.  We are fully aware that we are lucky to be who we are and to have the resources we have (friends, family, supportive customers, etc..).  We are grateful for the kindnesses and support we have gotten - so please don't take this posting as a rejection of that  either!

Perhaps the blessing this time around is a chance to look harder for the promise, whatever it ends up being.

Friday, October 5, 2018


I am privileged to have been able to travel with Tammy to some interesting places and I am still able to revisit some of those places with the pictures we took while we were there.  Some of the photos that mean the most to me rotate as the background image on my computer.  There are sunset pictures, flower pictures and other neat images of the farm as well as photos of waterfalls, waves and...  trees.

Tree at Holman Vista in Oregon
This image was the first one selected by my computer this morning.  I don't know if it is a particularly good photograph based on artistic criteria, but I like it.  Perhaps that is partly because I can feel myself being transported back to the moment I hit the button to preserve the image I was seeing.  The temperature was 47 degrees Fahrenheit. Tammy and I now refer to that temperature as "Oregon" since that was roughly what it was during most of our outdoor exploits while we were there.  It was cloudy most of the time with the threat of impending rain (unless it was actively raining).  In other words, just about what it has been like this morning (and many recent days) on the farm.

The only thing missing this morning was the strong wind that we experienced while we were at Holman Vista.  The wind there was normal, given the fact that many of the older trees had shapes similar to this one.  The consistent, prevailing winds discouraged tree growth that went into the wind and it was obvious that this tree had lost many branches over time.  Yet, this tree continued to live (and grow) in a difficult situation.  Clearly, this is not the shape it would have had if its life were less difficult.  And, if this tree hadn't been shaped the way it was, I doubt I would have decided to take this particular photograph.  The continued success of this tree, despite difficult conditions, is attractive, yet somehow bittersweet.  I view this photo and find that it is reassuring and disconcerting at the same time.  This tree encourages me and discourages me.  It teaches me the values of perseverance in the face of adversity.

Monday, October 1, 2018

October Newsletter

The Perils of Paucity
Nothing like a very difficult month to make a person eat their own words.  Our opening title for the September newsletter was "The Perils of Plenty."  And, we did, in fact, seem to have plenty of produce.  Certainly, there were some things that weren't going the way we wanted, but really didn't expect a wetter than normal August and its trials to lead to a record setting amount of rain in September.  To top it off, it looks like October is going to start with a front parked over the northern half of Iowa and the rain chances continue.

The photo at right shows one of the few times in September that we had a nice sunny day AND the fields were workable.  Caleb and I took some of that time to weed and clean up around the late planting of broccoli, cauliflower and romanesco.  There is still a chance these crops will produce for us and we have done (and will do) all that we can to help them out.

There were some significant crop failures as a result of the heavy rains and standing water on the farm.  The outside tomato crops declined rapidly and looked like they usually do in late October, not mid-September.  The newer plantings of turnips, spinach, beets, radish, mustard greens (etc) essentially drowned.  A quick look yesterday showed maybe a half dozen radish and a couple dozen beet plants still alive.  That's it.  To give you perspective, a planting of radish usually consists of 1000 plants.  The crash in production will be putting a dent in our anticipated end of year farm income.  This year may well be the worst we've had since 2010 for struggles on the farm.  For those who do not remember or did not know, that was the year we came within a whisker of calling an end to the Genuine Faux Farm.

The hardest part of all of this is fighting through difficult conditions and remaining motivated to get things done at the farm.  It's an attitude thing - and we know it.  So, per the norm, we cope with difficulties by accentuating the positive.  We are better prepared, have better tools and our experience certainly counts for something.  One positive is that we are able to start working on field clean-up much earlier this year.  We have managed to pull in our winter squash harvest and our planning for 2019 is already ahead of schedule.  We passed our organic inspection with flying colors yet again and we are fully aware that we have gotten some harvests this year simply because of some of the adjustments we have made to handle wetter weather. 

Veg Variety of the Month
There are few crops that allow a grower to make in-season adjustments more than lettuce.   Our philopshy this year has been to "just keep planting" the lettuce - even when some of those plantings are doomed to fail.  One new variety that has shown some definite positives for warmer season production is Bergam's Green.  We're pleased that our High Mowing seed representative, Paul Betz sent this one along for us to evaluate.  Nice call, Paul, we like it.

