Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Icicle Race

T & I managed to get ourselves off the farm for a portion of the holidays. thanks to D for keeping track of the farm during this period where the farmers are being negligent of their duties...

So, we drove to Florida from Iowa. Starting on Christmas day. Yes, that's when that monstrous storm was dumping rain, snow and ice in Iowa. Happily, we got out of "Dodge" with minimal issues. Though it was interesting to note that on every bridge and underpass the car wanted to move slightly sideways until we were well south of Iowa City. Happily, the rest of the roadways were clear, so this was an issue we could handle. Speeds were a bit slower than maybe one might expect, due to the weather - so we only made it to Paducah. Hey, Paducah is cool.

Besides that we visited FIVE states in day one of driving: Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky AND confusion. Hey, that's what happens when you try to try to pack a car, outside in rain/sleet/snow with slush/snow on the ground.

Day two of the drive saw us get all the way to Tampa from Paducah. Ok, part of day 2 ended on day 3 as we got there after midnight local time.

The real kicker of all of this is that we had to deal with a surprise truck repair (distributor), a surprise furnace issue AND water in the electrical breaker box for our house. All on Christmas Eve day. Add to that the nervous energy that comes with impending storms and you have two wired people trying to get everything done and trying to decide whether to scrap the trip or to drop everything and get out ASAP.

We chose to stick with the original plan - and here we are.

Decompressed yet? Almost. Just in time to drive back. YAY!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!

R & T - Genuine Faux Farm

Thursday, December 17, 2009

NOT Rudolph

11:30 PM - The lights are still on in the house. It is finals week. The schedule is a bit topsy-turvy. It is the way of things during finals week. The humans will placate the cat and go to bed soon. Tomorrow is an early and long day. Must get some sleep.

12:15 AM - One human takes a while to wind down, but he always takes longer to fall asleep. Don't worry, he'll...zzzzzzzz

1:00 ZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

1:29 AM - Something is going on...huh? wha? Must wake up. Why does it seem like there is a pulsing light?

1:30 AM - clock rings the half hour. Pulsing light still there. R's brain is still confused, but becoming a bit alarmed - literally. Don' t all of our smoke detectors make loud noises if they go off? I wonder if the speaker went bad in one and it is just blinking. Better get up and investigate!

1:31 AM - Hmmm. That light isn't coming from inside the house. It is OUTSIDE! What's going on here?

1:32 AM - Arg! All of these older windows are covered in frost and I can't see out, but the lights are right outside on the road. And they are very bright. Was there an accident? Santa come early with Rudy?

1:40 AM - now you know the lights are bright and annoying. Even T has been awakened by this. We now have identified the source. The trail groomer for the snowmobile route is STUCK in the ditch in front of our house. It is REALLY cold out there tonight and he's out there shoveling away in an effort to get out. I'm not sure that I'm feeling sorry for him right now. Thoughts about calling...who?... I don't know... the sheriff? enter our heads. Conflicting feelings about how difficult it must be to work in -15 degree F weather vs the annoyance of continued blinky lights, lost sleep and periodical loud growling as he tries to rock the vehicle to 'unstick' it don't help me to feel sleepy either.

1:45 AM - Ok, fine. He hasn't come to the house to ask for help. It seems as though he's been on a cell phone. We don't have a big tractor to pull him out. We need to get to sleep (if we can). Close some additional doors and try to drown out the light.

1:50 AM - white snow outside and really bright lights. grrrrrrr (was that me or the machine out there?)

2:00 AM - clock rings in the hour. T appears to be asleep again - at least part way. R is still annoyed. blink blink blink grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr blink blink blink...

2:10 AM - sounds like the thing is moving now. Oh no.. he still has to go all the way around our property (where the trial runs)! Oy. Blinky lights for a while yet.

2:20 AM - blinking is fading into distance. quick check - no presents under tree. drat.

2:30 AM - clock rings in the half hour.

2:40 AM - One human takes a while to wind down, but he always takes longer to fall asleep. Don't worry, he'll...zzzzzzzz

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Prepping the Farm For White Stuff

It becomes clearer to me each time I try to answer the question "So, what do you do on the farm during the winter?" that I must do an inadequate job of answering.


Well, for one, I am sure I never quite make it clear that there is plenty to do and that we don't sit on our hands all winter.

For two, I am often asked the question by the same people - so I must have failed in try number one.

For three, I feel like I'm giving a generic answer - maybe because I'm never sure how much the person asking the question really wants to know. In a sense, this question is akin to "How are you?" The person asking probably doesn't really want to hear a complete and thorough run down....

But, here is a glimpse at what has been going on at the farm the last few days in preparation for the first big winter storm of the season:

Issue Number 1: Wind
For those who don't know - the wind can be a bit more brutal in the country than 'in town.' As a result, we find ourselves looking to move things to locations where they don't disappear over the winter. It's one thing if the wind moves something around in the spring or fall. We're outside ALOT more so notice these things. We also know that there are places in our outbuildings where the wind can reach in and 'grab' things. So, we move things away from those locations.

Issue Number 2: Cold
Any plants or produce must come into the house proper. Roots such as cannas also need to come in. We've had a few things hanging on in the garage up to this point, but it all must move in now. But, don't forget things like paints, glues, batteries, potting soil etc. The house is now a bit cluttered and messy until we get everything settled into some semblance of organization. While we are at it, the cold freezes the chickens water and we have to do something to help them get through it. So, changes are made to their living area that involve heat lamps, water heaters and covers on open windows/doors.

Issue Number 3: Snow
We've learned from prior work that things migrate ALL OVER the farm during the growing season. If left outside, we run the risk of forgetting them and being unable to find them again. Worse yet, we DO find them again with equipment such as a mower or tiller. So, these things need to get under shelter. But, even things like our cages (used to protect lettuce, etc) need to be moved somewhere. We learned last winter that they will sink into the muck under the weight of snow - requiring repairs to nearly all of them. They are on ground that is much more solid this year. OH - and I suppose we should put the snowblower attachment on one of the tractors. After the tiller is removed...

Issue Number 4: Critters
Deer like to beat on trees (especially apples). These all need some sort of fencing protection. And, our remaining seed inventory needs to come in and be protected as well.

Issue Number 5: Frozen Ground
Anything that was left to be done with planting or prepping for winter with respect to crops had to be dealt with. The garlic got a nice hay mulch placed over them. A few rows of lettuce, kale and arugula were identified and covered with low tunnels. The grafted apple trees in pots were sunk into the ground. Remaining root crops were dug. And, stakes were pounded into the ground as needed.

Now that it has snowed, everything will change on the farm to do list. We'll report on that one later.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Learn about the Farm

By way of a "Farm Report"

And - because we are in our 1 year blogaversary....we thought we'd link in a representative list of posts from our blog that might give you a window into what we do on the farm.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A whole year of Genuinely Faux?!?

Really? This is not possible - but there it is. And, just to make the reference seem more tangible - here is a link to our first set of posts in the month of December, 2008.

And, just to celebrate, here are some other things that might be enjoyable to all:

Our TOP TEN POSTS post from September is here. Go take that link and then visit our top ten posts and enjoy. But, pay attention - there is more to this....

Candidates for new "top" posts:
Why make a big deal of this? Well, I'm thinking I'll put a 'Top X' list on the left side of the blog - to be updated about once a year. So - here's where you all come in.

Respond to the blog and VOTE for your TOP THREE blog entries. They can be any of those listed in the old top 'ten' or from these three. OR, if you feel REALLY strongly about something else, include it in your vote. If you don't have an account to post on the blog - send it to us in email at gff@genuinefauxfarm.com

I admit - part of the reason for this is to determine if there is still interest in the blog. And, another reason is that R is going through people interaction withdrawal (no CSA deliveries). But, the biggest reason? It sounds like fun!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

COLD crops

Please note the date. Yes, I am writing this post on the day that it will appear on the blog. So, it is, in fact - December 2.

What did I do today on the farm? Take three guesses and the first two don't count.

Okay, okay, I'll tell you.

