Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wasn't That Just Yesterday?

I took some time during a rainy day some weeks ago and grabbed a few photos from this season that depicted some of the progress certain parts of the farm made as the year went on.  I'm realizing that I could have done a better job with picking areas to focus on so I had a better 'journal,'  but this will serve well enough.

The North Fields
Yes, yes, I realize calling these 'fields' might seem a little pretentious to those who farm more than the 15 acres we manage.  But, since it is our blog, we'll call them fields.  So there!

The glacier that didn't want to leave
With a little bit of effort, you might recall that last Winter was particularly cold and things just did not want to warm up very quickly.  Our bush line in the North did the job it is supposed to do and it collected snow to the tune of a drift that measured about 14 feet deep and 25 feet wide.  That's going to take a while to melt in a normal Spring.  But, it just didn't want to go away this year.

The rabbit fence at work in the North fields

This caused us to change plans.  Initially, we were going to put up a new high tunnel, but we couldn't get an excavator in ... blah blah blah....  So, the net result is that we used the field only for a Fall crop of greens and brassica.  The advantage of this area for Fall crops is that there is wind protection on three sides.  It doesn't mean that much for the crops, but it does for the person doing the harvesting.

Mustard greens looking happy in the field.

The Southwest
The SouthWest field is always the first to dry out and the first to have the frost go out.  So, this year, we knew the peppers and eggplant would be in this field.  Our plan calls for some spinach and radish to be planted and harvested before the peppers.  Happily, the soil was workable enough in April for us to give it a shot.

The earth must have shifted a bit that day.
But, of course, the weather turned cold and wet soon after we planted into the field.  The net result?   Poor germination of the crops we planted.

Wasn't there supposed to be something in these rows?
In the end, we did what we knew was the right thing for the farm.  We tilled most of these crops in.  Germination rates were too low to justify leaving them in to fight the weeds that were developing.  We kept one row of radish and started planting peppers and bean rows around them.
One row of radish survived and was left for harvesting

Well, the cool summer resulted in smaller pepper plants, but they produced well enough for us.  It was, a bit irritating that we had to worry about a frost in early/mid September.  Out came the remay covers.  The most difficult part about these covers is the fact that it takes only a very little bit of wind to move them off of the plants.  We ended up finishing the job after the sun went down.

But, we were able to harvest or another few weeks this way!

The Eastfarthing
Yes, we do call it that.  Hey!  It's our farm, we can call it what we want.  Remember our discussion about the North fields? 

One crop we got in the ground in a timely fashion were our tomatoes.   We were both very pleased by this.  But, then the weather conspired to slow us with the mulching and caging.  It's always something, isn't it?

Italian Heirloom on the left and German Pink on the right.
Once again, the cool summer played a part in plant sizes.  Many of the plants were far smaller than usual and tomatoes set in tight clusters near the base of the plant.  Sadly, this caused problems for us and reduced our yields dramatically.  The good news?  The tomatoes tasted great.  Others reported tomatoes that weren't as good as usual this year.  Happily, when we got a tomato that didn't have a split or other problem, it had very good taste.  We'll take it.

That field sure LOOKED good.

And, there you have it.  Some perspective on the growing season in words and pictures. 





Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Fox and Crow


Thank you, Jill and Sean.
Tammy and I were pleased to receive a gift from good friends that now hangs on our wall in the kitchen of our house.  The artist shows a rendering of a fox, with a tail that blends into the grasses and wildflowers, and a crow, who is standing/sitting in the wildflowers.  We happened to have this frame sitting around and it fit perfectly.  Onto the wall it went.


As we were looking at the picture, I asked Tammy if there wasn't, in fact, a popular story about the fox and crow.  The next day, she sent and email with one version of the story.  I think this version was on wikipedia, but it lines up somewhat with the version I recalled reading.



Aesop's The Fox and The Crow
A Fox once saw a Crow fly off with a piece of cheese in its beak and settle on a branch of a tree.
     "That's for me, as I am a Fox," said Master Reynard, and he walked up to the foot of the tree.
     "Good day, Mistress Crow," he cried. "How well you are looking today: how glossy your feathers; how bright your eye. I feel sure your voice must surpass that of other birds, just as your figure does; let me hear but one song from you that I may greet you as the Queen of Birds."
     The Crow lifted up her head and began to caw her best, but the moment she opened her mouth the piece of cheese fell to the ground, only to be snapped up by Master Fox.
     "That will do," said he. "That was all I wanted. In exchange for your cheese I will give you a piece of advice for the future: "Do not trust flatterers."

