Saturday, January 28, 2012

2011 In Review

We received some positive feedback that end of year "top 10 lists" are fun - even if they are done by everyone who can count to eleven.... er... ten.

Our 2010 year in review can be found here for those who have interest: 2010 in Review

And now for the very thing everyone has been waiting for!  Ok, maybe just what some of you has been waiting for...  Well, maybe just a few of you... 
Fine - maybe it's just that kid in the back.  This one's for you "kid in the back," we hope you enjoy this list!
10. See-through Barn
 If you've been reading the blog lately, you'll know we're taking down our old barn.  At present, it is still standing, but you can see right through it. 
9. Tom Sawyer Week
We've done our best to incorporate events known as "Tom Sawyer Days" into our farming.  The idea is to give CSA members and other interested parties a chance to be involved in the farm.  Of course, getting help completing various tasks is part of the goal here, but the primary focus is to promote a connection to growing food - something we feel is being lost.

This year, we attempted a Tom Sawyer Week -where we gave a set of optional times.  Our hope was that this would allow more people to find a way to work a trip into their schedule.  Attendance was moderately higher, but we also found that it felt less like a burden to us using this format.  And, several people got to help free up winter squash.  Our winter squash harvest was reasonable this year thanks to this group's efforts.

8. Barty 
Our new BCS walk behind tractor with tiller was a major purchase for the season.  We planned the purchase carefully and debated relative merits for weeks.  After an early false start, Barty did an admirable job for us.  It was a good purchase and we are grateful that we took the leap to get him.

7. Truck barn gets a facelift
We've always just called this building the 'Truck Barn.'  We don't know why.  So, if you think the name is silly, deal with it, because we are unlikely to change that part of it.  On the other hand, we've changed most of the rest of the building.  We still need to put up a door, put in a walk-in cooler, paint the rest of the building and do a few other things.  But, it really has come a long way.

6. Implements at auction and in action.

 We became a "very real" Faux Farm this season with the purchase and integration of several larger pieces of equipment.  Yes, I suppose we are still a "fake farm" according to many since the "big" equipment is typically older, castoff items that are no longer used on conventional farms.  But, they are exactly what we need, so no apologies there. 

We've learned that used equipment comes with their rewards and their perils.  The hay rack at left works well enough, but one of the front wheels still does not turn left or right.  The two-bottom plow at right helped me to break ground in an effort to square off a plot, but it took some learning time to figure out the right depth and angles to make it work well.

5. Granary-Leaks (not quite wiki-leaks)
This should probably read "NO MORE granary leaks."  The problem with buying a farm with several 'older' existing buildings is that you have to repair all of the buildings.  And, the roof is the number one priority if you hope to save the building at all.  Well, the granary makes the cut and the barn does not.  On to the next steps - putting on better doors and painting the building!

4. Huge Boids!
The truck was riding pretty low when we pulled into the parking lot with the processed birds.  You can imagine how much lower the truck must have been riding on the way to the processor.

2011 was a great year for our poultry.  The only thing we feel was really different in 2011 from 2010 for our birds was the weather.  But, then again, maybe we've improved the pastures and the pasture rotation?  There were more veg thrown to them this year?  Whatever the case may be, they were happy and they were healthy.  We'll take it.
3. Walk This I said *THIS* way.
There were so many changes to our farm this season, we actually found ourselves having to re route our normal walking routes.  In fact, it can be a bit disturbing when you find yourself walking somewhere (with mind on something else) and realize you can't get through to where you are going the way you are walking. 

Major changes included moving the hens from the area east of the barn.  Now that they are in the Poultry Pavilion, we find ourselves treading new paths in the snow.  We rearranged some fields (turning triangles into rectangles), removed some fences, put up other fences, took out a large tree and blamed Gilder for all of it.  Who is Gilder?  Even if you watch the Princess Bride you will only know that it is the sworn enemy of Floren.  So, I guess that may not help you all that much.

