Tuesday, August 31, 2010


It's 8:31 AM.

I've changed clothing once already. Tammy has changed twice (the second to head into work).

Lightning now - so no outdoors picking until it passes.

This could be a long day.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Farm Report for end of August

Here it is - the ultra quick farm report:
  • Doing well are cucumbers, summer squash, zucchini, tomatoes
  • Doing reasonably well are green beans, the new batches of lettuce, the new batch of beets, dry beans
  • We still have lots of garlic to dole out over the next few weeks to the CSA
  • You are not going to see winter squash, watermelons, peppers, pumpkins, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, leeks - many are simply dead, others so badly stunted as to make it clear nothing will happen. It's just the way the year has gone.
  • Potatoes are still possible, but in a smallish number. There are plants that are still green and may have unrotted potatoes forming.
  • Onions - may still exist in the field. We lost many to the rains and then the weeds took over. We need to cut down the weeds so we can see what is there for onions. It is possible all rotted away - but onions can be sneaky, so we are hoping.
  • Melons are setting on the plants in the high tunnel. It will be VERY close. You can hope, but there can be no promises.
  • Carrots. Not likely, but we may be able to scrounge a few from some rows.
  • Kale, kohlrabi, broccoli, cabbage - we have new plants in the ground. Again - it will be close - but we are giving it the try you (and they) deserve.
  • We may be able to pull out some green onions on the late onion planting we put in. (we've been experimenting more with late plantings by necessity - if it works, we all win.)
  • Eggplant - a dribble here and a dribble there.
  • new plantings of turnips, beets, radish, arugula, etc etc too young to say much as of yet.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

That's Just...Despicable

In honor of the tail end of August, we went to see a movie at the Sumner Theater. We like it because it is local and community supported. And to top it off, the movies show at 99 cents - which means we can take a chance on a movie when we are tired and want to get our minds and bodies off the farm for a bit.

So, the baseball season is over. We went to take in a movie. No expectations - other than the fact that we knew it was animated (something we enjoy).

The result - a recommendation to go see Despicable Me. This one would have been worth full price to us. Funny on several levels. Pulled the expected plot twists, but that didn't really bother us. Animation was good enough. The pacing was excellent. It didn't give us the feel that some movies of this genre do when they run out of money or get tired of their own premise. A wonderful escape from the farm. It played well to the kids in the audience. Nothing horribly scary. And plenty for the adults to enjoy as well. Plenty of digs into various movie genres, doesn't take itself too seriously. etc etc.

Just plain fun for an hour and a half. It should keep me amused through tomorrow AMs work.

Lightbulb. (see the movie, you'll understand)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Various Updates

  • Tomorrow, Saturday, August 28 from 8:30-11:30 - we will be at the Waverly Farmers' Market. The tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, summer squash and zucchini are forcing us to make another pick before next week's CSA. So, these will be taking a ride in the truck and we will be making them available for purchase.
  • Tomorrow - from 4:00- ?? will be our Summer Harvest Festival. The post just below covers this topic.
  • Cucumbers and planning. We talked about it here and we've had a week go by with more data collection. Another week and another 1200 cucumbers harvested. It's nice to have a crop do well and show us its potential. We realize CSA members might be tiring a bit of them. But, remember - in a 52 week year, you only get cucumbers for 7-10 weeks fresh from the garden in Iowa. Enjoy it while you can!
  • In case we haven't said so (I think we have) - the turkeys do have their pasture north of the Poultry Palace now.
  • The high tunnel DOES have some crops in it right now and we are starting the fall crops it will cover beginning in late September. For now, there are melons, tomatoes, peppers and green beans. All of these are experimental and we don't necessarily expect much from them. But, we have to learn how to work with the tunnel before it gets more serious this fall. At present, the melons are doing their best impression of a blanket, covering the soil in the tunnel (a good sign). The bees are enjoying all of the flowers and there are some small melons started. It's going to be a close call! Here's hoping for some yummy melons!
  • And, irony of ironies.... we have to start irrigating some of our crops.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Summer Harvest Festival, August 28

The Summer Harvest Festival will be held at the farm on August 28 from 4pm until we all decide it is time to go home.