I seem to recall that the moral to the story is modified depending on the source or the audience somewhat, and some internet searching bears this out.  But, the moral, from my point of view is that one should not let complements blind you to what you are doing.  After all, there may be flatterers out there who are not genuinely interested in complimenting you.

Both Tammy and I have also done some reading about Native American history and stories.  The stories that feature animals are numerous and can differ depending on the nation/tribe/geographical region.  I do not recall a story that features both prominently, but there are a few things I do recall.

The crow is often portrayed as a trickster and almost always is part of a story where dramatic change occurs.  Sometimes, these two are combined.  The trickster causes others to veer from the originally chosen path, but that path is often for the betterment of those who are fooled.  The fox embodies the characteristics of observation and wisdom (and, of course, cunning).  The fox is typically portrayed as being mentally agile and able to adapt to a difficult situation quickly.

You're moving too slowly, could you get to the point?  Photo by Ivan Kislov



Frankly, we can see the benefit of both characters on our farm.  The crow can keep us from being complacent and tell us uncomfortable truths to encourage us to become better than we are.  The fox can help us respond to the challenges put forth by the crow.

Kit at our farm, photo by Kip Ladage

A few years ago, we had fox kits on our farm.  Kip Ladage came out and took numerous photos of the kits before the family moved on.  If we could find a way to work out an agreement, we'd love to have a fox family on living on the same property as the Faux family.  But, we'd need an agreement about poultry and they'd need one with respect to privacy, I suspect.  We'd certainly appreciate the rodent control they could give to the farm.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Lessons in Farming III - If at first you DO succeed...

Part 3 of a series.
Part 1 - Every Morning is the Dawn of a New Error
Part 2 -  I Don't Have a Solution, but I Admire the Problem

If at first you DO succeed, try not to look astonished.

If you haven't noticed by now, it might be a good thing to tell you.  One of the things that I do is make fun of myself.  And, another thing I do is willingly share mistakes or problems in the hopes that the sharing will help others.  Once a teacher, always a teacher?

Before I get going, I'd like to remind everyone of the three points that I am hammering home to myself (and to anyone who reads this):

1. There is no silver bullet
2. Farming is not and should not be easy
3. Every farm has key differences that force the need for solutions that are unique to that farm.

After you re read those three, you can see why I find the title of this post to be both amusing and appropriate.  If it is true that farming is not inherently easy, there is no identifiable optimal solution for it and the solution for our farm may not be exact copy of another farm's solution - it may seem like it should be surprising when there is success!

Don't looked shocked, but those onions are WEEDED!
This year's case in point would be the onion crop.  We had a pretty nice onion crop this year and we attribute it largely to the use of the Williams Tool Bar we purchased in 2013.  But, to point to that as the only reason for success is just too easy and it would be completely inaccurate.  It would be safer to say that the proper use of this new tool was the final piece to a puzzle that we've been putting together over a period of years.

And, this is where the astonishment comes into play.  If you've been trying to develop a system over a period of time with varying degrees of success and you suddenly hit upon a pretty good solution, there will be a moment where you just might stop in wonderment that you might finally be "getting somewhere."

Now, here is the danger of posting things like this in a blog.  At this point, you may determine that we've had complete lack of success in growing onions up to this point.  Or, you might say that we clearly haven't done our homework if it's taken this long to figure out how to grow them.  But, again, this is oversimplification.  By the same token, a claim here that we actually know how to succeed with onions every year on our farm from here on out would also be premature.  By its very nature, farming presents moving targets and as soon as you claim to know that you make things go well every year, Mother Nature will present you with a new puzzle.

Here are some of the factors on our farm that play into the scenario that led to the process we used in this year's onion crop.

1. Our farm has been scaling up production for much of its lifetime.
This was our tenth growing season at the Genuine Faux Farm.  During the first several years, our field sizes changed dramatically.  We more than doubled field sizes in year two.  Added more in year three and by year five had doubled it again to the current 5 acres of vegetable plots.  Year six we added a high tunnel midseason and year seven was the first year we were scaled up to approximately the size we are now.

