Monday, October 25, 2010

Variety is the Veg of Life

Towards the end of the growing season, it is always nice to look at how our seed and plant selections did for the year.  Here are a few varieties we are pleased with that were on trial this season:

Red Zebra tomato
Recommended by Mark Q at Scattergood, this one made him look *really* good.  We already grow Green Zebra.  Red Zebra is the perfect compliment in both looks and taste.  CSA members enjoyed having a chance to have a couple/few salad sized tomatoes every week during tomato peak thanks to these two.  I suspect we'll increase production of these a bit more to give everyone a few more to snack on.

Tiger Eye dry/shell bean
The lima beans we have tried around here in the past are very much hit or miss.  Tiger Eye is not exactly a lima, but it can be shelled while green, or it can be left to be a dry bean.  This is true for lima beans as well.  Tiger Eye seed tends to be a bit pricier than some, but the shorter season and high crop level paid off.  This year, we tried some during the normal growing season and got a half-hearted crop (June, say no more).  We also planted several rows late in the year, hoping for a long fall.  We got the fall AND we got a chance to try the shelling bean side.  We liked them enough to add them to our plan for 2011.  Not sure how much it will require in order to add this to the CSA.  That will require more experimentation.

White Egg turnip
We've relied on Purple Top White Globe and Golden turnips.  But, we were looking for shorter season turnips that can help us out in the fall if we are unable to get other turnips in the ground.  White Egg responded both in the spring and in the fall.  Once things warmed up, White Egg became rather unhappy and mealy.  So, it is clearly a cooler weather turnip.  But, that's entirely fine with us.  Purple Top and golden hold pretty well in warmer weather, so we can plan around these strengths.

Wautoma cucumber
Ok, it's true.  Nearly every cucumber we planted did well this season.  But, some did better than others.  Wautoma gets the nod over Boothby's Blonde, Poinsett 97 and others we trialed this year.  In particular, Wautoma impressed with the long season of production.  We suspect we will like this cultivar better if we trellis it since it crawled all the way from the farm to the town of Fredricka and back.  It also had more of a tendency to have fruit issues if they were on the soil during wet weather.  Other cucumbers did not exhibit this problem as much.  On the other hand, this one will give us loads of smaller cucumbers if we can keep it picked.  We didn't keep up and they still produced for 11 weeks.  If we can trellis, maybe we can keep up?
Ha'ogen melon

Tromboncino summer squash
This one is a winner even though it didn't produce like one this year.  Why?  We planted it in a late succession and it would do better in a prime season planting. (2nd succession of summer squash).  These long, curly squash with a bulb on the end can be harvested early as summer squash or allowed to mature and be used as winter squash.  However, if the taste this year was any indicator, it is unlikely any of these will be allowed to become a winter squash.  Fabulous on the grill, we'll do more with them next year.

Costata Romanesco zucchini
Production levels are lower than a hybrid by a long ways.  The vines crawl more than hybrids do.  The fruit are striped and often have a thin middle.  In other words, many of the things that would drive a commercial grower nuts.  On the other hand, you have to taste it.  It's worth growing a row of these so that CSA members have a chance to put these in a special dish that calls for zucchini.  And, if I were selling to a fine restaurant looking for 'gourmet,'  I would chose this zucchini first.  We'll grow lower producing plants if they taste this good.  And, while they didn't produce huge numbers, they produced for a long time and were fairly consistent.  I could count on the number of fruit I would get in the trial row each picking.

Green Wave mustard
I have to admit that I snuck mustard into our grow list - Tammy didn't know we had it until I planted it.  These were held in reserve for fall to late fall.  And, they are paying off.  The plants look beautiful and the leaves are a nice light green with frilly edges.  Like all mustards, they have some bite/warmth when eaten raw.  And, many people love that taste.  When cooked, they sweeten appreciably and add a nice taste to a stir fry.  In fact, we found it worked well in combination with arugula and kale.  These plants are easy to grow and easy to pick.  Remember, mustard, once it goes to seed, will remain in your garden for years to come.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In with the new

There have been a number of things happening on the farm that are requiring adjustments or additional work.  And, since I am not feeling creative - we'll just report and forego the usual silliness that accompanies.  Ok, I probably won't - it's in my nature.

