Thursday, December 16, 2010

Picture This

The last "picture this" had some positive response outside of the blog - so I assume a few more pictures might be appreciated.

What things looked like in the high tunnel in October.  Pretty amazing, if I do say so myself.  You get an idea of size, etc if you look and see T in the back right corner.

One of the small projects I'd like to accomplish someday is to take decent pictures of some of the varieties we grow.  This may not fit the description of decent... but - it is Grandpa Admires lettuce.  Really good stuff.

And, just to brighten your day.  We did have days with sunshine and flowers that reflected that light.  We will have them again.

And a view the other direction down the tunnel. 

And a quick look back at what these plants looked like when we seeded them and the tunnel was over the other plot. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Burning Calories

If you live in Iowa (and many who read this do), you were given the opportunity to observe an honest to goodness blizzard.  This is, of course, followed by some very cold temperatures.  And, weather on the extremes lead to some interesting occurrences on the farm.

First - the good news - we were able to harvest lettuce, pok choi, spinach, arugula, kohlrabi, mustard greens and swiss chard.  In December.  With temps near zero.  And winds howling from the northwest.  Tammy even tasted a carrot or two - they're still a bit small and we will harvest these in March/April (at a guess).  So, the high tunnel is doing its job and we continue to get fresh greens.

And now, for the sidelight to the good news.

It doesn't matter how used to active work you are, working in this sort of weather makes you feel like you sit behind a desk all day, every day.  Both Tammy and I are feeling more tired than we think we should after the amount of visible work is assessed.  But, it's the unproductive additional labor we go through that burns the calories and makes the muscles tired.

Consider first, the numerous layers of extra clothing.  It just takes more effort to move.  And some of the more 'efficient' movements aren't possible anymore when you are bundled up.  Just turning to look to your left (or right) requires a full torso movement because turning your head results in seeing the inside of a hood/scarf. 

Then, there is the extra effort trying to slog through snow to get to the high tunnel.  When you add super cold winds that seem to suck the air out of your lungs, you can feel very much like you have been running the whole way.  Then, you attempt to carry a couple of containers with produce at the same time.  Remember - it is REALLY cold out there.  You don't want lettuce to be out in the elements for long.  So, next thing you know, you ARE actually attempting to run back to the house.  The result is usually just a faster than normal slog....and a few moments of catching your breath.  In fact, it is probably more efficient to walk the normal pace.  But, we feel better if we try to hurry at least once.

Of course, there are always additional tasks that become bigger in this sort of weather.  For example, every east facing door was iced shut after the storm.  The main door we use for the high tunnel faces.... we'll give you three guesses and a hint (guess east).  Well done!  You guessed it!

Another issue is the limited working time the high tunnel provides on a very cold day.  The sun was out, so temperatures in the tunnel reached 40 or so.  This can be quite nice given the contrast outside (and no wind inside).  However, the temperature rapidly drops as soon as the sun moves from the peak angle for solar gain.  As a result, we find ourselves trying to work quicker so everything can get done in the short window given to us.

And, finally, we begin to appreciate row spacing even more when we are bundled up, tired and cold.  we are definitely going to work on better spacing so there are better work areas in the tunnel for the next batch.  It's nothing we can't work around this time.  But, now that we have some experience with it, I think we can optimize space use and still create a layout that makes moving around and harvesting easier for us.

Now that we've shared our adventures in winter high tunnel picking - we'll regale you with our adventures in attempting to dig out the monster drift in our drive.

After a nap.  

Saturday, December 11, 2010


 In response to a number of requests for kitten pictures.

Here they are - introducing


Hob Nob

Also known as our little nibsters.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Stuck on you

Ah.... we learn new things every day.  Tuesday, I learned that high tunnels are different animals when it comes to working 'outside' in Winter.

The Scenario:
Temps are low single digits (Fahrenheit).  Not much wind - a blessing.  Sun is out.  Another blessing.  Rob has to pick for the extended season CSA shares and the crops are in the unheated high tunnel.

With the sun out, the temps were above 40 by 11:00 AM.  It made it to as high as 58 (for a very brief time).

Rob wears a black coat.  The end walls of the high tunnel have metal.  The walls are much cooler than the air in the high tunnel.