What this means is that each of our crops have undergone changes in terms of how much of them we grow.  We will be the first to tell you that there is a huge difference between growing one 30 foot row of onions to maintaining three to five 200 foot rows.

So, before you let yourself settle on your relative successes or failures for a given crop, you should be honest with yourself.  How much has that target you are trying to hit been moving?  In our case, the onion crop has only given us a stable target in terms of desired production for three to four years.  And, being honest yet again - we HAVE had success with onions, just on different scales.



But, targets can move for other reasons too.

2. Our farm's fields and soil tends to be difficult to work in wet Springs.
We have heavier soil and a high water table in the area.  If we get excessive early rains, it can make it very difficult to prepare fields and get plants in early.  Onions do best if you give them a longer growing season.  In particular, you want to give them plenty of time before the Summer Solstice.

So, a difficult Spring, like the one we experienced in 2013, can result in poor onion crops because the plants don't go into the ground soon enough.  In short, the weather can move the target for you.  And, as we noted in one of last year's posts (go to part 3 of that post) - we just need to be aware that there are time limits as to when you can successfully plant onions.

3. We determined that plants starting from seed were more desirable and moved to starting our own plants
In fact, we've moved from buying the bulbs to starting our own plants and we've included a foray into buying plants from someone else.  I mention this simply to make the point that each time you change a process, you are potentially changing the target.  In fact, if you change your processes too quickly, you may remove the potential for success.  Remember, each process has a learning curve.  Failure at your one and only attempt should not indict the viability of the process.  It is entirely possible that the failure is not the fault of the tool or the process and it is actually the fault of your inexperience with that process or tool.

4.  Onions were not our only crop
This is both a saving grace and a major limitation.  It's a saving grace because a poor onion crop does not necessarily signify a bad production season.  On the other hand, it makes it difficult to focus on a crop that is giving difficulties.  Changes and adjustments might be a bit delayed because there are so many other crops that also require attention.  And, if you add to it the factor that we had someone working with us in 2013 that liked concentrating on onions, and you might understand why success in our own onion growing processes were delayed.

5. Equipment and infrastructure has changed dramatically every year this farm has been in operation.
We were talking about moving targets.  How about rapid changes in the tool box we have for hitting our growing targets.  Our business plan called for incremental growth with no debt early on.  We have only now taken on loans for a truck and tractor.  Even though we have been aware of how other larger farms raise onions, we could not replicate those processes because we did not have the resources on hand that they did.

One example that may or may not make sense to readers is the relative lack in storage space on our farm.  Many larger farms will harvest entire rows of onions at one time.  They will then cure the onions on pallets sometimes in a hoop building.  Then, they can store them until they are ready for delivery either via a CSA or other sales method.  In our case, the best storage location for our onions is in the field.  We dig what we need for a given week's CSA or other sales and leave the rest in their row.  So, it actually fits our current model to have onions that don't mature uniformly.  Or, if they do, it is best if they hold well in the field.  So, if we change our model yet again, we may also have to change the varieties we choose to grow.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Count... ah ah aaaaaaaah!

One of my favorite characters on Sesame Street was always THE COUNT!

One!  One (fill in the blank)!  Ah Ah ahhhhh!  (thunder/lightning follows this proclamation)

I LOVE to count!
In fact, I have been known to count the 'ringy dingies' of the phone while I'm waiting for someone to pick up my call.  And, I have been known to get caught in the middle of the "Ah ah aaaaaah" part when someone actually does answer.  This usually happens on days when I'm feeling ah countable...  (get it? No?  Never mind.)

So, Rob loves to count.  And, this is a good thing since counting is (amazingly) an important part of running the farm.  We count eggs so we can keep track of production trends and so we have an idea of what to expect to available eggs for sale.  We count our eggplant and peppers as we pick them.  We do this so we can be sure to have enough for each of our CSA customers each week and we do this so we can analyze our production and make changes to become more resilient in the face of changing conditions. We count so we can determine production cost and value.  And, if all of this is interesting to you, we have a very good post from 2010 that shows how we use these numbers for planning.