  • After seven years, we finally have purchased a new computer.  It is six months later than originally budgeted, but that is how it goes.  Of course, the machine still needs to be set up, etc.  So, this represents *more* work to do.  Doesn't that figure?
  • We couldn't see ourselves without a pair of indoor cats - something we have had most of our married lives.  So, we now have two kittens in the kitchen.  We believe in introducing the house in small(ish) portions.  It's good for the kittens - and better for us.  I foresee MORE cleaning coming up before the next expansion of territory.  Names of the cats?  Hobnob and Bree.  Ah, more LOTR references (our previous cats were Eowyn and Strider).  And, yes, I have already stepped on one.  Yes, it made an awful noise.  Yes, the human came out on the worse side of the encounter.
  • The high tunnel has produced some fruits from our late summer planting.  We have had a couple of melons, some tomatoes, green beans and a couple of peppers.  All in all, we have to be happy with getting something/anything from this planting.  
  • Durnik is slated for a bit more work today.  I am rapidly getting accustomed to the tractor - a good thing.
  • The tiller attachment for the lawn tractor is still in pieces.  Not sure when I'll get to that one.  But, I will.
  • A recent scouting expedition found broccoli heads the size of a quarter.  We are on pins and needles as to whether these will fill out.  If they don't, I suppose that is too bad.  It certainly has been worth the try.
  • The meat birds and the ducks have been processed.  The turkeys go in at the end of the month.  Already, the amount of required chore work for the birds is far saner.  It will be even better once all of the processed birds are delivered!
  • The feed transport system developed by our friend Jeff S has had its trial run.  It made it up to Frantzen Farms and back safely and with 1000lbs of feed for the hens.  So far so good.
  • We're still trying to find the mental energy and time to figure out how we will do the season extension shares we intend to do.  I suspect our time has run out, so something will be done about it asap.
  • Team USA II is 3-1 in clashes and in the middle of the last clash of the round robin stage of the Nation's Cup Ticket to Ride tournament.  Looks like we qualify to go into the 'knockout' phase (single elimination tournament).  Hurray for us!
  • Rob and maybe Tammy will be speaking at the Iowa Organic Conference on Nov 22. 
  • It seems to me that there is much more going on at this time.  But, I lack the brain waves to figure it out.  But, I guess that's why the blog is here and it allows me to edit!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Durnik at Work

It's been a week of learning and change with respect to our tractor.

Thanks to our good friend, Steve, time was spent changing oil, etc on the Ford 8n and it gave me the excuse to look more closely at the machine and to get familiar with it.  Manuals have been ordered and are still 'in transit.'  But, a great deal of progress has been made nonetheless.  Perhaps the most interesting thing would be the discovery that this tractor is NOT exactly a Ford 8n.  It is a Ford 8.5n.  The chassis is clearly a 9n and the engine is a 1948 8n.  We can speculate all we want about how this came about - but, it doesn't matter to me so long as the tractor helps us do our work.

With the help of the superhero Band Saw Man (thank you Jeff!), we now have a subsoiler that works with a category 1 three point hitch.  Ok, if you don't know what that means - suffice it to say - it works with the tractor.  And, since Jeff is also very good working with metal, he was able to do the repairs to the discovered subsoiler so that it functional.

I was able to get the implement out of the truck and onto the tractor today.  Sorry, no picture of that yet.  And, of course, I had to try it out.  Aside from the normal 'getting used to the tool' issues, it appears to work very well with the tractor.  I've long since learned that no tool is the 'silver bullet' and every tool needs a learning curve to find its optimal use patterns.  So, most of one of our plots (E1) has had the subsoiler run through it.  I had other work to do, so had to stop learning how to use the tool.

This was the second job assigned to the tractor on the farm.  The first was helping us to move the Duck N Cover out to a different field for the meat chickens.  That mission was also accomplished.

Also accomplished - a name for the tractor.  It has been dubbed 'Durnik.'  Again, we thank Steve for the insight.  If you have read any of the David Eddings fantasy books, you will appreciate the name selection.  If you have not, you'll just have to take our word for it.  The name describes exactly what we hope to get out of the tractor.  Solid, reliable and efficient work.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Farm Report

October 11 farm report

  • A group of UNI MBA students are putting together a survey for the GFF CSA.  We have received a draft and they will be sending this survey out to our members very soon.  We are hopeful that we can gather some information that will help us to continue to improve what we do.
  • Ducks are now processed and available.  Chickens go in on the 18th of October.  Turkeys on October 29.  We have more to sell - so contact us if you want them.  Also, we don't have freezer space to store them indefinitely, so we encourage people to find freezer space for their birds!
  • We intend to run the CSA through the end of October.  So, unless something happens, the last dates will be Oct 25 (Mon at farm), Oct 26 (Tue at Waverly), Oct 28 (Thu at Roots)
  • There will be a Harvest Market in Waverly this year.  It will be Saturday Nov 6 from 8:30 - 11:30 and Saturday December 4 during the same time slot.  At the community center (indoors).  We will be attending with some of our high tunnel produce.
  • Weather has been warm and dry.  Thus, there will be some irrigating going on this week.
  • Summer crops are being cleaned up (summer squash, cucumber, etc) as the frosts ended useful harvests from these.  There are a few sneaky eggplant that are growing since only the top half of these plants were singed.  But, anything we get from crops such as this will be minimal.  Perhaps there will be enough to make a miscellaneous box at distribution.
  • Fall/winter crops look healthy.  The broccoli looks beautiful but is making us nervous as it fails to set heads for harvesting.  Kohlrabi is on pace for a harvest.  Kale is wonderful.  The next batch of lettuce is growing.  All in all - pretty successful.
  • We continue to look for implements to use on our new tractor.  We have, however determined that we do not exactly have a Ford 8n.  We are calling it a Ford 8.5n.  The chassis is a 9n and the engine is an 8n.  In other equipment news, the tiller for the JD lawn tractor is going to need an overhaul.  The earlier report of a break in the shielding for the chain must be expanded to a broken chain and a few other things.  I think it is done for the season.
  • If you are a current CSA member and you wish to return for the 2011 season, the time to sign up and reserve a spot (before we open it up to anyone on a first come first served basis) is upon us.  Once again, you reserve a spot with a $25 deposit.  We will hold the price the same as this season for all returning CSA members. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Picture This ... and That!

