Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Refusing to Punt

The days are still getting longer and the farmer's endurance is not keeping up!  We can only assume he will eventually figure it.  While he is working on his stamina, we thought we'd give you a brief blog post for your entertainment (and maybe his as well).

With Anemones Like These....
Who needs friend when you have anemones?
We have a nice little patch of anemones that started out as one plant 12 years ago.  It might actually be safe to say that these anemones are actually friends of ours.

Asparaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaguuuuuuuuuuuuuuuussssssssssss!

Kind of slow growing year for asparagus.
Look, we've seen the cartoon with the reference to the Age of Aquarius song that substitutes Asparagus for Aquarius.  It's funny, ya.  But, why do "Age of Asparagus" when you can do "Eggs and Asparagus?"

So, we got up early on Saturday for farmers market.  It was dawn and we were selling eggs and asparagus, eggs and asparagus, aaaaaaaaaaaspaaaaaaaraaaaaaaaaaagussssssssssssssssssss!

You're welcome.

No Trays of Humility
We planted lots for one session, so there.
Yep, sometimes we go on these planting sprees and plant lots of trays.  Ok, there is actually a limit that we run up to if we're going to 'pop' the seeds in the trays on heat mats.  WE were pretty proud of this effort, so there.

Stealing Bases... er... Basses
 Both Tammy and I love baseball and we both played cello, so this pun goes right along with our interests.  This meme was going around facebook recently.

Have a great week everyone!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Signs of May

Thornbird
We think this year might be see a bit earlier iris bloom than many years and we are (as always) looking forward to it.  There is one iris in particular (Thornbird) that I am hoping has not died off on us and I think I remember where, in our various perennial flower beds, this one should be. Whether they are still with us or not, we'll know one way or the other in a few weeks.

Of course, I'm not just anxious to see Thornbird.  There is a host iris varieties on our farm and they are all welcomed when they appear.  We very much enjoy picking bouquets and bringing them into the house and we do like to walk the grounds and view the flowers that have opened.  The hard part is getting back to work rather than just finding a chair and sitting and looking at them.

Another sign of May is the movement of our broiler chicken trailer.  Ok.  It's a small horse trailer that we've converted to use as the home for our broiler flocks.  When we first get broiler chicks we put them into the horse trailer and surround the trailer with portable electric fence to keep out the curious predator or two.  We place the trailer close enough to a building so we can run electric to the heat lamps that keep the baby birds warm enough.

However, May is when the birds get to start going outside, which means we need to start moving their portable home to appropriate pasture areas.  After all, you can't just leave the birds in one place for too long or grounds have difficulty recovering from the 'devastation' the birds leave in their wake.

And then, there is the Cart O Tools.  It's always a bit dismaying to us the first time we go out to really work one of the East plots and we have to keep taking trips back to the buildings to get yet ANOTHER tool or item we have forgotten.  Eventually, we get used to it.  And by that, I mean, we get used to going back to the buildings for things we've forgotten AND we get used to just packing out more than we think we will need.

Sometimes I think the gathering and putting away of tools might be one of the most tiresome jobs on the farm.  The gathering can be annoying because you just want to get to the task(s).  The putting away part usually happens when you are just ready to sit down/lie down and call it a day.  But, when you succumb to the temptation to just leave things out, that's when you pay - one way or another.

And, the final sign of May (that we will mention in this blog post - we know there are others) is the appearance of GFF plants in 3 1/2 inch pots that you can buy and put in your gardens!  We brought a few last week to the Waverly Farmers' Market and will be putting a whole lot more into pots this week.  I hope we can get it all done.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Long Term Hopes

Apparently, I've had the long view on my mind recently since I very recently wrote about our reasonably long tenure with this blog and now here I am writing about things we are undertaking or have undertaken for "the long run."  I suppose I tend to get into this mindset in the early Spring because the short term is beginning to press on me and force me to "be doing" rather than "be planning."  Of course, it's never all one or the other, but there is certainly a tension and one end or the other usually dominates depending on the time of year.

If you want another purpose, we are still trying to get people to join our CSA this year.  Consider this an attempt to convince you that joining us is a good idea!  But, if you are reading this and our CSA is not a valid option for you, enjoy it for any/all of the other reasons you might have and be welcomed!

Organic Certification is a Long Term View
Certification is on my mind because I completed our application for certification for 2016 in mid-April.  We are a bit behind this year in part because we didn't have our inspection until VERY late last year.  My internal time-clock just wasn't ready for it, I guess.  But, since the deadline approached, I had no choice in the matter and it got mailed just in time!

I've been asked many times why we bother to certify organic and I've probably given a few different answers.  Not necessarily different in content or intent, but perhaps in the order or method of delivery.  It usually depends on the context of the question and the questioner.

One of the parts of my answer is that I believe it is my duty as a steward of the land to consider how everything I do as a farmer might impact the environment, the people we provide food to and the farm business I run.  Organic certification "forces" me to review my whole farm plan every year and encourages me to consider if there might be ways that I can be better at what I do.

The National Organic Program guidelines support long-term soil health and pushes growers to consider long term consequences to short term actions. If there is no other reason for someone like me to go through the certification process than to improve our ability to be the best stewards we can be - then it should be enough.

Input Effort Here - Receive Gratification Later
There are many days when Tammy and I look at each other and ask, "What in the world are we doing? Why do we make things so difficult for ourselves?"  For example, it seems like we do a lot of spending money so that we can have more work.

I'll grant you the possibility that we are a bit odd and our priorities may be different than many people in this world.  I'll also grant you the likelihood that our decisions aren't always the absolute optimal decisions we could make in every given situation.  But, every time we open up a one of our jars of canned peaches during a time of year when good fruit is hard to find, I am reminded that many of the investments we make that cause ourselves to wonder are worthwhile.

Peaches are not something we can grow with much success on our farm, but we do love them.  So, we buy a couple of lugs of peaches and can them during some of the hottest days of the year.  Tammy does most of the canning work and I am the cheerleader.  But, the reality is that I cover other things she normally does so she can concentrate on the canning.  In short, it is not a super-easy thing to do during a busy part of the year.  But, these jars of sunshine are so welcome in February that I suspect we'll go ahead and do this every year we are able.