As you may have guessed - this leads us to a post about some of the past year's production.  Now, don't get too worried, I'll keep it mildly entertaining.  I hope...

Hey!  We CAN grow that!
Trying to grow as many vegetable types as we do can be very trying.  After all, it is not easy to learn all of the techniques for each vegetable for any kind of weather.  If weather were fairly consistent, then I suspect we could have success for most everything on a regular basis.  But, when conditions change dramatically from year to year, it is pretty difficult to adjust so that each and every crop succeeds.  When you add soil conditions, available tools and existing growing experience for a given crop together with the weather conditions, you will find that we are better prepared to handle some crops more than others.

A few crops that have given us more problems than success finally came through for us this year.

Ah, White Wing onions, how we love thee!

In particular, the onions were a big success for us this season.  It's not that we haven't had some onions in other seasons.  We have.  But, only in years where all of the conditions for weather and soil lined up.  But, even in those years, it was a near thing unless we spent alot of our labor resources on weeding.  So, if the year is less than perfect or the onions on the farm, the tendency is to move the labor to other crops that are doing better and will give a better return for the labor.
But, an Ailsa Craig onion on a grilled burger? Mmmmmmm!

So, this season, we pulled in just under 2300 bulb onions.  As you can see from the first picture, the quality of the White Wings was pretty consistent.  The quality of the Ailsa Craig, Yellow of Parma and Redwing onions were less consistent since they are longer season onions.  They would have liked to have been in the ground a bit sooner.  But, they certainly provided us with enough for the CSA and the Fall shares.

Efficiency in weeding onions, coming right up.
We targeted the purchase of a cultivating tool in 2013 and actually started using it more effectively in 2014 (every tool has a learning curve).  It is the initial weeding in June when so many weeds (especially grasses) are coming up in the onions that is critical.  After this cultivation was accomplished, we were able to easily hand weed when needed at a later point in time.  Unlike prior years, this weeding was ENJOYABLE rather than stressful.  Just ask Anden how stressful weeding onions was prior to this!

Other crops that made a strong appearance in 2014 that don't always do well for us include daikon radishes (538 up from 0),  melon (385 up from 153), radish (4083, up from 3035), watermelon (128, up from 37) and turnips (1333 up from 593).

Helios radish did well this Fall
 In many of these cases, such as the turnips, daikon and the radish, it had to do with planting timings being refined so that the Fall crop matured in time before things froze up.  But, another key part had to do with having better tools to reduce the preparation time for mid-season planting beds.  The new disk for our new tractor made much of this easier.  As a result, we could get more of our Fall plantings in during a time when our time is already full with harvest, weeding and deliveries.

Ancho/Pablano liked this season for some reason
 In other cases, it was a variety that hasn't been happy for us in the past.  For example, Ancho Gigantea has been on our grow list for a while because we liked the idea of them.  But, they don't typically do all that well for us.  We had a few seeds left, so we started a few (yes, just 3) plants and put them in the ground.  We've never had them size up like this before.  Apparently, they are a bit like a ball player on the "walk year" of their contract.  The impending 'free agency' encouraged them to perform.  I guess we'll give it another go next year and see if it was a fluke.

 We KNOW we can grow that.
There are many crops we are fairly confident in our ability to come up with decent yields.  Even in a down year, we can usually meet our minimum demands.  In fact, we tend to get more grumpy with these in a down year because we expect much more out of them.

While the lettuce harvest is not yet complete for the year, we are running at about 50% of last year's production for number of harvests (72 vs 141), number of heads harvested (1427 to 2490) and weight harvested (442 lbs to 1034 lbs).  Part of the discrepancy comes from a very cold Winter and early Spring.  We abandoned the idea of a Spring share in response to that problem.  Our over wintering lettuce died off and we just couldn't get a new crop into the high tunnel going.  We also backed off a bit on production in response to our CSA members leaving so many heads behind in our 2013 CSA.  The feedback we got told us they liked the lettuce - but maybe not so much of it.

