Wednesday, January 30, 2013

News Shorts

Let me there is too much.

Let me sum up.

CSA Shares Available
We do have CSA shares available at this time.  Feel free to contact us.  We are at the stage where you can reserve a spot by emailing us with the following information:
  • pickup location desired (Cedar Falls, Waverly, Tripoli)
  • size of share (large, standard)  note- you may change this later if needed.
  • contact information (name, mailing address, preferred email and phone)
Farm Promotion in February
We are targeting February as our CSA and farm promotion period to try to fill up the CSA and deal with any other interest that we might be able to fill during the growing season.  We will be printing posters and brochures.  If you have a place you with to put a poster or if you have someone in mind for a brochure, let us know.

Plant Orders
For those who grow their own, we will be starting plants again this year.  It does help us if you let us know if there is something special you really want us to have for you.  For example, we are willing to start winter squash, pumpkins, broccoli (and other brassicae), tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, lettuce, spices and other items.  But, if you want to be sure that we start some of these items, it helps to hear from you.  Otherwise, we will either guess wrong - or we will guess that no one wants certain things.

Spring Extended Season
We plan on having an extended Spring season share this year.  We are thinking about 20-30 slots.  If you have interest, please contact us.

Chickens, Turkeys and Ducks
We need to schedule our flocks for the season.  If you have opinions about what we raise and when, this is a good time to voice those opinions.

We do still have potatoes in our storage that are available for sale.  If interested, please contact us.  There are a couple of pie pumpkins as well.

Work on the Farm
At this point, it looks like we will only have returning workers in May.  Otherwise, we will be looking at a whole new slate for 2013.  Interested persons should contact us.

Labor 4 Learning
GFF was one of ten farms selected for the Practical Farmers of Iowa, Labor 4 Learning program.  The program encourages people who want to learn more about farming to apply as a worker on one of the ten farms.  In addition to working on the farm and gaining experience doing, there will be additional effort made to teach the learner more about the financial and business sides of the farm.

SARE Grants
The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE) funded our two year project to work on intercop spacing while integrating mechanization into a small vegetable operation.  We are finishing our report for this project, have presented results at the Small Farm Conference in Missouri and as a poster at the Practical Farmers of Iowa conference.  It looks like some of our information may be part of a web magazine on growing as well.  We have also submitted a new grant proposal involving paper mulch and intercropping.  If there is someone out there who would like to work on the farm with us and do a little data collecting, etc, now is the time to tell us.

Stay tuned, we'll have a part II to this post in a week!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Numbers Can't Hurt You?

It is the season of seed catalogs, orders, promotion of our farm share CSA, planning, planning and planning.  We have to do our organic certification paperwork, taxes, budget and whatever else we always do.  But, this season we also have to work on establishing a value lost to the spraying that occurred on our farm this past summer.

One of the exercises I use is to figure out our crop value per acre for a given plot/field on our farm.  Conventional wisdom for a diversified vegetable farm, such as ours, is that we should be landing somewhere in the $12,000/$15,000 per acre for all producing land.  And, a recent presentation suggested that a small farm might need to exceed $20,000 an acre.

So, I began crunching numbers I've already recorded (there are many others I have yet to transfer to the spreadsheets).  And, of course, I wanted to see how a field I perceive as having good value did this year.

Beans and potatoes (E2) - roughly .25 acre
Included in this field are potatoes (5 types), green beans and a number of different dry beans (which are not included in the analysis).
We picked 1009+ pounds of green beans out of this field (a record) and we assign a value of $3 per pound to this crop (it is a high labor crop and requires a higher purchase price to make any money).
We also picked about 1400 pounds of potatoes at $2 a pound in value.  We realize you can get potatoes much cheaper than that - but you can't get certified organic potatoes many places at all (but that's a different story).
Value of the field: $5,880
Value per acre: $23,520

Since this is not about labor cost, we'll leave this number there and hold it up as a pretty good indicator of health for this field in our rotation.  It also shows me that this field is very important for the success of our farm.  A good indicator for priority efforts.
Peppers and Eggplant (SW) - roughly .2 acres
This field was sprayed in July and we were forced to throw all produce away.  Based on some of our data for 2012 and historical records we can make a few estimates (that we will fine tune a bit more).
Sweet Peppers were heading for a record in production = $2500
Hot Peppers were at least at prior year levels = $500
Eggplant were looking a bit slower than last year, but picked it up after some rain, trending to be 80% of last year's crop = $1750
Green Beans (yes there were some in there) = $900
Other crops (dry bean, okra) we are not assigning value at this time.
Value of the field (at this point of analysis): $5,650
Value per acre: $28,250

 High Tunnel Production (HTW) - roughly .05 acre
We were able to pull in production in the Spring.  But, since it was in the spray zone, we were unable to get anything else of value out of it this year.
Spring Value of crops: $1,183
Spring value per acre: $23,866

Caveats include the fact that we didn't push the high tunnel planting for the early season.   This was, in part, because Tammy was on sabbatical and we knew we would be away a bit more than usual.  It was also, in part, to assure that we would get the summer crops in on time - a problem we had the prior year.  Even with that, production per acre was already as high as what I tagged as one of our better fields.