Investing in Better Food Now
GFF squash!  Yum!
You just HAD to know I was going somewhere with all of this, didn't you?  You didn't?  Wow.  I'm either sneakier than I thought or I'm more disorganized in this post than I should have been.  Whichever, doesn't matter.  I've got you wondering, don't I?  Well, I'm wondering at least.  So, I'll just go to a different topic.

We have actually had a few families not return to the CSA program over the years as small children have entered the picture.   I can understand some of the reasons - among them is simply the amount of time and effort the kids take.  It forces one to reassess where that time and effort goes, so spending time figuring out what to do with each week's produce may land on the priority chopping block.  We get it.  We understand it.

On the other hand, we also believe that the time to get the good stuff introduced to people is when they are small.  We love it when we are informed by a six-year old that spinach is great and they want to eat it RIGHT NOW!  It would be a rare kid who wouldn't find a way to express individuality by exerting some control over what they eat and selecting some likes and dislikes.  But, give them a chance to opt to like some of the good veggies.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Spring is the Time for New and Newer

April has actually been a very difficult month for both of us on the farm.  Tammy goes through finals week for Winter term and then needs to prep for and run an intense May-term course that starts in - you guessed it - April.  Organic Certification paperwork and taxes are both due mid-month.  Plants are getting started, the farm needs to get "unpacked" from storage and, of course, our Winter bodies are complaining about the new level of alternating activity and inactivity they are receiving.

If you do not understand that last statement, here is an example.  Tammy and Rob both spent a whole day on intensive paperwork goals like grading finals for Tammy and finishing organic certification paperwork for Rob.  The next day, they ran around like crazy people doing active work outside all day long.  Zero to one hundred miles an hour with just a single night in between them.

Sadly, all of this running around either mentally or physically (and sometimes both at once) forces us to make a strong effort to actually look at and enjoy some Spring things - otherwise, we would miss them altogether.  The hard part is actually looking at the Spring things and not think about the work they represent.  Uh oh.

Who Doesn't Like Baby Animals?

Americauna hen chick
Me!  Oooh Me!  Ok, But, they are kinda cute.  So, never mind.

April is the beginning of the baby boom on the farm.  It starts with hen chicks, who are now actually ready to get moved from their starting point in a metal bin to one of our trailers (that happened on Tuesday this week).  Nights are still a little bit chilly, but we'll have a back up in case we think it will get too cold.  The first batch of broilers are now one week old and are still yellow puff balls with a hint of wing feathers.  They live in a small horse trailer that we run an extension cord to for heat lamps.  But, with the wide range of temperatures, we have to be ready to open up doors and windows for them during the day and shut everything up tight at night.

Then, there was the addition of Soup's kittens (which sounds a little bit like Soup Kitchen - which is an entirely different thing).  We need to put a newer picture of them out there for everyone since their eyes are now open and the ears are a bit bigger.  They, of course, require some of our attention each day so they can get used to human touch and Soup wants her skritches* as well.  This leads to some major jealously issues from ALL of the other cats who all believe they are also cute and deserving of affection.  Mrranda "helped" me pull some weeds today, Sandman "helped" by pulling on the strings of my hoodie, Bree "helped" me find the brush so she could be brushed and HobNob did something she knows she should not do and jumped onto the kitchen counter for attention.  Uh huh.  Ok, so HobNob didn't help.  No, wait, she "helped" me try to type some quick email replies by sitting on my hands while I was trying to type.  There we go.

*skritches - For those who are/were Peanuts fans, Snoopy always liked to be 'skritched' not 'scratched.'  Tammy and I have (for as long as we can remember) given the critters in our lives 'skritches.'  After all, 'scratching' seems to imply injury and we don't want that, do we?

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis)
And, Flowers Are Good Too

We miss the flowers during the Winter months and we get to see them again in the Spring.  There are two things that is difficult about this.  First, many Spring days are very windy out on the farm.  As a result, the flowers can get beat up pretty quickly.  Second, the flowers are begging to be observed and praised for their beauty.  But, when you are zipping from task to task on the farm, the flowers can start to think that you are down-right rude.

In an effort to placate them, I brought out the camera a few days ago and tried to give the flowers my undivided attention for all of five minutes until it started raining pretty hard.  Oh well.  I guess I'd better give it another try sometimes soon.

Virginia Bluebells (Mertinsia virginica)
One of my favorite flowers of Spring is the Bleeding Heart.  It's not particularly showy in that the flowers are actually pretty small. But, they can have a delicate look to them that belies their toughness.  I suspect that I have a soft spot for Bleeding Hearts because we had a big, old, traditional Bleeding Heart near the house where I grew up.  I remember spending several sessions just admiring that plant.

The Virginia Bluebell (at left) is a flower I really didn't see much of (or maybe I just didn't recognize it) until we moved to the area.  Then, I noticed a yard that had a sea of blue flowers and I had to figure out what they were.  It turns out they were bluebells and they appear to like this part of Iowa just fine thank you.  We don't exactly have a lawn full of them, but we have our fair share and we're quite pleased to see them blooming in April and early May.   It is actually the kind of flower that I wouldn't mind having a really good sized area with them around just for the Spring bloom.


Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris)
Another early bloomer is the Pasque flower.  We have one of these perennials that has been with us for many years and it continues to increase.  I don't think we've ever seen this thing with quite so many blooms on it as it has this year.  The younger plants did fine as well, but paled in comparison.

This flower is supposed to bloom at Easter - but I think it was wise in passing on showing up this time around.  Easter was pretty darned early!

And, then, our farm is looks like a field of dandelions right about now.  I actually think it is sad that we have demonized the dandelion - they are actually quite pretty.  Tammy even found one with abnormally large flowers and she found the light fragrance to be quite pleasing.  Dandelions have those wonderful tap roots that bring up micronutrients for other plants and loosen up the soil.  And, frankly, they kill pretty easy when we till up the soil for planting.  Give me a field of dandelions any day over the Canadian Thistle that seems to be having a good Spring as well.

Well, I hope you enjoyed our "ode to Spring!"

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Recommended Veggie Varieties Part II

This is part II of a series since we grow too many veggies to put all of this in one post.  Well, it also means I get more mileage on the blog with multiple posts.  Tricky me!  If you want to see part I, it is here.

We hope you enjoy reading about varieties we love to grow!

