Thursday, August 25, 2011

Summer Festival

Saturday, August 27 starting at 4pm.

We've been warning you that it was coming in our CSA emails for the last few weeks and now it is here!

Our annual Summer Festival will be held at the farm.  All CSA members are invited.  It is a potluck with an available grill.  We will be providing some cherry tomatoes and will likely grill some veg for everyone to try.  If we can pull it together, we may have a bit of an heirloom tomato tasting as well.

Bring some food to pass and something to grill.  We do have some plates, etc for people to use, but it doesn't hurt if you come prepared with your own service.  You will want to be sure to have a sweatshirt or a jacket since the country can be a bit cooler - especially as the sun sets.  Lawn chairs can also be of use to you.  If you have a favorite lawn game or other game you want to play bring it along too!

It looks like we will be able to have a bonfire this year. 

Hope to see you there.

Rob & Tammy

Monday, August 22, 2011


There was a fine request that some of the content on the blog reflect what we've heard from some of our CSA customers regarding things veg related or CSA related.

Finally!  Some time to meet that request:

Overheard at CSA distributions:

  • There has been some lively trading of produce between persons picking up at the same time.  Sometimes it isn't at all a bad idea to express how much you might like a certain vegetable - it just might fall on the ears of a person who likes them less than you - and may trade for something you don't want as much!  We had two people make a trade because each individual was looking for just enough of X to make recipe Y.  It just so happened their needs matched up nicely.
  • Recipes are frequently shared.  There are a couple at the bottom of this post!
  • Sometimes we get persons who walk up to the distribution tables and aren't sure of what is going on.  Reactions once there is an explanation range from positive comments about how it seems like a good program to anger that they are not allowed to buy what we have.  Happily, most people are supportive.
  • Freezing basil - We tear the leaves off the stem, put them on a cookie sheet and put them in the chest freezer until they are frozen solid.  We then put them in a freezer bag for later use.  A CSA member added this great idea to the process - crush the leaves as you put them in the bags - now they are ready for immediate use when you want them!
  • We've actually had more than one CSA member tell us that they make a game out of trying to use every item that comes to them in the share each week.  And if you win the game - what is your prize?  We think it is the following week's share.....
  • Splitting a share is making sense for several people this year.  In several cases, two families split a large share.  They alternate weeks for pickup and swap weeks if one family or the other is going on vacation, etc.  Much of the produce given to you is of sufficient quality that it can last for two weeks.  Remember - it's not already a week old by the time it gets to you!  So, these families have found a way to make the CSA work for them.
  • Many people are happy with the eggplant.  Some are beginning to grow weary of them.  A few would rather it were the cucumbers going nuts again.  But, last year everyone got a grand total of *ONE* eggplant all season (in October) and *ALOT* of cucumbers.  This year you are getting some cucumbers along with your plethora of eggplant.  I think we'll all take this year's production over last... even if you were hoping for the ridiculous cucumber numbers again this season.
The following was submitted by CSA member Brooke W (thanks Brooke!):
1 1/2 pounds medium golden beets, scrubbed
1 1/2 pounds fingerling or new potatoes, halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
coarse salt and ground pepper
1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts (optional)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chives
1 to 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees, with racks in top and middle. Place beets on a large piece of foil on a baking sheet. Fold foil around beets and crimp ends to form a packet. Cook beets on sheet on middle rack, 30 minutes.

2. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss potatoes with oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange potatoes, cut side down, on sheet. After beets have cooked 30 minutes, place potatoes on top rack. Cook 15 minutes. Flip potatoes and sprinkle with walnuts (if using). Cook until walnuts are toasted, potatoes are golden, and beets are tender when pierced with knife, 5 to 10 minutes.

3. Remove beets from foil and let cool. Transfer potatoes and walnuts to a large bowl. Rub beets with a paper towel to remove skin and cut each into 4 to 6 wedges, depending on size. Toss beets with potatoes, walnuts, and chives and season to taste with vinegar. (To store, cover and keep at room temperatures, up to 3 hours). Serves 6.

per serv: 227 cal; 11.3 g fat (1.3 g sat fat); 5.1 g protein; 28.5 g carb; 5.3 g fiber

From "Everyday Food" magazine.

