Sunday, July 20, 2014

Much Mulch May Mean More Munching

One of the yearly tasks on the farm is the process of putting straw mulch down around the tomato plants.  Mulch is an important part of our tomato growing plan, so it feels good to finally get it done.

We started with the South rows - German Pink, Italian Heirloom & Dr Wyche's Yellow

In order to lay the mulch, we first need to 'skritch' and weed around the plants.  Certainly a thick enough mulch will suppress many of the smaller weeds, but tougher weeds will potentially grow through it.  It's just better to do a quick weeding first. 

Then, we need to lay the drip tape before the mulch.  Typically, we lay the drip tape as close to the stems of the plants on the South side as we are able.  This is important so we know where to put the stakes when we cage the tomato plants.

Middle rows weeded, North rows still wanting attention.
This year, the tomatoes are in a field that is wetter in the North half than in the South half.  As a result, the tomatoes in the South half are well ahead of those in the North half.  Most of them should survive, though we have already removed 8 to 10 plants in the North rows.

This matters because we will protect the plants that are showing more strength first rather than spend time trying to "rescue" the weaker ones.  We've learned that this is usually the best approach on our farm to get the most out of our work time and our fields.  Sometimes, you just have to admit that some plants won't make it and aren't worth the time.  So, if we found that we couldn't complete the field, it is better to not complete the area where the plants show that they are weak and may not make it.


There are small peppers and eggplant in the North most row... Really!
This year, we chose to move more tomatoes to the high tunnel and removed one pair of rows from the field.  This allowed us to put some peppers and eggplant into this field.  It's an attempt to 'hedge our bets' in case something happens in one of the field that holds these crops.  See - we do learn as we go.

Drolet in his natural habitat
It has become a tradition that Denis plays an integral role in the tomato mulching and caging process.  One of these days, we may give the story of how we started with straw mulching as compared to how we do it now.  Let's just say that it is much better than it was.
Tomatoes mulched, eggplant and peppers weeded. TADAAAAAAAAAAA!
We did, in fact, complete the field.  In addition to these tasks, we got the basil transplanted as well.  It's a good feeling. 

We mulch tomatoes for several reasons.
   1. mulch keeps weeds down
   2. mulch maintains a more consistent moisture level around the plants
   3. straw mulch will add organic matter to the soil
   4. mulch prevents soil splash onto tomato leaves - many tomato diseases are spread by soil splash onto leaves and the plant
   5. mulch makes picking easier for the person that harvests the tomatoes (usually Rob)

Even better, our rotation has been modified to move the garlic so that it gets planted in this field where the basil is.  Basil usually dies off in mid-September.  Garlic gets planted in October/November.  We heavily mulch garlic with straw.  The straw in the tomatoes doesn't break down all the way during the season - so we can pull it from the tomatoes to the garlic in late Fall.  Sounds like a winner to me!


And, finally - we interrupt this regularly scheduled blog post for some day lily flowers.  Thank you for your attention.




Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Farmer for Breakfast and other oddities.

The farmer's arms are currently covered in gnat bites - as are his ears and anywhere else those little buggers could reach.  And, to add insult to injury, the skeeters are bellying up to the bar as well.  Monday was particularly miserable.  It was really hard to work through it.  Tuesdays was far better with the wind, but we don't see wind forecast for Wednesday.  We really hope the gnat life cycle completes and the population declines.  If it doesn't there will not be much of us left after a full day in the fields tomorrow.

Hey!  Um... You missed a spot.
Tammy was getting tired of seeing partially painted buildings, so she cracked out the paint just prior to the second batch of rain.  It was mostly dry before the rain came and it was under the eaves, so it held up reasonably well.  But, of course, Mrranda had to supervise (that is her job after all). 

Eyes to ceiling foks.
With it being so wet, we spent more time on "indoor" projects, such as working on building a brooder room for chicks.   The first step was taking down the old ceiling and putting up a new metal ceiling.  This helps us to keep raccoons out of the room.  That, and the old ceiling was pretty disgusting.

The picture above shows the new ceiling.  What you don't really see is the other destruction and removal work we did to prep this area.  At this time, there is a wall framed in on the North end and a frame nearly ready to put up on the South end. 
this is not the last straw
We're anxious to get the straw mulch down in the tomato field, but we'll settle for laying straw in the high tunnel for the tomatoes there.  It sure does look nice.