Here's where it begins to hurt.  We expect to get three crops per year from the high tunnel - then we move the tunnel for the next season.  Using the simplest extrapolation, we can just triple the Spring number, even though it is inaccurate on the low side.

Projected ( with simple low estimates) value per acre in HTW: $71,598
Ok - the reality is that this translates to $3549 in real money to the farm.  But, that isn't the point here.  The point is that our most valuable land was sprayed and taken out of production by someone other than us.  That hurts.
If we go with numbers that are in keeping with what I think we should have gotten for crop value in Summer and Fall high tunnel crops our value per acre in the high tunnel exceeds six digits.  Yikes!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

More on the Veg You Want

We are continuing to ask for input on what you would like to see more of from us in 2013.

 Here is what we have heard so far:
JanMarie: Broccoli
Nevin: Tomatoes, early and often
Nancy: Baby carrots
Kory: can I just cross my fingers for a good squash year? at your place and ours?
Nick: Broccoli or carrots
Rachel: Broccoli
Ryan: Asparagus
Jennie: chocolate caramel (we understand the appeal, but please don't ask us to grow it!)
Anne: carrots
Stephanie: Tromboncino squash, winter squash, peas
Jeff and Susan: Steak!  (ummmm)  and peas.
Marianne: Spinach 

Alli: More spinach would be great!

Left for us to address are requests for more spinach and more carrots!  We'll happily take other suggestions as well.  Either way, we're happy to tell you what our plans are for each of our crops.

We love our spinach at GFF!  If you are like us, you grew up thinking spinach was the slimy stuff that came out of a can.  Simply put, getting Rob to eat spinach was going to take a miracle.  That miracle came in the form of a late season planting several years ago that didn't get picked in the Fall - but managed to survive the Winter and started to grow well in early Spring.  Now, a big pile of freshly picked spinach with a little bit of dressing to dip it in is a real treat!

Spinach is particularly sweet during cooler weather and has a tendency to bolt (grow stalks and put on flowers/seeds) in warmer weather.  As a result, we tend to have more spinach in our Spring and Fall extended season shares.  Otherwise, we might have spinach in the first 2 weeks of the regular season (early June) and the last couple weeks of the regular season in October.

The great news about spinach is that it is a good companion as an early crop before warm season crops such as peppers and eggplant.  They are usually finishing about the time we put those plants in (May 31-Jun 5) and tilling in the residue is good for the soil.  But, that doesn't help us with the regular season CSA.  So, what can we do?

1. If you want spinach, you might want to consider joining us with an extended season share (this holds true for asparagus as well).  Or, if that doesn't work for you, maybe you should encourage us to grow a higher volume and visit us at farmers' market where we sell plants in May.  If we know lots of people are going to come buy spinach as well, we might just work to have more of it!
2. Hansen's Outlet and Moo Roo are both willing to carry and retail our spinach.  If the demand is there, perhaps we can make sure to stock their stores with reasonable amounts.
3. We will consider extending our Spring production deeper into June by purchasing some shade cloth, this may help prevent spinach from bolting so quickly.  We have never done this before, but it may be worth the effort.
4. Increasing Fall production of spinach for the regular season share is very difficult.  We are usually down to one worker (Rob) and spinach takes a great deal of time to pick, clean and pack.  We are hopeful that the walk in cooler addition will provide flexibility in harvest that will allow us to do more with spinach.  However - it is possible that we may ask for a little volunteer help to allow this to happen.

What does it take to grow spinach at GFF?

We direct seed spinach - which means we use a seeder and plant directly into the ground where it will grow until it is done.  We have tried transplants and likely will not do that again.  We use our six row seeder (we call the seeder "Ed"), which requires a very clean and smooth seedbed to operate.
Winter spinach usually doesn't need a weeding before it is done.  Spring spinach will need one or two weedings and Fall spinach may take one weeding. 
The real effort comes at harvest time.  One approach is to 'clear cut' a row, but then we have to pull out any bad leaves or weeds that might be in that mix.  Rob's method of choice is to pick leaf by leaf.  Thus, the sorting is done up front.  This also allows us to harvest sooner out of the same area as it takes less time for leaves to reach the size we prefer.  One tote of spinach would provide us with about 5 pounds.  If everyone gets a quarter pound bag in the CSA, we would need 25 to 30 pounds (5 to 6 totes). 
Once picked, the spinach is hydrocooled (placed in well water) for washing and to get any field heat out of the leaves.  After washing, they are put in a spinner to get most of the water off of them.  They are then placed in the vegetable bags and then in coolers for storage until delivery.

Anyone feel handy?
We have an idea for building a tool to aid in cleaning greens.  We'll see if it makes it to our top ten list of projects for the year.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

We Want More Gruel!

We are continuing to ask for input on what you would like to see more of from us in 2013.