2. Gang of Four
 It was a big deal for us, at least.  Four Iowa farms agreed to share work days (a different farm each month from June to September).  And, simply put, we felt it was a success.  There is something about having a chance to share time with people who do the sort of thing you do.  You find out that you are not so special in ways you may have thought you were - and special in ways you thought you weren't.  (Take that any way you want)

But, the most positive thing we got out of the experience was that we are not alone in what we do.  Support groups can go a long ways towards helping you get through a growing season.  Well, that was the second most positive thing.  The first was the opportunity to get to know a really cool group of people better!

Scattergood Farm - West Branch
Genuine Faux Farm - Tripoli

Grinnell Heritage Farm - Grinnell

Blue Gate Farm - Chariton

1. Spinach and a Sunburn...on February 28.

 Yes, you read that one correctly.  We picked spinach and found the sun to be strong enough in the high tunnel to result in a slight sunburn on February 28 in 2011.  Not only did the spinach taste great, it looked great.  And, it did us both some good to do a little bit of work outside/inside. 

While this event might seem a bit small in comparison to the others, consider how different this was from prior years on the farm.  A major change for us in a year full of changes. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Veg Varieties of 2011

Here it is!  Our 2011 Veg Variety Winners!   We know some of you enjoy this every year, so we feel like we should make sure to get this out there for you!

First off - here are links to prior awards and variety reviews you might find useful:
 Drumroll please.......  Ok, you can stop now.

10. Purple Majesty (at right)
This is a major breakthrough for us because we had decided to drop All Blue from our production list and we were unsure if a blue/purple potato would replace it on our grow list.  The problem with All Blue on our farm is that it produced ALOT of small potatoes that were the color of our soil (approximately).  It was a nightmare to pick, even if people (including ourselves) enjoyed eating them.  Purple Majesty helps to bring more diversity to our potato crop as it is a mid season bulking variety versus early (Yukon Gold) and late (German Butterball, Rio Grande).  The taste is fabulous (better than All Blue), they are far easier to pick as the potatoes stay 'closer to home' and the size is generally larger.  High marks were given for Purple Majesty this year by our CSA members and we agree with them, so we will grow more this season.

9. Pablo
Pablo was #2 in 2009 and just missed in 2010.  It has not disappointed since we added it to our grow list in 2008.  This lettuce is dangerous for dinner planning.  There are many reports of 'nibblers' getting to this lettuce during preparation and finding most or all of it gone before dinner is served.  Pablo is a Batavian type and will form a loose head as it matures.  It can be picked prior to that stage (especially in mid-summer) as a loose leaf.  The only knock on this lettuce is that the transplants can be fragile, easily breaking at the stem.  But, once you get used to it, you can adjust your transplanting methods and they do quite well.

8. Music garlic
Another veg variety with a history on our list.  Music was #2 in 2010.  It drops a bit this year only because we had a more successful growing season in 2011, so it had more competition.  Music is an all around winner for garlic.  We have others we like nearly equally well, but Music wins with the consistency it shows beyond the other garlic varieties.

7. Wisconsin Lakes
Another new entry to the list, Wisconsin Lakes finally came into its own this season.  If you want a reliable early red bell pepper with very good taste, this is our recommendation.  The three-lobed and thinner fleshed Wisconsin Lakes exceeds most grocery store and hybrid reds in taste (our opinion) and they are not as tough as some of those can be.  These grow well in our fields and not much differently in the high tunnel.  A joy to pick and a fun plant to grow. 

6. Redwing onion
And here is a rarity for our lists.  Redwing is an F1 hybrid, and we tend to prefer open pollinated varieties.  The only other F1 to make our lists was Kolibri in 2010.  We still have a half dozen or so storing in our root cellar in January and they look great.  Production was generally consistent for a late season trial in 2011.  Size did have some variation depending on weed control nearby, but that is not uncommon for onions.  We've been hunting for a red onion we like best for a while - and I think we finally have a winner.  But, the best aspect of these onions is the taste.  We find that they sweeten up nicely when cooked.  I wouldn't say no to a nice grass fed beef hamburger on the grill with some Wisconsin colby and a grilled Redwing onion.