 And this one is from Tara S (thanks Tara!)
Eggplant Spread (Melitzanosalata)

2 medium eggplants, about 1 pound each
1/4 c olive oil
1/2 c minced onion
1 medium ripe tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
3 tbs fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
6 pitted black Kalamata oil-cured olives
3 tbs chopped flat leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 450.
Prick eggplants in a few places and put on a square of aluminum foil in pan. Bake about 40 minutes, or until soft. Cool. Remove stems and peel eggplants, scraping any flesh from skin. Remove excess seeds, discard skin, and chop eggplant. Place in bowl. Blend in olive oil and onion well with eggplant. Add chopped tomato. Season with lemon juice, salt, pepper, 3 pitted olive, sliced, and 2 tablespoons parsley. Mix thoroughly. Refrigerate, preferably overnight. Garnish with remaining 3 olives, sliced, and chopped parsley. Serve with crusty bread or crackers as an appetizer or over lettuce as salad.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Week 11 of the CSA

Greetings everyone!

Here we are in the middle of August.  A time when we expect things to be warm - and it feels alot like September.  Hmmm.

We expect the following for both days in the CSA:  peppers, eggplant, summer squash, zucchini, lettuce, garlic, cucumbers, basil
These items will come along for the ride depending on time and availability: tomato, green bean, hot peppers, okra

News of the Farm:

Changing of the Guard:
We are entering the season where our work force undergoes a great deal of alteration.  Many of our workers are students or teachers - which means they will no longer be working on the farm as much as they have been doing.  We are doing some schedule rearranging in the hopes of making things work better.  But, we need to remind everyone that the number of persons working on the farm goes down dramatically as August progresses.  Our thanks to all those who worked through the Summer!

Lots to do and Fewer Hours to do it in:
The sun isn't getting up as early as it was.  And, this trend appears to be one that will continue for a while.  As a result, we have fewer working hours each day to get it all done in.  On the PM side, it's nice to have a little bit of time to do other work inside before we collapse.  On the AM side... let's just say that we kind of liked the sun coming up earlier.

Tomato, Tomahtoe:
Yes, we are getting anxious for them too.  But, you can't force them to change and be ripe.  On the other hand, many are beginning to change.  First fruits are often a little less choice in looks, but usually quite tasty.  Looks like our peak will be a couple of weeks late this year.

Tom Sawyer Week?
We floated the Tom Sawyer Week idea and got one nibble.  This week won't work.  Anyone in for the following week if we set up a bunch of times?

Summer Festival:
Remember - the Summer Festival is August 27 starting at 4 pm on the farm.  This is a social event (not a work event).  It's a potluck with a grill made available to those who wish to use it.  If you have lawn games you want to use or share, bring them along.  Lawn chairs are a good idea.  CSA members are all welcome to join us as are all 'honorary' CSA members, etc etc.  If weather allows, we usually have a bonfire.  If it does not - well, that's what the weather can do to us.

Help at the Tuesday CSA:
Anden Drolet will be helping Tammy at the Tuesday distribution again this week.  It's actually part of our reward to Anden for his hard work this year.  Yes, I know, funny way to show appreciation - make him work more.  Say hello to Anden this week and thank him for his efforts!

Roof Be Gone:
We've been pleased to see the remnants of the old roof from the granary get picked up and moved away from the building.  Since we don't have a magic wand to clean it up we've enlisted the help of a couple of individuals who are willing to peck away at it a little at a time.  It will be nice to move around that building more freely.

New Trailer - Sort of:
We are finding that one of the better ways to pick up certain types of equipment for the farm is to keep an eye out for nearby farm auctions.  This last weekend (since it rained) we went to an auction by Plainfield and successfully bid for trailer running gear.  This is essentially just the undercarriage, wheels and hitch.  There is no deck on this thing at the time.  It's a smaller hay rack (or whatever we build the deck to be).  We did need another project around here you know.  but, we've had too many instances where our little trailers don't serve efficiently.

Our thanks to the Bousqimers for their wonderful help this weekend on trellising some tomatoes.  Also, a thank you goes out to Jim Faux for fixing some doors, gates, wheels, etc to help us handle all of the flocks of birds that we have taken responsibility for this season.  To our CSA members who have been so kind as to give us an encouraging word when it was needed, we also send out our thanks. 

Have a good week everyone!
Rob & Tammy

Saturday, August 13, 2011

By the Numbers Part II

It is usually August when I start playing with production and other numbers.  It tells you two things about us:
1. Rob likes numbers
2. We take record keeping seriously

It's a good thing Rob likes the numbers and we keep the records, because it is an important part for our certification process *and* it is important to help us plan for production levels that satisfy our CSA customers - at the minimum.

