Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Winding Up

The wind is winding up. Say that however you would like.

During most of the rest of the year, T & I blissfully forget exactly how windy it gets on the farm in the Spring. The weather may be getting nicer in terms of temperature, length of day and amount of sunshine - but the wind can turn what looks like a beautiful day into a bit of a struggle for us.

I was just reminded this AM that my eyes will be taking a bit of a beating through the first part of the growing season. Just enough so that I might reconsider finding some biking glasses to wear during the windiest of days.

I do get extra exercise chasing my hat around after it blows off my head. Or chasing plastic trays (used for starting plants). Or chasing row covers. Or chasing anything else that isn't anchored to the ground and relatively heavy for that matter.

It is a bit humorous watching the cats try to walk in this wind. If they try to walk perpendicular to the wind direction, they tend to walk just a bit 'crooked' with the back end being a bit off-center. A few weeks ago, I actually saw DB slide across an ice patch because the wind pushed him sideways on it. While he didn't think it was funny, I did - until my hat blew off.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Brown Bagging It

Here at the farm, we encourage self-sufficiency. Cubbie, one of our outdoor cats, understands this quite well.

Yes, we do feed the outdoor cats every day - but just once in the morning, and not too much. We need them to help with rodent control.

If she catches a rodent and we're around, she tends to meow to get our attention and our praise. Normally, she will wait until we skritch her and tell her how wonderful she is. Then we tell her we do not want to eat her prize - at which point, she will typically begin to eat it in our presence. Nice.

Today was a bit different. She'd just had her breakfast. She managed to catch a mouse. She yodeled for attention. She got it. I went to do something somewhere else. Some time later, she appeared there - with the mouse - and asked for more praise. She got it.

I went somewhere else and the same thing happened. I left for town to run an errand or three. I came back. She was in a new location, with the same mouse nearby.

She's been carrying this mouse around like a brown bag lunch all morning now. Never know when she might be hungry.

If she offers to share again, I think I'll still decline.

Friday, March 27, 2009


We have only seen two Spring training baseball games in person. One in Florida some years ago and now one in Arizona.

The first game was really a scrimmage between the Cincinnati Reds and... well.. the Cincinnati Reds. Since this is R's favorite team, it was a very good thing. His team was guaranteed to win.

It was a windy day and it tended to knock the ball down if it was hit to left field - so there were some well-hit balls that might have gone out on another day. Got to see a guy named Hector Carrasco throw the ball at around 99 mph in the bullpen and figured out why Barry Larkin was an All-Star. Good stuff.

But, here's the most memorable part. Roberto Kelly was the Reds starting center fielder at the time. midway through the game - he smacked a ball into left-field and he took his sweet time heading to first. Obviously, he thought it was a home run. Well, the ball died in left at the wall. He realized this as he got to first and sped up in an effort to at least get to second base. He was thrown out easily.

As he came back towards the Reds dugout, the first base coach, Joel Youngblood gave him a continuous stream of, um, criticism. If you can picture a coach jawing with an umpire - you might get some idea. There was, as you might guess, a fair amount of 'colorful' language. And, we were only a couple rows in back of first base - so we got to see, and hear, the whole thing.

This time, we had a chance to see the Milwaukee Brewers host the San Francisco Giants. The game didn't have much pitching, but it was fun to see nonetheless. We sat four rows back - not far from first base.

The irony?

The first base coach for the Giants was Roberto Kelly.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Chuckwallas and more....

T and I are getting our traveling done for the year in a period of one month, it seems. A conference here, a conference there. The latest of which was in Phoenix.

I'm not always at my ease in a big city - but given everything downtown Phoenix wasn't so bad. It never really felt crowded. There was alot of sunshine (well, ya, it's Arizona). There were some pretty good places to eat, a history museum, science center, etc. So, that was fine. But, the highlights of the trip for me had nothing to do with the urban center (surprised? no?).

We saw a Chuckwalla Lizard.