 Here is what we have heard so far:
JanMarie: Broccoli
Nevin: Tomatoes, early and often
Nancy: Baby carrots
Kory: can I just cross my fingers for a good squash year? at your place and ours?
Nick: Broccoli or carrots
Rachel: Broccoli
Ryan: Asparagus
Jennie: chocolate caramel (we understand the appeal, but please don't ask us to grow it!)
Anne: carrots
Stephanie: Tromboncino squash, winter squash, peas
Jeff and Susan: Steak!  (ummmm)  and peas.
Marianne: Spinach

The prior posts addresses changes we are making in 2013 in order to extend and improve our tomato and broccoli harvest.

Asparagus is one of those crops that require years to establish.  Each year, we start another tray of seedlings and add them to our production areas.  But, since asparagus is a perennial crop, there really isn't a whole lot we can do in one season to change what we have.

However, we do grow two plots of asparagus on the farm.  Typically the asparagus is distributed during the Spring extended season shares that run in April and May.  The season for harvest of asparagus typically ends right around Memorial Day for us.  But, even if it went further into June, we would not have enough for all 100+ CSA members in the regular season.

This is a difficult crop for us to increase without adding a fair amount of labor for harvest.  In short, peas cost us much more to grow than many of the things on the farm.  There are several factors.  First, the yield per row foot is significantly lower than what we get for other things, such as green beans.  So, we're already looking at lower returns on the space given.  Then, we actually find that peas have a higher labor cost per pound than beans.  We have to add trellis time and factor in slower picking rates.

Does that mean we won't grow peas?  Nope.  We'll grow them.  We have plans for 2013 to hopefully make them more manageable while still getting everyone a bit more peas. We intend to plant them a bit earlier so they don't overlap with the beans as much.  We only have so much labor available and if the peas must compete with other crops, they will lose.  We are likely to drop all shelling peas from the grow list and focus on the edible pod peas.

Winter Squash
This one has three answers.  One has to do with research, one is simple and the other is probably surprising.

1. We have applied for a grant to do some research involving pests, intercropping and paper mulch.  If we receive this grant, we will have additional funds to hire help specifically for this crop in 2013.
2. We will be using paper mulch on at least half of the crop.  By keeping the early weeds down, we expect success on par with prior years (about 1500 - 2500 winter squash).
3. We will be reducing the number of plants we put in the ground.

Yes, you heard the last one correctly  We are going to reduce the number of plants we put in the ground.  Analyzing our numbers tells me that we can meet and exceed our demand with fewer row feet of winter squash.  Also, if we reduce the number of row feet, we can allow ourselves to use some bigger equipment for cultivation without the risk that tighter spacing brings. 

Essentially it comes down to this.  We can either grow more and struggle to keep up with it again OR we can grow less and do a very good job with it.  Since we anticipate an increase in our pest populations in 2013 due to the spraying last July, we have to expect that we will need to do more to protect our vine crops.  If we run at the same volume as prior years, I don't see how we can keep up.  But, a reasonable reduction should allow us to do what needs doing.

With fewer row foot of squash, I can increase the presence of nasturtiums, borage, zinnia and marigolds.  I can put in some oilseed radish.  All of these things help us control vine pest populations without spraying. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


We asked people on Facebook and in our last post what they wanted to see us grow MORE of in 2013.
Here is what we have heard so far:
JanMarie: Broccoli
Nevin: Tomatoes, early and often
Nancy: Baby carrots
Kory: can I just cross my fingers for a good squash year? at your place and ours?
Nick: Broccoli or carrots
Rachel: Broccoli
Ryan: Asparagus
Jennie: chocolate caramel (we understand the appeal, but please don't ask us to grow it!)
Anne: carrots
Stephanie: Tromboncino squash, winter squash, peas
Jeff and Susan: Steak!  (ummmm)  and peas.
Marianne: Spinach

The prior post addresses changes we are making in 2013 in order to extend and improve our tomato harvest.  And - we thought we'd address each item brought up by you in this and future posts.

The question of broccoli

The broccoli last season was some of the best tasting we have grown.  And, like several crops, it struggled for us during the very wet seasons.  In fact, we've struggled with broccoli since the hybrid Early Dividend went away.  That broccoli had a sweet taste and really produced for us on our farm.  Sadly, 2009 was the last year that variety was available to us, so we've been searching for broccoli that likes our farm ever since.  And then, factor in supre wet 2010 followed by field issues in 2011 due to 2010 (incredible weed pressure).  It's no wonder there were some problems with production.

Good news!  Gypsy and Belstar passed the test in 2012.  Production was very good for main heads and side shoots on Gypsy were at about 75% of what we used to get from Early Dividend.  Good enough.
Bad news!  Gypsy and Belstar are both hybrids.  As such, we are at the mercy of the companies that hybridize these varieties.  We are still trying to find the right open pollinated broccoli for our needs.

How are we going to improve and increase production?

1. Simplify
We've been planting smaller groups of several varieties in a wide range of successions just to try to find the varieties and the growing period that works on our farm.  As result, we often get smaller amounts of broccoli at any given time.  By the end of the year, we can have excellent production numbers - but it can be difficult to make sure everyone in the CSA has as much as they want.

We will simplify now by growing more of these two varieties for the main production of this crop.  We can then focus a few trials on finding the open pollinated variety slot that works for us.