A reminder of the rules:
1. It must be a variety we have three or more years of history growing.
2. Crop failures due to weather that resulted in crop failures of all of that vegetable do not count against a variety.
3. To make the list, the variety must be the ONE variety we would grow at GFF if we were FORCED to grow only one.
4. We must balance productivity, taste, reliability, etc to make our choices.  Choices are not necessarily the one variety we might recommend to a new gardener, nor are they necessarily our absolute favorites for taste.  Selection does not mean we wouldn't miss other varieties.  But, it does mean that, when push came to shove, we would pick this one over others.

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We'll make this the vine crop post for no other reason than I tend to think of some of these things in groups anyway.  So, why not just follow my train of thought as it leaves the station.  It'll work as long as I don't get into a roundabout and no body lets me out of that loop!

Melons
It would be sad if we couldn't grow some of the melons we have on our list because Tammy and I both love the variety of taste we get once these get going.  It's also a bit harder for us because we grow differently in the high tunnel than we do in the field.

Given everything, we're going to have to go with Pride of Wisconsin.  Why?  Well, for one, it gives us a fairly standard looking cantaloupe, so it would be easier to get people to take it from us if we had a plethora of them.  The taste is certainly quite good, so that isn't an issue either.  But, the thing that really sets it apart from the others is the consistency.  They can handle some goofy weather or some goofy farming.  Perhaps not both at the same time, but they are more forgiving than most.  Production levels are good and they do take the ride in the truck pretty well too.   

Cucumbers
As I go through this list, I realize that we could almost do the same thing with melons and cucumbers as we did with tomatoes and peppers.  We grow several varieties for different reasons.  For example, Boothby's Blonde gives us a small, snack cucumber that can also be used for pickling and Marketmore 76 is a larger slicing cucumber.  Should you have to pick between them?  The answer is - for the sake of the exercise - yes.  Drat.

We would select Marketmore 76 for consistency and production for the past 10 years on our farm.  If this variety fails, it is unlikely you would have gotten any cucumbers from any other variety.  Their taste is good, though you might want to peel it a bit if it is a larger fruit.  We like it even more because it is an open-pollinated variety that continues to get use in all sorts of growing operations.

Winter Squash
This one in particular will pain me a bit.  I could happily live with eating Pride of Wisconsin melons and tolerate missing the other varieties.  I'm fine with Marketmore 76 for cucumbers and won't be crippled if the other varieties went away.  But, I get stuck on the winter squash because the varieties I REALLY WANT for my own personal use aren't the ones I feel like I must select for this category.

So, with apologies to my personal favorite Marina di Chioggia, I must select Waltham Butternut.  Perhaps this hurts even more because I feel like this and the other two before it are not very creative selections.  A standard cantaloupe, a standard American slicing cucumber and now the ubiquitous butternut squash are on the list.

Let's be honest here, Waltham's have less trouble with pests as a c.moschata than squash in the c.maxima family.  I can have a great crop one year of Burgess Buttercup and nothing the next two.  How could I recommend that to anyone?  But, you'll get some Waltham's almost any year as long as you get them in the ground and keep weeds away for the first half of the season.  Butternuts can be used for pies or soups or however else you prepare squash.

Reliable, useful, good taste.  Waltham Butternut is a winner.
 
Pumpkin
Finally, we get to one that is a no-brainer for us and it shows everyone that we do grow some things that are different from everyone else!  Musquee de Provence has been a consistent producer, has fantastic taste and is a good looking pumpkin to boot.  Production numbers will certainly be smaller than it might be for other varieties in part because of the size (8 to 18 pounds) and the density of the fruit.  But, these store well (we still have a couple in our basement that can be used) and give you alot of squash when you process them. 

Our only downside for what we do is that they would require more space to produce enough pumpkins for our needs.  But, the quantity/quality trade off makes this one work just fine. 

Summer Squash
We bet you didn't think this could happen with us, but here we are.  We aren't going to select a winner for this category.  We used to love Superpik, except for the fact that it was a hybrid.  Superpik went away.  Since then, we have tried Multipik (hybrid) and Success (open pollinated) for straight necks and Sunburst for the patty pan.  We've also tried a few other things like Benning's Green Tint and Wood's Prolific.  Nothing has really stood the test of time with us, so we really can't pick one.

Zucchini
If it was based on taste alone, we would have selected Costata Romanesco, but the production numbers aren't good enough for us to put all of our eggs on the farm in that basket.  Cocazelle is also a striped cucumber and may well be a descendant of Costata.  We detect some of the same nutty taste that we like and the production numbers are more consistent.  We love the look of the dark green skin we get from Midnight Lightning and Black Beauty.  Their taste is also fine, as is the production.  But, in the end, we've got to go with Cocazelle.


Watermelon
Orangeglo  Yes, it has to be Orangeglo. Sometimes it is spelled with the "w" on the end, sometimes it isn't.  the presence of the "w" doesn't matter when you open one up and start munching.  
Orangeglo are different from the norm.  They have a great texture and a great taste.  They look cool.  They've produced in years when other watermelons didn't want to.  Their seeds have set distance records in watermelon seed spitting contests.  And.. well... they're ORANGE inside!  

I think I got a soft spot for this variety when we had a couple of beautiful vines volunteer in the middle of one of our pastures.  We managed to protect it and got some gorgeous watermelons.  

Friday, April 22, 2016

One of These Things Stomps Weeds

The days are getting longer and the farmers are spending more and more time in the great outdoors.  Sometimes, they even get others to join them!  I'm just going to let the pictures help me write this blog post.  It seems like there is very much to share, but I'm having a hard time figuring out what I want to say... therefore....

one of these things is NOT like the others
One of These Things.. Is NOT Like the Others

I was washing eggs last night.  Ok, we wash eggs most days/nights on the farm - especially now that our hens have decided that laying eggs is a GOOD thing.  We are now pulling in between 5 and 7 dozen a day.  So, if you are interested in eggs, we have them!

In any event, as I was washing, I had the Sesame Street "One of These Things..." song going through my head.  Now, why in the world would I have that song in particular as an earworm?

Well, there are more eggs in the picture above than there were circles for Grover to figure out which one was different.  But, can you see the THING that is different in the egg picture?  Ya, well, we must have a pterodactyl in our hen house or something.