I harvested veg today. And, no, we don't have a high tunnel/green house. No, these were not in a cold frame. But, it is a good reminder that crops can hold in the ground for quite some time as long as:

a) the soil temps are above freezing (typically 40 degrees F & up)
b) low 20 degree temps are followed by over freezing temps during the day
c) reasonable amounts of sun and moisture is provided

Our next Waverly Harvest Market is this coming Saturday. So, ideally, I would have liked to have waited to pick until Friday. But, rule (b) is about to be broken (decisively). That makes (c) moot and will certainly change (a) to a lower temp. In short, the crops might not last much longer in the ground.

the most difficult thing about this is the cold temps on hands. I use fingerless gloves because I need to be able to use the full dexterity of my digits. But, as you might guess, the dexterity goes down a bit as I get progressively colder. So, it usually means working for an hour followed by some indoor time to warm up - then back out into it.

Today wasn't too bad until about 3pm - that's when the northwest wind kicked it into gear. It can be a bit difficult to wield a lettuce knife when tears are running down your face (as a result of the cold wind - c'mon now!). Of course, I got smarter and turned my back to the wind - but you can't always face the way you want to.

In any event, I was able to pull in a fair amount of baby lettuce, kale, pok choi and leeks. I also found some smaller turnips and rutabegas and some baby carrots. The surprise was the number of modest sized, but good looking, beets I was able to coax out of the ground. Now, we must work to clean it all and keep it fresh until Saturday. Good thing the garage has become a full-sized walk-in cooler.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


I still believe that Thanksgiving is one of the most relevant and important holidays in the United States. Why? Because it reminds all of us to be grateful for our families, for our friends, for our opportunities and for our lives. Too many of us let day to day events remove the momentary warmth of gratitude, appreciation and contentment and replace it with a numbness that can be the reality of busy lives.

But, let me first clue you in on a secret. I've been composing this blog item for three months now. And, each time I come back to it and am reminded to be thankful, the warmth returns.

What am I thankful for?
  • Parents, family and friends who support what we do and love us for who we are.
  • Seeds that reward our faith in their eventual success by becoming the plant we knew they could be.
  • A partner and best friend with whom I always feel better when we are spending time together than when we are apart.
  • The opportunity to do work that is consistent with what we believe is right.
  • Good friends with whom we can enjoy games, food and, much to their chagrin, work in the fields.
  • Invitations from friends to join them for various events. Thanks for not forgetting us - even though we often have to say 'no.'
  • The support given by CSA members and others who want to see local foods and our farm succeed.
  • A fine group of workers for our 2009 farming season. We hope you know who you are - our thanks for your efforts!
  • The fact that our growing season has cycles - including a 'down' cycle so we can recover from the 'up' cycle.
  • the many local businesses that we need to patronize for ours to be successful - Martzahn's Farm (Greene) for processing poultry, Frantzen Farms (Alta Vista) for feed, Seed Savers (Decorah) for heirloom seed, Roots (Cedar Falls) for a place to distribute CSA shares, Beautiful Land Products (West Branch) for supplies and equipment, K&K Gardens (Hawkeye) for fruit trees and grapes, Bartels (Waverly), Harmony (Waverly), UNI (Cedar Falls) for purchasing produce, Pfile Insurance (Tripoli) for helping us to identify and acquire appropriate policies for the farm and the Waverly Farmers' Market and vendors for allowing us to distribute at their market.
  • Weather that, while not optimal, was sufficient for us to have a decent harvest in 2009.
  • A new roof on the house - thank you Dan Gingerich Construction (Hazelton)
  • Shelves in the truck barn and organization in the granary (thanks Dads)
  • A ton and a half of potatoes - especially the German Butterballs - yum.
  • A full freezer and full cabinets with dried/canned items for the winter.
  • Excellent books, music and movies that provide us with insight, catharsis and humor.
  • Have I mentioned my lovely spouse yet - of course I have! But, I'll do it again. Will you marry me?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Turkey Day!

Happily, nearly every turkey was delivered to its new home prior to Thanksgiving. And, as was expected, the largest bird stayed with us. I say expected, because it is uncommon for people to be willing to take the largest birds off of our hands. Thus, most years, we are left with the largest for our own purposes.

This year, our bird weighed in at 26.75 pounds. We thank you very much "Tom."

To say that we will have leftovers for a while might be a bit of an understatement. But, to be perfectly honest, it is going to take a lot for us to get tired of this one. It would be inaccurate, in my mind, to say that this bird was tasty. It actually was much better than that. Kudos to those who spent time defrosting, preparing and cooking the bird. Yum!

Add to that some German Butterball mashed potatoes, Waltham Butternut squash, frozen sweet corn from a local grower, stuffing made with bread from a local baker, spices from our spice bed, fresh lettuce from the garden and an excellent pumpkin chiffon pie made from a wonderful Long Island Cheese pumpkin. Oh - and homemade kolaches, kringle and rolls. I'm getting full just typing about it.

Even better, we know how the bird was treated, what it ate and how it lived. We know where all of this came from and we know and appreciate the effort of those who grew, raised or created the things we ate. Alot to be thankful for.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Web of Local Foods

We just got a dose of confirmation as to why we have made it a goal to sell all of our produce and poultry products locally (a radius of 50 miles of the farm). And, that confirmation came in the form of our turkey flock that was taken to the processor and is being delivered to those who reserved them. And, we thought it might be nice to remind everyone ELSE how supporting local foods can be a rewarding experience.

  • The boost we received from the support of our buyers is worth more than we can enumerate in any particular units. Certainly dollar signs would be an insult here. Suffice it to say that the positive comments, flexiblity in working with delivery points and times, willingness to discuss options and give feedback, concern for our well-being and success, and the simple fact that we feel valued is enough to fuel us into preparations for next year. You will NOT be able to convince us that we would receive the same support if we shipped birds or produce to all parts of the country. This is truly a local foods experience!
  • We are more motivated than ever to continue to improve how we raise our poultry, handle our egg production and perform as stewards of our vegetable crops. Why? Because the people who consume these products are important to us. We KNOW who you are. We have learned things about you and we wish you well. We WANT to provide you with quality food. It is important to us that we do our best for you.
  • Support of our local food production results in support for a host of other fine individuals in our communities. Consider only the 35 turkeys we just took in for processing. Those who purchased our birds supported our work on the farm, certainly. But, do not forget that you are also supporting the processor, who does a fine job and takes their role in providing fine product seriously. Or, consider the local farmer from whom we buy the organically certified feed. And, of course, consider the individuals we are able to hire as part time workers form local communities. We take the support of those who believe in us and spread that support to other local businesses and individuals in ways that we judge to be best. And guess what? They are interested in our success for the same reason we are concerned about those who buy our product.
We may be a small farm. It may be only one turkey you purchased from us - or one pound of potatoes - or a head of lettuce. But, how many people are positively influenced by your choice to buy something from a local food producer? You might be surprised.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mixed Bag of Feelings

Today was the day we took the turkey flock to the processor. And, for all that R might say things like - "It was about time." and "Thank goodness their gone." - it isn't always all that simple for us on the farm when the turkeys leave for their "trip to the park."

We raise turkeys for the expressed purpose of selling them for meat and consuming some of them ourselves. And, we have absolutely NO problem with doing this as we feel we do our best to treat the birds well and would far rather know that the birds lived well, and were raised in ways that we believe are sustainable and lead to healthier birds (and healthier meat).

And, so, there is a great sense of accomplishment when we finally manage to get the birds to the processor and we can begin to deliver our product to others who want a free range turkey.

We also have come to believe, after a few years of raising our own poultry, that these birds taste better. In fact, it is difficult to wait for the first taste of turkey. So, there is a great amount of anticipation as we wait for the Thanksgiving dinner.

The whole process of raising these birds has its share of worries and cares. They are neither horribly difficult, nor horribly easy to take care of. But, there is still plenty that can go wrong and they do take a good chunk of our time. And, as the birds get closer and closer to the point that we will take them to the processor, the more we realize that there will be great relief in taking them in and getting them to those who will enjoy them for dinner.

But then there is also the part of us that will miss this flock of knock-kneed, tomato rugby playing gobblers who can't help but participate in playground style 'I'm bigger and tougher than you' battles as they mature. So, you have to mix in a little sadness to get a better picture of the actual complexity of our feelings this time of year.

But, predominant in all of this is our sense that we are doing our best to do this the right way and for the right reasons.