2. Increase Growing Area
Now that we have a much better feel for this crop than we did, we can increase the growing area.  It makes no sense to dedicate too much space to a crop that has struggled for a couple of years.  But, we feel that we have the timing, etc set up for success.  Some of our shorting season brassica crops will shift to our four year rotation in the short season crop field.  This allows us to add another 200 to 400 row feet of broccoli.  If you figure one plant per foot, you can see that we could have a nice crop available to us.

3. Easing Weed Pressure
Since we harvest side shoots, broccoli becomes a bit more of a long season crop for us.  As a result, they become a candidate for paper mulch.  At least one of our 200 foot rows will have this product in the field.

4. Pest Pressure
We like the effectiveness of intercropping for reduce pest issues in our brassicae crops (broccoli is one of those).  We will be growing culinary sage and summer thyme plants to include in rows.  We also will grow onions nearby.  We're feeling positive about modifications in our intercropping techniques.

5. Alterations in Seed Starting Medium
Our brassica plants do reasonably well, but we feel that they stall a little bit before we plant them.  As a result, we are exploring ways to feed these plants more effectively at the tail end of their life in the seedling trays.  This should help them get moving quicker after field transplant.

6. Targeting a Fall Crop
We have been tinkering with planting dates for a fall crop of broccoli and we're trying to thread the needle between starting them too early and too late.  We've missed on both sides.  That, my friends, is good news.

Goals for 2013
  • Double our production from 2013
  • Maintain a crop that continues to have outstanding taste
  • Provide 4 weeks of broccoli to the CSA minimum
  • Have additional broccoli for sales outside of the CSA
Can we do it?
 Last year, some of our other varieties produced next to nothing.  Part of this is NOT the fault of the variety.  DeCicco did fine, but it produces smaller heads - and it did so at a time when we had to make choices about our time.  We did not plant enough DeCicco to be able to offer much to our CSA members, so it was only picked once and then let go.  A rodent seemed to prefer Limba and nibbled all but a few plants down while they were very small.  Umpqua disliked the hot dry weather intensely and Calabrese didn't want to produce heads until it surprised us with a few late.  As a result, we missed them because we'd given up on that section.

Simply put, we grew 500 feet of broccoli last year.  Of that, 200 feet produced very well.  If we just grow 400 feet of our production varieties that we feel most confident in and then have 200 feet of trials, we will do quite well.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Only Constant is Change

Every year we go through the planning process we look for inspiration that will lead us to positive changes.  Why?  Because if there is a truth that we must adhere to as farmers trying to grow diverse crops it is that we can *always* improve.  And, of course, there is also the truth that no two years are going to provide us with the same growing conditions.

And, so, we are asking those who are customers or hope to be customers of our product in 2013 - what would you like us to grow more of this season?

Here is what we have heard thus far:
- tomatoes, early and often
- a good squash year
- broccoli
- baby carrots and well, just carrots

Give us more feedback if you have it!  This is the time to hear it so we can act on it in the most effective manner.  As we hear more from you, we will share our plans with you.  Here is one response to the request list, future posts will focus on others. 

Tomatoes, early and often
We've always enjoyed growing our heirloom tomatoes and we're always so pleased to provide them to our CSA, the farmers' market and other outlets.  But, we are certain we have not come close to our capacity for this crop.  Here are two things we are doing to attempt to maximize this crop for all of us:

1. Tomatoes in the high tunnel planted early
We actually did this last year, but the spray event caused us to throw all produce in the high tunnel away.  It was hard to toss hundreds of beautiful salad size tomatoes into the compost.  But, you do what you must.  We plan on growing a similar set of tomatoes in the high tunnel this season.  What last year showed us was that this could be very successful.  If this works, you'll be seeing some tomatoes much earlier from us in 2013.

2. A walk in cooler
One of the things we do not yet have on the farm is a cool storage unit.  What this will do is it will allow us to pick more of the tomatoes in the field and get them to more outlets.  With no good place to store them and keep them fresh, we often leave good tomatoes in the field during peak season.  We still intend on giving people fresh picked produce, but rather than the absurd picking rush that occurs the day of a CSA distribution, we will be able to pick some things the day before and keep them at peak condition for you.  Excellent candidates for this include zucchini and summer squash.  Can you imagine how it could help us to off load a couple of picking tasks to the day prior to a distribution?  This could translate into more tomatoes for everyone - including opportunities to purchase extra beyond the share - or for those who are not CSA members - a chance to buy top quality heirloom tomatoes.  We like it!

Our goals for 2013?
- at least 2000 lbs of tomatoes for our CSA members
- 5000 lbs total of marketable tomatoes (this includes amount above)
- production of tomatoes from July into October
- 30 varieties of tomatoes

Are these goals reachable?
   In 2008, we managed to pull in approximately 4500 pounds of tomatoes and this was with a very slow start to the season and a smaller production schedule.  Last year, we had crossed the 3000 pound mark and had many tomatoes on the vine when we got two early back-to-back freezes.  Frosts instead of freezes has us getting 5000 pounds last year - so we can do it this year.
   Historically, we have tomatoes in early August (in smaller numbers) and almost always have tomatoes later than most vendors in the Fall.  Last year's production in the high tunnel tells us we can get you some tomatoes in July - and probably more than just a taste.  We can do this.
   And, of course, our hallmark is having a variety of tomatoes.  Last year we grew 34 varieties.  This year, only 30 are scheduled.  I think I'm ready for a BLT.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Pouring Water Into the Ocean

Once again, I found myself thinking...
A dangerous pastime
I know....

