Sunday, May 31, 2009

You Can Wave That Magic Wand Now...

Every year - about this time, things really catch up to us.

The raccoons, deer, woodchuck and other critters have families to feed and they come to us way TOO often for that food. It is Spring, so it rains semi-frequently. This, of course, limits when we can do certain things. And, of course, meetings (and other stuff) always get scheduled on the best days to work outside in the field. The weeds are germinating and growing fast - just as the veg never quite seems to grow as fast. And, the timing for our produce and the first weeks of the CSA are always a bit tenuous.

An example - today (May 29 - even though you'll see this post on May 31) we got *many* things done and should feel pretty good about what got accomplished. But, the soil just got to the point where it was ready to be worked without 'pilling' up tonight at about 8pm. What should show up in the forecast, but a chance of rain for tonight and tomorrow AM. It may miss us - but the Sunday night chance looks pretty solid for rain.

So, if you see us and we look a little tired, preoccupied or a tad bit worried - it's just that time of year. Got alot on our minds that needs to be cared for and we just haven't been able to admit some of these things won't happen. We'll do our best to handle each of the things that are on our minds and we'll remind ourselves of what we have managed to do successfully.

If you want to know what wears on a farmer the most - it's the fact that hours, days, weeks and months of hard work can be so easily ruined by pests, weeds, weather and other factors. And yet, every year - we come away with something. Every year, we learn to let some things go and figure out how to make the most of what is doing well.

Now - about that list....

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Getting Better (we think)

Rather than a philosophical post on lists - this is more of a factual how the farm lists are faring post.

Lest you think that I am diligently writing posts every day, let me point out that there is a 'delay post' function for this blog. Essentially, I am too tired to go to bed, so I'm creating multiple postings for multiple days.

Why? In part, we want to give people a bit of a look into what we do (especially our CSA members) - it's all a part of the connection to the land and our food that we strongly encourage. That said - here's my post on the topic at hand.

Thursday was a 'good' day in many respects and an 'ungood' day in others. The #$%#$ raccoons got into a couple of our coldframes and 'unpotted' plants intended for our CSA production this year. We think we got to them in time to save them. The ground was too wet to work, so we couldn't get more into the ground today. We're struggling with ways to handle to get the growing broiler chicks out into the field without risking losing all of them to the aforementioned @#$@#$ raccoons. I got to have my teeth picked on at the dentist first thing in the AM (not a favorite - no offense to dentists!). The list of things that didn't get done that have to carry over to the next day is getting way too long. (see prior list post)

On the other hand, we had TWO people working for us today. K joined us for the first time and did a fine job removing the shingles on one side of one of our buildings. (yes, we wanted him to do that) It's wonderful getting good help to get certain tasks done that would wait until November otherwise. B was also here and helped get more seeds started in trays and finish our transplanting of some of the smaller eggplants. We can't tell everyone how much good help can mean to us! Thanks to both of you (you know who you are - we hope!).

R & T

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Law of Expanding Lists

There is much to do on the farm. Very much.

It requires that we do something to help us remember what *must* be done. So, we create lists. Sometimes the lists are written, sometimes they are unspoken. But, they are there nonetheless.

As someone who has been a 'busy person' most of his life, I can relate to the common feeling that a list never seems to get shorter. In fact, they tend to get longer - even when you check things off of the list.

I think we are beginning to get an idea as to the relationship between the rate of item completion and the corresponding rate of expansion, and it isn't pretty. At first, I thought it was some basic ratio, like for every item done, another takes its place - or maybe for every two items done, three take their place. It's clear that it is, at least, a ratio that does not favor elimination of the list itself.

What we have discovered is the following:
a) the more you complete items on the list in a day, the higher the ratio is for new items to replace them
b) there is a second variable that can alter this ratio - how time critical are the things on the list? Items with short windows tend to cost us more in terms of adding to the list once they are done!
c) there are perpetual items on a farm list (and likely any other list). Failure to complete perpetual items bears the penalty of adding things to the list that are usually time critical (see b)
d) making rules with respect to lists tend to lead to larger lists - so we are going to stop now.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

LIfe and Death on the Farm (T's post)

Life and Death on the Farm.

R mentioned the hatching of our very first chick this morning. How wonderful! What a special thing to reach into the box and find a chick still wearing a "shell hat", still damp from hatching!

Tonight we took the trip to get turkey feed and got home after dark, about a half hour too late. Today, the day we witnessed birth, we also had to administer death and say goodbye to our friend Yogi Ducka. We found her nearly dead from wounds inflicted by a what we strongly suspect was a raccoon.

I was reading a short story in Green Prints (great magazine filled with humorous and thoughtful gardening stories( found a quote that I philosophically agree with, but tonight I can't quite reconcile myself to: "God created all creatures in this world, big and small, for some purpose" (Summer 2009,p. 73).

Could someone please tell me what purpose raccoons serve? Aside from reminding me that I really am not in charge at all, I can't think of a single useful purpose these death-bringing creatures serve.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sorting It All Out

Sometimes it seems as if we are working a gigantic puzzle and we just have to keep shifting things around until it looks right. The difficulty is that the picture on the box keeps changing - which means we have to reshuffle everything again to match it!