But, numbers can lie - just as our memories can be faulty.  But, if you put field observations together with harvest records and an educated 'feel' for how the season is going or has gone, you can have a powerful learning tool.

1. Peppers part II
I made an observation/educated guess that we might be on tap for a production level of sweet peppers for the season of approximately 2500 fruit.

2011  15 99 123 195 279
2009  23 99 174 222 279

Above are numbers for the first five weeks of 2009 and this season.  It is astonishing to see harvest numbers that are exactly the same for two weeks.  This might lead me to conclude that we will have a similar year to 2009 - where we ended up with over 4900 marketable sweet peppers harvested.

Behind that lie is another number:
2011   567 sweet pepper plants planted
2009   481 sweet pepper plants planted

So - does that mean we're about 20% behind the expected rate of harvest for this number of plants?  And, even if this is the case, shouldn't we still land at about 4900 - with the extra plants making up for the production rate shortfall?

Tolli Sweet is an early red sweet pepper (wonderful taste and shaped a bit like a carrot).  It's 3 year historical average per plant for a season is 16.4 and it's average for the first five weeks is 3.6.  In the first five weeks this year, we've had 1.9 marketable peppers per plant.

This leads me to field observations.  We lost more of our early peppers to end rot and other such problems than we have in the past.  So, it is possible the reduction in numbers for Tolli Sweet could be accounted for in terms of the non-marketable fruit given to birds.

A second observation is that there have been more "dead flower ends" this season than other years.  These are flowers that dropped without fruit set - a condition that often happens when temperatures stay hot, even at night.  This tells me that I might not want to expect the same production levels in late August as I normally might expect.  And, it just so happens that peak Tolli Sweet production is normally when?  According to the history, half of the production occurs in the 2nd half of August.  Hmmmm.

If we adjust our expectations for Tollis Sweet based on these numbers and observations, we can take our initial projection of 705 fruit (at 16.4 per plant), remove the production of 4 lost plants and make adjustments for reduced early production and reduced August production.  We come up with an estimate of 350 Tolli Sweet peppers for the season.

Using similar analysis for the overall sweet pepper crop - we estimate a harvest of about 3200 sweet peppers.

We're at 700 harvested so far.

Here's to 2500 MORE peppers to share with everyone!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

By the Numbers

Every year I do a few posts that talk about some of our production numbers and how it relates to growing conditions for the season.

I took a few moments tonight to look at some of our numbers and here are some interesting things I found.

1. Eggplant started 2 weeks ahead of schedule this year.

Well - we did get a very early warm spell with lots of humidity.  What do eggplant like?  WARM WEATHER.  Ok, glad they like it.  Oddly, the size of the plants themselves are really not ahead of schedule - it's just the production itself.

2. Casper and Pintung Long are producing like they never have before.

Casper is a beautiful white eggplant with a mild flavor and nice texture.  It has produced nearly 4 eggplant per plant so far this season and shows signs of incredible yields this year.  Pintung is at 3.3 eggplant per plant.  It is a long lavender Asian style eggplant.  It takes a marinade well and has a wonderful taste.  We've only been harvesting these for about a month.  In the past, we would have been pleased with 3-4 eggplant per plant for the whole season.

Why is this?  Part of the reason has to be the weather.  But, before we attribute this entirely to the weather, we need to consider other variables.  And, oddly, part of it is the seed industry's decision to drop "Dusky," our only hybrid eggplant - and our usual producer of a large percent of our eggplant crop.  With Dusky's demise, we needed to figure out who could pick up the slack.  Look what we found!

We are pretty certain that both of these like the warmer summer - but they were already looking good before the heat wave.  I suspect an average to warmer summer will do them just fine.

3. Peppers - it may not be 2009 all over again, but at least it is not 2010.

Last year - out of approximately 550 sweet pepper plants - we harvested a dozen peppers.  Hey - they sat in water through much of a month.  So, we're happy to have peppers this year.  However, our total sweet pepper production numbers have been:

2009 4943
2008 3158
2007 4000

That's pretty good consistency.

We're on the normal schedule for production start and entry into peak picking.  This is to be expected since the hot weather doesn't necessarily accelerate the peppers all that much.  But, what it has done is cause blossom drop - so the rate of increase is not as sharp as normal.    We're at 526 sweet peppers so far for the season, so things seem fine.  But, we need a strong rebloom and set to get into the numbers we've seen in the past.  But, given last year, we'd be happy to be sitting at 2500 for this season when all is said and done.