I am spending quantities of time right now attempting to figure out how we will spend time on the farm for the rest of the season.  It's a non-trivial problem and I have yet to come up with a wholly satisfactory answer for any given year.  That doesn't mean we don't end up figuring it out and getting somewhere reasonably positive by the end of the year.  We usually do.  And, each year, we devise a better plan and modifications get easier to make.  Except when things unforeseen occur.  Then, we go to plan B, or C or...we can just wing it.

But, there are days like today where it just feels like pouring water into the ocean.

Maybe I take the planning too seriously and I need to lighten up a bit?  So what if things aren't completely planned out?  The job is huge and the we don't even know all of the variables, much less the appropriate responses to them.  Another 32 ounce glass of water isn't going to make a bit of difference to the Pacific.

Sometimes I get this same feeling when I consider some of the weightier issues that concern me.  Things like, say, the Farm Bill.  You know, the one that wasn't dealt with in a timely manner.  The one that had line items for conservation measures slashed automatically because deadlines weren't met.  Yes, that same one that maintained or increased commodity payouts at the same time.  And yes, I think about the fact that it isn't right that those with the chemicals have the right to apply them and those who don't want them just have to live with it.  I want to make some noise.  I want to make a difference.  Something needs to be done about guns and war.  It would be nice if we could be less greedy and more willing to discuss differences with respect.  The subjects end up getting so big and a single voice can feel so small...

...that it begins to feel like pouring water into the ocean again.

And so, I take to a keyboard and try to type about things that are important to me.  Things that might be important to Tammy, our friends and family, our farm, our CSA members, other farmers and maybe to you.  Things that might educate you about how food is grown or raised.  Things that might provide you with an insight that helps you to make a better decision in your life that pertains to food, farmers and the way business is done.  Then, I consider how many things call to us on the Internet.  I think about how many other people type worthy and unworthy things in blogs, in social media, in comment areas for newstories and cartoons and wherever else people share their thoughts.  Who has the time to read this?  It's one little blog for a small farm in Iowa.

It's a vast ocean out there, and I'm pouring my glass of water into it.

And it can't make a difference.  Can it?


If you made it to this point, that means you read this post.  My glass of water reached you.  I hope you are thinking now about how you can pour your glass of water into the ocean in the hopes that it can make a positive difference.   And even if no one else reads this post, I did.  And I will now take on the things that I have control over and even some of the things I do not.

- I will work on our farm plans with a renewed sense of purpose.  They are worthwhile and are done for good people and for good reasons.
- I will not give in to complacency and I will continue to do what I can to promote good conversations about difficult things - in hopes that we can figure out how to do the right things.
- I will continue to throw little glasses of water into this electronic ether, in the hopes that I will make a difference.  For someone like you.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Heirloom Melons for 2013

We haven't made much noise about melons since 2007, which is the last year we had a productive crop (until 2012).  Some of the problems were unavoidable (flooded out 2008, too cold 2009), others were a priority issue (wet fields prevented us from getting to lowest priority crops in 2010).  But, each year we've learned a bit more about growing, acquired better tools and we're getting to the point where some of the lower priority crops are getting more attention. 

As a result, you actually get a post about some of our choices for the 2013 melon crop.  Again - as with the tomatoes, we'd be happy to hear your input.

Too Good Not To Grow:
Ha-Ogen (Seed Savers, High Mowing)
Ever since we threw some of these into the high tunnel in 2010, we've been hooked.  These are white/green with some gold in the seed cavity and we liken the taste to a banana...sort of.  Don't expect a taste that is like a traditional muskmelon or honeydew.  In fact, don't make a judgement on the very first taste.  Let it sit in your mouth for a second and then tell us it isn't one of the most interesting and delicious melons you've ever tasted.  We'd like to accomplish enough of a crop to build a market for these beyond the farm share CSA, but we intend on putting some out for your selection in shares as well.

Hearts of Gold (Seed Savers)
The responses we got from farm share members for Hearts of Gold was pretty much what we expected.  This is one excellent tasting muskmelon.  They can be very fragrant and difficult to figure out when to pick.  But, if you learn the tricks, they are well worth it.  High praise for taste and production.  We'd like to hand one of these to each Farm Share CSA member in 2013.  Here's hoping!

Pride of Wisconsin (Seed Savers)
Another muskmelon that is very reliable and bigger than Hearts of Gold.  These are less fragrant and are a little bit milder in taste than Pride of Wisconsin.  We enjoy them very much and they are great if you are looking for a refreshing taste with some sweetness.  People who favor less strength in flavor find these to be very pleasant and to their liking.  They also will sit on the counter longer so you don't have to run home and eat it right away!