Not what we were hoping for
For some reason, the paper mulch is not holding up like it has in the past.  Sadly, it is now becoming a danger to the plants as it lifts up and either covers them or beats them to death.

Actually, we are pretty sure of the reason(s) and it mostly has to do with the timing of the rain and weather we have been getting.  But, even so, this makes it hard to want to keep using paper mulch when we don't get the benefits we need out of it.  It's even more disappointing because we have had reasonable success in the past.

Before

After
The fields are drying out in spots so we can get back to work.  The weeds have gotten ahead of us so we're working hard to catch back up.  Our crew of Kieran, Denis and Erik are working hard to help us in that regard.

If anyone would like to spend a couple of hours on the farm as a volunteer, this would be a good time.  Contact us and let us know.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Goodbye June

We finally got around to taking some of the pictures off of the camera and seeing what was on there.  With a very quick look, we selected a few to share.  Why?  Because we have been terribly delinquent in our posting.  Sorry about that.  But, sometimes, we just don't feel like posting and we don't have any sitting in reserve.  We'll get better, we promise.  After all, we have published over 650 posts on this blog.  I think that shows a little staying power.

Now that's a unique way to capture a sunset!
We both noticed the color of the sunset through the high tunnel.  The sunset was beautiful without it, but the color modification was really cool.  Tammy was the one with the energy to grab the camera this time.  She took a slew of pictures and this one was the winner of the batch.

See Kieran, see him plant.  See Denis, see him plant.  Go Denis & Kieran go!
We found a neat little trick to help our workers plant with less worry.  All it took was two paint sticks and a saw.  Rather than telling them, plant them this far apart (as we hold our hands out) we can say, "here is a stick, plant them so they are that far apart."  Works great.  We all like it.

No escaping the scape!
Scapes are the flower stalk on garlic plants.  Starting in June, they begin to send up these curly stems that will have a bulb at the top.  The bulb contains seed (also known as pearls) that can also be used in your cooking.  We cut the scapes off of the plants to encourage the plant to focus on developing large heads for the garlic we will harvest in mid-July.  But, the great thing about scapes is that they are also good to eat.

Garlic scapes are considered a delicacy by many and can be used as a garlic 'substitute' in any recipe calling for garlic.  An internet search is bound to find you any number of recipes.  However, we can tell you that we have enjoyed scapes in each of the following ways:


  • olive oil and seasoning either in stir fry or on the grill.  It is usually easier to cook them if they are split long ways up the stem
  • split stems in a bottle of olive oil to create your own garlic olive oil
  • as a garlic clove substitute in whatever we are cooking - about 2 inches = 1 clove.  Dice the stems fine and it is often a good idea to pre-cook them a little to soften them up UNLESS you want a little crunch in the dish you are making.
  • we have even considered roasting them with some potatoes or other vegetables.  But, we usually don't have those veggies at the time we have scapes.
  • They stir fry well with kale and we bet asparagus would be a good companion as well.
And - here is a recipe from our friend Jill Beebout at Blue Gate Farm

Garlic Scape Pesto
1 bunch tender scapes, cut into pieces, and processed in a food processor until finely chopped
Add the following and process until well blended:
1/3 cup olive oil (add more if you like a thinner pesto)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
optional, toss in some basil for additional pesto flavor if you have it.

This can be served now or frozen for future use. I freeze it in small (1/2 c.) zip-top plastic bags, flattened. Then you can just break off whatever amount you need.


We beat the weeds.  So there.
The weeds were taking over Jeff Sage's beans.  So, a crack crew of weeders showed up and let those weeds know who is boss.  Well done crew!  Way to look tough!  Always a pleasure to help our friend Jeff out. As a result, we may be able to have some early green beans between Jeff's rows and ours.


I'm cooler than you.

Monday, June 30, 2014

You live in Iowa - so deal with it

I may have heard this one too many times.  A person tells me about the day they were outside at the edge of X town in Iowa and then they smell the chemicals from a nearby field.  Then they say, "Well, it's rural Iowa, I guess you have to expect it."