5. Misato Rose fall radish
Some people call this type of radish a 'watermelon' radish.  We just call it our pleasant fall surprise.  We added Misato Rose, Nero Tondo (black Spanish) and Miyashage (daikon) to our grow list this year in an effort to provide something new to our CSA members at the end of the season and into our Fall shares.  All of them did well and converted fans.  But, the one with the most converts and with consist growing success was Misato Rose.  We always wonder a little when when we choose something we've grown one year for our top 10.  We can't vouch for consistency just yet.  And, one has to consider the 'newness' factor.  Did we choose this because we didn't know what to expect from it?  Maybe that's part of it.  After all, you don't want a copy paste of the same group from year to year do you?

4. Bronze Arrowhead lettuce
Number 1 in 2010 and second in the lettuce category in 2009 to Pablo and 2008 to Crispmint.  This lettuce is so good we are tempted to remove it from the competition altogether next season.  In fact, Bronze Arrowhead and Pablo may just get put in a 'Perpetual Top 10" list so we can review new things for you each year. 

3. Pintung Long eggplant
This was the year of the eggplant, with our farm setting records for production this season.  One of the things Tammy remembers about this season was how Rob would drape a pile of 10-12 Pintungs over his forearm as he picked them - before transferring them to a tray.  These are some of the prettiest eggplant you will find.  You need not worry about bitterness, sweating or peeling them.  These plants favor warmer weather and took off after our June hot patch.  We planted 30 plants and harvested 1.5-2 per plant each week for 5 weeks through August and into September.

2. Bloomsdale spinach
You have not tasted *really good* spinach until you have some in March or December.  We've always had trouble having spinach for long in our regular season CSA because it tends to bolt quickly in June.  The reality is that spinach just likes cooler weather.  And, it gets sweeter in colder weather.  Bloomsdale isn't anything new, and it is a fairly common type for growers to use.  But, there are many good reasons for it.  Bloomsdale overwinters well and resists bolting longer than most varieties.  And, last season our extended season CSA members got a fair amount of spinach in their shares.  And, a tribute to this success is the fact that our additional sales of spinach nearly caught up to our additional sales of lettuce.  I am getting tempted to go pick some spinach in the high tunnel as I type this!  There should be enough for one or two salads.

1. Black Valentine green beans
We've been big fans of Provider and Jade green beans for a long time.  And, of course, we still like them very much.  But, we learned from the loss of Benchmark, a green bean we had come to rely on a bit too much.  A seed supply can disappear, so you should make yourself aware of viable options.  Well, it turns out our little experiment with Black Valentine paid off.  The motivation here was that Black Valentine could be a 'dual purpose' bean.  We can pick them as green beans or let them mature and harvest them as dry beans.  It seemed like a good idea - if we can't keep up with the green bean harvest, you don't lose the crop.  We kept up with the crop this year and had some very heavy yields off of these plants.  And, of course, they tasted very good (a necessity if we're going to grow a green bean).  We entered this experiment not expecting much and got something we intend on using regularly from here on out.  Plants had good vigor, showed no tendency towards disease and were great companions with eggplant.  We had two consecutive 'peak picks' off of the same 100 foot row.  Since we planted these as a later succession, we can't yet speak to how long these will go in a season.  But, we're more than willing to see in 2012.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The C in 'CSA' - Favorite Faux Phauxtos #5

Fifth in a series of favorite photos.  This one comes from our high tunnel build in 2010. Unfortunately, I do not recall who took this one.  I just know it wasn't me.

The high tunnel build was a Practical Farmers of Iowa field day and we had several people attend and work on this project.  We remain grateful for all the help we received and would like to report that the tunnel continues to do well despite many strong winds.

This photo reminds me of the "C" in "CSA" - Community.

The work on our farm falls primarily on Tammy and I, but we are very sensitive about making inaccurate claims about our accomplishments.  We could not be where we are now without a long, long list of people who have supported us in our endeavors.  This includes persons who are members of our CSA program, people who buy our plants in the Spring, persons who get eggs, chickens, turkeys or ducks from us, farm workers, Tom Sawyer Day participants, family members, schools, institutions and retail outlets who buy our products, and even people we hire to do work we cannot find time to do - like putting a steel roof on the granary.

Our success is tied to our links to the community.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Life on "Plan it GFF"

Ah.... real Winter has arrived.  We *really* don't have a need to work outside today.

So... we plan.