Probably In:

Boule d'Or (Seed Savers)
This is a long season melon (green interior), known as a Winter melon.  These can store on the counter for quite some time before eating as they have a very hard shell.  They are also a longer season melon, so we need to work on getting them into the ground a bit earlier in 2013.  Taste is closer to a typical honeydew, with a bit of a twist.  With a better mulching program we expect an excellent crop of these in the Fall.

Oka (Seed Savers, Fedco)
Oka got our attention in 2010 when it produced a couple late in the year in the high tunnel.  We loved the taste and think you will as well.  The difficulty is that the pests seem to like this one alot and they can get past the rind a bit too easily.  However, there were some extenuating circumstances that we think we can address.  If we have an issue with securing seed or other problems, we may drop this one for the year.  But, memories of tastiness make it hard to do that.

Minnesota Midget (Seed Savers, Johnny's)
Smaller, netted fruit on short vines.  It seems like they would be perfect for the high tunnel.  So, that's where they will go.  Melons in late June or early July if this works.  If it doesn't, it will have been worth the try, we think.

Sakata's Sweet (Seed Savers)
Smaller green fleshed fruit.  We have never grown this one.  But, it climbs trellis (or so we're told).  And, that characteristic makes it a good trial for the high tunnel in 2013.  We'll do a small batch just to see if it is worth it.

Maybe - What do you think?
Eden's Gem (Seed Savers, Johnny's)
We grew this one in 2006 and 2007 with success.  Small melons with green flesh.  Kind of a nutmeg overtone to the flavor, very intriguing.  These are very productive in the field and very much did not like the high tunnel in 2010 or 2011.  These are single serving sized melons and if they do well, we could have alot of them.  If you are tired of the tasteless melons you can get at the store, these will meet your needs.

Rocky Ford (High Mowing)
Similar to Eden's Gem.  We'll do this one or Eden's Gem if we do either.  We're trying to determine if there is enough of a difference to go one way versus the other without having to execute a trial of our own this year.

Emerald Gem (Seed Savers, High Mowing)
Slightly bigger than Eden's and orange fleshed.  They produce about the same size as Hearts of Gold and during the same period.  They are a bit less musky, can be very productive and are not quite as soft, so they can sit on the counter for a bit longer than Hearts of Gold.  We tend to prefer Hearts of Gold for the sweeter taste, but are there people out there who want something a little tamer?  Would you like a little more shelf life?

Crane (Seed Savers)
Crane is a Crenshaw type of melon.  We have no problems with the melon and find it cool that it changes color when it is ripe.  This certainly improves the chances that we won't miss one when it is ready.  But, we had trouble with them going bad on the vine last year.  Frankly, we were so happy with the others that this one didn't get the attention it likely deserved.  Of these, this is least likely to return.  If we had unlimited space, I'd still like to give it another shot.  But, we don't.

Not This Year
Amish (Seed Savers)
These did just fine for us when we tried them several years ago, but they did not distinguish themselves from Pride of Wisconsin.  No reason to grow both, unless someone can convince us otherwise.

Canoe Creek Colossal (Seed Savers)
A casaba type melon that gets to a large size.  We can't find it in any catalogs, so it isn't an option for us right now.  And, the large size and soft skin makes it difficult to use as a "commercial" melon.  But, they were fun to grow and very tasty.

 Petit Gris de Rennes (Seed Savers, Fedco)
Word on the street is that these taste great, but are difficult to grow and very inconsistent.  Maybe sometime in the future, but we want to establish a better track record first.

Prescott Fond Blanc (Seed Savers, Fedco)
We love the idea of this Rock Melon, but it was the only melon to fail in 2007.  It appears to be operate as a catch crop for some pests.  If we do this again, it will be a couple of plants just to show we can grow one out.

Schoon's Hard Shell (Seed Savers)
Similar issue to Amish, very similar to Pride of Wisconsin.  Maybe sometime in the future, we'll run a head to head trial.  But not now.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Heirloom Tomatoes for 2013

The seed catalogs are here and we're beginning to make determinations as to which varieties stay, which varieties go and which new introductions we will make to our farm.

Candidates to be added in 2013:

Black Cherry (Seed Savers)
Our criteria for cherry tomatoes are:
1. great taste
2. easy to pick, growing in cluster and tomatoes about 1" in size
3. don't split so easily that we can't hope to get them to people

And, to be perfectly frank, if it fails to meet those criteria we'll only grow a plant or two for ourselves at most.  Or - if someone really begged us, we'd start plants and sell them.  Black Cherry fits these criteria according the catalog.  But, not every tomato matches the catalog once it gets to the farm - that's why we do trials.  There is a reasonably good chance we'll try this one.

Dester (Seed Savers)
The main reason we are considering this one is the results of the 2011 and 2012 Tomato Tasting results for Seed Savers.  A win in 2011 and runner up in 2012.  It looks like a slightly smaller German Pink by description.  We're not entirely sure it is needed on the farm, but it is difficult to ignore high ratings for taste.

Paul Robeson (Seed Savers)
We've seen this one in other catalogs and found it intriguing.  Since we are fans of Black Krim and its complex flavor, I suspect we may become fans of this one as well.  The real win for us here could be that it fills a bit of a niche rather than being a bit of a duplicate to things we already grow (like Dester/German Pink).  Like most Eastern European heirloom varieties, we expect that you have to give yourself a season to learn when to pick them.