Weather Wythards
September kicked us off with five days of rain and it is leaving us with rain.  We have had two and a half days where the soil was NOT mud during this month.  To say that it has been difficult getting work done would be quite the understatement.

September's Report
High Temp: 92 (actually 3 degrees warmer than August's high)
Low Temp: 32 (20 degrees cooler than August's low)
Heat Index High: 99

Highest wind gust: 29 mph out of NW
Rain: 14.66" (6+ inches more than August)
Barometer Range: 29.48-30.30

For those who are curious, the average rainfall for Tripoli in September is 3.11 inches.  According to KWWL Waterloo set a record for most rainfall in ANY month this year during September.  Our rainfall actually exceeded the rainfall recorded in Waterloo.  We must be special!

Year Through August
High Temp: 97
Low Temp: -20
Lowest Windchill: -34
Highest Heat Index: 119
Highest Wind gust: 46 mph
Rainfall: 44.85"
Barometer Range: 29.39 to 30.89

The rain thus far on October 1 has put us well past the 45 inch mark for the year.  The record for a single year is 53+" in Waterloo.  We are hopeful that we will come no where near that mark this year!

Song of the Month
Switchfoot's Faust, Midas and Myself has long been a favorite tune of ours and we think it is appropriate at a time when we might be tempted to be dissatisfied with our life the way it is now.

Picture of the Month

The hen flock has been stuck in the northwest pasture since the rains began because we just cannot risk getting the tractor stuck while trying to move their building.  Of course, every other location has been equally wet, so moving them wouldn't really do much for them.  The picture at left was taken just after their shelter door was opened for the day.  The hens were not terribly certain they wanted to get out of their dry building on this particular day.

What Happens When One Is Uninspired for a Newsletter?
Well, you get what you have a here.  We'll find reasons to write as the month progresses, not to worry. But, we'll give you a very short summary about farm happenings here:

  • Turkeys are available for reservations.  The Great Turkey Pickup for 2018 will be on October 25.  If you want a turkey but cannot pickup at that time, this does not eliminate you from buying one of our birds!
  • Broiler batch number three will be taken to the park on October 28.  We do have birds from batch #2 still available.
  • We continue to collect a decent number of eggs from our flock and we sell/deliver each week in Waverly on Tuesdays and Cedar Falls on Thursdays.
  • The Farm Share CSA continues with Waverly/Tripoli delivery on Tuesdays and Cedar Falls on Thursdays (wow! same day as above!  Wonder why?)  The Traditional 20 will be completed the third week of October.  The Whole Enchilada, Traveler 20 and Alternating will continue to Thanksgiving as crops allow.
  • We intend to offer farm shares again in 2019.  We will be modifying the program significantly in hopes that it will better meet the needs of our customers and deal with the requirements of the farm and farmers.  We will begin taking reservations for 2019 on October 10 of this year and will take them until we are full or the season begins.
  • We are scheduled to host a Waverly Shell-Rock schools group this week at that farm this week.  Rob is tentatively scheduled to speak to a class at UNI this Fall and to give a tour to a Wartburg College class as well.
  • Our final Gang of Five farm work day event for the year will be held this month at Wabi Sabi Farm in Granger.  We're incredibly fortunate to be involved with this fine group of people.
  • Just a quick reminder that the Genuine Faux Farm is periodically featured on Iowa Ingredient episode for preparing duck.  Demand for duck has been insufficient for us to continue raising them, so we do NOT have duck or duck eggs for sale.  If this makes you sad, the best thing to do is to get a bunch of interested people to commit to buying a certain number of ducks.  That is the easiest way to get us to return to raising duck for interested parties.

Friday, September 21, 2018

What It Looks Like When II

We have continued to post the wisdom of our Farm Supervisors on Facebook using the hashtag #GFFWhatItLooksLikeWhen and, as we did with the first batch, we are summarizing and editorializing a bit more on the blog.  We will continue to do this as long as the inspiration and available photos are in good supply.

