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.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Genuine Faux Farm Vocab

The following was published in our July 2009 newsletter. Some folks who read the blog don't read the newsletter and vice versa. So...


We can't help it. Tammy and I have a tendency to create or use words differently than many people when we refer to things on the farm. It's so ingrained in us that we often forget that others do not have an English to GFF dictionary. Here's the beginning of your personal copy of that work:

Skritcher - any tool used to scratch up the ground and make life more difficult for weeds. Officially, a skritcher has tines - but we stretch the definition for saddle hoes, wire weeders, etc.

Product Tester - that would be Tammy. She likes to eat produce in the field.

Squish - ya, that's a squash. There is a summer squish, pumpkin squish, butternut squish and rotten squish that goes 'squish' when it's squashed.

Knucklehead - a generic term used for any of our poultry that is causing Rob's blood pressure to go up. Occassionally, deer, chuckies, raccoon, cats and other critters will become a knucklehead. Early in life, Rob called bullheads 'knuckleheads,' but that's another (GFF) story.

Chicklet - a baby chicken.

Garden Zit - potato beetle larvae. They're orange with some spotting/striping and look a little like mini-Jabba the Hut. They pop when squished (not squashed).

Three Shirt Day - think about it. We work outside. It gets warm. We perspire.

Kite - it's a pull-behind tool for a garden tractor that flips up grass clippings into the carrier so it can be used as mulch or compost. It can catch the wind too, there you have it.

Cardio - using the wheel hoe in the gardens. See "Three Shirt Day."

Chuckie - any woodchuck on our property has a tendency to be at least mildly evil. The mama woodchuck is, of course, Bride of Chuckie and the young-uns could be considered Spawn of Chuckie - but they look more like...

Ewok - a woodchuck youngster.

Paid in Full - what a critter is said to have done if it does not escape from the Fauxes after it takes out some of their poultry or crops.

Kamikaze - a blackfly or gnat that does that little loop in front of your eye before diving right in.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Top Ten Posts

A request was made for a list of the "top ten" Genuinely Faux Blog posts over the last year. So, I surveyed no one in particular and came up with the following during an evening where I was too tired to do any real work on the computer and/or get up to get ready for bed. That happens sometimes...

  1. The Law of Expanding Lists
  2. Why'd You Call Me A Drip?
  3. Brown Bagging It
  4. You Know It's Cold When..
  5. Getting What You Deserve
  6. A Day At The Park
  7. Road Map To Zucchini
  8. Irony
  9. Errata to Erratic
  10. The Way Back Machine
  11. Excuse me, but there's a duck...
Naturally, this post went to eleven...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Genuine Faux Games Update

It's been a while since we updated the game "challenge" between T & R.
The last (and only) post on it is here.

Since the last update, we have only played one game. It just adds to the suspense..really. Ok, perhaps not.

Lost Cities
T 198 R 160
Ticket To Ride US Mega
T 145 R 193
TTR Nordic
T 188 R 170
TTR US 1910
T 138 R 131

T extends her lead 669 to 654