CSA members, former CSA members, honorary CSA members (you probably know who you are) and friends, etc are invited to join us at the farm for good food, conversation and maybe a few games.

If you want to read about our festivals, feel free to go to our website at this location.

This is a potluck style event - so plan on bringing something to pass. We will make a gas grill available, so you may bring something to grill. Some will bring additional meat for grilling and sharing, others will bring a special cut that they intend to have for their family. We will have iced tea, lemonade and water available. Also, we expect to have some cucumbers (really?), tomatoes and other produce available for tasting, etc.

We hope to see you there. We do appreciate RSVP from those who plan to attend so we can have some idea of what to expect.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Potential and Planning

If you are a CSA member - and not just a person who is a member in our CSA - we want you to consider some numbers. If you wish, just read the bold - but please check this out.

Since we are having a very good cucumber year (and a down year for many other things) - we will use it as a case study.

  1. 500 cucumbers a week needed for CSA. We have 110 members. 17 large shares. 83 standard shares. To give larges shares 8 cucumbers and standards 4 cucumbers in a week, we must pick 468 cucumbers (actually more like 500 to give options to people through the end of the distribution period)
  2. 6-7 week cucumber peak. In a typical year, cucumber peak picks are about 6 to 7 weeks (using succession planting)
  3. 495 cucumbers per week in 2007 (needed 250). 2007 gives us our baseline for determining how many row feet of cucumbers we need to reach our goals. For seven weeks of peak production, we averaged 495 cucumbers per week. At that time, we had only 60 CSA members. so, you can deduce that we had approximately twice the production than was needed for the CSA.
  4. 1092 cucumbers per week in 2010. And, this year, we only have four weeks of 'peak' thus far. But, you can see that our planning isn't really so bad. We knew we needed 500 per week to give CSA members a nice number of cucumbers and we doubled that.
  5. 116 cucumbers was our LARGEST weekly pick in 2008. Same farm. Same growers. Similar varieties. No experiments that would endanger the crop. In fact, we planted more row feet of cucumbers in 2008 than we did THIS season.
  6. 2008 saw a 92% crop failure of the cucumber crop on our farm. This number is based on the potential we project based on 2006 & 2007 production levels. It is born our further by this year's production levels.
  7. 20% yield increase over 2007. We are actually 20% over 2007 levels per row foot of planting this season. But, in this case, we can point to a couple of varietal changes and a better weed control program than 2007. So, the difference may have less to do with the season and more to do with us.
Why do we want you to care about these numbers?
  1. CSA farms keep records and plan carefully. Most CSA farms work very hard to keep good records and use them to make careful decisions. With the amount of diversity desired in a CSA share, failing to do so would be the death of the farm.
  2. CSA farms plan for excess. The first concern of a CSA farm is to meet the obligation of being the 'personal farmers' of the members/share holders. Part of planning for off years is to map out planting amounts that should exceed the CSA need.
  3. Excess is an important income opportunity. The share price provides a farm with a financial base that provides security. However, it doesn't do to plan to grow twice the needed product (with all of its incumbent expenses) with no return. Farms such as ours plan to have excess to provide additional income for the farm.
  4. Every crop is planned in a similar fashion. CSA farms, such as ours, don't just plan for cucumbers. Every crop has a plan for appropriate success levels to meet CSA and excess income levels to make the growing season successful. Some crops may be in trials and will have less space and effort dedicated to them.
  5. Crop failures happen. The buffer planned for each crop is done in hopes that a poor year will not be so poor as to cut production by more than half. The thinking here is that one should expect that, in any given year, there will be minor weather patterns, weed pressures, pets pressures and mistakes made that could reduce any given crop by 10, 20..or perhaps even 50 %. And, yet, our recent experience shows us that total crop failures are not out of the question. Which is why...
  6. Variety is planned into the system. Every year our crops rotate. Every year the weather is different. Every year circumstances change. And, every year, something will fail and something else will thrive. In 2007, we had wonderful melons and watermelons. In 2008, the late fall led to record tomato crops, but the cool wet start led to a complete failure of melons and watermelons (2 or 3 melons total). In 2009, we set records with our peppers, eggplant and lettuce while the tomatoes faltered with late blight. This year, the cucumbers - so dismally represented in CSA shares the prior two years - are doing well. Meanwhile, it seems that the peppers will be a total crop failure and the eggplant will (perhaps) give us a marginal to very poor late crop. We still hope the fall lettuce plantings will help us.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Misery Loves Company?