I was asked by one individual what the motivation for these posts were.  From a farm promotion perspective, I suppose having a consistent series does serve as a reminder to those who might patronize us that we are still here, though it likely won't do a thing to encourage a specific sale.  But, that's not really the motivation behind this.

In the end, the motivation comes from two places:
1. The need to be creative and see humor and value in everyday life.
2. The need to remind those who care about the farm (and the farmers and the Farm Supervisors) that we are real people (and cats) who are just trying to muddle along as best we can like everyone else.  And, in that process, a little support along the way is always appreciated.  Just as we are willing to lend support when others need it.

Pre-amble now complete, we bring you more of

What It Looks Like When

This is what it looks like when you want the farmer to think he's just run over you with a tractor!
 Inspector is prone to using soft spaces under vehicles as a napping spot during warmer days.  The good news is that he knows to get away (and quickly) when an engine starts.  The other good news is that we do have a tendency to take a quick look under our vehicles for Farm Supervisors when we are ready to start one up.  We actually do not think it would be consistent with Inspector's catitude to pull the "oh no! You ran over me!" trick.  But, when Doughboy was with us, that cat might have played the trick.

This is what it looks like when you will do whatever it takes to get your "alone time."
Soup has probably been the most creative cat we've had with respect to finding places to be when she wants to lounge.  She doesn't really move all that quickly and she doesn't tend to leave the area around the main buildings on the farm.  Yet, she can disappear when she wishes.

This is what it looks like when the entire team put forth their best effort and have nothing left to give.
This fine, October day a few years ago found us working to get squash under cover prior to some cold temps.  The humans had to do a great deal of lifting and running around.  That, of course, wore out the poor Farm Supervisory crew consisting of Sandman, Mrranda and Cubbie.  The work was not yet done at the point the photo was taken, but we know from experience that Farm Supervisors still count themselves as being capable of supervising when their eyes are closed.
This is what it looks like when the shoulder angel says, "Be polite and say hello" and the shoulder devil says, "Go back to sleep!"
Sun puddles are a cats best friend in the Winter months.  This is especially true in an old, drafty farm house with humans who keep the temp on the lowish side.  Of our Indoor Farm Supervisors, Bree is typically the most 'polite' of the two.  She usually responds if a human says "hello."  But, you can see her have this debate at times when she really doesn't WANT to acknowledge the human - but she knows she should.  After all, humans are so fragile and they need constant affirmation from the felines on the farm.  This was one of those cases where she was not as gracious with her greeting as she normally is - perhaps it had to do with the camera in the farmer's hands?

For those who have interest: Here is the first in the series of the What it Looks Like When blog posts.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Build An Ark?

At the risk of overloading the blog with too much about too much (rain, that is), we thought we'd do a bit more with regards to the wet weather we had to start the month of September (and slightly less wet, but still annoying mid-September).  The post, Rain of Terror, got that ball rolling, so we'll try not to revisit the content there too much.  Instead, we consider this a bit of a documentary post for us with some thoughts of what we can do when this happens again.  Please note that we do NOT believe the phrase is "if this should happen again."  It is definitely preparing for WHEN it happens again.

Grass tends to hide the water.  Water up to the ankles (or higher) in this entire area.
 What got us thinking about this post?  The mundane reason is that I don't have many September farm pictures other than the ones we took after our first batch of heavy rain.  But, as I viewed these, I realized that there might be some lessons here that could be learned for our farm.  I try not to avoid a chance to learn - even if I don't really want to dwell on some of the harder lessons.  The other prompt was the fact that we had ten days after that event without rain - and I was still slipping on some mud in one of our pastures as we transferred broilers to their pasture.  And the final prompt?  It rained again today.  I have to admit that I am a little 'gunshy' regarding any kind of rain right now.

Hilling saves crops, but what else can be done?
We determined that hilling did, in fact, save many of our crops.  We did still have some issues with the loss of a couple hundred heads of lettuce (among other things).  But, it seems like the late broccoli, cauliflower and romanesco successions will live to try to produce veggies another day.  This process is worth the extra effort on our farm and we intend on refining and expanding its use.  Yet, it did not solve the water problem for many things, which means we have room for improvement. 