On the last day, we asked for suggestions of a park or some such thing we could get to within a reasonable drive of Phoenix. And, after a short drive, arrived at White Tank Mountain Regional Park. Chalk one up for the people who suggested it and for us taking the time to go there.

The weather was cooler than it had been (around 55 degrees) when we got there - which made for better hiking weather. It also encouraged the wildlife to be out. Cacti were just beginning to bloom and several other plants were in full bloom. We figure the place looks quite different after a few months baking in 100 degree heat (ya think?). There were several birds, some butterflies, ground squirrels (we'd call them chipmunks), chameleons, vultures (ok, ya, they're birds too) and a variety of insects to observe. In short, it's a vastly different environment than the one we're used to. Which, of course, made it fascinating.

We watched a chipmunk eat a cactus flower until more hikers scared it away. Viewed a Gila Woodpecker as it hopped around a saguaro cactus and found a Chuckwalla Lizard that we thought was a Gila Monster sunning itself on a piece of granite. And, I had said I wanted to see a Gila Monster as soon as we saw it on a list of wildlife that could be found in the park. We decided that we didn't want to hope to see a mountain lion (probably a good choice).

The park was wonderful - made us regret not bringing a camera. But, maybe we'll remember it better since we concentrated on just observing and enjoying the place.

Monday, March 23, 2009

What's up at the farm - late March edition

One of the things we're hoping this blog will do is help our CSA members and other interested parties get a quick picture of what's going on as we progress through the growing season.

So - here's a very early garden/farm report:

We have over 1000 tomatoes planted in trays at this time. They are popping up as I type. The peppers will go in early this week. The onions and leeks are already up and are anywhere from 1 to 3 inches tall. There are some spices already in trays and we'll be starting many more very soon (this week).

The laying flock is running around outside and enjoying the weather much more than they have for some time. Egg production has slowed somewhat, but we still get about a dozen a day.

The frost is going out of the ground and the rains should help it leave the rest of the way (until/unless) we get a little more cooler weather in the next week or so.

We've got robins, killdeer and red winged blackbirds making their presence known. They've been telling us for nearly 2 weeks that Spring is beginning to win the battle with Winter.

The newsletter is nearly done and will be posted later today (Tuesday).

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Big Push

It may sound a bit odd - but we're entering a point in our year where a lot of things have to get done in a compressed period of time. And, it's not likely what everyone is thinking.

Once we get into April and May, activities for nursing green and growing things, chicks and other living things on the farm really get going. In fact, they take enough time and energy that many other things just are not likely to get done. Therein lies the problem.

There are home and farm repairs to do now that the weather is making some of them more possible. There are taxes to complete. There are various bookkeeping and household things. There is a roof to complete, windows to put in, cabinets and shelves to build, a building door to put up and maybe even a walk in cooler to put together. And, yes, if we want to get a grant completed for alternative energy, that had better happen soon as well. There is no end of things to do.

It's a good thing to have so much to do and so much ambition to accomplish all of this. The problem is always the time pressures to get it all done.

We still have a building to clean up the rest of the way....

And a barn that may or may not get attention...

But, you have to do what you can.

Thanks to Sally Worley for the wonderful pictures from our PFI field day last year.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

No Right Answers?

The hardest part about running your own business (in this case - our CSA/veg farm) is the simple fact that there is no guarantee that your choices are going to be the best choices. And, with a young(ish) business, there is no history to fall back on in order to inform those choices. Of course, you can do alot of reading, look at various models and crunch a bunch of numbers. But, when it comes down to the final decisions you make, there is still a good deal of trepidation as to whether or not the course of action that was chosen will work.

For example, we made a choice last spring to planfully grow up more than twice as many tomato and pepper seedlings as we would need for our own production. In the past, we would grow extra plants as a buffer in case something failed. As a result, we would sell extra plants at farmers' market. But, this was more a case of trying to make something out of an asset we had in hand and weren't going to use.