I even water my feet for good measure.
With respect to the Sesame Street skit: For the record, I thought the lower RIGHT circle was the different circle because the line was drawn WIDER than the others.  But, then I noticed one of the circles had a slightly flattened side, so I thought that one was different instead.  Then, they went and picked the SMALL circle.  Ok, ya.  I suppose that could be one way to look at it.

It's Not the Best Solution
We have many tomato and pepper plants started now.  Some, of course, will grow on the farm.  Others, we will sell to local gardeners at the Waverly Farmers Market or at a few plant sales in Cedar Falls by Hansen's Outlet.  Want a schedule?   Try this out!

We start these plants in the basement of our house with heat mats and grow lights.  It's not the best location, but it works well enough for us and hasn't caused us to move building a new area to start them a priority.  But, as you can see, we move the trays onto the floor from the heat mats for watering.  Makes for a mess, but that's just the way it is - life can be messy.

Look Maw! We caught us a bigun!
Branch Office?

We had a service trip group from Wartburg College come out to the farm and volunteer for a couple of hours.   We're always grateful when these folks make an offer to lend a hand for some tasks that would surely take us much longer to do if it were only us.  This time around, we picked up some downed limbs and cut them up, moved some drip tape off of a field and cleaned up a couple field areas that had plant residue that wasn't going to break down in time for us to plant.

We do grow a little bit of sweet corn each year (if we get to it) and we have sunflowers as well.  In both cases, the stems do not break down for easy incorporation without some help.  I suppose we could do out there with the big mower and chop them up, but when you get help, it's not so bad to pull them out and throw them in a flair box.  Later, it goes into the compost pile.

Nope, these aren't grapes.
There was enough plant residue that the flair box started to overflow, so I decided I needed to jump in there and be the 'trash compactor' for the day.  Hey!  If you can't have a little fun while doing your work, then ... um... Well, I'm not sure what I have to say about that.  But, it did add some spice to the task.

Is it Soup Yet?

The short answer is "yes."

Soup, short for Super Cali the Fragile Mystic Cat, decided that it was time to have her catlings/souplings....

We are not sure why, but she chose a spot outside by the garage and she was apparently happy to show us her two kittens.  She was NOT however, at all pleased when Mrranda and Sandman wanted to see as well.  We (and they) got to witness how a mama cat will do nearly anything to protect her young from a perceived threat.  Let's just say that we are glad she doesn't see us as a perceived threat.

We moved these three into the garage initially and then into the basement.  They should be safe there for the time being until we can figure something else out.  We are not set on keeping these critters at this time, so if someone has interest, let us know.

For now, we'll just show you a picture.   Yep, those are kittens.  Yep. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Recommended Veggie Varieties

We've been starting seedlings in trays and, as always, we are starting extra plants that will be available for purchase at the Waverly Farmers' Market or during one of our sales down at Hansen's Outlet this Spring.  If you can make none of those, we have been known to take orders and make arrangements to get plants to interested persons.

That said, we recognize that many people have already done their seed orders for their gardens for the season and plans are already made.  But, early Spring is also a great time to talk about favorite varieties and why we like them in anticipation of the day they begin producing.  We actually did this once in January 2011 and it might be interesting to see if there are any duplicates here!

We hope you enjoy reading about varieties we love to grow!

So, the rules of this list are as follows:
1. It must be a variety we have three or more years of history growing.
2. Crop failures due to weather that resulted in crop failures of all of that vegetable do not count against a variety.
3. To make the list, the variety must be the ONE variety we would grow at GFF if we were FORCED to grow only one.
4. We must balance productivity, taste, reliability, etc to make our choices.  Choices are not necessarily the one variety we might recommend to a new gardener, nor are they necessarily our absolute favorites for taste.  Selection does not mean we wouldn't miss other varieties.  But, it does mean that, when push came to shove, we would pick this one over others.

Tomatoes

Of course, we have to start with tomatoes.  Everyone wants to talk about tomatoes.  The difficulty here is that there is so much variety and different purposes that we're going to cheat a little bit (what?  ALREADY!?!).


If you can only plant ONE variety.  Italian Heirloom
Smaller than average plants are a bit wispy, but the production levels are excellent and the tomatoes are a nice .9 pound on average.  They are meaty, not too juicy and have a wonderful taste.  They start production early and can run into October before the frost gets them.  The only issue is that you can see sunscald on the tomatoes due to less leaf cover - so plant some nice tall zinnias nearby.

If you want a gourmet tomato.  Black Krim
They are also a smaller plant and they like warmer and drier weather.  A cool wet season is NOT their friend.  They are also difficult to figure out when to pick them, so go by feel rather than what they look like!  For these, it's all about the taste.

If you want a paste tomato.  Speckled Roman
Speckled Romans are the biggest LIARS in the garden.  Oh... poor me... it is sooooo hot and I feel that I might SWOON!  Then, evening comes and they stand up beautifully.  Harvest comes, and they have a very nice flush of red and yellow striped paste tomatoes.  We prefer the taste of these as a base for our sauces (a bit sweeter than many paste tomatoes).  But, of course, when we make a sauce, it usually has a whole host of different varieties in it.

Would you like a snack or salad sized tomato?  Black Cherry
This one was pretty tough, but we had to go with Black Cherry based on the looks people get on their faces when they taste one of these cherry tomatoes.  We are considering putting a plant in various locations throughout the farm as 'snack plants' for our workers.  They're that good.  Production is consistent and plants don't get too big, compared to some other cherry tomatoes.

What did we say in 2011?  Italian Heirloom

Peppers

We're going to cheat again...  Ok, it's not really cheating because you can't compare a bell pepper with a sweet pepper with a hot pepper.  So there!

Best bell pepper at the farm.  Napolean Sweet
Now, before you all go assuming that the other bell peppers we grow are pitiful excuses for fine fruit, you should consider the rules above.  We've got a great selection at the farm.  But, the Napoleans produce these nice, big, elongated bell peppers that have more taste than most bell peppers.  The plants are a bit taller than many, so staking might be a good idea, but we've had very good and very consistent production.

The best sweet pepper on the farm.  Golden Treasure
When they are ripe, they are about 8 inches long and carrot shaped.  Their color is a nice yellow orange.  You can pick them once they show a little yellow and they'll turn the rest of the way in about 3 days on your kitchen counter.  Tammy loves to munch these and Rob will even take some nibbles in the field - which says something.