Bunte Forellenschus - say that three times fast!
 On the other hand, we seem to be getting the hang of other crops and the production has continued to improve.  For example, our broccoli crop in 2014 was excellent.  Our CSA members didn't seem to tire of it and we didn't notice it getting left behind when we offered it.  The only time we left with lots of extra is when we didn't see a cooler full of broccoli and didn't know we should be offering more broccoli to our members than we were (that was NOT a happy discovery at the end of the distribution).  Our increase in broccoli production started in 2013 when we got many positive responses that more broccoli would be appreciated.  You will notice that we outlined our plan to meet this request.  For the most part, the plan has been followed and has worked.  Our production in 2013 showed us pulling in 517 pounds of broccoli.  This year, we harvested 674 pounds.  Excellent.  We hope to keep our broccoli numbers in the 600 to 700 pound range in the future.  We just have to remember that year was especially kind to broccoli, since it was cooler than normal.  Next target is cauliflower.

A cool year leads to lots of tasty broccoli.
Other crops that we typically expect success from include our tomatoes and our peppers.  This past season was cool, so it presented some problems to each.  Since the peppers resided in our best drained field, they handled adversity well, giving us production similar to 2012 (when we lost the entire crop due to spraying).  We pulled in over 2000 hot peppers and over 4400 sweet peppers (including bells).  And, the frost terminated a number of peppers that were on their way.

Two favorites: Golden Treasure and Black Krim
The tomatoes had some issues this year, but we still pulled in roughly a ton of tomatoes (1850 lbs).  One thing we need to remember is we actually reduced the number of plants in the field this season in an effort to make the number of plants fit our resources.  We love our heirloom tomatoes too much and tend to overplant them because we want to give all of the varieties a fair shake.  The result is that we can't always keep up with the caging, mulching and harvest.  So, we dropped 2 full rows of tomatoes off of the grow list.   It would figure that we would have a less than optimal growing year for them so we felt the reduction more than we thought  we should.  People in the CSA still did fairly well for themselves, but we really didn't have the outside sales we normally want for our tomatoes.  Rather than increase the plant numbers in 2015, we're going to make a few production changes in response to things we saw that were not going as well as they should.  We'd love to see a record production year in 2015.

Surely, we can grow this!

 Yes, we can.  And don't call me Shirley.
One example is the winter squash.  We've had success before and we'll have success again.  But, it just hasn't been in the cards for 2013 or 2014.  We only harvested 64 winter squash this year and 250 last season.  But, we have shown an ability to succeed with 1007 in 2009 and 1711 in 2007 (for example).  So, what is going wrong here?

Red Kuri showed some potential with a trial planting
It's a matter of seasonal variability more than anything.  Last year (2013) was the year we just could not get into the fields through most of May and early June.  It was too wet to do anything.  In the end, we planted only a fraction of the winter squash plants we started.  This year had a similar problem, but it had more to do with our insisting on planting them into a very wet field.  We were afraid of a repeat of 2013, but our response didn't help.  In fact, it was worse.  But, it had less to do with us and more to do with cooler than normal temperatures.  We DID get an alternate planting of butternut squash in at the right time and they just never got the heat to produce well.

We are developing a plan to respond to these issues starting in 2015.  If the weather is perfect, it won't matter.  But, if the weather bears any similarity to the past several, we'll be more prepared than we have been in the past.

Continual improvement as opposed to delayed perfection.  Here's to an even better year in 2015 after a decent 2014.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Traffic Stoppers

The past week has been a long one at the farm.  That came to an end tonight at about 8pm when we finally came in and decided we'd done as much as we were going to prior to the deep freeze weather that is now here.  And, yes, that was the reason for this past week being 'long.'  We've been frantically trying to do everything that we were planning on doing over the next three weeks.  At least we had the gift of a down right PLEASANT day today.  With much less wind than predicted and much more sun (until about 2:30pm).

Gravel roads have been covered with combines and tractors pulling gravity boxes full of corn and soybeans.  Then, more recently, farmers have been pulling the anhydrous ammonia and knifing that in.  If you haven't been around when they lift one of those up on the corners and fail to turn off the flow, then you aren't missing anything.  That stuff is absolutely horrible to smell.

In any event, people who live in the country are used to seeing these sights.  On the other hand, they still aren't used to the Genuine Faux Farm.  We've apparently done our share of things the past week (or so) that have slowed vehicles down just to try and figure out what we are up to.