Case in point: Our heirloom tomato, eggplant, pepper, lettuce and other plants that are started in trays and pots. It would be one thing if we only grew plants for ourselves. However, we also grow extra for sale (primarily tomatoes, peppers and eggplant).

We do not have a green house - or even a high tunnel. We have several smaller, portable cold frames, a few carts, some portable tables and various other items. However, the net result is that we have to do a lot of shifting in order to cycle plants through their early growing cycles so that they are hardened off by the time they get planted into the ground.

Yes, we realize that we eat alot of our time resources up doing things this way - so we will be looking for ways to make the process more efficient next year. But, there is no avoiding it - there is a lot of reorganization to do.

In fact, we go through a process that we call the 'Sort Hat' (see Harry Potter) with our plants. This consists of setting aside plants intended for our farm production, setting aside pre-ordered plants and combining like variety plants for ease of display at markets. It seems that there are always plants that get shuffled around to the wrong spot and need to be relocated.

We are MUCH better at this than we were last year. There has been much less sorting this year. But, there is still a good deal of shuffling that occurs between the various stages of hardening off.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Quick Farm Report

As we suspected, once the field work started, time to post on the blog went down dramatically. Since things are a bit wet out there today - we are not doing computer and office work. A quick farm report to everyone seems in order:

  • We allowed one of our hens to sit on a clutch of eggs. And, we were rewarded with a new chick hatching this AM. Pretty cool.
  • Turkeys are growing well and will get free-range pasture time fairly soon.
  • Meat chicks are getting annoying and growing quickly. Typically the 'annoying' characteristic indicates health... (go figure)
  • Hens have slowed egg production. We're hoping it will change once the meat chickens go to a new pasture area - and the broody hen hatches her eggs.
  • A couple of iris have bloomed - always considered a good thing here.
  • All but TWO of the production tomatoes went into the ground over the Memorial Day weekend. Right on schedule. And, yes, that's about 480 plants.
  • All of the potatoes are in. Most of the dry beans are in. Half of the peas, cucumbers, summer squash, zucchini are in. The onions are in and most of the leeks are in. First plantings of broccoli and kohlrabi are in - same with carrots and rutabaga. Still much more to do/plant.
  • Both (lawn) tractors are tuned up and lubed - actually a major thing for us. It's something we want to do better with - but time always makes fools of us in that regard.
  • Much thanks to Mom, Dad and C for their willingness to help on the farm during Memorial Day weekend. It was much appreciated!
  • The CSA is likely to start in week three of June. With our heavier soil, it is typically harder for us to get things in early - but, it also makes it easier to do late succession plantings. Thus, we are very strong with fall crops.
  • Plant sales have been reasonably good this year. We may have an order for several hundred plants that should finish plant availability for us.
It seems like there is much more to report. If there is, we'll post it here. Newsletter is being finished today.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Never enough....

...hours in a day.

Taking a short lunch break - realized I hadn't checked email today & also realized the blog had been abandoned. There simply isn't enough time to do all the worthy (and probably less worthy) things we want to do around here.

So - here's a quick farm report for the curious:

  • We broke down and purchased a used JD GT235 lawn tractor. Why? We already have a JD GT235 - that's why! And - speaking of breaking down - that's what the JD 318 did. We'll fill everyone in when we finish the newsletter (speaking of time).
  • The potatoes are in!
  • Some radish, arugula and spinach are up and the transplanted lettuce looks good.
  • The transplanted onions took pretty well and should be about ready for a growth spurt.
  • the baby turks got moved to their own suite in the barn. The baby chickens are now splitting a room before they go out on pasture.
  • The list of things to get done today is long - so this list is short.
Have a great day!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Market Prep Routine

We attended our first farmers' market of the season today (as vendors) and featured our heirloom tomato plants. The peppers are a bit too young at this time - and it is too early to sell them anyway. We had a little bit of asparagus and lettuce, some dried spices, a few dozen eggs. A decent spread for May. And, for a cool, windy morning, a decent turnout with good sales for us.

A bit of background. We have been doing farmers' markets for the last four years. This year, the plan is to only do markets during the plant sale part of the season. Otherwise, our produce will be distributed through the CSA and other direct sales. If we have bumper crops, we may find ourselves at Saturday markets again - we'll see.

We were reminded, once again, what the realities were that caused us to make this decision. But, first, let me just say that we DO enjoy the contact with people who have interest in local foods and products. We like to educate, answer questions and provide product to people at the market and we enjoy the other vendors there. There will certainly be times we miss it. But, we simply could not continue to try to do CSA AND market AND other sales agreements. There just isn't enough of us to go around.

CSA and other sales are not necessarily complete 'walks in the park' as far as effort is concerned either. Each has their own idiosyncrasies. But, it is difficult to do all of them - so we moved to remove markets.

Farmers' markets (that we attend) typically last three hours from open to close. Usually, a stand works best if you have two people staffing the tables when you have a decent amount of product to sell. It is wise, if you can manage it, to be set up at least 15 minutes prior to open (not that we usually manage this) and you typically should not look to anxious to close at the end of market - just in case there are a few more customers that would like to peruse your wares. Add in travel time and you have an average of five hours driving to, unloading, setting up, staffing, tearing down, loading up and driving from...