Best hot pepper.  Wenk's Yellow Hot
They produce like a jalapeno and look a bit like them - except they are cream color to start and turn to orange and red over time.  They're about a 2 to 3 out of five on the hot scale and have a bit of a papricka taste to them.  Unlike jalapeno, they don't have the bitter aftertaste.  Reliable plants that are easy to pick because it's easy to see the fruit.

2011?  Golden Treasure and Wenk's Yellow Hot

Lettuce
Ok, no more cheating.  The whole process of picking one is actually very difficult for us because each variety on our grow list is there for a reason.  But, if I'm going to play the game, we'd better follow the rules... most of the time.

Our recommended lettuce variety is Bronze Arrowhead.  This variety shows up several times on our top 10 variety list and grows in all sorts of weather.  Bronze Arrowhead falls in the 'oakleaf' class of lettuces and can be treated as a cut and come again or as a half to full head harvest.  We've planted them early, we've planted them late and we've planted them mid-season.  Taste may get stronger in the Summer, but not in a horribly unpleasant way.  Our 2011 lettuce pick was Pablo, which we both love, but it isn't as reliable as Bronze Arrowhead, takes longer to mature and wouldn't work as a cut and come again.

Green Beans
No contest.  We've loved Jade for a long time.  Don't even bother to go look at 2011's list, it'll be the same.  At one point, we were very big on Benchmark, but that variety disappeared several years ago.

Jade is good warm season green bean, so don't try to push planting too early because the seeds won't germinate well in the cooler soil.  But, once they get going, they will produce and produce and produce.  The beans are tender and have a fantastic taste.  They grow well in the field or the high tunnel, though they might triple production in the high tunnel.

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We'll do more posts over the next two weeks to continue this topic, so stay tuned!

Friday, April 8, 2016

What's Going on With the Farmers?

Oh my goodness!  Another blog post?  And so soon?! 

Well, let me fill you in (again) on a little trick we have with this blog.  During the Winter or during really nasty weather, Rob will start a batch of blog posts.  Sometimes, it's just a short one line idea.  Other times, the post is mostly done, but it needs editing.  The prior post on endurance is one such post.  It's been in the works for a while and since I had thought of that topic again I was able to finish it up and update it to the present and put it out there.  I do take the time and 'update' these posts so they don't seem out of sych with everything else, but it sure does help to have a few well on the way to completion.

This post is really a batch of things that might not be completely farm related, but we thought we'd share them with you.  Why?  Well, they are odd little things about Tammy and I that have been going on recently.  Since we are personal farmers for many of you and personal friends of others who read this - consider it a way to keep you up to date.  If you read the blog because it is interesting, perhaps it will give you insight on the people who bring it to you.  Or not.

That's PROFESSOR Tammy to You!
A significant chunk of time was spent by Tammy in December and January putting together a folder for promotion to Full Professor at Wartburg.  Rob was given the honor of reading and editing, which also ate a good deal of time.  During the process, I was struck with exactly how many things Tammy has accomplished during her tenure at the college.  Pretty darned impressive if you ask me!

Apparently, those who reviewed the folder agreed with me.  Tammy was promoted to Full Professor, which doesn't surprise me at all.  Of course, Tammy was a bit nervous about it because that's what you do when you're waiting for the answer with respect to something like that.  You can have confidence that you've done what you should, but there is always the possibility that something unforeseen might happen.  Well, it didn't and all is well on this front.  Congratulations Professor Tammy!

Choo Choo Cha Cha
Earlier this year, I had a conversation with someone who was telling me that they liked the board game called Ticket To Ride.  It just so happens that I like that game very much and I mentioned to them that some people play that game competitively.  Of course, they looked at me like I was insane.  Then, I informed them that I played competitively in international tournaments.  Even with someone backing me up on this, they couldn't believe it.

Well, believe it folks.  I play primarily in the colder months (of course) and I participated as part of the USA Team I for the Nation's Cup team tournament.  USA Team I beat France Team I in the final and was the first US team to win the Nation's Cup since it started (2008, I believe).  It was great fun to be a part of that accomplishment.

Even more recently, I played in the Swiss Map Championship.  In this case, it is not a team situation.  I was able to get through the round robin and into the playoffs.  After beating one German in the quarter finals and another in the semis, I was able to hold on and win in the finals against a French player.

I actually know, respect, and get along with all of these people I played against.  I realize I make it sound like it was an impersonal event, but the competitive community only consists of 200-300 people at most.  And, those who participate at this level at least know of each other.

A Hand in Pain Can't Easily Lend a Hand
This isn't really supposed to be a good news / bad news thing, but it will sound a bit like it.  We were working in the Poultry Pavilion this Winter and Tammy took a bit of a fall on some ice.  She hooked her hand on some metal as she fell and injured her hand.  It's been bothering her since, making typing and writing very difficult - not good since she does a good deal of that for her job at Wartburg.

She's been to see a hand specialist now, but the insurance company has seen fit to give us some hurdles in this matter.  Wouldn't that figure?  In any event, the most recent effort to help it was a cortisone shot.  If it works, great.  If it doesn't, we're not sure where it will lead.  Either way, she's not going to be able to help with a number of things on the farm this Spring.  We'll figure it out, we just need to adjust - just as we always do.

We don't bring this up for sympathy.  Instead, we're hoping that by putting it out there, we can begin preparing to make adjustments as they are necessary.  One of those adjustments might be to call a Tom Sawyer Day early to help get a few Spring things done.  So, stay tuned.

Goodbye Cubbie Cat
We know at least one person who will be very sad to hear that Cubbie, the Mighty Huntress at GFF, left for the hunting grounds in the sky this Winter.  Cubbie was 13 or 14 years old, which is pretty darned good for an outdoor cat.  We've actually brought her in for really cold Winter nights for the past few years and were ready to bring her in as the weather turned cold in December.  Sadly, she disappeared the day before we tried to call the outdoor cats in.  Mrranda and Sandman were there, but Cubbie was not.

We're going to miss Cubbie.  She really knew how to show that she liked getting skritches and she really COULD catch AND eat a full-sized rabbit.  She traded down to half-sized rabbits the last two years, but it was impressive to watch her catch one.