We have had the opportunity to attend a couple of events where we have a chance to visit and/or commiserate with other Iowa vegetable growers. Just yesterday, Tammy attended a field day on field equipment while Rob once again imagined he could be a baseball player. A couple of weeks ago(? - is that right ? really?!?) we both attended a filmed discussion session on local foods at the same location.

The reality in the state where we live is that a small farm such as ours is still a rarity. So, chances like this, where we find other like-minded and like-employed individuals aren't as easy to come by and are, perhaps, more valuable than one might think. In seasons like this - it at least gives us all a chance to vent about a difficult growing season. But, in a normal season, it gives chances to compare notes, share ideas and provide support to each other in our endeavors.

Some things we have heard from these folks:
  1. This year is, in many ways, worse than 2008. For those who didn't know, 2008 was going to be a benchmark for how bad it could possibly get for growers such as ourselves. However, it redeemed itself somewhat by not getting a killing frost until October.
  2. We are not the only growers who have had difficulties and been disappointed by the past three growing seasons. Weather anomalies are making it increasingly difficult for growers to plan for the season.
  3. One veteran CSA grower mentioned that they needed (and took) a short one-week vacation to visit family this year. Because, it was important to get away from the farm - it had become that depressing for them.
  4. Another experienced grower was relieved to hear that they were not the only ones putting seed into the ground and vainly waiting for it to germinate.
  5. Stories about field under water that normally drain fairly well, plants turning to brown mush are the norm this year.
  6. Disease issues are plaguing most growers.
  7. Each and every CSA grower we talk to is frustrated on behalf of their members. Not a single one of us wants to take advantage of the 'insurance' that CSA programs provide for the farmer. Yet, we all find ourselves in that position this season. As a result...
  8. There is a great deal of discussion and sharing of ideas to try to respond if this is to be our new weather norm.
Now, to turn this to the positive.

There are a number of small farms, including ours, that have tried to set themselves up to thrive (or at least do reasonably well) in the last three to five years. Two of the last three years have been near to complete disasters for growing years. And 2009, had a number of issues as well. It only seemed like a good year because 2008 was so difficult. That means these farms are actually managed well enough to survive even during very tough years (others can judge our own farm as you see fit).

So, if we can all find a way to emerge from these difficulties with new techniques and perhaps, some better growing years, imagine just how positive things could be for small farms such as ours.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Tom Sawyer Day

Today's Tom Sawyer Day was attended by a group of four fine individuals and we are grateful for their efforts. As a result, there are now 26 trays of seeds planted and placed in cold frames or in locations where they can sprout. Other trays with plants past usefulness were cleaned out. And, others were removed from the cold frames to harden off and be prepared for transplant.

Several other odd and sundry things were accomplished and it felt good to have a group to get those things done.

We hope to have a Tom Sawyer Day (TSD) in September.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Farm Report

It's been a while since we posted and it is time to update everyone on the farm. We will try to take some pictures this weekend to illustrate what we write today.