Tune in tomorrow - more coming your way on this!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Paper Chase

Ok. That was the title of a pretty cool TV show from some time back. I stole it for my blog post. Sorry.

Many people ask what R does when the growing season winds down.

One thing that happens - I spend more time in the office. And what do I find there?

All of the things that I wanted to do, needed to do and have to do that have not been done during the whole summer. Everyone who has jobs that cycle from hyper-busy down to just busy-enough can appreciate what I am saying here. During the growing season, we hopefully are able to get the bare minimum done in the office. For example, I am proud to say that I managed to keep the checkbook balanced this season. A major accomplishment, but a necessary one.

On the other hand, I have all kinds of notes with recorded pickings, bird weights, sales to bill, grants to write, inquiries to answer, tax papers to complete and file...well, you get the idea. Every time I think I'm getting somewhere, I realize that I really haven't made a whole lot of progress.

And, in the meantime, the weather went and got nice again - so I need to go out and do work outside. Heck, I WANT to go outside. Must be a cat at heart. If you are owned by a cat or know one, you understand.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Signs of the Tines

Yes, a broadfork DOES have tines. It is essentially a metal bar that has pointed metal tines projecting downwards and two ash handles, one each projecting upwards on each side.

The cultivating broadfork I've been using the last couple of days requires the following procedure.
  1. Place tines where you want them on the soil
  2. Step up onto the bar with sufficient downward force to make the tines go into the soil
  3. Either step off and up again or do other movements to get tines into the ground all the way up to the bar.
  4. Step off the bar and walk backward holding onto the handles, making the tines move away from you in the ground.
  5. Walk forward and push the handles forward - making the tines move toward you in the ground.
  6. Bring the handles back to vertical and pull the tines out of the ground.
  7. Step backwards and find a point 8 to 10 inches away from the last point
  8. Rinse and repeat until the row (about 70 feet) is done.
And, the signs of the tines today?

Um, sore feet and various muscles that tell me I've essentially been doing a stair stepper more than I am used to.

If I could only find a way to do each of these tasks every day, or every other day, instead of in these concentrated bursts, I might be able to avoid the sore muscle episodes. Well...maybe not...but one can dream.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Planting, not just for Spring anymore

The weather this weekend was some of the best we have seen for being outdoors in a few weeks. The fields have dried out enough for us to work in them AND it just so happens that we have some work to do. What a nice coincidence!

So, one of the major tasks for the weekend (when we weren't preparing for, being at or cleaning up from the Harvest Market) was to plant our garlic.

Normally, we would like to get our garlic planted in October. But, wet fields and uncooperative weather prohibited that effort. So, here we are in November, hoping to get the garlic in and mulched before the really cold stuff moves in.

Our farm tends to have heavier soils - which is great for moisture retention in dry years. However, it also makes it a bit more difficult for root crops. In order to address this situation, we do things like plant annual rye grass and other cover crops to loosen the soil. However, we have also found that the broadfork also provides excellent aeration for the soil where we intend to plant a root crop. In fact, the potato rows that had a broadfork treatment this Spring did better than the rows that were not broadforked.

For those who don't know what garlic planting entails:
  1. We do a quick till of the row to be planted with our lawn tractor tiller
  2. We use the broadfork to loosen up the soil below the till line WITHOUT turning the soil over
  3. We do a slow till of the row to make a fine seed bed for planting
  4. We split the garlic heads into individual cloves for planting
  5. We plant the garlic cloves in the bed three wide for the entire 70 foot row. There would be approximately 700 cloves in one row.
  6. We mulch the garlic rows.
Well, we planted five and a half rows of garlic this weekend, so somewhere in the neighborhood of 3800 cloves in the ground. Just a little more planting and then we need to get the mulch so these are covered for winter.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Hoorah for Harvest Market

Yesterday (Saturday) was the first ever Harvest Farmers' Market in Waverly. The venue was the City Hall/Civic Center Building in the community room and the time was the standard 8:30-11:30 time slot the Waverly Market has used for the past few years.

Yes, we did hold a table at the market and we were pleased to see people coming to support all of the local vendors. Thank you to everyone who took the time to come inside and visit and to purchase some of the wonderful items that could be found there. The only difficulty was the fact that the weather was gorgeous. Doesn't that figure? We had trouble with having decent days for many of our markets this year. So, we schedule one inside and the weather is beautiful.

Rather than focus on what we brought to the market and how sales were, we just wanted to point out the value and quality of the items we found. In fact, we did our fair share of buying.

What did we buy?
  • Honey comb (yum) $6
  • 2 bags (of 9) of two types of apples: $6
  • 2 medium sized loaves of fresh french bread: $7
  • an angelfood cake $4
  • honey $4
  • maple syrup (2 jars) $20
For under $50 we came away with some of the best tasting produce you can find. And, several of these things (honey, maple syrup) will last for some time. The apples give us 7 to 9 days of healthy snacks. The honey comb will last for some time as a nice treat. The bread will go away within a few days, but will still be served over the course of four meals. The cake is dessert for several days. And, even better, we know who harvested or created these things.

Now, assume for a second that we also were there for produce. We could also have come away with winter squash, pumpkins, onions, leeks, parsnips, daikon radish, potatoes, pok choi, kale, green onion and some other things I can't remember at the moment.

If you needed meat, there was bison, chicken and duck available. And, of course, there were baked goods that ranged from bread to pastries to cakes.

Looking for Christmas gifts? There was fine, hand-made jewelry, placemats, decorations and numerous other items.

What a great opportunity for everyone in the area! Our thanks to NIFFP for sponsoring this event, for the city of Waverly for providing the community room and to all who allowed posters to be put up and spread word that this market was going to happen.

We'll be back the first Saturday in December. Don't miss it!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Riding the Rails

Some time ago in our blog, we wrote about including games - and specifically Ticket to Ride - as part of our evening 'cool down' from a day of work at school or in the fields.

Happily, we can report that we have been able to play a number of games in the evenings - even after some pretty long days of work. We still enjoy Ticket to Ride very much. And, since the writing of that blog entry, we treated ourselves to the US and Europe versions. So, we have those in addition to Nordic Countries.

The good news: the games aren't getting old
The bad news: the games aren't getting old

A great thing about it is that these games are pretty simple to learn the rules, but they have layers of complexity that come from the graph theory applied to them. And, T & I are getting pretty good at running through a 2 person game very quickly. That means we can still get a bit of a game in even if we have much to do in the evening. I don't remember who won last night's game, but I do know it took no more than 15 minutes (probably less) to play. And, no, we weren't rushed. And, yes, we did enjoy the game. But - T had grading to do, so it was nice to be able to still do something for fun without paying too much in consequences.

Another part of this is that purchasing a game can give you access to the online game version, where you can play other people from all over the world. There are people on there that have played thousands (and even more than 10,000) online TTR games. Yoiks!

We also know the saying about curiosity and cats, don't we? Well, the online community advertised a 'multi-player' tournament (4 or 5 player games). R was curious. He asked if he could join. There were minimum rankings required to play (and a min of 1000 games played online!). Uh, right. Think we need an exception here if R plays. After some debate, I was allowed into the fray.

I now have an understanding as to how good these people are...and how, well, not as good I am. I finished a resounding last in the first two games (out of 13) that I played. I have since played four more and added another last place finish. Not bad, being last three of six times! On the other hand, I shocked myself (and probably my opponents) by winning a four person game and finishing second in a four and a five person game.

Fun people, interesting concept. Will I move on to the second round? ha! Reread the paragraph above.

Will T or R win the next contest at home? Flip a coin! Besides, we still play the game a bit like the cartoon characters Mac and Tosh and gin rummy.

"Do you mind if I gin?"
"Oh no, please do so."
"Thank you so very much"
"You are most welcome."
"Very well, GIN!"
"Well done indeed."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Heirloom "Rebuttal" (part 2)

The following is a continued discussion spurred on by the article cited in the post immediately below this one. Article in quotes and italic. My responses follow in standard type and in red-brown.

The other parts of this series can be found here: Part one and Part three


"Weak and Wimpy The selection of these traits has taken a toll on the heirloom's hardiness: They are often plagued by fungal infections that cause the fruit to crack, split and otherwise rot quickly. Wild plants must continuously evolve to fend off natural pathogens, points out Roger Chetelat of the Tomato Genetics Resource Center at the University of California, Davis. But in their quest for size, shape and flavor, humans have inadvertently eliminated defensive genes. As a result, most possess only a single disease-resistance gene."