Last year's choice was to actually grow extra plants with the expressed purpose of selling them. Our niche is in the heirloom/open pollinated plants - so we weren't trying to nose into a filled market for our area. People who had used our plants in the past seemed to like them. So... We gave it a try - and found that we did well enough. In fact, plant sales were part of the reason last year wasn't a big bust for farmers' markets in general (that's another story - see last year's weather pattern to learn more).

So, of course, we are going to continue with the plant sales. Here's the problem. Do we stay the course with the same (or similar) number of plants? Do we try to expand the numbers of plants we did? Or do we expand into other types of plants (broccoli, for example?). Do we take pre-orders in an effort to find out what the demand is so we can respond to it while there is still time to start them? Do the prices stay the same as last year? Will these questions ever cease?

The answers, in order, appear to be: probably, probably not, we'll try a sampling, we'll dabble in this idea, probably and no.

How's that for definitive? Ok, I'm working on it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Ahhhh Tomatoes

What does one do after setting up trays and planting over 1100 tomatoes in a few hours?

One enters that fact on their blog. That's probably about it.

New tomato varieties for 2009 - for those who care:
Aunt Ruby's German Green
Black Sea Man
Japanese Black Trifele
Jaune Flamme
John Baer
Powers Heirloom

Looks like we'll have 36 varieties this year. Ah...fun.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I'm game, are you?

I mentioned in the previous post that T and I have been playing more board and card games given the reduction in tele time. That got me to thinking (dangerous pastime!).

We've always enjoyed playing card games with the occasional board game thrown into the mix. But, lately we (well, mostly I) have been less motivated to crack out the cards and play. This may be, in part, because many of the games I enjoy most are three or four player games. Last count, there were two of us. That makes those games a bit of a challenge.

But, thanks to a number of good friends (EW, the Banality's and Ben to sort of name a few) we have been exposed to some new games - at least new to us. We now find ourselves regularly playing Ticket to Ride (Scandinavia) and Lost Cities. And, as a result, I find myself feeling more interested in other games we have played in the past (cribbage, chicken feet, etc).

Having periodic games nights were always a big deal in my family. Everyone was focused on enjoying each others company and the day's residue was typically wiped away as we played the game. It was a great way for the kids to learn how to succeed and fail gracefully in a situation that didn't really have any greater consequence other than your piece didn't get to Candyland first.

For the two of us, the real benefit is that we can spend some time doing something together that isn't farm or school related. Even better, we usually don' t care so much who wins. In fact, our approach to Ticket is often based on acquiring more destination cards because we can't contain our curiosity as to a) which one is next in the pile and b) can I find a way to complete that one in addition to the others? We realize we could play harder to win - but why? We're enjoying ourselves. In some ways, the game has become a mutual puzzle - how can I protect where I need to go and still give T a chance to go where she needs to go? And, if I force her to go that way - will she get in my way later?

As the growing season gets going I am hopeful we can continue to find a way to use these games to give our days balance.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Don't really miss it

We have recently taken a couple of trips that required time in a hotel. One of the things that we have access to in hotels that we do not have at home is satellite or cable tv. Yes, it's true, we do not have any TV reception of any kind at the farm. Last summer, our satellite stopped working and we just decided to have it taken down. We don't pick anything up with the antenna -so there you go.

At this point, we can tell you that we do not regret this decision.

Of course, we turned the tv on while in the hotel room. And what did we see? Nothing that looked horribly different from when we saw it last. Lots of channels with nothing truly interesting to see. The news was still being reported with urgency (and repetition) by multiple channels - always with the assumption that yesterday's news is old news (even if you hadn't already heard). In sports, the news was all about T.O. (if you don't know who that is - good for you!). Lots of commercials that were either irritating, misleading, annoying or all three. And, the stupid thing was still as mesmerizing as ever. I think it has something to do with the belief that surely something was coming up that would make the moments spent watching it worthwhile. The good news - we found it much easier to turn off.