Before you come to the wrong conclusion - we have used this technique in seasons prior to this as well.  What we're beginning to think is that we may always want to use it for every one of our crops during all times of year.
Hilled vs Unhilled
Well, there were seedlings there!
One of the mistakes we made was having unhilled beds next to hilled beds.  The hilled beds shed water (of course) and might have increased the amount of water in the unhilled areas.  Granted, there was going to be a problem no matter what we did.  But, we shouldn't have relied on the 'normal' late Summer to early Fall reduction in rainfall.  We should have just done the extra work and created the raised beds even though the odds said August and September are supposed to be drier.

There are some plots on our farm where this might be more important than others (like the ones shown here).  So, we could simply identify plots in the rotation that must always have hilled beds and then not let ourselves take a shortcut because it might be drier.

But, why hesitate?  Well, if we raise the beds, they tend to dry out faster.

Yes, that's the point, right?

Turnips are not water plants.
But, what happens if it doesn't rain?  Then, we have to irrigate more!  And, we are also concerned about responsibly using ground water and not wasting it.  However, the current trends for our farm is for more heavy rain events and wetter seasons.  Since we do have the option of drip irrigation if it should swing the other way, maybe we need to play that hand and see how it works.

If you look closely at the picture at the right, you will see that the seedlings in this picture are completely under water.  Usually, a mid to late August planting of turnips on our farm will give us some nice small to mid-sized turnips that people seem to like.  None of these made it through the rains.  I guess they weren't into the 'hydroponics approach.'

The next thing we may want to address is that some of our non-growing areas could be candidates for swales.  For example, the picture below shows the edge of one of our fields and the grass/clover path between it and the bush line.  Clearly, we are seeing plenty of water sitting there and all of the beans on that edge are no longer with us.  However, they are still doing reasonably well about 10 feet in from the edge.  Perhaps we should consider lowering these edges and replanting grass/clover (and maybe some perennials covers that can handle damp situations.  We have multiple opportunities to do this since we have permanent greenways between each of our field plots.  The thing that stops us is finding the time and resources to accomplish this task.  Maybe we can not afford to not do this?
On the other hand, critical paths that get us from one part of the farm to another can't be continuously under water either.  This important junction on our farm (below) nearly got us stuck a couple of times.
And then, there are pastures.  These are actually a good bit harder to figure since there are so many factors involved - among them is how one does the work on that area when you have birds that have to be somewhere!
One option is to consider building some semi-permanent buildings on the highest spots so the birds always have a dry spot to start.  The down-side is that chickens really beat on the pasture, leaving the area around their home-base close to bare.  We rested the area close to the Poultry Pavilion this year prior to recombining the flock in their permanent room again for the Fall/Winter. 
Of course, we could try tiling.  But, we believe a significant part of our current problem is that EVERYONE uses the 'get the water away from me as fast as possible' approach.  That's part of the reason we have been having so much trouble with the heavy rains in our country.  While we only have fifteen acres, it is the attitude that we, as individual farmers, aren't a significant part of the problem.  Sorry, we don't get a pass, nor should anyone else.  We all have responsibility and we're not about to shirk ours at the Genuine Faux Farm.  If we're going to tile, we're going to need a place for it to go.  We've considered the option of creating a wetland or pond area on the farm, but the land we own is a bit small to make it work.

And so, here we are, continuing to find ways to make this work.  And we're not going to wait and save it for a rainy day.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Crazy Maurice - His Two Cents Worth

 Hello everyone!

My name is Maurice and I am the resident weeping willow tree at the Genuine Faux Farm.  I have had more opportunities this year than in years past to interact with my farmers and they asked if I was willing to write a blog post.

I have always wanted to write and both farmers (the Pretty Lady and the Fuzzy Guy with the Red Top) are so polite when they come out to visit that I couldn't say no.  The Fuzzy Guy with the Red Top helped me figure out how I should share my thoughts.  He brought two round, copper disks and buried them at the base of my trunk.  He said I could now give my "two-cents worth" whenever I wanted. 