I've heard people say this even if they witness droplets hitting their windshields as they drive down the road.  Or when they rush their children into the house and then spend time emptying and cleaning the pool before they let the kids get back into it after an aerial application on nearby fields.  I've heard people say this after they witness an applicator ground spraying on a day when the wind is blowing their way at 30 miles per hour.  "Well, it's Iowa, I guess you have to expect it."

I am tired of hearing this.  It is just an excuse.  No, we do NOT have to expect it.  Nor should we accept it.  It is time for us to dispense with the excuse that "we live in Iowa, so you have to expect drift from chemical applications." 

As an Iowan, I was raised to understand that part of being a good citizen was to take care of the things you need to do efficiently and effectively without infringing on the rights of others in the process.  I believe that there are practical approaches and solutions that we, as Iowans, can embrace that will effectively address the problems of chemical drift and misapplication.  But, first, we have to admit there is a problem and part of that process is to learn how to report misapplication issues so we can get a sense of the extent of the problem and the possible causes.

As an Iowan, I was also raised to prize practical approaches and common sense.  Chemical drift and misapplication defies both practicality and common sense.  Ignoring use labels, weather conditions, spray rates and potential to volatilize is a disservice to the farmer who has contracted the application as well as to those adjacent to the land where the application is to made.  In our annual rush to complete all of our application tasks, short cuts are taken and mistakes are made.  These mistakes result in contaminated rivers (that much of our state uses as drinking water), specialty crop losses from farms that are working to diversify Iowa's economic landscape, a reduction in pollinators that are important for many of our crops and medical issues for our people that we are only now beginning to learn more about.

We are better than this.  We are capable and innovative.   Now we just have to be willing to admit there is a problem and address it.

Friday, June 27, 2014

News of the Farm

It's time for a quick "News of the Farm" blog post.  We hope this is useful, amusing or, at the least, not annoying for everyone to read!

Broilers soon to be available!
It is time for you to get reservations in for our Spring batch of broiler chickens!  There will be 80 to 90 birds available this time around.  Cost will remain at $3.25 per pound with an average size around 4 1/2 to 5 pounds. 
Process date is JULY 11.  We'd love to have people pick as many up as possible on that date before we freeze them.  It reduces our costs - much of which ends up  coming in the form of time and effort moving them around.  Some of it comes from paying the local locker to flash freeze the birds.  Trying to freeze 90-100 birds on our own freezers is very hard on them.

Our Fall batch of broilers are now on the farm (chicks) and will be processed in the early Fall.
The day to "Go to the Park" is nye!
Weather Wizards?  
 Well, if we are, we are not very good ones.  We needed at least one more day before the rain caught up to us again.  But, we didn't get it.  That's the way of the farm, so we'll deal with it. 

We happily admit that temperatures have been moderate - making it much easier to work.  But, we have not been able to plant and weed the way we would like since the last batch of rain.  The current batch moved in before we could take full advantage of soil getting workable again.

Manic Planting Mode 
However, Tammy says that Rob went into "manic planting mode" on Wednesday and Thursday this week.  And, we had some pretty intense weeding sessions as well.

400 feet of garlic were hand weeded - which is always a big deal.  We put in  another 800 feet of summer squash and zucchini and 200 feet of butternut squash.  600 feet of cucumbers managed to go in the ground as did 500 feet of combined pok choi, chinese cabbage and kohlrabi.

Fruit Trees and Other Stuff

We don't advertise that we do tree or bush fruit for various reasons.  First, we don't have enough of some plants to get too serious about.  Second, our apple trees are still youngish and we still aren't sure what they are capable of.  Third, many of the can fruits ripen at a point in time when we can't afford the labor to pick, clean and pack it would take.  But, all of that doesn't mean we don't have some raspberries, mulberries and other fruits on the farm. 

Apples looking good again this season!
 If our trees are any indicator, this looks like it could be another good year for apple producers in the area!  We like our apples, so we consider this good news.  It is actually possible that our trees will exceed our normal levels of consumption.  Hmmm.  We'll see what we want to do IF and when that happens.

We lost one peach tree and the other will likely be bare this year.  On the other hand, we may have some plums and maybe some pears.  Even our little cherry tree looks like it wants to give us three or four cherries.  Ok, we'll take it.