  • We are holding a Tom Sawyer Day this Saturday from 1pm to 5pm. Please contact us if you wish to come out and join us. NOTE: it helps us immensely to know who will be there so we can plan.
  • A week from this Saturday is our Summer Festival, starting at 4pm. This is a potluck with an available grill.
  • Tomatoes are starting to peak. This usually means that we have excess tomatoes beyond CSA needs. Those who wish to can or freeze tomatoes should contact us and we can arrange to get you some of our yummy heirlooms! It doesn't look like a record year, but it looks like a decent year for them. A bit more cracking due to extreme changes in water levels. BUT, the taste is excellent this year since it did stop raining at the point of ripening. A little stress at the finishing point from lack of water is good for the taste.
  • Turkeys have their new pasture behind the palace all fenced in, so they are getting used to running around outside. Normally, we'd like them out earlier, but circumstances being what they are... They had a regular feast with the excess of past peak cucumbers.
  • Peppers and eggplant? Yes, that is the question. The eggplant are 1/3 to 1/2 the size they should be right now. But, they look reasonably healthy. We'll see if they ever really get going. The peppers, on the other hand, are just struggling to live. The water and ensuing disease pressures may well have doomed this crop. We've kept them weeded, planted them on time, etc etc. In fact, we've done as much and as well as last season (when we set records for peppers and eggplant) with our work pertaining to the plants.
  • Summer squash and zucchini. Plantings 1-3 are producing at levels lower than usually expected, but enough to give everyone in the CSA some without overwhelming. Planting 4, however, looks fabulous and is getting weeded and mulched this week/weekend. It has the potential to do what these plants are supposed to do! We *dare* them!
  • Cucumber planting 2 is less vigorous, but healthy. We should see them start giving us some fair crops next week. We shouldn't hit the high levels of cucumbers we have had in recent weeks, but they won't go away either (that's good news since the season for them is relatively short).
  • Basil - needs a little time to grow after the cuttings of the last few weeks, but look fine.
  • Onions - we need to find them again - then we'll tell you about them.
  • Broccoli, cabbage - plantings 1-3 of these have failed. But, we keep trying to put more plantings in. A batch just went in about 10 days ago. Another will soon be going in. Really, we are trying to get them to go this year.
  • Kale - planting 1 survived the water at about 35% of the plants. Those that are left are beginning to give us leaves to harvest (next week's CSA). Planting 2 needs to be weeded, then we'll judge. Planting 3 needs to go into the ground.
  • Cauliflower - sorry. You can only get three successions in of these or it gets too late. These successions all drowned.
  • Kohlrabi - yes, we are planting fall crops. Here's hoping!
  • Peas - fall peas - the soil temp needs to be low enough to germinate - but we're really pushing the envelope on these now. We'll see.
  • Green beans - we are hoping for the typical 'back to school' peak. They KNOW Tammy goes back to teaching about this time - and they KNOW she is the primary bean picker. So, they like to rub it in. Hopefully, the fact that they know of the inconvenience will be motivation enough.
  • Potatoes - we dug a few plants that had died off - not much there. Many others have rotted away. Not a complete failure, but not a bumper crop. We'll be digging in September and hope to have enough to give everyone a nice little batch.
  • Winter squash, watermelons - sorry. Watermelons are kind of a bonus if they work, so we aren't happy, but won't take it too personally when they fail. Winter squash, on the other hand...
  • Lettuce - we're still waiting for one of our successions to give us excellent lettuce. We continue to start seed and plant transplants. Our latest transplant set went in and a few days later got thoroughly soaked by the last set of rain. A section was under water and many of those plants died. But, 2/3 - 3/4 of them are fine. The earlier plantings are bolting or have been harvested just before they bolted.
  • We'll be planting fall successions of arugula, spinach, radish, beets and some other things.
We are hoping for a long fall to help us make a better year out of it. But, we know we can't count on that. Part of us wishes the season would just end right now so we could put it all behind us and start over. We remember feeling like this in 2008 - and the season was redeemed by a late harvest deep into October. And, we left that year tired, but ready to make 2009 a better year. 2009 was, in fact, a better season. But, it did have a few issues with its cool temps. So, it was a slightly below average harvest year - but nothing to make us feel like complete failures.