You might be a bit surprised to learn that a tree, such as myself, is perfectly able to read and write.  But, when you put down roots like trees do, you tend to be a home-body.  So, of course, I spend lots of time observing, considering and composing my own thoughts about all that I see.  I started converting my own words to English when the farmers were kind enough to lend me some reading material so I could teach myself.

I am not certain WHY they left me what they did, but I saw it enough that I have it memorized:  "Helpful Hints: Read the directions before assembly.  This seeder comes partially assembled.."   I can still tell them anything they might need to know about the Earthway Seeder.  But, they do seem to have that well-enough in hand.
Maurice's baby picture
 I arrived on the farm in 2014.  Maybe you can see me in the picture above?  You can't?  Well, I was pretty small.  The Fuzzy Guy with the Red Top told me he thinks they have some better pictures somewhere, but he couldn't find them right away. 

I don't remember much when I was that little, but I do know that the area around me has changed as I've grown.  For one, I have more friends than I did back then.  The picture at the left shows you my friend Blaise the Maple (at right).  He joined me in this section of the farm the same season I arrived.  Blaise tends to be pretty ostentatious, but I still manage to get along with him just fine.  He's already talking about the color he intends to throw at the farmers this Fall.  Ya, whatever, Blaise.

I have other tree friends that have arrived in subsequent years.  Minnie the Mighty Oak is one of the newest arrivals.  She doesn't say much, but I understand.  Things are pretty overwhelming when you're a sapling.  I don't mind Hansel and Gretel (the Austrian Pines), but I have a harder time communicating with the conifers.  They just don't get the whole dropping leaves thing that we deciduous trees do.  On the other hand, every field seems to have a ... a... what do you call someone who doesn't seem to fit in?  Well, I would call that someone the Locust tree we have out here?  That tree doesn't seem to have any pride.  I don't know.  I just don't get it.  But, I'll try to be accepting and supportive. 

The farmers asked if I would help them keep an eye on a bunch of feathery critters this year. At first, I thought they meant the butterflies that I enjoy seeing float on by.  Sometimes, they will roost in my branches.  I'm not sure I like that so much because it tickles a little bit.

They explained that these things called "chickens" were a bit closer in style to Mr. Bunting.  I actually enjoyed Mr and Mrs Bunting.  Very nice neighbors, even if they were a little quick to judge themselves.  Apparently, they had tried to nest closer to the farmers' abode and found it a bit too busy for their tastes.  I told them that I wished the farmers would come visit me more often.  I wonder if they let the farmers know that I wanted company because they came up with this "chicken proposal thing" soon thereafter.

They moved this rolly red building out into the area near me, put up a fence that tickles when I touch it with a stray leaf or two and then moved in these noisy, busy little creatures.  I really am not sure what the farmers see in them.  But, their presence has encouraged the farmers to visit more often - sometimes as much as four times in a day!

As I said, I like the farmers.  They know how to phrase a nice complement that we trees like to hear.  The chickens, ON THE OTHER HAND...

"That's my spot, get out of my spot!  That's MY spot! Get OUT of my spot!"
"I'm laying an egg!  I'm laying an EGG! I'm laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaying an EGGGGGG!"
"Give me food!  I want more food! You call that food?!?  I want food!"

They can be so rude and annoying at times.  But, once I learned to stop listening to what they were saying, I started realizing exactly how amusing they are.  I especially found it funny watching them trying to figure out how to get out of their building without getting wet - even though our entire field was a giant puddle!  Ha ha ha!  I know what's so funny about "wet chickens" and I also have no idea what could possibly be madder than a wet hen.

Pretty Lady put the food holder for the chickens under my branches for a while.  She was so nice about it, asking me if it was ok with me.  They left the feeder there until the rains stopped.  I did my best to keep the food dry just bit longer - but that was A LOT of rain.  While the food was there, I learned that hens like to gossip while they eat.  Actually, I didn't know what gossip was until the Fuzzy Guy explained it to me.  I felt much better when he let me know that nearly all of their gossip isn't based on fact.  In other words, they are nothing like a seeder manual. 