Peach Blow Sutton (Seed Savers)
Look, we doesn't names them, we just selects and grows them... These are a smaller slicing tomato with low acidity (sweeter taste), but it is a pinkish red.  Most low acid tomatoes tend to be yellows.  It's unique enough that we may have to give this one a try.

Indigo Rose (High Mowing)
Another rule for selecting new tomatoes is that they have to come from one of the seed houses we fully trust and intend on ordering from.  And, we also have learned over time which types of seed we prefer from each of these companies.  As you can see, we favor Seed Savers for the tomatoes.  But, High Mowing has yet to steer us wrong.  Indigo Rose is a salad size (2 oz) tomato that is a blackish red in color.  We appreciate seeing a new variety that is an open pollinated, rather than a hybrid and intend to support the effort by giving this one a try (despite the fact that so many people are pushing it - we're not really bandwagon sorts of people).

Goodbye - maybe just for now or for good:

We will be dropping some tomato varieties and making adjustments to others.  This doesn't always mean the variety was a failure.  But, it does mean we have reasons for changing their status.  It's only fair we put them here in case someone really doesn't want us to drop one.

Silvery Fir Tree (Seed Savers)
Before you get too excited, we are only dropping these from production.  We will still start plants for sale.  We are very aware that these work wonderfully in pots and know many of you want them again this year.  But, it is clear to us that they don't offer anything to our production in the field or the high tunnel.  And, we don't intend on growing a bunch of container plants ourselves.  We'll likely find ourselves stuck with a few anyway and will hate to kill them.  But, we can only do so much.

Beams Yellow Pear (Seed Savers)
They taste great.  They are very vigorous.  We can't pick them easily and they tend to split or have small blemishes that leave us irritated trying to find marketable fruit.  It is likely more our fault than the plant since they've fallen down our priority list for picking.  We expect to have some plants for sale in 2013, but if we don't hear much complaint, we may not bring them back again.

Kellogg's Breakfast (Seed Savers)
Simply put, Dr Wyche's Yellow beat it fair and square.  We like Kellogg's Breakfast well enough and may use up leftover seed for some plants at market.  But, sometimes you have to simplify a little.

Siberian (Seed Savers)
Aside from one really good year (a very cool season - 2009), this one doesn't do much for us.  We know they excel in northern Minnesota - but that's not where our market is.  We'll let Stupice handle earliest tomato honors.

Violet Jasper and Topaz (Baker Creek)
Violet Jasper produced tomatoes smaller than we wanted for the purpose we intended and Topaz didn't do anything to recommend it over the Red Zebra/Green Zebra pairing we enjoy.  Baker Creek is a great seed source if you are zone 5 or further south.  But, we're not sure the things that do best for them match up with us very well.  If we have seed left over and space, we may plant some out for sale.

Aunt Ruby's German Green (Seed Savers)
Shaped like a German Pink, but Green when ripe.  These taste pretty good, but we struggle with getting salable fruit from these plants.  And, we actually like Tasty Evergreen for taste better than these.  So, we'll bump that one up a little in production and drop this one.

Cherokee Purple (Seed Savers)
It is official, on our farm, Black Krim is the king of the purple/black tomatoes.  Cherokee Purple really has never kept up with Black Krim in production or taste or quality.  Really, Cherokee Purple is fine.  But, on our farm, Black Krim simply has done better in every weather configuration.  It even did better in the high tunnel than Cherokee.  It would make sense to keep it if it showed a weather situation where it did better so we would have insurance on this type of tomato.  But, it has not. 

Changing the Guard:

We will be increasing the production of the following (at least a little bit).

Tasty Evergreen gets some of Aunt Ruby's production space.
Redfield Beauty earned more growing space with a fabulous season in 2012.
Dr Wyche's Yellow gets Kellogg's Breakfast's space.
Black Krim receives some of the Cherokee Purple production area.

On a Short Leash
Roman Candle  it seems to appear and reappear as an available tomato.  We're not sold that we absolutely MUST track it down in the future if it disappears again.
Ponderosa Red is an old beefsteak variety.  It picks hard and hasn't fully distinguished itself.  But, it hasn't exactly been bad either.  We'll likely give it another run.

Last Year of the Prize Fight
 versus Opalka

 For the right to stay on the farm, these two Polish paste style tomatoes will be run head to head once again.  The slightly larger size recommends Federle and the slightly shorter window to ripeness recommends Opalka.  They don't seem to favor different weather conditions nor do other variables on the farm seem to impact them in different ways.  So, we are down to a straight up yield battle in 2013.  Taste, quality and type are all similar.  CSA members be aware, we may ask you to taste test these beauties for us and take a vote in September.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Winter Games

Wednesday was a very nice day to be outside and some of the things I was able to do on the farm got me to musing about some 'games' we can play during the Winter months.  And...lucky you... the farmer's musings as he does work get shared on the blog more often in Winter than they do in Summer!