We Can Do It!
We asked for some input for a name for the new tractor.  Our choices we submitted are below:
1. Justin  (Tammy thought it would be fun to call it Justin - as in - Justin Case)
2. Jude  (this one, sadly, is Rob's....  Hey Jude!  Hey Jude Law!  Hey Jude lawsuit.  Hey Jude law suitcase. (Ha!  There's CASE)  Hey Jude law suit casestudy.  Hey Jude law suit case studyhall...... I can go on and on and....
3. Rosie (if we say "We Can Do It!"  Do you know where it is coming from?  Would you be riveted?)
4. Mighty Mouse (Here I come to save the day!)
5. Oil Can Harry (He's a villain.  He knows it, but it's a lot of fun... see Mighty Mouse for the reference)

It may help to know this is a Case Farmall 45 tractor.


In the end, we (and most of those who responded) liked Rosie the best.   There were also suggestions for Rosebud, Casey and Colt.  We'll let you draw the parallels for each!

It doesn't rivet, but with Rosie's help, We Can Do It!
Duck Dodging
We have two flocks of ducks this year.  One Muscovey flock and one Appleyard flock.  And, right on schedule, the Muscovey's started picking on each other.  We're not always sure how it starts, but we understand why.  Once the wing feathers come in, it seems that birds start pulling on the feathers (their own and others').  Next thing you know, there are lacerations and blood, so they pick more.  We, of course, watch for this and respond to it to prevent further problems.  But, it always happens on a day when we really can't afford to spend time dealing with it.

We think they must read our schedule or something.

Give a duck a cell phone.  It'll be at its Beak and Call..... 
Wheels within Wheels
Some days were meant to be complicated.  Thursday was such a day for us this week.

We had the Cedar Falls distribution, we had to pick up the strawberries from Grinnell Heritage Farm.  We also needed to receive lettuce from G It's Fresh.  We had 100 broilers come in the mail, which meant we had to run down to Waterloo post office to get them.  And, we had 100 broilers at the Hoover Hatchery in Rudd.  So, we had to drive up there as well.  Meanwhile, we were frantically trying to take advantage of soil that had just entered the 'nice and workable' stage.

By the time we returned from Cedar Falls, we still had to put the new chicks into their brooders.  Essentially, this includes setting up a 'box' with the proper bedding, food and water and a heat source.  Then, the birds need to be transferred - dipping each bird's beak into water before setting them in their new home.  Tammy drew that job.

Rob, on the other hand, was putting up an electric fence to prevent rabbits from destroying Thursday's planting. 

And, of course, we had to do chores.

For those of you that have ever run distances - either because you run or because you ran as a part of training for another sport - you can relate to what each of us were mumbling to ourselves under our breath.

"You can do it.  Keep moving.  This isn't that hard."

And, it was the truth.  Each of our tasks were not that difficult.  And, we did just fine.  It was just one way to measure the complexity of the day that we found ourselves needing to make self-motivating statements as if we were running a marathon.

If you didn't know the source of the name Rosie, now you do.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Game of Pepper

We enjoy giving updates with pictures and text to those who have interest.  The difficulty is in how we can feed these to you without overwhelming AND how we can keep them up to date and timely.  For example, the pictures you will see below will show how things looked around June 10.  This post is being written a week later and it will post about a week after that.  If we can manage it - we may add an updated picture to the post prior to the point it goes live.  But, hey - sometimes you have to go with the weather and what you have time to do.  That's why we often write clusters of blog posts and either schedule them OR we start them and then edit them later (publishing them once the edit is done).

A Quick GFF Pepper History
Ok - maybe not a full history.  We'll just give a few pertinent facts.  In 2012 - we had a fabulous pepper crop.  But, it was in the area that was sprayed.  Thus, we were forced to pick, then compost, all of the fruit that year.  That meant that we (and our CSA members) were not able to consume a single one of those peppers.  (Sigh).  Last year (2013), planted our peppers into a field that was still pretty wet, but we had to push just to get anything in.  Inside of a couple of nights, we had lost 70% of the peppers to rabbits and deer (along with normal losses for various other reasons).  Luckily, we had some peppers from the high tunnel, so everyone got some, but it wasn't what we really wanted either.  For that matter - we had a complete crop failure of peppers in 2010 because of the excessive rains.
Something must be up - the yellow cart is out!
And, a number of Adjustments for 2014
By now, most of you who read our blog realize that we don't keep doing things the same way if there is a problem.  For that matter, we make changes even on things that appear to be going well.  Clearly, we needed to do something to address the problems that caused the losses in each of the prior years.
Peppers in pots - awaiting the ultimate repotting!
Plant Peppers in Multiple Locations