We have had discussions with several other regional growers and they report similar issues. Seeds that wouldn't germinate, plants rotting in the ground, disease issues, fruit that wouldn't store as long as they normally do, etc etc. It makes us feel better and worse all at the same time. Better, because we can stop telling ourselves that it must all be our fault and that we are a poor excuse for farmers. Worse, because it means there are lots of fine people who are also struggling with the season.

We'll just keep plugging on and keep trying to adjust.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Ok, we've done pretty well working through the heat, the humidity and the muck this week.

Until today.

A hot, humid day is one thing. But, when your feet make squish noises with every step, the black flies make dives into ears, nose and throat and mosquitoes turn you into involuntary blood donors, it kind of adds up.

At the risk of burying what I thought was a good post I composed and scheduled for today - just thought we'd tell Mother Nature that she won today.

You Were Making Progress...

.... and you knew that couldn't be allowed.

We made the mistake of beginning to feel like we were getting somewhere. Still way behind, but actually making some progress.

And, now we have heat, humidity and ... of course... rain. We like rain. But, not so much that we need to consider building an ark...or a bubble. Normal rainfall for the Waterloo area through this point of the year is somewhere around 20-24 inches. Official records show that we are a foot ahead of that amount. Consider that this is half again as much as we normally get. I guess we should not be surprised if soils are saturated and if there are issues because of this.

We don't want to complain. We don't like to complain. We know other places have much more difficulty than we have. We do have water in the fields again, but we have not had any serious wind or hail damage. We are both generally healthy, if a bit tired. We are aware of lots of people who support us. And, it looks like things may dry out and cool down next week after we get through the forecast rain around Friday.

Part of the result of these weather difficulties is that we are continuing to brainstorm ideas that can make the farm more resilient. We've taken steps in the form of a bigger tractor and a high tunnel. We have taken another step this year by continuing to try to plant more successions of crops in hopes that there is enough time this fall for them to mature. We've done more with mulch - and that seems to help in some situations. We're continuing to improve how we raise the poultry by making new shelter spaces and giving them more room on pasture.

things we are considering for the future:

  • Raised Beds - no, we are not talking about wood enclosed beds, that would not be feasible. However, on our scale, we could find tools to raise and reshape the beds each spring. This will not solve everything. And, heavy downpours will degrade the beds. But, we would also consider a sturdy annual cover crop in the tire paths between each raised bed.
  • Swales - the site we link to is more concerned with using swales to control urban runoff. However, we can consider this as well. One issue is the amount of grading necessary to make it work. Essentially, a swale is a shallow ditch. But, for it to work, we need the area we want to be less wet to be higher the swale (of course). Obviously, this should allow water to slowly soak into the ground in places that are NOT where the veg is.
  • Tiling - we're not sure we want to dump water into the ditch so it can drain away. We would rather give it the chance to filter through naturally and replenish the underground aquifers. On the other hand, there is some potential advantage to tiling and draining into water holding tanks. We could then consider using solar powered pumps to irrigate during dry periods.
  • Cover crops - We've been trying to add more cover crops to our operation as companions or to cover bare soil at the beginning and end of the growing season. But, we are beginning to wonder if we should reduce the amount of cash crop space and increase the amount of cover crop space. If the weather doesn't allow us to work with the field space we plan to cultivate, then perhaps we should stop trying to work it all.
  • Reforming our field configurations on the farm - some fields are better than others with respect to water holding/shedding qualities. So, we are considering moving plots around and change things to take more advantage of natural tendencies.
We're going to have to figure all of this out quickly if we want to have a shot at doing something for next year's fields.

Regardless of what happens, we wanted everyone to know that we are considering many options - not all of them listed here - and we are hopeful that we can get a good combination figured out and done that will make us a more resilient operation with improved production consistency. All of that while still maintaining organic, sustainable and environmentally friendly practices.

Let's see if we can manage it.