Hello Soup!
Oddly enough, about the time Cubbie disappeared, a new calico kitty arrived at the farm.  She seemed pretty friendly and she didn't start fights with the other cats by default.  They don't particularly like each other all that much, but it's not like WW III either.  We started to call her Super Cali the Fragile Mystic, but have shortened it to Soup.  Why not? 

Soup will, unfortunately for us, become Soup and the Souplings since she was apparently 'with kitten(s)' when she joined us.  I've always wondered about that terminology.  If a woman is 'with child' when she is pregnant with a single baby, what do we say if there are twins or triplets.  And, since a cat is unlikely to give birth to only one kitten....

In any event, we are not prepared to expand our cat population by all that much, so stay tuned about possible opportunities for interested persons to obtain kittens.

And, finally....  Whaaaaaaa?!?
We saw this Non Sequitur cartoon and had to look at it more than once.  Oh my.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Here's To Endurance

A few people noticed that we were not posting regularly the first few months of this year and, of course, they were correct.  The creative and farm parts of me were either tired or engaged elsewhere for a time.  Now, as the weather changes and the farm beckons, I find myself wanting or needing to return to posting here.  As part of the process, I took a moment to try and look at the blogs other, similar farms have maintained that I occasionally read.  And, I found a sad trend.  Of the fifteen that I have followed on and off for the past six or so years, only two on this list had any postings for this year.  Most of the fifteen have been inactive for over a year.  Some of these farmers have moved on to other things in their life.  Others, have moved away from blogging, while they continue to farm.

This got me to thinking.
If you've read our blog before you should know the response.
A dangerous pastime!  (I know!)

Committed (Should I be?)
An actual picture of the farmer in 2005! Archives can be surprising.
Our very first blog posts made their appearance on December 16, 2008.  In fact, we posted a few times on that first day just to get a feel for it.  The first post and this second one can give you an idea that deciding to blog for the farm was not a 'spur of the moment decision.'  In fact, despite some chiding from Tammy, I actually agonized a bit over this (believe it or not).  What some people might have seen as just 'something you do because it's the thing to do,' I saw it as a commitment.  If it was going to be worth doing, I had to make it worth doing.  I don't like starting things of this nature just because...

Happily, we landed on our feet fairly quickly and put out a post that has some of the hallmarks of many of our posts since that time.  Yogi, the duck, had to spend some time in our kitchen - and it made the blog just two days after it was started.  And, initially, Tammy and I were both going to put things out there for people to read.  You can see one of Tammy's early entries here.  But, once school started again for Tammy, her desire to do EXTRA typing waned very quickly.  And, I can't say that I blamed her.

Even the Count is on our blog!
We even jumped into the thing that was all the rage at the time - TOP TEN LISTS by doing a 2008 year in review.  It wasn't very long after we started posting regularly that many people who had started blogs began to stop... so to speak.  Many of them started moving to 'social media' and the shorter, even less permanent presence it provides. 

While we have also given in and tried to maintain some social media presence on Facebook, we still believe this is the place for us to be.  And, we have shown that by providing you with over one hundred posts each year since 2009. 

Where Have We Been?
The blog has been a good place to try to organize our thoughts and even put in writing things that we were actually trying to figure out.  In 2009, we were trying to get a handle on the plant sales angle of our farm.  The strange thing about that post is that we are revisiting some of those same issues this year.  Go figure.

And, of course, weather has been a recurring theme.  This only makes sense since we do work outside and what we are thinking about is very much influenced by the weather and how it is impacting our farm.  This post from 2009 just reminds us of the old maxim that if you don't like the weather in Iowa right now, just wait five minutes.  It'll change.

Anyone remember Mo Farah and this set of memes?
And, I also noted that our worry about chemical spray is not a new thing.  In fact, aerial spraying in Iowa was really just starting to get traction in 2008 and 2009.  We took note of it in this post and told everyone it felt a bit like we were in an old WW II movie.

But, the post that I think really gave me a feel for what we could do was this one.  Road Map to Zucchini was one of those moments where I took some of the silly things that come into my head while I'm working outside and made it into a post.  This post has some humor in it, but it still maintains a strong element of truth/sharing to it despite the embellishments.  It's a look into realities of the farm without force feeding it.  It gave me (and you) a chance to laugh together about things that have something to do with the farm.

Since that time, we've worked to mix up informative posts, promotional posts, event posts, humorous posts and even barn posts into the blog.  The addition of a digital camera and some motivation to use it have also given us the opportunity to help you see what we are doing and understand a little better what is happening.  We even tried a little participation and had voting for best posts during our first year.

Community works.
Does It Make a Difference?
Maintaining a blog, keeping it fresh and useful and doing so on a regular basis is not always all that easy.  There is a reason so many blogs have disappeared.  Some falling by the wayside in the first months after inception.  Others going strong for a year, disappearing for awhile, then coming back briefly before going away for good.  It is difficult to keep putting something out there when you aren't sure anyone is really looking.  It's either that or, it's like any number of things.  The novelty wears off and now it becomes a task.  Tasks aren't worth it, are they?



But, this IS worth it.
We've been told that some of our posts made at least one of you laugh.
And we were told that someone's kids liked a story we told.
Another person said that this made them think a little harder about some important things.
People we know were appreciative that we would take the time to be grateful for them.
And, still others like to learn how to deal with the veggies they get from us.
Our assessment of veggie varieties and our farm reports are enjoyed by a completely different group of people.

Not the post for you?  Well, you could take a nap instead!
Certainly, there is more to our blog than that.  But, the point is this - some people have read it and have been kind enough to tell us that they've gotten something from it.  Therefore, this blog has been worth doing and will continue to be worth doing.

Hopefully, some of you enjoyed this post.  Maybe a few of you were curious about a link or two and read those posts as well.  But, if you didn't find this post interesting and you aren't in the mood for checking out any of the post links we have here you are STILL a winner.

Because the next post will be different.  And, maybe that one will be the one you were wanting to see.  We can certainly hope.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Catering to Differing Tastes

Many of the fine people in the Cedar Valley who know us probably don't know Rob in any other context other than as his role as a vegetable farmer.  In fact, if you are from the area and you haven't done much reading of this blog, you will probably make some erroneous assumptions.  For example, a vegetable farmer has to be someone who has ALWAYS loved vegetables.  Therefore, Rob has always loved all vegetables and must have no idea how hard it is for some of you to figure out how to enjoy/use vegetables in a CSA share.