There is so much more that I would love to give my "two-cents worth" on in the future.  It might be fun to write about the dancing swallows or the snake in the Goldenrod.  I've also observed that the dragonflies are not particular about much of anything, even which direction they want to fly at any given moment.  I think I LIKE this blog writing thing!  I'll tell Pretty Lady and Fuzzy Guy.  I bet they'll let me do more in the future!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Rain of Terror

Lettuce on "lake-front" property?
When your work has so much to do with Mother Nature, you have a tendency to take a great deal of interest in any prognostication that might give you a glimpse into the future whims she might have so you can make an effort to plan.  Tammy and I watch the skies and make our own guesses about what might be coming our way.  We look at the radar and other tools provided by NOAA and other sites, such as Intellicast.  We listen to people who have far more training and knowledge than we have when it comes to climate and weather events.  And, even though we know that the tools are just tools and meteorologists do their best to make forecasts based on the facts as they see them - we still can't help getting upset when they are wrong.  We know it is illogical and unfair.  But, we can't get away with blaming Mother Nature because she'll do what she'll do (and frankly, we might be a bit frightened to confront her).  If Mother N reads forecasts, she probably takes delight in chuckling at our attempts but I am guessing it is beneath her to alter events just to spite the forecast.  And, right now, what she is doing is making things difficult.  We are dubbing the current stretch of weather the

Rain of Terror

If you read our blog semi-regularly, then you have probably noticed that our monthly newsletter posts have a "Weather Wythards" section that summarized the weather on the farm for the prior month.  Our July Newsletter highlighted a wet June with 8 1/2 inches of rain - far more than normal.  More recently, our September Newsletter highlighted a wet August with another 8 1/2 inches of rain - again far more than normal.  In fact, we had recently had some significant rain on the farm and we still had decent sized puddles at the point we saw the following forecast:
 We often try not to get too excited about anything in a forecast much further out than a couple of days.  We were a little dismayed by the significant rain amounts shown here, but we were relieved to see that we could get through Thursday's harvest and veggie deliveries without more rain.  Yes, we still harvested in mud that required much more effort to clean the produce - but it wasn't horrible.  Besides, we were (and are) fully aware that others are having bigger problems with too much rain.  For example, southern Wisconsin has been dealing with flooding and excessive rain for the past three weeks. 

Then we saw the extended forecast
This set of forecast icons come from Intellicast for Tripoli, Iowa as we saw them on August 30 and we have learned over time if you get a series that looks like this - things WILL become exceptionally wet - even if not during the exact timeline depicted here or in the amounts shown.  We verified that most sources were calling for wet weather during this period.

Then, an amazing thing happened.  It didn't rain on Friday during the day.  Rob had a chance to work outside all day and try to do things to preempt the problems too much rain might cause.  Caleb was also working that day, so we gave it our best shot.  Tammy came home in time to lend a hand with trying to pull melons out of the field.  But, things get dark much more quickly in September and our time was up.

From 1:58AM on Saturday until 9am, we received 2.74" of rain.  You could argue that the meteorologists were fairly accurate if you add the Friday/Saturday totals together and move them all to Saturday AM.

And then add another inch to it.

forecast late in the day September 1

no, we do NOT do hydroponics...
Ever hopeful, we looked at the forecast in hopes that maybe Mother Nature had compressed the event and just gave it all to us at one time.  But, it was not to be.  The new forecast had even higher amounts of rain and much higher likelihoods for that rain.  In the end, rainfall totals for the first five days of September made us wonder what we were complaining about when we talked about the wet August we endured.  The crazy thing about is, we are aware of several places that got much more rain than we did!

Storm total at the farm: 8.71"
Sat, Sep 1: 2.74"
Sun, Sep 2: 2.66"
Mon, Sep 3: .89"
Tue, Sep 4: .95"
Wed, Sep 5: 1.47"

Our farm is not next to a body of water that would tend to flood us.  But, the soil is heavier and the "water table" is often high.  We are pretty flat out here too, so the water doesn't have anywhere to go, especially when the ground is already saturated.  The net result is that we can get a fair amount of standing water when we have excessive rain events.  Like any farm, we have some places that tend to puddle up with any decent rain.  We have worked to move some of those 'trouble spots' but most are scattered in areas we use for poultry pasture.  The trick is to make sure the poultry buildings aren't sitting on one of the lower areas.  But, what happens when the entire field becomes a puddle?