Don't get me wrong - we do like some shows and movies. But, since we dropped satellite we have:
  • spent more time playing board and card games together
  • watched more movies we really wanted to see in the theater or at home (with no commercial interruptions)
  • turned over the 'to do' list more rapidly (yes R is a list maker - first on list - make list)
  • read more books
Perhaps the biggest thing is that we found ourselves going to bed sooner in the summer. Ok, that sounds odd. But, hear me out.

We do work long days during the growing and harvesting season. By the time we hit the end of the day, we're really tired. With a working dish for tv, we found ourselves just flipping the thing on and letting the brain go on autopilot. The problem is - when you get that tired, it is hard to get the motivation to get up and turn the machine off and go to bed. Everyone who has had a long day and has plopped in front of the tele knows exactly what I mean.

Besides, I'd like to avoid the situation of being asked about what I've done in my life and have to answer - "Well, I didn't do much, but I DID see this cool thing on tv....."

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Farm errata

It may be a while before our next newsletter for the farm comes out. So, here's a farm newsy type of post.

  • We are currently at 96 shares for the season. Our goal? 100.
  • We still have openings in Waverly and on farm pickup slots
  • We have no more single shares left, only standard and large.
  • You can be put on a wait list in case something changes - and there's lots of time for that to happen.
  • If the season shows strength we may open some 2nd half season shares.
Growing Things
  • Seed orders have been placed and we have received 2 of the 4 orders
  • New equipment for the farm has arrived - we are adding a 2nd wheel hoe and soil block makers.
  • There are onion seedings on our starting shelves that have sprouted. It has begun.
Running Around Like A...
  • The hens continue to do reasonably well and are happily getting more time out in the field
  • It looks like we will be involved in a PFI cooperator's trial for checking out some poultry breeds for free range birds
  • Our first flock of meat chickens may be 200 strong. We anticipate only 2 batches this year.
  • We will be trying some Bourbon Red turkeys with our Broad Breasted Bronzes this year.
  • There will be ducks.
Other farm stuff
  • We're getting sick of the raccoons - they are very active at this time.
  • We enjoyed the Organic Farming Conference in LaCrosse
  • R is NOT enjoying finally succumbing to the head cold that is going around.
  • T will vouch for the fact that R is not worth much when he's sick
  • The pork buy is moving forward - with piggies going to processor Mar 10
  • The book buys look like a go. The A to Z cookbooks were purchased at the conference. We had a favorable response from the publisher of the storing book.
  • The snow drifts were deep enough around some of our lettuce covers that they were crushed....oops.
  • Our organic certification materials have been mailed to IDALS - well in advance of the deadline! Hey, that's a big deal - so don't laugh (too hard)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Now that was a lot of B's.

Speaking of bees. (yes, that was a lame transition - deal with it)

T and I just returned from the Organic Farming Conference in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. I'm sure we'll post much more on it as the week goes on, but for now - I will talk about bees.

Why? Well, I attended an all-day session on bees and pollinators. The presenters (Eric Mader and Ross Conrad) did a nice job and I found the experience to be a positive one. I entered the day thinking I might leave with some working knowledge as to how we might actually maintain a hive or two of European honeybees. Per the norm, expectations and reality didn't quite match up. But, that's largely a reflection of what I learned as opposed to disappointment in topic coverage.

The short of it (for now) is that maintaining honey bee hives won't necessarily be easy. But, I believe we have many options with respect to our goals. I think it most likely that we will not attempt to get into honey production. But, we may keep hives for the pollination of our crops.

Things I learned (or in some cases maybe relearned) that may be of interest to others:
  1. 70% of 'wild' bees are ground nesting bees
  2. All of our pollinators have been declining in recent decades
  3. Most colony collapse cases are found in commercial bee pollination businesses (who ship their bees to various farms to pollinate crops)
  4. A mix of wild bee populations and honey bee populations provide the best pollination results
This one didn't go to 11. Four is enough (for now).