One of our adjustments has been to split our pepper crop into three locations.  We have done more of this each year with most of our crops in an effort to avoid complete crop failures.  For example, the spraying issue hit the Western half of our farm, while the East was fine.  All of the peppers were in that Western half, thus we were unable to provide any from our farm.  In 2010, all of our peppers were in a particular field.  And, it just so happened that field had the worst issues with the excess rain (not that others were in perfect shape).  By splitting the crop, we hedge our bets a bit. 

On the down side, it does make management more difficult.   But, we'll keep fine tuning until it works reasonably well.

They always look better when they are IN the pots.

The Rabbit Fence
Deer are an issue, but not as much as the rabbits were last year.  So, we invested in some electric netting that runs off a solar charger to discourage the critters this year.  The portability of these fences are a big plus for us since we can move it from this location to protect another sensitive crop once the peppers are big enough to hold their own.

Gotta like the solar charger
A solar charger for an electric fence is appealing for many reasons.  You might like it because it is a renewable energy source - and perhaps that is a good thing.  But, we like it even more for the flexibility this gives us.  We can set up these fences anywhere there is some sunshine.  That's pretty much near any of our fields. 

Only 2 sections of fence for the entire area.

Most of our fields can be surrounded by three sections of fence.  Or, more accurately, 2 and a half sections.  And, they are easy to move once you learn how.



Wasn't that cart full a little bit ago?


Looking forward to this

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Night Lights

There was a gorgeous full moon on Friday the 13th (Rob's Dad's lucky day!).  And, since we were still out working, Tammy thought she'd try to take a picture of two.  The results are interesting.

The settings caused the camera to record a 'shadow' moon onto the picture.  The colors are great and they are fun pictures, so we thought we'd share.

Looks like we live on Tatooine - but too many trees!
We had heard rain in the forecast and we've been trying to get everything done prior to the rain.  We had just secured access to a tractor with lights and we wanted to finish the chisel work in hopes that the next steps would complete soon.  Tammy snapped the picture below while Rob was zipping around.  Headlights do help if you want to work after the sun goes down.

Pictures don't always have to make sense, do they?
Our new addition to the farm is below:

Suggestions for a name?
We finally bit the bullet and applied for financing to acquire a newer tractor.  We'll probably post on it more later.  But, it was becoming apparent that the old Ford 8n was struggling with some of the tasks we were asking it to do.

For those who want to know are might ask, yes, a bucket for this tractor is part of the package.  That was another part of the attraction for this unit.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Now That's How You Weed the Onions!

One of the tasks on the farm that can take a VERY long time is weeding the onions (or the carrots).  Last year, we purchased a tool for a tractor that was intended to make onion weeding much easier.  We trialed it last year, but couldn't claim success simply because we were unable to get onions in the ground in time to get any real crop form them.

This year, they have been in for a while.  Long enough to get some weeds started. 

Setting up to run the flex tine on onions

Now that's just purdy!

And it worked on this row as well!
Of course, it did pull a few of the onions, but not very many.  With set up and a slow start to be sure we knew what we were doing, it probably only took 30 minutes to weed 600 feet of onions planted in triple rows.  Next time it will go even faster.

Is it perfect?  Of course not.  We didn't get out there early enough to catch all of the weeds before they got too big, so there are a few spots that will need hand weeding.  And, the Canada Thistle won't pull with this cultivator either.  But, when the option is spending hours with a crew of people pulling every little weed by hand and trying NOT to pull the onions - this is great!
It's nice when a tool works

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

June Picture This

Here we are - mid-June.  And we haven't done a picture this for June.  So, here we go!

Clover and Bumbebees
We have a fair amount of clover on the farm and we try to leave some of it taller and let it flower.  If you look at the first picture, you should see one reason why.