Ah, but here's part of what rubs me so wrong with this article and its tone and premise. I'll try to make this concise.
  • Attacking heirlooms exclusively is a mistake. Most current hybridized tomatoes have to work with the same 'limited' set of genes. Also, these have had the same misfortune of having been selected by humans who are just now learning about other genes in a related 'primitive' ancestor plant.
  • It would be inaccurate to assume that all open-pollinated seed sources were selected only for size, shape and flavor. Only if you look at history from a modern lens might you think this. In my book, seed would be selected for reliability and production if I needed these plants to produce and be part of the resource that fed my family all winter long.
  • If a variety is maintained from season to season in a region by families/farmers and they continue to select for the healthiest plants, would it not stand to reason that there is at least some allowance for evolution to fend off pathogens?
  • I will not argue that many heirlooms do have problems with splitting and cracking. But, I will argue against the claim that hybrids do not do so. At this point, the argument against heirloom/open-pollinated cultivars is one-dimensional here - we are forgetting other factors...

"Perhaps that's the price to pay for a good, flavorful fruit? Hardly, Chetelat says, because the heirlooms' taste may have less to do with its genes than with the productivity of the plant and the growing environment. Any plant that sets only two fruits, as heirlooms typically do, is bound to produce juicier, sweeter and more flavorful fruit than varieties that set 100, as commercial types do. Plus, heirlooms are sold ripened on the vine, a surefire way to get tastier results than allowing them to mature on the shelf."

And here are some of those other factors, disguised somewhat as an indictment against heirlooms.

  • Taste tests on our part have shown that people can tell a difference between different types of heirloom tomatoes grown in the same environment). Was it a scientifically solid study? No. But, good enough to start the argument.
  • Does the growing environment impact flavor? Yes. Now we are beginning to get somewhere. There is a diverse set of circumstances that go into growing food.
  • Does the production level of a plant impact taste? Maybe. There is a study that has shown that limiting the number of fruit on a plant seems to increase the nutritional value per fruit. Or, more accurately, that by trying to maximize production on one plant, the nutritional value per fruit is lower.
  • Ripened on the vine vs on the shelf. Well, there you have it. Sounds like an argument for small, diverse farms and local foods to me - rather than one against heirlooms.
  • Do heirlooms typically set two fruit per plant? This deserves a bit more response:

First, fruit SET is not the same as fruit PRODUCTION. And, production is not the same as SALABLE PRODUCT. A fruit is said to set once it is successfully pollinated and the fruit begins to grow. This does NOT imply that the fruit will reach maturity. Fruit that reach maturity do not necessarily receive the grade by the producer to be salable. Many are determined to be CULLS and can then be selected for use as feed for animals, compost or sold as 'juicing' specials. Salable produce is often graded, with the highest grades going to the fruit that typically looks the best and has the most uniform characteristics - something a retail operation typically prefers.

That said, the article might be more correct in saying that there ARE heirloom varieties that may only give you two top grade salable tomatoes per plant. This is especially true if you do not irrigate to keep moisture consistent. For example, Tasty Evergreen is notorious for splitting due to variability in available water. Even worse is the fact that they are thin-skinned and often split in transport. On the other hand, Roman Candle fruits rarely have a problem and plants average 70-100 unblemished, top rating yellow romas (paste tomatoes) on our farm.

But, even that is an unfair comparison. A large, green tomato versus a smaller yellow roma being compared by count is silly. But, so is assuming that all heirlooms produce at low levels. Think of it this way. We plant about 450 plants per season (now all heirloom). If they produced only 2 per plant, we would have only 900 to give to our CSA and/or sell. To make this easier, we'll assume each fruit is one-half pound in size to account for different varieties. That gives us 450# of tomatoes if we accept the assumption given here.

So, explain why my back is sore after lifting in the neighborhood of 3500 pounds of tomatoes, not counting snack and cherry types? And this is with some varieties doing poorly (by our definition) this year.

Is this 100 per plant? No. Does this count culls? No. Could we have done better if we had the labor/outlet for more? Yes. Was this an average year? No, it was low given a cooler season.

But, consider the 100 per plant number cited in the article. This is not likely to be a good average for all types of tomato used in commercial production for the same reasons I argue about the lumping of all heirlooms together.

If you want to make a case, you need to use facts with some integrity, otherwise the argument becomes suspect even if it has merit.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Heirloom "Rebuttal" (part 1)

The following is a critique of the contents found in the article cited below: ======================== Article name: How to Grow a Better Tomato: The Case against Heirloom Tomatoes

By Brendan Borrell in Scientific American, March 30, 2009

Article in quotes and italic. My responses follow in standard type and in red-brown.

The other parts of this discussion can be found here (Part two and Part three). 


"Famous for their taste, color and, well, homeliness, heirloom tomatoes tug at the heartstrings of gardeners and advocates of locally grown foods. The tomato aficionado might conclude that, given the immense varieties—which go by such fanciful names as Aunt Gertie's Gold and the Green Zebra—heirlooms must have a more diverse and superior set of genes than their grocery store cousins, those run-of-the-mill hybrid varieties such as beefsteak, cherry and plum."

Already, we can see where this is going. The whole article reminds me of the TV commercials that show people struggling mightily with the 'old' way of doing things - then smiling while they use the wonderful new product.

"No matter how you slice it, however, their seeming diversity is only skin-deep: heirlooms are actually feeble and inbred—the defective product of breeding experiments that began during the Enlightenment and exploded thanks to enthusiastic backyard gardeners from Victorian England to Depression-era West Virginia. Heirlooms are the tomato equivalent of the pug—that "purebred" dog with the convoluted nose that snorts and hacks when it tries to catch a breath."

And, there it is. Oh, the woeful state of humanity. We struggle so! But, the reality is that the author already shows little effort in checking background and history.

  1. A number of the 'heirloom and hertitage' varieties grown were actually developed by professional or academic seed producers. One cultivar we grow, Wisconsin 55, was developed at the University of Wisconsin in, well, 1955. In this case, I call these 'heritage' tomatoes since they usually have a commercial background. Oh, those silly, hick, backyard gardeners...who happen to sell seed across the nation.... Woe upon them!
  2. Before one denigrates origins, one might want to consider the options available to the people who maintained heirloom seed. I'm sorry, but my forebears didn't necessarily have the money to buy or the time to wait for seed mailed to them each Spring. Do you suppose they were clever enough to save seed for the next year? Oh, those sad, sad people - forced to figure out that you can save seed and use it the next season. Alas for them!
  3. And, what did people select for? Production, taste and plant vitality typically. How naive of them to select seed from the plants that looked healthiest, produced the best fruit and responded with consistency from year to year! How could they be so blind?
  4. Comparing the highly selective, and perhaps misguided breeding of Pugs and other dogs for shows is far form the point. Why does the Aunt Ruby's German Green exist? Well, a family maintained a seed line over the years because they liked to grow it. In many cases, the line changed because they selected for the best plants and fruit.
  5. In other cases, backyard hobbyists, seed companies and scholars tried to create hybrids of existing strains that produced something new - and that would create seed that would consistently continue to produce in that fashion. If they succeeded - it produced - it tasted good - it handled the elements and diseases well enough - then it continued. Standard principles of natural selection at work - even if artificialized by humanity. They maintained attractive features to those that would see to their continued existence.
So - what were those key features again?
  1. The produced consistently enough to be attractive to those that wanted to grow them as a food source.
  2. The fruit had a taste that was attractive to those who ate the fruit.
  3. The plants were healthy and vital so that they could produce in their environment. Those that were able to adapt to wider environments typically maintained a popularity longer with larger seed companies
  4. The plants produced seed that could reliably recreate this gene pattern for future generations of the plant.

"The irony of all this," says Steven Tanksley, a geneticist at Cornell University, "is all that diversity of heirlooms can be accounted for by a handful of genes. There's probably no more than 10 mutant genes that create the diversity of heirlooms you see." But rather than simply debunking a myth about the heirloom’s diversity, Tanksley's deconstruction of the tomato genome, along with work by others, is showing how an unassuming berry from the Andes became one of the world's top crops. Genetics work will also point the way to sturdier, more flavorful tomatoes—albeit hybrid varieties whose sterile seeds cannot be passed down from generation to generation but must be purchased anew by growers each season.