The Event:
Rob does a few things outside and gets a little snow on him.  Then carries tubs and tools to the high tunnel to pick.  He picks for an hour or so.  Then stretches his back and happens to touch the metal on the end wall of the high tunnel with the back of his coat.  His coat is, at that moment, damp from melted snow.  The end wall is still below freezing.  The coat adheres to the metal.

The Thought Process:
Hmmmmm.  I appear to be stuck to the metal on the end wall.   I'm glad that wasn't my tongue....or my hand.  You know what?  I appear to be really stuck to this wall.  Why was my back so wet?  Oh yeah, snow melted.   You know, I should give it a bit more of a tug.  Oy, that's on there good.  I hope I don't rip the coat.  Maybe I should just unzip the coat and worm out of it?  You know, it might be a bit silly if my coat has to stay on this wall until warmer weather.  But, it could be sillier still if I just stayed here....

The Result:
After a quick internal debate, I determined that I had the best leverage for pulling the coat off if I just left it on and yanked myself free.  It worked.  The coat is fine.  And... new knowledge that I can choose to file away and re learn later (if necessary - but actually unlikely).

Monday, December 6, 2010


Once again, Winter is a time where I familiarize myself with new weather and climate prediction tools that noaa puts on the web.  I found this one to be instructive.

Tammy and I were discussing how it seemed like the last few Winters (this one included so far) have started with some pretty serious cold weather in December.  And, so, I wondered what the forecast for average temps were for the coming months - and the result is above.

In short, we have equal chances of it being below, above or at averages for Dec-Feb months based on a 40 year average.  In other words - average temps between 16.7 and 20.7 degrees Fahrenheit.  I'll write more on that later.

The interesting part of the chart above shows that each of the last TWO winters (Dec-Feb) were well below this average range (under 15 degrees).  2006-2007 was on the upper edge of average.  Then, the two years prior to that were well ABOVE average.

The table at this web page shows temperature forecasts for the upcoming year.  Including a likelihood for above average temperatures next winter (Dec-Feb).  But, if you look at the percentage chances closely, you'll find there is nothing there above 36% chance (and the categories are split into three).

Then, there is this:

The blue, of course, indicates likelihood for below average temperatures and the orange indicates the likelihood for above average temperatures.

Time for an 'office pool.'  My money is on 19.8 degrees F for the average Dec-Feb temperature. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Catch you up

I was reviewing recent posts and realized that there may be a number of things that might feel like we left you dangling.  Since we 'hate dangling...' (see Lion King)  here are some things that *may* provide closure or a cathartic release:

Waverly Harvest Market
We did, in fact, have the Waverly Harvest Market in Waverly on Saturday.  There was very little snow in Waverly itself, but we did have 4-5 inches on the farm.  Several vendors canceled and we had a small group at the Waverly Community Center from 8:30-11:30.  Even with the small group, the number of vendors usually outnumbered the number of customers.  Ah well, that's what we feared might happen.  The good (?) news is the fact that we could not pick anything from the high tunnel for the market.  So, we arrived with jam, scones, eggs, garlic, cotton bags with our logo and a few cookbooks.  Not much at all for us, but we felt it necessary to be there.  Many thanks to those who took the time to be a vendor or stop by the market!  Reference: This Could Be Interesting

High Tunnel and cold weather
Not much sun until Saturday afternoon.  We're hoping the poor plants in the high tunnel soak up some sun now.  We were unable to pick anything for market because everything was frozen.  We are rapidly learning that you have to pick on the sunny days and try to store produce if you want to deliver it at a certain time.  We hope things perk up.  But, if they don't - it's been a good learning experience.  Reference: HI! Tunnel

Iowa Organics Conference
We did successfully present at the Iowa Organics Conference and enjoyed it very much.  It's always nice to have people interested in what you have to say.  I was also lucky enough to speak to an Environmental Biology class this week.  'Tis the season to hold forth with wise and witty sayings.  Wish I could manage it! Reference: Late night stuff

Durnik Does Work
With the frost reaching the soil, the time for using Durnik in the field (our tractor) is done for this season.  But, we were able to break up some serious hard pan in many areas of our fields.  We are anxious to see how this translates into our growing season.  Reference: Durnik at Work

The Nations Cup tournament for Ticket to Ride is continuing.  But, USA Team II lost out in the quarterfinals of the knock out round to Germany I.  It was enjoyable to play some very good players.  Yours truly was able to muster a 3-3 match record.  For a first appearance, I'll consider it a success.  Reference: Wait! This isn't farm related!