I am sorry to burst your bubble - but my parents can assure you that the list of things I would eat when I was growing up could probably fit on a 3"x5" card.  When it came to veggies it had to be green beans, lima beans, peas, corn and potatoes.  Onions would work if cut very small and well cooked.  Tomatoes would be ok if it was a cooked sauce with very little evidence of skin or chunks of tomato. There were numerous incidents where shredded lettuce ruined a sandwich for me and my college friends encouraged me to get the mixed vegetables to watch me quickly and efficiently root out the carrot squares.  I could eat my mixed veggies as fast as anyone else and not eat a single one of those icky things.

So, what happened?
Touchstone Gold Beets

Is it true that I like each and every vegetable that we grow equally well?  No, of course not.  But, I very much like some of them, kind of like others and tolerate still others.  There are a few that I still haven't found a way to tolerate, but I sure do make less of a stink about it when they show up.

Perhaps I grew up a little bit.  Maybe the taste buds changed some.  But, both Tammy and I are pretty certain that a big part of it had to do with the fact that we started growing our own produce.  The quality and freshness have much to do with flavor and texture quality.  And, of course, if you put some of your own effort into growing it, you might be more willing to try it - even if you do find yourself still not liking it.

But there is more to it than that.

Can't Beet This

We have learned that different cultivars of a vegetable can have very different tastes and textures.  It is true that some people might not be able to detect a difference.  It is also true that some people who do not initially find a difference in different veggie varieties begin to develop an ability to tell the difference over time.  In my case, I can often detect a big difference in taste between different varieties right away.

I had always found the earthy taste and slippery texture of the standard red beet to be - shall we say - choke worthy.  Please, if you like red beets prepared in the traditional boiling water, do not take offense.  This is why we have red beets in our CSA as well - so you can enjoy them the way you enjoy them!

In this case, I am speaking to that large group of people who think of beets as an 'evil' veggie, just as I did.  We tried the striped beet (Chioggia) and a golden beet (Touchstone Gold) several years ago.  And, since I take my job seriously, I have to taste what we grow.  I don't have to like each thing, as long as others do.  But, I feel like I have to be able to say that I tried it.

In any event, we roasted some Chioggia's and found them to be less earthy and to have a pleasing texture when roasted.  The two keys here were vegetable variety AND preparation method.  I have learned not to give up on a vegetable until we have explored a range of cultivars and a series of ways to prepare it for eating.

The result?  Now I very much like Golden and Chioggia beets either steamed, grilled or roasted.  I will tolerate standard red beets presented the same ways.  I can even eat boiled red beets with only some complaints.  Who knew?
White Wing Onions
 Opinions About Onions

If I recall correctly, my father has always liked onions, but they don't always like him.  At least, that's how he put it.  I have not always liked onions and I think I inherited the part about raw onions not liking me so much either.

However, we've learned that the shorter season white onions tend to agree with me more.  They sautee up nicely and have a pleasant taste.  On the other hand, storage onions (such as Sedona or Copra) tend to have a bit more bite to them - and thus tend to disagree with me more.  Happily, if they are sauteed longer, they "sweeten up" and give me less troubles.

Onions are a bit of an oddity for me because I've always liked the smell of them (raw or cooked).  In this case, it was probably more of a texture thing.  But, again, it isn't so much that MY tastes have changed, but my willingness to figure out how to make things work for my preferences has improved. 
 
Goodman Cauliflower
It's Not CauliFLOUR

Tammy and I were given the impression when we first started gardening that cauliflower was a near impossible veggie to grow.  And, sadly, when we would try cauliflower from the store, my first impression was that it tasted a bit like 'flour.'  Yick.

Tammy got me to try more broccoli and cauliflower by adding cheese to the mix.  That was great, but probably not the best long-term solution if you want your spouse to eat healthier.

We still tend to prepare our cauliflower steamed or raw.  It will occasionally appear in soup as well.  Once again, we've explored different varieties and found some range of taste.  It is our belief that soil and growing conditions can change the taste of this vegetable since we can still appreciate a head of cauliflower from our farm and not really be impressed with the same variety from other sources.  But, this is one of those cases where perhaps my taste buds have been trained to taste the vegetable.  I tend to prefer cauliflower and romanesco to broccoli and I no longer have trouble with spelling the last syllable.


Chervena Chushka sweet peppers
Sometimes it has nothing to do with taste

Tammy likes to eat peppers raw in the field.  I like the smell of peppers in the field and I am quite happy to pick her a pepper and toss it to her if she wants to snack on one.  In fact, I will toss snack tomatoes or peppers to our workers if they indicate they might like one.  But, you will rarely, if ever, see me crunch into one of these during a work break.

This has nothing to do with liking or not liking how they taste and everything to do with how they sit in my stomach.  Remember, I do a good deal of stooping, getting up and down and moving around during the work day.  The last thing I want is to feel like I've got a rock in my stomach.  Sadly, that's what happens when I eat most raw peppers without something to accompany it.

I am not alone in this phenomenon.  Many people prefer red peppers because some of the things that cause this discomfort are less prevalent in the more mature fruits.  I also prefer peppers that are not bells as they also give me fewer issues.  And, of course, if they are cooked, they seem to be easier to deal with.  In the end, I'm just happy to have a couple of smaller slices on a sandwich and a nibble or two here or there.  But, since I won't eat too many peppers, I tend to be much pickier about the taste.  Dagnabbit!  If only get a little bit of a pepper, it had better be good!


Pride of Wisconsin melon
And - It needs to be ripe!

Then, there is the issue of ripeness.  I could tolerate certain kinds of melons, but I was never all that impressed with them.  In fact, this is something I have heard from many people.

I try to remind myself of how I USED to feel until we started growing our own melons and it has gotten harder and harder for me to do.  Why?  Well, it has been many years now since I have been forced to eat a melon that was NOT RIPE when it was harvested.  Most melon varieties will taste like a lot of nothing if they are harvested early so they won't split in transit to the grocery store.  And, sadly, that is how most people are introduced to melons.