And there it is! The brand new thing that saves us all from drudgery! Hybrid tomatoes using genetic genome mapping to determine what we want in our plants for production. In a way, I feel for Steven Tanksley as I wonder how much the author understood what he might be trying to say. But, read on.

"Tanksley concludes from his analyses that, in their effort to make bigger, tastier and faster-growing fruit, our ancestors ultimately exploited just 30 mutations out of the tomato’s 35,000 genes. Most of these genes have only small effects on tomato size and shape, but last May in Nature Genetics Tanksley and his colleagues reported that they found a gene they dubbed fasciated that bumps up fruit size by 50 percent."

Tanksley does go on to say a second gene has something to do with fruit size. Now, let me ask this question. If there are a couple of genes in the whole tomato genome that govern size of fruit. What will a geneticist do to increase fruit size? You got it! So, what do you suppose our poor, hapless, stupid, backyard growers were taking advantage of with their natural hybridization? No, it couldn't be that....

"Besides size, tomato farmers also selected for shape. To discover those genes, Esther van der Knaap, a Tanksley alumnus now at The Ohio State University, says she went straight for the heirlooms (...) She plucked a gene called SUN from one heirloom tomato and inserted it into a wild relative. As a result, the tiny fruits bulged like pears, a remarkable makeover that made the cover of the journal Science last March.SUN's effect dwarfs that of another shape gene called OVATE—yet another Tanksley discovery—and both seem to have been nurtured in Europe in the last several hundred years to ease mechanical harvesting and processing."

Yes, those same, less than diverse heirlooms that are so awful...so non-diverse...so inbred. The geneticists went there to identify the genes that provided the characteristics that provide the outward diversity the humans have found useful or attractive. I suspect if you took the time to do so - a geneticist would point out that a relatively small number of genes have something to do with characteristics of any living being that are easily distinguished by unaided senses. And, thus we have some of the diversity we appreciate...and use.

======== Part II at some later date. ++++++++

Monday, November 2, 2009

So That's Where That Went!

This blog entry is brought to you courtesy of my brain.

Yes, the slightly addled, bemused and amused brain that has been taking note of things the last couple of days that are being 'refound' as a result of 'end of growing season' tasks.

Case in point. We knew we had an additional clipboard and some laminated signs to be used for farmers' markets. They were needed back in, oh, August and September. Could they be located at that time? No. Could we identify the perfect spot where they had been placed so we wouldn't have trouble locating them at that time? No. Is it likely that we buried them deeper in an effort to locate them? Right on three.

It gets better. I can now remember very clearly the thought process that went into selecting this location. I can even remember many of the events of that day, etc. Neat. But, unhelpful.

I think I'll put these things back where I found them. I can amuse myself next November relocating them again.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Farm Research Ideas for 2010

We are already considering what kinds of trials we will be running in 2010.

In 2009, most of our trials had to do with cultivars (vegetable varieties). For example, Jaune Flamme tomatoes were a success. And, we performed some trials on lettuce transplants that were clearly successful. There were also trials involving broadforking areas for potatoes that yielded interesting results. We're always trying new things and always learning things as we perform these trials. Sometimes what we learn is that we can't manage to complete many of these trials!

One result of 2008 & 2009 trials is that we have concluded that we will not adopt the cattle panel trellising technique for a number of our tomato plants for varieties with larger tomatoes. We will stick with our cages for varieties. However, we are sold on cattle panels for our snack tomatoes. Part of this has to do with labor management. We know how to optimize caging to what we have for labor resources. It works well enough for what we do and we don't currently see opportunity to take advantage of other methods.

Trials in 2010 will focus on vine crops.
  1. Young transplants vs direct seeding. With two cool years in a row that push longer season vine crops to mature in time, we're looking for something to get things going a bit faster. But, more than that, we're trying to get the plants past the two/three-leaf stage before the cucumber beetles get there to girdle the plants. So, this is one of our trials.
  2. Remay covers vs no cover. This material can be used to keep the heat in and to keep the pests out. Studies have shown that this may be the only non-spray approach that shows promise for controlling vine crop pests. But, studies have been far from conclusive. So, we'll try it ourselves to see if we can manage using the covers AND if we can, we will see if they work enough to be worth the effort.
  3. Undersown cover crops versus cultivation versus mulch. We can only weed so much. So, options are using wheel hoes & tillers to cultivate the soil periodically, planting a low growing cover in between rows that out competes the weeds - but coexists with vine crops, or putting some sort of mulch over the bare soil.
  4. Compost application versus no compost application. Ideally, we might like to put compost in all fields that are going to grow vine crops. But, we don't have the compost to reach the ideal at this time. So, we will look to see how we can use this resource most efficiently with the best results - all the while making sure we follow organic standards for application.
  5. Flower companions. We like to include flowers intermixed with our vine plantings to attract pollinators and to attract predator insects that might reduce the pests. In particular, we are looking at studying nasturtium, marigold, borage and zinnia as companions.
  6. Irrigation trials. Over the last couple of years, there has been little need to irrigate. And, we tend to limit irrigation out of principle. However, we believe that some controlled moisture at certain points of development might significantly increase production of certain vine crops. So, we intend to find out if this is worth the effort to do from our perspectives - and from a sustainability standpoint.
This is our summary for this type of crop. Want to know more? Ask us and we'll happily flood you with details!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Jeff Vader Pyre

Not everyone knows of Jeff Vader. Jeff was the cottonwood that resided on the northwest corner of the farm when we first moved here. In fact, here is a picture.

This shows the tree after it was struck by lightning. Two-thirds of the tree is down at this point. Well, that two-thirds has been sitting in a pile out in the northwest pasture for a few years. Well, the grass around it can't be wetted down any more than it is! So, we lit the pile on fire this weekend. While it never really leapt into flame, it has smoldered for a few days and there is much less of Jeff than there was. When the tree was still standing, a bald eagle would periodically visit. Alas for Jeff, we hardly knew ye.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Farm Report - End of October

It might seem a bit strange to put a farm report out here for this time of year. But, it is no less valid now than it is in August. Here are some things that are going on at the farm at this time:

All of our turkeys are spoken for at this time. They will be processed on November 13 and delivery will be arranged as we approach that date.
Of our 194 chickens, 175 have been spoken for. So, there are a few left! We were happy with the way this batch dressed out. Much better than the Spring group.
There are two ducks still available at this time. One is 6.5 lbs and one is 7 lbs.
Some of the young laying hens are beginning to provide us with a few eggs. We're hopeful that we will have more eggs than we know what to do with at some point in the not too distant future.

Fall Planting:
Yes, you read that correctly. There are things we need to plant in the Fall. The problem? It's been way too wet to do any such thing. Typically, we try to put in our garlic for next year prior to November 1st. That will be a challenge this year. Actually, we should just make the call and say that it won't happen. Not with the rain forecast for the second part of the week. Also, we typically are looking to put in cover crops. Well, we've been looking to do that now for several weeks. Same problem. We were also thinking about doing a pre-freeze planting of some short season crops (like spinach) to give them an early start next Spring. We'll see.

Fall Harvest:
The earlier cold weather forced the harvest of all of our winter squash and (as reported before) we have had to move them around from building to building. All of the potatoes are now in - and we can report that we picked a ton of potatoes. Literally. Well, more like 2300 pounds.

The intervals of rain and wind have made it impossible to put covers over our lettuce/pok choi. As a result, the plants continue to live - but not really grow. You may see a theme starting to take hold here.

Motivational Issues:
As our CSA customers (especially our Thus group) can attest. It has been cold, rainy and windy during distributions the last several weeks. Extrapolate that a bit and you might realize that this means R (and helpers) have done numerous bits of work on the farm while it was, well, cold, rainy and windy. Unfortunately, this led to a session with antiobiotics for a sinus infection.

Put difficult conditions together with not feeling one's best and you have motivational issues! But, some things are still getting done around the farm.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Our Raingauge Runneth Over...

Everywhere we walk is a puddle. That usually means we've gotten ALOT of rain over a fairly short period of time. My curiosity got the better of me, so I waded out to the raingauge. The gauge that measures up to 5 inches of rain.

