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.

==========================================
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.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

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

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Vocabulary Shortcomings, Skritches and Other Stuff

There are a number of words that I know how to use and use well.  Words like pollinator, inconclusive, allelopathic (even spell check is lost on that one), obfuscation and algorithm are among those I consider to be good words that I can use given the right situation.  Apparently, there are some simple words I am unable to figure out.  Words like.... "no."

Failure to say "no" may lead to photos that look like this one.

Ok, it's not all that bad.  I do my best to balance what I can do.  But, when you see situations where something really HAS to be done and no one else is stepping up to do it, my vocabulary (especially the word "no") often fails me.  Perhaps at some point in the future I will elaborate on what has caused me to discuss the merits of the word "no," but until then, I will refer you to Mrranda in the picture below.
Ya, ya.  Now get to some blogging that interests me.  Talk about skritches or mice.
For example, when one of our cats approaches me and asks for attention, I tend to give it some.  This is especially true this time of year.  The indoor cats are starting to see us leave the house more often to work outdoors.  They know the human who tends to tolerate their presence on his lap while he works at the computer will not be offering this service nearly as frequently as he did in January.  So, they are getting a little more demanding. In order to keep the peace, I try to pay for a little tolerance with a skritch or two whenever Bree or Hobnob are within reach.

The outdoor cats, who see much less of us during the Winter, are anxious to be shown that they are still valuable members of the community (as you can see by the picture above).  It is not unusual for Sandman or Mrranda to hop up on a car, picnic table or trailer for attention.  In fact, both of them will give Rob a 'hug' when he stands still long enough so they can get their skritches.
A satisfied cat customer.
When the demands of life (or the cats) seem to be too much, I contemplate other things.  Things that I can look forward to in the months ahead.  Green beans, flowers and bumblebees.  I am very much looking forward to the appearance of the bumblers.
Bumblebee on a gazinia. Only green beans missing from this picture.
But, my mind keeps coming back to a number of things that are in need of attention.  Perhaps our wonderful readers can help us out with some of these.

1. We are looking for more CSA members for 2016.  We have many slots open.  Spread the word!
2. We need at least one more worker for this summer.  We have one interested person who is currently following through and we could use more.

Ok, two is enough for now.
Oh, and my shoelaces are untied.  How could that have happened?
And, we've already had our first thunder and lightning show for the year at the farm.  This picture is from a different event, but it gives you a taste of it.  You know it is early in the season when every flash of lightning gets your attention.
My night time photography needs some help.
Actually, most flashes of lightning get my attention when I'm at the farm - regardless of the time of year.  If we have workers in the field and there is lightning, it typically means I have to consider getting everyone to shelter.  If there is lightning in the middle of the night, I tend to wake up in order to determine if we have some nasty weather heading our way.  The difference is probably in the 'startle' factor.  If it is July and you see lightning, it isn't entirely an unexpected event.  If it is early March...that's another matter.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Interested in sum sum Summertime?

Sitting at a picnic table.  Holding a wedge of watermelon in your hand.  Taking a bite and savoring it.  Then spitting the seed as far as you can - all the while trying to look cool as you do it.  And, if you're like me, that first seed just kind of dribbles onto your chin - so the looking cool part doesn't happen.  It's a picture of Summer in many people's minds.  So, we thought we might give you a post about watermelons at the Genuine Faux Farm.

We are in search of a year that gives us the "right" amount of watermelons for a given year.  Granted, we don't really know what that number might be.  All we know is that everyone in our CSA might like at least one during a given season.  And, we'd like to have some for ourselves and maybe some for events we hold at the end of Summer/beginning of Fall. 

Sweet Siberian (dark green), Ali Baba (light green), Mountain Yellow Sweet (dark green with light green stripes)
We've asked for feedback on what we grow numerous times over the years and were surprised a couple of years back when the watermelon was given more love than cantaloupe or other melons by our CSA members.  Since that time, we've figured out some of the reasons for this.  First, our CSA hadn't seen much for melons in the two years prior to when the question was asked, so they didn't have recent memories of some of the melons we grow.  In fact, most people who do not like melons are reacting to the unripe melon that is usually foisted off on consumers in many groceries.  Well, if that had been my only exposure to them, I might agree.  But, as we've gotten better at melon growing we've been able to convince a number of people that melons are a very good thing.  Maybe not everyone, but we recognize everyone has their taste preferences.

Sweet Siberian
That doesn't mean we aren't also trying to grow enough watermelons for everyone.  The first post referenced in the last paragraph (this one) gives most of the reasons why watermelons don't usually get a high priority on our farm.  Overall, the issue is more of a logistical problem than anything else.  Watermelons get ripe when we have a wide variety of produce available for our CSA.  The truck is already very full - and we have to get a batch of watermelons in there as well?  If you haven't noticed, they're rounded, so they don't pack all that well either.

We try to cover most of the production need with Sweet Siberian, which is a smaller (5-7 pound average) watermelon.  It is a light yellow watermelon with a slightly grainy texture.  The taste reminds me a little bit of a watermelon dipped in honey.  As long as you aren't expecting the standard texture and taste and keep your mind open to it, this is one fantastic watermelon.  Yes, it has seeds.  It has lots of seeds.  It's an open-pollinated watermelon.  Seeds are natural.  They kind of need them to reproduce, don'tcha know?  After all, that's why you eat them outside - so you can have a seed spitting contest!  Just avoid dribbling seeds on your chin.  All of the cute girls (Tammy) will point and laugh at you... until she tries to spit a seed and the same thing happens to her! HA!

Orangeglo - light green with dark green stripes
Sadly, watermelon is one of those crops that has a few strikes against it.  First, it is a longer season crop. The longer the season a crop needs, the more opportunities there are for things to go wrong.  With some of the weather we've dealt with over that past X years, there have been seasons that simply did not give the watermelons a chance to do anything.  Second, watermelons take up space since they are a vine crop.  In fact, they take up more space that cantaloupe.  They just don't produce super high numbers of fruit per square foot of growing space.  That's a problem when you run a CSA program and have limited field space - we're all about the numbers.  If you have 120 members,  you want/need at least 120 fruit.

It was sitting in the field, just minding its own business.
Then, there is a matter of education.  Yes, I said "education."  I've said it before and I'll say it again - we firmly believe that there are all sorts of taste options out there that provide opportunities for people, such as myself, to learn to like new things.  That is why "We Can't Grow Anything Normal."  But, when you can't grow anything normal, you end up having to spend time explaining what you have and why it is a good thing.  Since we grow many different things, we have to pick and choose some of our battles.  And, even when we give it our best shot, someone will still inform us that they threw a watermelon out because it looked like this:

Yes, it really IS orange inside.  It is called Orangeglo, you know.
But, the main reason we grow Sweet Siberian (light yellow), Ali Baba (pink), Orangeglo (orange) and Mountain Yellow Sweet (yellow) is because we think they give us a nice range of fantastic tasting watermelons.  And... they are all open pollinated varieties.

Well, at least someone is happy to have an Orangeglo watermelon!
Last year was a great melon year, but we had a watermelon catastrophe.  The small watermelon harvest had some really tasty Orangelo watermelons, but not enough for everyone.  We're hoping to meet our goals for both in 2016!

Join our CSA and reserve your chance to taste some of these delicious treats!