Sounds like a light work day, doesn't it?

Oh, did we forget to tell you about loading up the truck at the farm and unloading it once your return from market? And, there's always cleanup of used containers, coolers, etc after the unloading. And a little bit of bookkeeping always has to happen as well.

And, lest you forget - there is the preparation FOR market that happens before loading up. Last night we were printing labels and signs around 10:30 pm and R was out putting a shelf together to haul plants in the truck at 6 am while T was picking lettuce this morning.

No sympathy required or needed here. But, empathy isn't a bad thing. Remember how hard your local market vendors work in order to bring you fresh, local foods and crafts - regardless of which markets you attend. I suppose there is a range of work ethic in this area, just as there is in any other occupation. But, as far as we can tell - everyone who does this sort of thing has to accomplish a bare minimum of effort that still takes some time and effort.

One way you can support persons who do this is to put in a little effort on your part to make sure you GO to your farmers' markets and patronize your local producers REGULARLY. Ask questions. Show interest. If these folks can dig 50 foot rows of carrots, sort them out, wash them and bundle them - then bring them to market and display them - then surely you can take 15 minutes and stop by the market once a week.

Or, of course, you can join a CSA and get produce weekly in that fashion. Either way, the loyalty and increased certainty that product will be moved can only serve to increase the quantities and qualities of food available to you.

All this in 15 minutes a week. Wow.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Minds in the ....

... gutter

Everyone who reads the blog knows about the new roof (and I'm too lazy to link to that post right now - so you'll just have to scroll down to see it). The problem, of course, is that the gutters had to come down for that roof. Actually, the gutters were coming down - which was part of the problem.

While we pretty much knew we'd have to put gutters on the house relatively soon, we were hoping that a general distribution of watershed from the roof would be better than the concentrated downpours we got in spots with the old situation. However, we also knew that the two valleys in the roof that emptied onto the flat roof on the front and back porches wasn't going to be a great thing.

Heavy rainfall can teach you things.

Such as this one: Heck with the budget, you need to put gutters on the house.
Corollary: Failure to put gutters on the house can lead to many more budget busters.

Brothers Construction took care of the installation - looks like we might be testing them out later today? Radar gives a definitive maybe.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Mish Mash

Some farm related things that may or may not be of interest:

  • Our first Tom Sawyer Day is going to be this Saturday from 2-6pm. At the moment, we know of two persons who will attend. Anyone else?
  • We cut our April newsletter a little short just to get it out there. apologies for any typos, etc that may be lurking. We thought the extra cartoons might be some recompense. The May newsletter is already in the works and will be a bit better (we hope).
  • We're still three flats short of completing the great tomato transplant of 2009. Once done with that - we work on the peppers and eggplant. hm.
  • The ground is now workable - so Rob will be in the field all day working it. Another natural deadline (rain) is due Tuesday night according to forecasters.
  • GFF will be at the Waverly Farmers' Market with tomato plants, maybe a little lettuce and what ever else looks good this Saturday from 8:30-11:30. Peppers are 1 to 2 weeks behind tomatoes.
  • Rob was at market on Saturday, but only to work with the other vendors on the 2009 market setup for the season. Tammy was at the Health Fair holding a table to represent the farmers' market there.
  • Heard our first wren at the farm today. Now awaiting the arrival of bluebirds and Waldo (the oriole).
  • The Freedom Ranger chicks are settled now. That brings us to 200 chicken chicks and 10 turkey chicks. The bronze turkeys come this week.
And, there you have it - a summary of stuff! Enjoy.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Warm Welcome to....

...our brown thrasher friends who have returned to the farm.

Fondly known by us as the 'Chirpa-chirpa bird,' our brown thrashers arrived two days ago (April 29) and greeted us with their familiar series of repeated phrases. Their arrival usually indicates to us that swallows are not far away (they arrived yesterday) and 'Waldo' (Baltimore Oriole) is also not long until he reappears with his clear, flute-like song.

We enjoy the bird sounds around the farm in the Spring. The robins have a wonderful morning and evening song "it's going to be/been a great day." The flicker just sounds continuously annoyed. The sparrows annoy everyone else. The swallows talk too fast and need to get off the caffeine. We don't get much love from the cardinals, so we miss their song. And, of course, the killdeer are always crying - but their chicks are cute cotton swabs on stick legs. And, the bluebirds look like they have a 'beerbelly' when they slouch on the electrical line to the barn.

And, we are still awaiting the little bird with the big voice - the wren.

While we take note of all of these birds on the farm, I think we both feel like the thrasher is the bird that tells us it is time to get a move on with the planting. And, like the wren, it is so persistent with its song that we feel it might be trying to communicate with us. But, of course, he's not really all that interested in us at all. We just like to feel important.

Pictures generally do not show how attractive this bird can be. You have to catch one when the sun hits its feathers - very nice.

You can learn more about a brown thrasher and hear its song at the National Park Service website here.