It was a quarter inch away from full. hmmmm.

Granted, I think I forgot to empty it after the last rain. But, remember, the last rain was just last week. But, I think that much rain might explain the number of clothing changes required the last couple/few weeks.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Lost My Groove

Beware the grooooooove! (reference "Emperor's New Groove" - appropriately silly animated movie)

I always forget the power of the groove that I get into during the harvesting season. From August until the first hard frost, my job consists of picking one crop or another in an effort to keep up with them AND get them distributed properly. I also get used to having people on the farm on certain days and there is usually a great deal of activity.

Clearly, we have had a hard frost. Ok, we had a deep freeze. Things look tremendously different on the farm now. The green that was the pepper/eggplant plot is now brown dotted with spots of red and yellow. Clearly nothing more to pick there.

The green beans are now brown and gelatinous. Ok, no picking that either.

Where are the summer squash? The zucchini? Weren't they right here? Yep. Operative on the past tense.

There is still plenty to do around here. So, that isn't the problem. The problem is that I've been doing things at a high rate of speed for several weeks. And the need to rush to bring in the harvest is no longer there.

So, as I was trying to prepare for the CSA distribution today, I felt a little bit lost. I caught myself walking out to one plot at my normal fast walk - until I saw the peppers. Then, I caught myself meandering and looking at the 'carnage.' Talk about gawker slowdowns!

A little bit later, I had this strange feeling. I couldn't put a finger on it. Then I had it! I was not walking quickly. My pace was more evocative of a .... stroll(?), mosey(?!) or some other such thing a fair bit less than a speed walk... as I headed out to pick the kale. After a moment of guilt, I kicked it back into gear again.

Better get back into a groove of a different kind! While I might be allowed to slow the walking pace a little bit, there is still much to do. Maybe I'll just hop to it? That would be a sight.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What Does Cold Weather Mean on the Farm?

The sudden change to colder weather even surprised the trees. Have you noticed that a number of trees that were covered with leaves just a few days ago are bare? Without even changing from green to another color first!

The change in the weather alters our working order on the farm dramatically. For example, R begins to pick pepper rows completely rather than figuring out what is needed for a distribution and selecting for that need.

Another thing that requires adjustment is how CSA distribution days are handled. If you add a cold rain and wind to the mix, it gets even more interesting. First, the cooler weather means picked items (such as peppers) will keep nicely in the outbuildings and be quite fresh even if picked the previous day. So, if Monday is relatively nice and predictions for Tuesday show wet weather, R will pick as much as can be picked on Monday.

We try to work around the rain a bit more when temps are lower. It is one thing to get drenched in August and quite another to be soaked with temps in the 40's. It can still happen, but we try to keep workers out of it until it is absolutely necessary. There are many other things that can be done under some shelter - cleaning onions, loading containers with squash or potatoes, trimming the (not so) greens off of turnips, etc. And, if people must get wet, we try to have that happen as close to the point they can get inside and dried off as we can.

The recent dip into the low 20's required even more work that we usually anticipate for early to mid October. We don't always have all of the squash pulled in by now. Most of our potatoes are in the truck barn, the harvested squash are usually just outside that building. Onions are still in the truck barn, as is garlic. The truck barn does not hold alot of heat - especially with the wide open east door.

I expect you might see where all of this is going?

Ya, we had to pull in all of the winter squash to avoid them freezing in the field. We did that Friday night. We also pulled in the squash to the truck barn for Friday night. We tried to pull in other things that needed bringing in, but felt pretty good about how we would handle a low of 28... even though it hit 26 that night.

Maybe you see the next thing?

Yeah. Saturday night's prediction for a low around 20. That means the truck barn is no longer sufficient shelter for all of the squash, potatoes, etc etc. So we moved all of that bulk into our garage. If you don't quite appreciate this. Consider the fact that our harvest of squash was in the neighborhood of 1000 squash. Yes, some have been distributed. But, not that many. We also had in the neighborhood of 500 lbs of potatoes to move (probably a bit more).

Oh - and then there was the matter of crops we felt were ok with Friday's low - but we were nervous about Saturday's low. So, we pulled in more onions, some turnips, rutabegas, etc. They had to go somewhere too... How about the garage? Right.

Never a dull moment on the farm!


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Ou est Octobre?

Have any of you seen October out there recently? We haven't.

"normal" temps for October 11 are 65 degrees Fahrenheit for a high and 40 for a low.

We might have hit 40 for a high today - and likely didn't get there yesterday.

It turned out that R's prediction of October 4 for the first frost was fairly accurate with a very light frost on the farm that night that did little damage. Of course, the okra might beg to differ on that one. Usually, there is some nice weather after a first frost. Not this time.

Friday night got down to 26 on the farm. Saturday night down to 21.

For the uninitiated - most lettuce can handle temps to 24 degrees F. So, last night's low was a definite push. The plants look a little ragged, but have survived so far. We're waiting for the "normal" fall weather to return so we can get this last batch of lettuce matured....

Actually, it would be nice to stand outside for a CSA distribution and not feel quite so chilly one more time. Guess we're paying for all of that nice August-Sept weather!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Fall without GF7?

The annual fall festival - GF7 is canceled for this Saturday. We will let you know if we will be able to reschedule this event.

A combination of events, including a very low number of positive RSVPs and weather that will likely be wetter, cooler and windier than most people would enjoy for an event such as this, has led us to this decision. We will take a look at extended forecasts and review available dates for a possible 'redeux.'

R & T
Genuine Faux Farm

For more information about GF7 - go here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Going Out With A...

Bang or a Wimper?

Which will it be in 2009?

To answer this question, we approached Bob, the flock manager and resident rooster for his opinion. Bob's response is below:

"Clearly, if people around here just listened to me, things would run much more smoothly. But, since I can see that my opinion will be ignored, I will wash my wings of the whole matter."

Since we didn't really feel this answered the question, we approached Doughboy, one of the farm managers and resident cats for his opinion:

"Skritch just a little bit higher. Ya, right there. No, a little lower....lower.... now, to the left a little. Wait! Why'd you quit?"

Again, our investigative reporting came up empty. Since the flowers we saw were mum(s), we walked past them and requested an audience with Kevin the Red (our Bourbon Red turkey):

"Tomatoes! You're bringing tomatoes! I know it! They've got to be there somewhere. Where are the tomatoes?! You didn't bring any tomatoes?! Tomatoes! You're bringing tomatoes! I know...."

Deciding that an infinite loop was not going to help with our quest, we walked past DB....

"....skritch me some more? please? Just a little bit..."

And past Bob...

"...if anyone around here would just ask, I'd tell them...."

...then went and picked some squash.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The CSA Prep Dance

Tuesdays and Thursdays, in particular, are very full days that usually require motion for most of the day. For your enjoyment, we present to you the merry-go-round that is one of these days! *