Well, that puts a crimp in our pasture-raised poultry plan.
Something you have to know about chickens - they can be rough on a pasture.  The picture above makes it look like we placed their shelter in the lowest spots because you see more water.  However, you need to consider that the chickens have been beating down the grass in this area more than they have further from the buildings.  Trust me when I say there is just as much water in the green as there is in the areas with visible water.  To make matters worse, these broilers were due to go to the park on Tuesday night.  We had to stop loading half-way through when a cell with significant lightning came through.  After a quick downpour (our weather station recorded a rain rate of 8"/hour), we were able to go back out and finish the job (about 45 minutes later).  Let's just say neither of us is up for doing that again anytime soon.
Many of our crops are winding down much more quickly than they would have in an August/early September with average rainfall amounts.  The tomatoes were loaded, but the plants have crashed over the past two weeks.  I guess they aren't fond of being this wet at this point in their development.

We're beginning to think we should have pulled all of the green tomatoes in addition to the ones that were starting to ripen prior to the rain.  A recent scouting effort showed a significant number of them cracking.  Well, what do you do?  You do what you can and deal with it.  That will have to be enough.

We did take the time to raise the planting zone for many of the rows in our fields this season.  We've done this more and more over the past three years as it has become apparent that excessive rainfall is becoming a new norm for our farm.  Please note that when I say "excessive rainfall" I am not referring to a single storm.  Instead, I am referring to a series of rain events that lead to completely saturated soil to the point that we have standing water for a week or more in areas that are not our normal 'puddle zones.'

If you look at the picture at the right, you can see that the lettuce is up on hills that we created with Rosie (our tractor) and a disc hilling implement.  This does not solve the problem of farmers losing boots in the muck when they try to pick, but it buys the plants just a little more time so they have a chance to survive.  It's a little early to tell if we bought enough time, but at least we gave it our level best to prepare for this situation.

On the other hand, we did not hill every single bed on our farm.  In our defense, it does take more time and effort to make these hilled beds.  Second, rainfall normally gets more scarce the deeper you get into the season.  With the picture at left, you can (maybe) see some of the seedlings that were just coming up at the point the rain started.  These are not planted in hills and they are under water. 

You might notice some yellowing of plants at the right showing an older crop that has not been liking the moist weather even prior to the beginning of the "Rain of Terror."  This picture was taken after a bit of a "break" after the first four inches or so.  I figured it had gone down a bit and wouldn't get much worse.  I was wrong.  But, I didn't have the gumption to take the camera back out to record it.  I've got enough of a picture in my head thank you.  I will say it was odd to see spinach and turnip seedlings looking a bit like plants in a fish tank.  While we are on flat ground, water still moves with the slightest change in elevation.  Those poor little seedlings were moving with the current.  At last check, many of the seedlings were gone.  Now to wait for things to dry out so we can try to seed it all again!

The turkey pasture was looking very good this year.  I think we managed to cut it at just the right time prior to letting the turkeys out on the field.  The key is to not have the grass too tall when they first get out there.  But, you want the grass to be tall enough and healthy enough that it will last into early October.  Unless it rains buckets and barrels in early September.  If the turks don't tear it up, the grass should survive just fine.  For now, the birds have their own private swimming pool.  Some actually liked running around in it for the first couple of days.  They have since decided it isn't much fun.

Crazy Maurice, our weeping willow, may be one of the few creatures on the farm that is happy for the excessive amounts of rain. 
 The hens are certainly grateful that he's out there because he does provide some protection for them.  But, once again, hens can really beat things up - especially when it is wet.  Honest, we take care of our birds.  The pasture did NOT look this bad a week ago.  But, we can't move their building.

Where would we move it to?

Who will pull the tractor out when it gets stuck?

How will we get out from under the

Rain of Terror?

 Tune in next week when our topic is making sweaters out of toe jam!  (oh! are you still reading?  Good for you!  I hope you aren't too disturbed the toe jam thing, it's really a pretty amazing project.)