Bucket Brigade

We use a fair amount of water when we clean produce for CSA distributions.  We do our best to collect that water rather than just let it run on the ground.  Admittedly, our system is in need of upgrading.  But, you make do with what you have.
Rosie likes to feel useful.
 In any event, we collect the water in a black tub and use cat litter buckets (that have been cleaned!  c'mon now!) to scoop the water out.  We then haul these buckets around the farm on the yellow cart to the various young bushes and trees we have.  We've been doing this all summer (and summer's prior to this as well).  But, I still notice people slowing down when I drive out with a bunch of cat litter buckets on the trailer.

I sometimes amuse myself with imagined conversations in the passing vehicles.

"Wow, they must have an awful lot of cats in that house!"
"Ya.  Or maybe just one REALLY BIG one!"

As If They Don't Get Enough of Planting

Of course, we spend most of our time working in the fields where we grow vegetables.  And, the local people who drive by often are used to seeing us out in our fields.  But, we do notice that they slow down a little and shake their heads when they see us spending time planting bushes, trees, perennial flowers and then caring for them.

Some new bushes in front of the raised beds need water.

In fact, we sometimes look at ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves if we need a mental check up.  But, we assure you (and us) that most of these efforts have good reasons.  And, when they don't have a good reason - we'll make one up.  So there.

Hey Wait! Wasn't That Over... There?

Most farms don't have a building that moves once a year in October.  Happily, ours does!  We had some wonderful help this year, with Sean, Erik and Jeff joining Tammy and I in moving the high tunnel.  Usually, we prepare for the move during the day and then move it in the evening when the wind dies down.  That leads to a race against fading light.  This time, Rob prepared to move the building in the morning.  That means we had to race against the possibility of the wind coming up.

Lowering the flaps after the building is successfully moved

We had an 'artificial' deadline as well.  Tammy could only stay until 10 am and she wanted to be involved in moving the building.  So, we had to be certain it got moved by then.  We can proudly report that we did, in fact, have the building moved before Tammy had to leave!
We still notice a few people slowing down trying to figure out what's different now.
 Rototilling in November?

Well, we did need to plant our garlic!  But, there isn't much that will cause passers by to  slow down their passing by than the sight of Rob running the tiller in November.  Apparently.

But, we've also noticed that crawling around in the dirt in November also gets people's attention.  It is never enough to get them to stop and ask if they can help.  But, I suppose it is strange to see someone actually working without an automated tool.  This is especially true in late October and early November.

How did you expect we planted garlic?  We are the garlic planters!  Fear us!

Ok, ok.  You don't have to fear us.  But, you should say thank you when you get garlic.  We crawled so you could have some!

Time Elapse Photography Would Be Interesting Here

 Through most of the growing season, there is plenty of action on the farm.  However, it is the early Spring and late Fall that sees us moving a higher percentage of our equipment and tools on a daily basis.

The net result?  Things can look a bit cluttered.
 As we bring in the Fall harvests, storage space, containers, trailers, carts and everything else are pressed into service.  There are times when things can look a little ridiculous.  But, we usually know what's going on.

For the most part.

Surfing GFF Style

And finally, we've had a few appearances of the 'surfing felines' of GFF.  Mrranda and Sandman are right on schedule.  They (and Cubbie) are increasingly desperate for attention as the weather cools.  Days are shorter and the humans are outside less.  Then, when they are out, they tend to be less willing to stop and give them their full due.

May I help you?
 As a result, they are a bit more insistent with their attempts to "help" the humans as they do work on the farm.

Now, before you begin to think that we ignore these cats, let me assure you that we do give them positive attention.  They are well fed.  They are cared for.  But, when you have over 3000 garlic to plant, you can't spend too much time lavishing attention on a friendly cat (or three).  After a few skritches, we encourage them to get out of the way while we work.  Both Mrranda and Sandman have decided that the next best thing to a skritch is to hop on the shoulders or back of the human and "surf" for a while.

That one got a few people to slow down.

"Hey!  There's one of them cats they need all of that litter for!"
"Ah Yep.  You don't suppose he got some litter stuck in that hoodie of his do you?"
"Dunno.  You don't suppose we should call Animal Control just in case that 'un is actually trying to maul that guy?"
"Naw.  Anyone crawling around in the dirt deserves a cat surfing on his back..."