So, we sympathize with your opinion about melons.  In fact, we understand why you feel the way you do.  Some of you may not like the texture - so that may rule out many melons regardless of ripeness.  We can respect that.  But, for those of you that thought: "Melons.... meh."   You need to try some of the heirloom varieties that we grow when they are truly ripe!  You might be so shocked by the taste initially that you might be tempted to decide you don't like it.  But, give yourself a second taste and you'll realize that your initial reaction was because your brain was telling your tastebuds that they shouldn't detect that much taste in a melon.  After all, they've never experienced it before!

Are You Ready to Discover Tastes You've Been Missing?
If you are, then consider joining us this year for our Summer CSA Farm Share program.  We grow a wide range of veggies and a number of varieties for each type.  We understand where you are coming from and we can help you get to where you want to be going.

Besides, I need someone to eat all of the carrots we're going to grow.... Tammy can't eat them all, and I still won't.  Go figure.

Friday, April 1, 2016

New Month, New Blog Post

And, the calendar just keeps on turning - even though there are days when you don't want it to.  With the event of a new month, we felt we should do our duty to keep all interested in the Genuine Faux Farm up to date with the doings, events and musings of the farmers!

Hydrating and UV Protection

Well, the days are getting longer and the number of hours we spend out in the sun have increased.  We are sure that most of you have not even started THINKING about sunblock, nor have you gotten too concerned about keeping up with the fluids when you are outside.  But, if you do what we do, you must keep these things in mind.

We like toting around our nifty thermos with either water or iced (decaf) tea for the necessary fluids, but the suntan lotion isn't usually all that convenient to carry around as well.  This can be a problem early in the season because we're a bit out of practice with remembering to apply sunblock.

Happily, we are testing out a new product that can be added to the beverage of our choice.  This product works as a systemic sunblock.  Just add it to the correct ratio of fluids and consume regularly.  Viola!  Sun protection and hydration all at the same time!

We are noticing a few side effects, but we're able to tolerate them thus far.  After all, there is something to be said for being 'regular.'

Early Spring Issues

The garlic suppression campaign.
The early warm weather is something we've talked about in recent blog posts.  But, we don't always spend much blogging time giving specific examples of problems an early Spring can cause for us at the farm.

If you will recall, we had a very early Spring in 2012 that resulted in some difficult losses with our garlic (see #4 on this post).   Garlic was weeks ahead and their early emergence made them fair game for Aster Yellows.

Determined to avoid having the same problem in 2016, we decided to do something about it this year.  Tammy and I went out and pushed all of those anxious little garlic plants BACK into the ground.  We also made certain to give them a verbal admonition to wait "just a little bit longer - for your own good."  Unfortunately, garlic does not have ears, so they must not have heard us and they popped back up the next day.  It is also possible that a few of them will not be garlic plants anymore since they gave us the 'raspberry' when they popped back out of the ground.

Moving Away from Free-Range

If you've paid any attention to our farm, you will know that we are dedicated to practices that work with nature.  We grow certified organic produce and day-range poultry.  However, our days of free-range workers on the farm are coming to an end.

Apparently, the good people that work on our farm are quality individuals who are in high demand in so many other places.  Some of them graduate and then go on to further schooling or to a 'real job,'  leaving us behind with ne'er a backward glance.  Others, for some reason, find themselves taking things called 'internships' in their field of study.  Still others do things like 'get married' or take 'full-time employment' or whatever sad little reasons they come up with.

Well, we've had enough of this.  We are planning on moving to the confinement model for farm workers this year.  As long as we keep them fed and watered, they should be happy.  We may even throw them some excess produce now and again so they can chase it around the pasture like the turkeys do.

We still need to work out how we can keep them under control when we let them out of the pasture to do actual work on the farm.  We have considered the ankle bracelet monitoring systems used for some law enforcement purposes, but that seems cost-prohibitive.  Instead, it seems more likely that we'll just tie a bright red balloon onto a string and tie that string to the worker.  Then, we just need to look for the balloon so we can locate the worker.  I suspect there are some problems with that plan as well, but we have to start somewhere.

These are outside of the building... a stake out?
Responding to De-Flangification

We use electric posts/stakes for a number of things on the farm.  One of their primary purposes is to help hold up the tomato cages.   They work great, for the most part - except for the tendency of the 'flanges' to break off of the bottom of the posts.

Since we cannot help ourselves when it comes to word play on the farm, stakes that have more than a single weld to hold flange onto the stake are both RARE and WELL-DONE.  Seriously.  Yes, that was your attempt at a pun for this post.  If you were hoping for more than that, then you need to go read last year's posts about peas.


Litter Harvest at Record Levels this Winter

Apparently word has gotten out that our farm actually resides on one of the richest deposits of scoopable cat litter in the state.  As a result, the demand has gone through the roof since its discovery last November.

In an effort to keep costs low, we've been re-using old litter buckets to harvest the pure, unrefined scoopable litter from the deposits deep in the earth.

Thus far, we have been only selling the litter 'ore' to larger refining companies, but we are considering working on setting up our own refinery so we can sell local scoopable cat litter direct to the consumer.  The hardest part has been coming up with a name for the new product.  We were sort of thinking about "True Grit" but are a little nervous that there might be some legal fall-out from John Wayne's estate.

Sadly, we had to move to a new vein last week after Sandman, Mrranda and SuperCali (our outdoor cat farm managers) discovered the initial lode. 


Inspiration to Create UnderGround Light Rail Foiled

We're always looking for ways to improve how we do things on the farm.  This past year, we started work on our own mini-subway project in an effort to allow us all-season access to our high tunnel buildings.

Our land does not have much for rocks, which makes it a bit easier for the excavation process.  However, heavy rains illustrated for us that our high water table was going to make it unpleasant to traverse unless we learned to scuba dive in caves.

Instead of a subway type system we are now considering renaming it the 'Grand Canyon' of Iowa and see if we can turn a profit selling post cards that show off this modern marvel.  After all, our confined workers need something to write on so they can send cards home in an effort to arrange a 'farm break out' from our worker confinement system.  The great news about all of this is that we have all of the unrefined cat litter that will clump right up so we can remove the water as a solid rather than a liquid if we feel it is necessary.

We certainly know how to cover our bases at the farm, don't we?


Is it REALLY APRIL FIRST?!?

Wow!  Imagine that. 
If you'd like to see prior year installments, here they are!

2015 April Fool Post
2014 April Fool Post
2013 April Fool Post
2012 April Fool Post