Monday, August 8, 2011

News and Announcements

Every year, we hit a period where we're just tired of it all.  As a result, we have a harder time getting fun and interesting blogs out there for everyone.  We then fall back on the 'just the facts' approach to blogging - nothing really wrong with that - I hope. 

Don't worry, we'll get the fire back.  Everyone in every job hits stretches like this and we're not the exception.

  We were quite pleased with last week's distribution.  Lots of produce went to our share holders.  Thus far, the amount and quality of the produce delivered has been very good (in our opinion), which makes us happy.  Of course, this is a business and we want to provide a good product.  But, it is also a bit more than a business.  

On another note - the Cedar Falls distribution on Thursday was 1 person away from perfect attendance!  Wow!.  Well done.

Tom Sawyer Week:
We are tentatively scheduling a Tom Sawyer 'Week' for the following days - August 10, 14, 15 & 19.  More details coming soon.

Summer Festival
 A reminder that our annual Summer Festival is coming!  Mark Saturday, August 27 on your calendars.

Signing up for Extended Fall Shares:
We are not quite ready to do this yet.  But, we will begin signups in September.  We'll make the announcement first to last year's extended season members, then our current CSA members and those on the wait list.  Then, if necessary, we throw it open to all.  We are looking at 25 slots approximately.

Signing up for 2012:
It seems early to mention this, but we have had questions regarding it.  We begin signups for the following year in September as well - giving current members and wait-listed individuals first shot at slots.

Partner Farm Work Days:
We were at Scattergood in June, at GFF (here) in July and we will be at Grinnell Heritage Farm on August 17.  This could very much help us get out of the "blahs" as it is always helpful to commiserate with our peers.  And, it's just neat to go help someone else for a few hours.  Blue Gate is scheduled for September.

Farm Energy Working Group Grant:
GFF received a grant to do research on how we can incorporate solar energy into our farming operation.  We'll provide more as we work on it.  The end result of this grant is hopefully to identify exactly WHAT we will do and then produce a grant application to make that happen. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Farm Report

Once again, we fall back on the farm report....  Alas!

  • Our Spring chickens *are* sold out at this time.  We will take reservations for our Fall batch (typically ready in October).  We are still delivering some of the birds - but most are in their new homes.
  • Speaking of broilers (we were?).  The chicks are out of their boxes and now have a room to themselves.  We typically don't move them out of boxes quite this quickly, so were a little surprised when they managed to get out of their room by getting through the crack under the door.  Hmmmm.
  • The turkeys got their first taste of summer squash and pronounced it yummy.  Well, ok, they said something along the lines of "chiiirrruuup."  Which, in turkey, means - "Oh look, this is interesting, I will eat it."
  • Fields are finally drying out so we can do some of the work we need to do.  We've been trying to get weeding and other things done in the mud, but it slows us down and is not as pleasant to work in as one might like.
  • We are glad the heat has moved on.  And, the forecast is calling for more reasonable temperatures for a while.  This is good for the humans and the animals.  But, it is actually *very good* for some of our crops that were suffering in the heat.  While you might think of things like lettuce suffering (and it does), you might be surprised to learn that green beans also suffer in excessive heat.   Fruit tend to brown or develop empty pods.  In fact, the heat can reduce blooming and fruit set.  As long as we can keep the plants alive, they should turn it around.  
  • Rob spent time answering questions on film for the Grout Museum.  They are developing an exhibit on alternative farming in Iowa that should appear in 2013.  I sure hope they didn't notice the pimple on my nose!  (oy!  I think I'm joking here!)
  • Weeds.  Icky!  Weeds.  Icky!  Sigh.  Oui, we weed and we weed and we weed.  And they keep coming back.  I think they are winning.  
  • We used all but three of our white nest and stack crates for Tuesday's pick for the CSA.  This is good and bad.  We'll let you figure out why.
  • We're tossing more fruits due to mold/rot problems than we've had to in the past.  This is a moisture/heat related issue and should pass as long as we can keep getting these OFF of the plants.
  • We've noticed some diseased pepper plants that probably got some carry-over from last year's issues.  It should not impact all of the peppers, but some varieties look like they need to be pulled to prevent possible spread.  So, no record this year.  But, I think the CSA will get plenty over time.
That's all the brain can dredge up for tonight.  Get outside and enjoy the nice temperatures!