Being mildly introspective (and needing to review some pictures for presentations this winter).  I thought I'd share a few pictures - some of which have already seen time on the blog.  But, rather than linking you to them -here they are.

The winter had moments of sheer beauty - complete with some beautiful hoar frost.  We should have known.  The last time we saw this much hoar frost was the Winter of 2007-2008.  Hmmmm.

And, there were bee hives on the farm for the first time.  There is still significant activity by these hives in October.  In fact, September and October have been the best months of the season for the bees.

And, the building that just won't go away -went away more early in the season.  Still more to do on it, but isn't that always the way of things on the farm?

 The temporary green cold frames only lasted for two seasons at most.  And, they have a tendency to break loose and fly away in a strong wind.  So, new cold frames from reused windows and wood began to appear.

The driveway became a good place to harden plants off.  This way, we weren't killing off any grass, water was nearby and we could keep an eye on things.   The problem was - we had all of this stuff to plant - and no place to plant them!

The garlic did reasonably well this year.  They survived the winter fine and looked good in early June.

But, the first signs that there were troubles came in late May and early June.  When it rained, it rained hard - crusting the soil over and inhibiting germination of early crops.

Then, the rains really came.  Only five days in the month of June saw no rain at all.  Many rainfalls were, shall we say, a bit excessive.   The first picture shows our peppers in June.  The second shows them on (get ready for this)...Labor Day.  As you can see, we did cultivate - so you can't blame the weeds.

In early July, we held a two day field day and put up a moving high tunnel.  We had several attendees and the tunnel was mostly up by the end of Friday.

And, in September - we have melons, tomatoes, peppers and green beans growing happily. We have harvested a few green beans and peppers.  The melons may still yet give one or two, as may the tomatoes.  It was an experiment - successful in that we learned some things about growing in the tunnel.  We knew the planting was late and expected little production.

And, so, fall plantings are where it is at this year.  The loss of some crops allowed us to spend a bit more time keeping the fall crops weeded and mulched.

And then, there is the Poultry Palace - or Poultry Pavilion...  There is now a nice room in there for turkeys and plans for two more rooms for critters.

And, the turkeys enjoy their new pasture and seem to be respecting the new fenceline.

And, then, there were sunsets like this one.  Reminding us to slow down and enjoy our lives and the place we now live.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wait! This isn't farm related!

We've been asked every so often what we do to relax. 

Since not everyone believes me when I say we weed, we thought we'd bring up the Ticket to Ride thing again.  Tammy and I both still enjoy these games and we are beginning to play more often now that the daylight goes away earlier.  We do still tend to play these games cooperatively when we play each other.  But, it is a different matter when Rob plays online.

In fact, I was given the opportunity to play for one of three US teams in the Nation's Cup tournament that is going on now.   All games are head to head (two players, one from each team).  Players are matched up to play a best of five match.  There are five players from each team to make a 'clash.'  It is set up similar to many soccer style tournaments - so we are in the round robin phase right now.

Thus far, USA Team II has won two clashes and lost one.  The loss versus Germany's Team II and the wins versus Italy and Switzerland.  I have played two matches and gotten two wins for the team. 

Here's hoping my luck (and concentration) holds out! 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Fall Farm Pictures

The following are pictures that were taken primarily in September.  We intended to post them at that time.  I only missed by a day....

Ok. Ok.  They were taken around September 6.   Remember, you can click on a picture to see a larger version.

Below is a picture of our southwest plot, looking towards the high tunnel and granary.  In the foreground are our late planting of green beans.  They produced in time for everyone to get one last blast of green beans before the expected frost the Saturday.  Now, that's timing!

The turkeys were given a new home in the 'Poultry Palace' and a new pasture this summer.  We're now working on fencing in a second paddock to rotate the fields a little bit.

It has been a year where we've had to mow....alot.  When life makes you cut the lawn, use mulch.  This is some of our late plantings of lettuce, broccoli, kohlrabi, etc from about Sep 8.  And, yes, it does take a while to spread that much mulch.
 The above plot was originally supposed to be melons and watermelons.  But, by now, those who read the blog know we couldn't get into the field in time to put them in.  So, we made some adjustments.  The field that was originally to be sweet corn and pumpkins became....

Dry beans and summer squash/zucchini.  ssq/zukes are on the left.  This was planting #4 of summer squash and zucchini.  CSA members, Waverly Child Care and Bartels Retirement Center all got to partake of the fruits from those plants!  This is a good thing.

Back to the brassicae.  We just keep plugging along getting things weeded and mulched out there.  Here's hoping they produce.  So far, we can say we will get kale, pok choi, lettuce and kohlrabi from this field.  Still not sure about other things.  But, we'll keep working on it.