Do you see it?
Bumblebees are some of our best workers on the farm.  Despite their size and the buzzing sound that they make, these are non-threatening critters that provide alot of pollinating services to various plants on our farm.  In general, if you don't swat at a bumblebee, step on them, etc, they will not bother you.  After all - what would you do if someone hit you or stepped on you?

Oh! There you are!
This is why we seeded clover into many of the paths around our fields several years ago.  We wanted to provide food for our pollinators.  This is also why we aren't upset by the plethora of dandelions we usually have in the Spring.  Like all critters, the pollinators need to eat - and early Spring can get pretty sparse. 

Soapbox Warning!
And this is one reason why we want people to reconsider the need to have a perfect lawn with no clover and no dandelions.  It'll be cheaper if you just cover your yard with astroturf if that's what you really want (no we don't like that idea either).  We are creating lifeless, grass deserts in our cities and towns that are no better for our earth than acres of monocrops (corn, soybeans, etc).

Paper Mulch
We've managed to get the melon/watermelon planting in.  This is part of a SARE grant funded study to explore the role paper mulch might have in helping with the survival of heirloom melons.  We'll take some more pictures and keep you up to date on it throughout the season.
I think we missed a spot there
Fruit Trees
At some point during the early Spring we posted some pictures that showed rabbit damage to some of our fruit trees.  So, we thought we had better follow up on that a little.
Well, it's not quite dead.
We lost one small apple tree that was likely on its way out.  And, another is now relegated to 'bush' status.  Essentially, the snow was deep enough to allow the rabbits access OVER the fence.  They girdled the tree over the lower branches.  So, those leafed out while everything above it did not.

The peach trees fared less well.  The new tree only has one branch that is living.  The other is better off, but not as happy as we would like.  But - what did we expect?  Peach trees in our area are always a gamble.
The leaning apple tree of GFF
We may want to consider staking a few of the trees.  Prevailing winds have been working on them over the years.  But, the really good news is that most of the apples made it through the winter, the flowering started later so they weren't impacted by frost.  So, a good fruit set has started!

Apples!

Garlic
We thought you might want a gratuitous garlic crop picture for the year so far.  They are looking VERY good.

Garlic next to young summer squash and zucchini plants.
Broilers

They are getting bigger and more annoying.  That's a good sign.  It means they are healthy and exercising their ...uh... broilerness. 
It's good to see them out and about.
The Silvery Fir Tree Tomato
Every year we mean to keep track of some extra this or that and put it in the blog regularly.  Does it happen?  Well....sometimes.
There's a tomato already started in that mass of foliage!
And, we also planted a Nebraska Wedding in another pot.  This pot is bigger because we expect this plant to get bigger.
Nebraska Wedding with basil surrounding it.
June 16 Storm
Many of you already know that a twister was sighted West of Tripoli last night.  So, to answer the immediate question - the farm was not in its path.  We did get heavy rains, wind and a little hail.  We've been outside and found minimal damage in general.  Most plants should find a way to pull themselves back out of the mud.

Both of us were getting increasingly agitated as the day wore on because we could sense the potential for difficult weather.  Once we sent our crew home (and after all of the melons and watermelons were in the ground) we worked to get things under cover and put anything that could become a projectile in wind into better situations if possible.  Rob did spot the tornado to our Southwest and we barreled on down to the basement for a time.

The twister hit the corner of Hwy 93 and 63.  The car dealership there took a direct hit.  It looks like it skirted most of the homes in the area and the path ran SouthEast for over a mile.  It was probably no more than an EF1 tornado and maybe not that - but it still made a mess of things.

We're grateful for the concern people showed for us and relieved that we are not participating in clean up at the farm this morning.  On the other hand - we can say that the fields are now very wet and we hope Mother Nature sees fit to allow for moderation in this area!
GFF was a couple miles away, no worries!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Iris Festival

We've had a decent showing of iris over the past couple of weeks and we thought some of you might enjoy seeing some of them.  Where I could recall the name of the iris, I included.  In a few cases, I just can't remember it as I type this.  In other cases, the name is potentially lost to us for various reasons.  But, we still like them all!




Taught By Masters

Spouting Horn

Stairway to Heaven

Blenheim Royal



Anything Goes

Davy Jones' Locker

Rare Treat

St Helen's Wake