A number of people tell us they like getting insights as to some of the things we do for our farm that might not be as apparent on first glance.  So, I thought a quick look at planning for the 2012 CSA might be interesting.  At least it might be as long as I don't get too long-winded.  And, if you read this blog, you know the risk you are taking by starting to read this post!

CSA planning is a backward/forward process.  We start with our goal numbers for members and figure out how much of each crop we want to set as a goal to distribute to those customers. 

For example:
We would like 100 standard shares and 20 large shares during the regular 20 weeks season.  We hope for 20 Spring shares and 25 Fall shares (all subject to adjustment).
We can do some forward projection on our lettuce crops (for example) so we know our capacity for growing lettuce in our current field plans.  But, for now, we'll stick to backward planning.
We want a head of lettuce for every week of the Spring and Fall shares.  We also want 2 heads for each large and 1 head for each standard share for 15 weeks of the regular season share.  So, we need approximately 2400-2500 heads of lettuce just for CSA demand. 

Now we shift to forward planning!
We look at our historical crop records and use them to project what we can expect for lettuce production assuming that we grow what we grew last season (approximately).  Why last season?  Well...if the numbers work out, we don't have to adjust our field plan.  We keep the plan the same - even though the crop is planted in a new plot.  That's why we try to have similar sized and shaped plots.
Prior records show a capacity of 4000-5000 heads.  These records also remind me of variability in size.  In particular, head size is smaller in the Summer, when we pick heads younger to prevent bolting.  We also see that we have been able to provide lettuce in the regular season for 14 to 17 of the 20 weeks each of the last three seasons. 
What does this mean?  Our field plan is close.  We will now need to look and see if we can optimize the successions in hopes of targeting sales in addition to the CSA. 

Do this for lettuce.  Rinse.  Repeat (for many of the other crops we grow).

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mr. Sunshine - Favorite Faux Phauxtos #4

 In honor of what looks to be a sunny and warm January day, we give you exhibit D - a daisy on our July.

We both like looking at this picture.  And, this is especially true in the Winter months.  We've nicknamed Rudebekia flowers "smiles" because it is hard for us to see these flowers any other way.  These plants are short-lived perennials, but they are also quite willing to set seed and start new plants.  We welcome new plants wherever they pop up - even if we feel a need to transplant them.  

Our only complaint about them might be that they don't flower long enough during the year.  But, we say the same thing about most things we like.  We enjoy iris flowers and we both agree that season is way too short.  Same thing for day lilies, hibiscus, zinnias, etc etc.
The lesson we take from this is that we need to learn to see different kinds of beauty and enjoy different tastes and smells.  As gardeners, we re-learn this every season.  With our CSA, we encourage participants to learn and re-learn these concepts with us.  Green beans may be your favorite vegetable (Rob will possibly agree), but you can't have them all season.  What if you tried kale?  It doesn't taste like green beans, but it has its strengths.  

We also remember that we need to take the time to enjoy the things each season brings.  These daisies do not bloom all the time.  So, I try to slow down a bit as a walk by on a farm task just to appreciate their beauty.  And, in seasons where we get an abundance of one particular crop, we remind ourselves not to waver in our enjoyment of them.  For much of our year, many of these vegetables are not in season.  A short term bounty is an opportunity!  Remember this the next time you see four zucchini in your share... again.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Break Time III

Likely the last in the series for some time and we'll get back to farm related posts.  We are now back from travels away from the farm and it was a good thing to be off farm for a while. 

This cover is one of my favorites because there is so much going on!  Let me explain.  No, there is too much.  Let me sum up.  

Essentially, this letter was sent to London from Worcester, Mass in early 1866.  Evidently, the addressee was from Worcester and was traveling to London.  Baring Brothers & Co provided services to many travelers to accept mail on their behalf while they traveled in Europe, which included forwarding mail back to the US if they concluded their travels.  This was the case here.

Postage was paid to get this envelope to England (24 cents) and it was received by Baring Bros.  But, since the recipient was no longer in Europe they sent it back.  Remember, it was still possible to send mail 'collect' (no payment of postage).  And, that is exactly what they did for the return trip.  No British postage was paid by Baring Bros.  That means the recipient, Mr. Bacon, had to pay for the privilege of receiving this piece of mail.