6:00 Get up
6:10 Stretch, shower, wonder why the sun is not yet up (see prior post about the sun)
6:30 T typically will make biscuits, muffins or some such thing - bless her!
6:30 Feed cats & fish
6:45 Feed & water ducks, hens, broilers, turkeys
7:15 Figure out day's tasks - post on board for workers
7:20 Determine pick amounts needed for distribution
7:30 Pack up flats with peppers, summer squash and zucchini picked yesterday afternoon
7:30 If Tues, send T on her way to school. If Thu - send her on her way about 10.
7:40 Gather potatoes, onions, garlic (already picked) for distribution
7:45 Locate scales, bags, market box, signs, etc for distribution day and get them to truck
8:00 Prep for worker arrival - set out tools, gather containers, set up tables, etc.
8:15 check tractor fuel, oil, etc.
8:30 Arrival of 1 to 3 workers (depending on Tue/Thu)
8:45 Pick Lettuce - R (note to self - that knife is really sharp, check for all fingers every so often)
8:45 Pick beans - work crew (with T on Thu)
8:55 Hydrocool lettuce
9:10 Pick kale and/or chard
9:20 hydrocool kale and/or chard (check again for fingers, they're getting numb in that water!)
9:30 pick beets and/or turnips
10:15 hydrocool/wash beets/turnips
10:30 pick eggplant - one worker to weighing/bagging beans
11:15 pick hot peppers/sweet peppers
11:30 worker lunch break
11:45 load flats into truck picked thus far
12:15 lunch break (hopefully)
12:45 pick tomatoes
1:00 worker returns - cleans beets/turnips, bundles kale/chard, packs lettuce (she's a really good worker!)
1:30 pick snack tomatoes
2:00 pick okra or basil or other items
2:25 uh oh - look at the time- roll carts back to truck as fast as possible
2:30 load truck up rest of the way, worker (thank you B!) always seems to have most everything ready to go. Play "tetris" and get it all in the truck.
2:45 Rapidly put away any tools, tractors, laundry, etc that we would be very disappointed in finding outside if a freak storm should arrive. Don't laugh, we learn from experience.
2:55 Run around and find anything that has not yet gone in the truck. Change into clean clothing. Oops, don't forget the eggs, R!
3:00 Get out of Dodge - try to make calculations for distribution amounts for produce that did not come out with desired numbers in the pick.
3:30-3:50 (depending on location) park the truck and try to set speed records for setup. (current record is 11 minutes - including pop up tent set up (3:27) , four tables, produce out and labeled)
3:30-6 or 4-6:30 - keep produce trays full, answer questions and watch people walk away with yummy produce.
6 or 6:30 - Determine produce to donate to Food Bank or Cedar Valley Friends of the Family.
6:10 or 6:40 - Pack up/reload truck
6:30 or 7:00 - Load ourselves into truck
Upon return - "Lock down" birds for the night (ducks, hens, broilers and turkeys) - hopefully everyone is where they are supposed to be - if not, we have more to do.
Take critical items out of the truck and put them away.
Close up buildings, make sure water sources are off, check mail, etc.
9:30 - play a game if we are both able to count the number of fingers being held up by the other person at this point.
10:20 Set alarm
10:30 We don't usually remember what happens at 10:30

* note - this schedule assumes a day that is generally well-organized. don't assume you'll catch us exactly on this schedule any given day!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

As farmers, we reserve the right to complain about the weather. That's what we are supposed to do - at least that's what I'm told. However, you do have to consider that those who work with growing things and work outside will, by their very nature, be a bit preoccupied with the weather. So, forgive us our preoccupations and we will do what we can to avoid harping about it!

Now, onto other things.

The weather (oops) has actually been pretty good for a number of crops this season. We may not be getting bumper crops of most things, but we have been getting a steady stream of produce from a number of sources for fairly long periods of time.

Case in point: Summer Squash and Zucchini

Typically, the first crops of these die out and are removed from the garden by now. This year has been different. We've gotten rain and dry periods at the right times to help these vines survive into September. And, while they've never really swamped us as these crops tend to do, they've produced at a reasonable level since July.

A normal productive period for one planting is about 32 days. If you include the slower introductory production and the stragglers at the end, you might expect 42 days. This year, our longest surviving summer squash crop is still producing after 70 days of production. Nothing extraordinary, but enough good fruit and plant health to keep checking them.

There have been numerous reports by other farmers' market vendors and local gardeners that their zucchini and summer squash plants do not want to quit either. But, consider this - the extreme temperature swings we often have over a summer didn't really occur. Yes, it was cooler than normal for quite a stretch - but we didn't go from 90 and humid to 65 and dry and back again within a week.

The more we do this, the more we realize we'll never have it all figured out. That makes it worth putting for the the effort to learn as much as we can.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Looking Familiar?

For those who have been members of our CSA for the last two years: Yes, you are seeing more eggplant this year.

For those who are new this year: Yes, there are more eggplant than there has been in prior years.

First things first - last year was a particularly dismal year for crops such as...well...eggplant. And, this year is actually, in our minds, more of a normal eggplant harvest level. And perhaps, a bit better than most years.

We just picked our 1500th eggplant for the season. No, I didn't make a typo there. If you want to celebrate - have some eggplant parmesan or ratatouille.

For those who care or may have a slight interest. Here are some production facts at GFF. Note that we increased the number of plants between 2006 and 2007, but have held relatively steady since. We *did* increase plants this year because we didn't want to kill a bunch that didn't sell. However, they haven't really figured in the production.

Year weeks total production
2006 12 792
2007 14 1474
2008 11 417
2009 9* 1502*

* season not completed

A typical year finds the first harvestable eggplant around July 27. We start our peak mid-August and will run at peak until first frost. If plants are covered during a frost and temperatures rebound (as they tend to do for a week or two in Iowa) plants will recover and have a 'mini-peak' before a killing freeze (or the farmer/gardener declares an end to the season).

Friday, September 25, 2009

No! Come Back!

We're noticing it more each and every day on the farm.

The sun. It isn't there like it used to be.

Neither of us are truly 'morning people.' We don't get up at 4 AM or even 5 AM as people seem to think all who farm must do. But, we get up early enough and we stay up late enough and that's just the way it is.

But, we have come to rely (perhaps too much) on the rising sun to help get us out of bed in the morning. This can lead to some pretty early mornings in June and July. But, Mr. Sun does tend to help with the process.

Part of the issue is that the lack of light earlier in the day actually shortens the amount of time we have to get work done. And, yet, deadlines for things such as...oh...CSA distributions remain the same. Hm. Sounds like the standard 'get more done in less time' scenario. And, R quit working in a software 'sweatshop' some time ago... Odd that it would come back home to roost in a new way.

Maybe we need to get a giant 'light box' for the whole farm?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Well, they've arrived.

We call them the cacophony - a large flock of migrating red-winged blackbirds and other birds that land in our oak trees and the large maple tree. While sitting at the tops of these trees, they sing their songs...all at once...and not synchronized. Wow.

Every once in a while, something spooks the whole flock. They stop singing and in the relative silence you can here the 'whoosh' of their wings as they take off.

Just thought you'd all like to know.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Uh oh! Out of Posts!

The storehouse of posts that I could either quickly edit (to make them look more timely - oops, I shouldn't divulge my secrets!) or were 'timeless' in their very nature....is depleted.

When in doubt - give a quick farm report!

Water! *gasp*: It's gotten dry out here and the ground is quite hard in places. So, a little rain would certainly be nice. things aren't showing too much stress as of yet, so we have time. In many cases, it doesn't matter so much anymore....

Eggplant for everyone: the eggplant are entering peak week right now. And, the peak is similar to what we expect from prior years. the peak is about 10 days behind normal, but that's not a big issue. We're especially happy to see some of our varieties such as Pintung Long, Casper and Rosa Bianca entering into the festivities.

Lettuce: The current crop is peaking a bit faster than we wanted with the warmer/dryer weather. But, it looks great and has very good taste. We are transplanting the newest crop into the ground this week.

Summer Squash/Zucchini: I keep wanting to call the season done on these - but they keep plugging along. Not in amounts that overwhelm, but enough to keep putting them in CSA shares. Can't really complain. However - warning to everyone. We put in a late crop in hopes of getting some fresh summer squash/zucchini at the tail end of the season. We knew it was a stretch - but this weather has encouraged those plants. If we can get through some of the cool nights coming up next week.....

Tomatoes: The peak has lasted a bit longer than expected, but I suspect there may be a rapid decline in what we can get to everyone in the next week. There may be some surprises, but we're not holding our collective breath on this. The purple/black tomatoes are already done. typical for them - but they are worth the efforts. The yellows, per the norm will go longer than most. the standard reds may be the surprise. We shall see. Cherry tomatoes are mostly done due to late blight. Ah well.

Green beans: They keep going. We'll try and keep them picked, but we're not sure how much longer we can keep up.

Peppers: Excellent peppers coming in right now. We're trying to give the CSA some nice variability from distribution to distribution. One constant is likely the Jimmy Nardello's Frying Pepper - those produce enough for us to include them nearly every week for a time. Hot peppers are producing reasonably well, so they should show up for another few weeks (barring a surprise hard frost).

Arugula & radish: are being seeded this week. Just about right for the last couple weeks of distribution in October!

Pok Choi: just transplanted. These should be ready in mid/late October.

Basil: We'll keep trying to get it to you as long as it lasts. Light frosts typically end the basil season.

Okra: Yes, these are starting to produce. They will stop abruptly when night time temps get to 36 degrees. Unless the microclimate they are in protects them...