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Case for Diversity within a Crop Type

One of the things we say often when we give presentations is that we believe very strongly in diversity on the farm.  We grow many types of crops, from asparagus to zucchini.  But ,this is only one level of the diversity we embrace as a part of our operation.  We also take our diversity to the point that we grow different cultivars of each type of crop.  For example, we grow four types of snack tomatoes (Jaune Flamme, Red Zebra, Green Zebra and Wapsipinicon Peach) in the high tunnel.

Green Zebra ripening on the plant
Of course, one reason to grow multiple types of tomatoes is that it is fun to do.  We can't think of anything more dull than growing only one type of tomato.  Well, ok, we can think of things that are more dull than growing one type of tomato.  But, that's not the point here. 

Another reason to grow multiple types is the variety in taste.  People have a wide range of taste and texture preferences.  And, many of those people actually like to experience different tastes as well.  So, it makes sense from a customer satisfaction perspective that we identify good tasting tomatoes with a range of acceptable and interesting tastes. 

Fuzzy, juicy and delicious - Wapsipinicon Peach
Both of these reasons are important enough that it isn't really necessary to find more.  After all, if the farm doesn't have an element of enjoyment to it, why should we continue to work so hard to do this?  Again, you can argue that this is our job and it is not required that we enjoy it.  But, if you have the option to find ways to enjoy your work and still be productive, why would you fail to explore them?  And, if you can improve your customer's satisfaction and experience by adding some diversity in a reasonable way, why wouldn't you?

Then, there is this:



This chart represents the total production of ALL four varieties in our high tunnel over the past two seasons.  I suppose this chart is a bittersweet thing because its existence means we are officially done with these plants for the season.  But, the good news is that there is a very similar curve of production for both years.  The biggest difference is the spike at the end of the season for 2013.  Since that brings out another matter for discussion some other time, I'd rather focus on the harvest prior to that point.

A good year for Jaune Flamme in 2014

Here's where our argument for variety and diversity comes into play.  It looks like, for all practical purposes, our high tunnel production for snack tomatoes is very consistent.  This is a good thing for us.  It helps us to plan and it helps us to provide a consistent quality product.




Clearly, Jaune Flamme had a pretty miserable year last year in the high tunnel.  We know exactly why that is.  But, again, that is a topic for other posts.  The point here is that we had a down year last year and a decent year this year.  But, still, we had a very similar production level from the high tunnel for the snack tomatoes, with a similar curve of production.  The difference was that Wapsipinicon Peach, in particular, did not have the absolutely stellar year it had in 2013.  Did it do fine?  Yes, it performed within an acceptable range.  But, it really busted out last season.

Red Zebra
The basic idea is that there are a huge number of variables in vegetable production.  Even in the high tunnel, there are weather considerations.  If there are cooler days with more clouds, the warmth in the high tunnel will not be significantly different from fields outside.  On the other hand, excessive rains came at different times this year and actually impacted our high tunnel production each year!

Then, there are the variables we introduce.  You might argue that, in the high tunnel, we should be able to control planting, irrigation and weeding schedules.  In short, we should be able to replicate a successful season in terms of OUR actions on the farm.  But, now you make the assumption that conditions on the farm and in our lives allow us to follow an algorithm with no variability.  Thus far, this has not occurred for us on this farm.

The very nature of our farm often precludes exact replications from season to season.  Each year, we make adjustments in our plans.  Every season, there are new aspects to our operations.  And, there is the potential for new mistakes or accidents that require a response on our part.  Add to this the possibilities of potential seed issues, leaks in the irrigation hose, mice eating seedlings, etc etc and you find you can't guarantee sameness anyway.   So, why not embrace the diversity?

With diversity within the crop type, we 'hedge our bets' and increase the likelihood that we have success for the crop.  If one of the varieties likes hot and dry (Wapsi Peach) much more than the others, then you can deal with a year where that happens (regardless of how it happens).  If the season starts late, then varieties with shorter maturity times or cultivars that respond better to warmer weather as starts will perform.  Others that need a longer, more consistent season may not.

And, it always looks more inviting with a diverse offering anyway!