The cost was 24 cents = 1 shilling.  But, you might notice a bold "US Notes 32 Cents" marking on this cover.  At this time, there was a difference in value between US paper currency and the gold standard.  Currency had a 'depreciated' value for some time after the Civil War.  Thus, unpaid mail could be paid either 24 cents in coinage with appropriate valuable metal content OR it could be paid in US currency (notes) at a different ratio to maintain the real value needed by the postal service.  At this time, that ratio came out to the recipient needing to pay 32 cents if they opted to pay in currency.  

Clearly, I could give more accurate detail on this, but I suspect this is enough for most of you.  But, the real reason for showing this is to illustrate what I like about these kinds of items.  They give me a view into the story of the times.  And, the best part is that the story can be about individuals, groups, governments, places, events or daily chores.  Sometimes, the story includes parts of all of these.    The challenge is reading them so you can see what the story is.

Hope everyone had a good holidays and that you've set yourselves up for a good year!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Break Time II

It's still break week.  And, I'm trying not to think about things farm related.  So, here's another interesting item that I have enjoyed researching.

For the most part, this item is fairly typical of mail from the United States to the U.K. in 1865.  The treaty still called for 24 cents per half ounce, so a 24 cent stamp is used to show payment of that rate.  It entered the mail at Street Road, PA and then was placed in a mail bag to cross the sea in Philadelphia.  It was taken out of that mailbag in London and delivered.

The cool thing about this cover is the adhesive on the top left.  Westtown school and farm was around a mile away from the rail station, where the nearest post office was established.  At that time, it was illegal to have a private mail carrying service on any road that was designated a 'post road.'  However, there was no such service to the school and farm.  So, a service was provided for 2 cents to carry mail to the station.  The adhesive (or stamp) at the top left indicated payment for this service.

Westtown school is a Quaker school that still takes boarding students and the section of the West Chester and Philadelphia Railroad around the old station now runs a historical/tourist train through this area.

Like history?  You can read more about each of these here:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Break Time

You might have noticed that we are not doing so much on the blog, email, the website or facebook the last week.  And, just so you all know.  It's because the farmers are taking a break from farming for a short while.  But, not to worry, we'll be figuring our seed orders next week, attending a farming conference and making our year plan.  Not to mention farm tasks like putting electrical in a couple of buildings.

But, until then, Rob intends to work with things like this:

Yep, as strange as it might sound.  Rob is a postal historian (on top of whatever else he might do) and he enjoys old envelopes and learning about where they come from, what the postal rates were and other fun stuff.  And, about once a year, he allows himself to post something on it.

The envelope shown above (usually referred to as a 'cover') is a cool example of a postal agreement that might seem a bit unfair to us now.  But, let me give you a brief summary.

In the 1840's, England and the United States made an agreement (a treaty) to exchange mail at the rate of 24 cents (1 shilling) per one half ounce of weight.  This cover was posted in the 1860's, with that same rate intact.  There are three 24 cent stamps on the envelope, so you would expect that the envelope with contents must have weighed between 1 ounce and 1.5 ounces.  Which it likely did.  But, the envelope was treated as unpaid and 4 shillings were collected from the person who received the envelope in Falkingham.

The treaty did not allow for odd rates except for a single rate.  So, it was 24 cents for the first 1/2 oz.  24 cents for the second 1/2 oz.  Then, it was 48 cents for each ounce after that, with fractions (no matter how small) rounded upwards.

So, here is the kicker.  The treaty also stipulated that underpaid mail should be treated as UNPAID.  That means the sender spent 72 cents that did nothing toward sending this letter.  The recipient spent 4 shillings (96 cents) for the honor of receiving this mail - so the cost to the participants was $1.68.

Now, before you get too upset that the postal agencies were ripping people off, consider this:
It was common practice for people to send mail unpaid for collection of the due amount from the recipient.  It was also common for recipients to refuse delivery.  Thus, the service of delivery was rendered for FREE in those cases because no one would pay for it.

Either way.  Next time you are unhappy about paying 44 cents for a single envelope to go through our current day mail system, think about this envelope.  And, if you want a very brief editorial on this - think about how inexpensive it is to use a very complex and expensive system of delivery.  'Nuff said.