I have noticed an interesting pattern that made itself known to us almost immediately after we dubbed our farm the Genuine Faux Farm.

People seem to think we work on more than one farm.

Now, before anyone thinks I'm really upset with them, let me assure you that I am not.  Don't take this personally.  However, please note that we are only one farm.  We are not the Faux Farms, the Genuine Faux Farms or whatever other variation that might come up that involves the plural.

So - why even mention it?  It made me start thinking.... a dangerous pastime  (all together.... I know!)

The plural is, in my opinion, another symptom that illustrates the distance FROM the farm, from the land and from connections to our food that has grown by leaps and bounds since 1950.  It's also a symptom of the ever increasing "number of hats" a farmer has to wear in order to maintain a farm business.

Distancing ourselves from the farm

As the number of farmers decrease, the likelihood that an individual actually knows someone who produces food goes down.  As a result, any knowledge about what it takes to raise food becomes increasingly generalized for most of the populace.  As a result, most of us know only what we are told on the packaging and signage at the stores in which we purchase food.

And, what do we see in the store?  "xxxx Farms" on the label.  A label that sports a chicken.  Or a silo.  Or a red barn.  The use of the word "farm" and these pictures hint at a wholesome way of raising food that still tickles our subconscious.  But, the very manner most of what is produced, distributed and sold makes it nearly impossible for any individual to really know where the food came from, how it was really produced and who had something to do with its production.

Hats on the farmer's head

We've been in the business long enough now to be fully aware of the number of jobs that must be filled in order to have a successful farm operation.  There are promotional, sales, billing, purchasing, research, data management, strategic planning, tax accounting, building maintenance, mechanical maintenance, animal health, distribution management, ecology and communications jobs on the farm.  Oh, and we forgot to mention all of the jobs that have to do with actually growing produce and raising livestock.

It's really no wonder that small farms often look for ways to off-load some of the effort by consolidating and becoming more than one farm under one marketing entity.  Hence, the birth of "so and so" Farms.  It's not necessarily a bad thing.  Especially when there is transparency, traceability and truth in marketing a product.  But, it begs the question - are there ways to simplify so the 'family farm' is once again viable?

Bigger is Better?

And then there is this.

We all seem to have trouble recognizing what an optimal size is.  We can't quite identify for ourselves what an optimal income might be.  And, so the obvious response is that if what we have is good - then more is better. 

For example, marketing students are often introduced to techniques to 'open up' new markets and expand sales opportunity.  It's all about growth of a business and creating more demand for its product(s).  As a result, you have farms entering larger markets.  Markets they cannot manage as a single, small farm.  Markets that demand higher quantities, more uniformity and less flexibility (in all sorts of ways) lead a farm to look for ways to grow.  And, the easiest way to do that is to consolidate.  Once again, we have "farms."

Just a few thoughts.   Where do these thoughts take you?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

This could be interesting.

We have a Harvest Market scheduled in Waverly this Saturday, December 4.  It is indoors (the community center) from 8:30-11:30.  So, what will be interesting about it?

The Winter Storm Watch we a currently under.   Farmers' Market.  Winter Storm.  Farmers' Market.  Winter Storm.  hmmmmmmmmmm.

This is a totally new concept for us.  There is also the issue of figuring out when/how we can pick for this market.  We don't want to pick the lettuce when it is frozen. But, it will be cold and there will NOT be sunshine.  so, the tunnel will not warm up tomorrow.  This gives us two very real possibilities.

1. We won't be able to pick anything for the market - so we will have nothing to sell.  But, we still have to open up the building and be there to close it down.
2. We'll manage to get things picked, but the winter storm might shut down the market OR it might keep us from getting to the market.

Sorry, but my normal farmers' market mentality has done nothing to prepare me for this.