Potatoes: Still have to dig the All Blues and German Butterballs. (about 480 row feet). Rain would help because the soil has gotten VERY hard. Thanks to Denis for hard work digging taters!

Garlic: Will start showing up in shares this Thursday.

Turnips: Will also begin on Thursday. We may have to rotate distribution depending on speed these bulb out.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Not Necessarily Round or Red

The tomato has become a symbol that is used by heirloom vegetable seed proponents to illustrate what is wrong with hybrids and what is right with open-pollinated cultivars. I'll leave that for other posts and/or articles. For now, I thought I'd give a quick look at some of our varieties and how they are doing this year. If you wish to see our web page on heirloom tomatoes - go here.

Italian Heirloom

This has been one of our favorites for several years now. They are very meaty and taste extremely good fresh on sandwiches, in salsas and work pretty well in sauces. They often weight around one pound and will sometimes shape themselves a bit like an oxheart, but are rounder than most tomatoes that claim to be oxheart varieties. It's been another nice year for these plants - even with the stresses put on them (in particular cool weather and blight). These are the earliest big tomatoes we have every grown (hybrid or heirloom).

Jaune Flamme

Wow. This one almost did not make the cut this year. We were looking to trial a few new types and we have to limit how many we do (for obvious reasons). In fact, I believe we decided not to do this one, but R grabbed a packed at Seed Savers anyway because he just couldn't resist. Good thing he couldn't. Excellent production of orange salad sized tomatoes. Several people have picked this one for taste over other snack/salad tomatoes. We like them because they are easier to pick than many small tomatoes. They grow in clusters and the stems come off readily after picking. They rarely if ever crack and they hold well on the plant. What's not to like?

Tasty Evergreen and Aunt Ruby's German Green

Yes, they are ripe when they are green. Yes, the insides are green. Yes, they have an excellent taste. And, they tend to split or have cracked shoulders. Doesn't matter, they're worth the effort to grow them - even if I can't use over two thirds of them.

Black Krim

All purple/black varieties are difficult to grow because they tend to have problems with cracking, blight, etcetera etcetera. But the taste! The greens are good. These are great! The biggest problem is the short period of time you can catch the fruit in good enough condition to market or deliver. It's a shame, really. But, they are what they are. Black Krim has been the best of a batch that includes Cherokee Purple and Black Sea Man. Smaller purple/black varieties include Nyagous and Japanese Black Trifele.

Golden Sunray

Big, sturdy, yellow to yellow-orange fruits keep well on the plant and on the counter. It takes a lot to mar one of these tomatoes. So - yes, they have a thicker skin. But, they are not thin on taste. As with all yellows, they are less acidic. These tomatoes tend to anchor the tail end of production for our tomatoes. They start later than Dr Wyche, Moonglow and Nebraska Wedding. Each has a slightly different taste and are all worth it. I don't see any of these going away any time soon.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What to do, what to do?

Well, here it is... a request by the Queen Boss of this outfit.

What should we bring to a potluck? Suggestions?

All right, here are the details.

Practical Farmers of Iowa sponsors field days. We held one last August and we hosted a potluck/heirloom tomato tasting & provided roast bison sandwiches. The food brought by participants was excellent.

Now, we find ourselves looking at attending a field day at Scattergood in West Branch. How should we represent our farm *and* provide something very yummy for people to munch during the potluck portion of this event?

There isn't really any pressure here. T just thought it might be fun to ask people to suggest things that either

a) have been something they have enjoyed that we have brought/created in the past
b) is something that might make you think of our farm and what we do
c) would simply be a really cool thing to bring to this potluck

Rules of suggestions are as follows:
1. It has to be able to travel well over a couple of hours - and then sit for two more while presentations are given.
2. It can't be too terribly complicated and should be able to be completed in a couple of hours at most.
3. Primarily uses items we have on the farm.

go to it!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Picture This - Imagine That

Zinnias are very nice this time of year. If you can see them for all of the weeds. But, we still like them!

Just noticed we had this picture scanned in of Strider. He was our indoor supervisor cat, gone to the eternal perch by the window. Someday a Strider 'hunting' story may make the blog.

We've been pretty pleased with the Wisconsin Lakes peppers this season. Like all colored bell peppers, production per plant is limited - and the amount of time is longer than if you are willing to eat green bells. But, these tend to be the earliest and most consistent colored bell producer we have had. It is an heirloom variety and has outperformed hybrids we trialed in prior years. Now, if we could get these to give us EXACTLY the number needed for one CSA distribution. But, I guess we forgot to inform them of the numbers in time.

Those who took a field tour for the Summer Festival got to see some of these in the field. The picture does NOT do these things justice. There are a couple in the field that will approach 20 pounds. Very impressive squash indeed. They are called Boston Marrow and this is our first year trialing them (last year doesn't count for various reasons).

Last two pictures come courtesy of Seed Savers website (www.seedsavers.org)

And then - you've heard of Dakota Fanning? How about a turkey fanning?
Ok, I worked too hard for that one. But, here is a picture of a turkey fanning its tail feathers nonetheless.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Time Zones

We've been thinking again...

It seems as if our life on the farm forces us into a different time zone than most of the rest of the world. In some ways, it is pleasant, in other ways, it is annoying. In all ways, it adds a layer of complexity to our dealings with anyone who is not working on the farm!

An example:

Our world *It is sunny and there is a light breeze. Temperatures are around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Just plain nice. There is no traffic on the gravel road. Nary a mechanical sound to be heard. Some birds, some leaves rustling. And, we're out picking cherry tomatoes. Work is being done. It is being done quickly and efficiently with little wasted effort. But it is done with contentedness and a sense of calm. Time is not passing.

The rest of the world * It is a CSA distribution day. We need to leave by 3pm. Other things need picking and packing as well. The clock runs the same as it always has. Soon we will have to leave the feeling of timelessness and enter the world of time. In real world time, cherry tomato picking can really take time!

In other words, it is possible to become engrossed in the work on the farm and lose track of time. If there are to be dealings with anyone outside of the farm we have to take steps to insure that we do not completely enter the alternate universe that is farm time!

Example the second:

Our world *We just got that request for information from so and so recently. Better get to it soon. Do not have time right at this moment, but we'll get to it ASAP. In fact, it stays near the front of our mind and we get things figured out. Should be no problem getting the response back in a timely manner.

The rest of the world *We just got that request three weeks ago - but, honest, it seems recent to us. We didn't forget. It's been on our minds constantly and we really did think we were being quick about it....

Well, now you know "ASAP" doesn't mean the same thing to us when we are in "farm time." It has nothing to do with a desire to ignore. In fact, we very much want to respond quickly an effectively. But, when the lists of things to do are long, it isn't always easy to get things done in a 'real world' time frame. The farm can be so immediate! The tomatoes are right there and need to be picked/weeded/staked/etc.

Oh well, I'd better get some of those real world time things done now!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

There's Always Next Year

The beginning of September usually is the point in time where we officially 'give up' on some of our crops, projects or goals for the year. In many of these cases, we've already had a pretty good (read in, bad) feeling where things stand. But, we still hold out hope that we can get something done that will turn things around. Until we hit September.

In many ways, it is liberating to make the 'official' call that something will not be done about the crop that was taken over by weeds. Or, that there will not be enough warm days to accomplish project X. Perhaps it would be difficult if we didn't have a significant list of success stories to counter the failures. But, we realize we've accomplished as much as we could. And, we also realize that the failures were part of a 'triage' of 'emergencies.' These failures were, in part, a decision that was made to focus elsewhere for the good of the farm and the CSA. So, if we regret anything, it's not being able to do it all.

The failed sections of our plots become new 'to do' entries on our lists that include removal of weeds, tilling and cover crop or compost applications before the ground freezes. It's always difficult to admit missing on a crop - but if we don't want to pay again next year, we need to act on cleaning up those areas now.

As far as projects go, there is still hope for many of them, but things like painting are running on shorter time ropes (so to speak). We'll see what we can get done. But, again, we remember that if we accomplish one thing, there are always many other things that can be added onto the list.

So, we remember what we HAVE accomplished. We are grateful for the help we have received to get these things done. And, we look to next year for redemption on the crops that didn't do as well as we would have liked and the projects that resided a couple of slots too low on the priority list to complete this year.