Seed Catalog Bingo
It is the season of the seed catalog.  And, I suspect we may get more seed catalogs than most gardeners, so if we play it, we have to go for a blackout versus five in a row.  I've lost count of how many we have received now, but we just landed 2 or 3 more in today's mail.  In the end, we'll place orders with five, but we look at nearly every one of them at least a little bit in order to do the 'due diligence' of searching for certified organic seed.  Note - we have received each of the catalogs on this card, plus a few.

Here's your card - tell us how you do:
B:  Seed Savers - Potato Garden - Burpee  -  Fedco - Totally Tomatoes
I:   Select Seeds - Seeds of Change - John Scheepers - Henry Fields - Burgess
N: Jung - Vermont Bean - Johnny's - Seeds from Italy - Landreth
G: Baker Creek -  Peaceful Valley - Abundant Life - Park - Territorial
O:  Sandhill Preservation - High Mowing - Harris - Gurney's -Albert Lea Seedhouse

High Stakes Poker
What's needed to play?  Metal electric fence poles, gloves and enough snow over the frozen ground to make this work.

I spent some time taking down fence stakes/poles (and a few remaining cages) in the tomato field.  There were enough of them that I decided to toss some of the poles from the center of the field to the side.  And, of course, I just HAD to try to make them stand on end.  It works best to get a little loft on them.

However, if you are bad at this game, you will find yourself playing....

Where's Waldo?
When the stakes don't stand up in the snow, fall down... in the ... snow.   You get the picture.

Confetti Parade
We had some shredded paper mulch that was provided to us to trial.  I decided to try it out around a few of our bushes that didn't get wood mulch on the East line.  It wasn't all that windy.  But, I still had a bit of a confetti parade going out there.  Makes me think that this might not work so well for us.  But, I threw snow over it to help hold it down - and tomorrow's predicted rain should help too.

Chicken Feet
Our chickens don't like to go out into the snow, so they are in their room much of the time.  As a result, they get in the way more than usual when it is feeding, watering or egg picking time.  They are also very interested in whatever you are doing or whatever it is you are bringing them.  so...they get close to the human.  The game?

Try to avoid the chicken feet without tripping over waterers or feeders.  You get stuck with points if you drop any eggs or spill feed/water.  If you drop an egg, that's kind of like having to draw extra tiles in dominoes (chicken feet).  If you drop lots of eggs, you got caught with the double 9's.  Spill water on your own legs and it is a cold day - that's being caught with the double zeroes.

Going "out" means you didn't step on a chicken foot, nor did you spill or drop anything OR crack an egg by accident.  Good luck with that.

Bowling for Kittens
It was warm enough to pack snowballs and the kittens were out and about today.  So, I wondered if they would respond to snowballs being tossed.  They really didn't do anything interesting when I was throwing the snowballs.  But, when I rolled one past Mrranda, she took off after it at high speed.  The shoulder roll at the end when she caught it was something to behold.  This is clearly more Mrranda's game than Sandman's, but they'll both play.  They especially liked it when I rolled one that had momentum to get into more snow and it grew instead of shrank!

A strike - both kittens run after the rolled snowball and both try to pounce on it.
A spare - roll one snowball and get one pounce, roll a second snowball and get the other to pounce
7-10 split - roll a snowball between both kittens and they pounce on each other
gutter ball - roll a snowball and one kitten runs to YOU to be given attention and the other one cleans herself...

Monday, January 7, 2013

Stream of Conscious Traveling

We were able to take a break from the farm over the New Year's.  We get to do this more often than some and less often than others.  But, regardless of that, we recognize how valuable it is to just leave for a while.

And, you might ask - "Why is it so valuable?"

Go ahead.... ask.

Well, I'll tell you anyway.  It's because we can come up with all kinds of neat things to put in the blog for you!  Now - that wasn't the answer you were thinking we'd give you, was it?

Illiniwek Village
As you drive from here to there, signs you will see.  Ask us of them, you might.

The Missouri parks site has more information here.

While we did not take the side detour to visit this site, we wrote it down so we could learn a bit about it.  The Illiniwek numbered approximately a dozen tribes in the upper Mississippi River region and were an Algonquin speaking people.  Currently, remnants of these people reside in Oklahoma.  Of interest to us is the fact that they were among the peoples who used the "Three Sisters" horticultural companions (squash, beans and corn).

Hawk Eyed
Each time we take this trip, we enjoy keeping tabs on the raptors we observe.  This year, we did not see much on the trip down, but we hit the jackpot at about 3pm in Illinois, near the Kaskaskia River (Kaskaskia would be the name of an Illiniwek tribe).  Many, many Red Tailed Hawks on poles for us to see during a nice patch of sunny weather. 

You Name It
We also always enjoy names of towns, rivers, etc as we drive.  For example - just say "Kaskaskia" out loud.  It's just fun.  Now, try to say "Kaskaskia" three times quickly.  Try typing it three times quickly.  I think that may be harder.  Another fine name is from the same area:  "Mascoutah"   If you know "The Lion King"  you know how much fun they hyenas have saying "Mufasa."  Well, say "Mascoutah" the same way.  ooooo!  Say it again!  But, maybe "Mascoutah" is part of the "Hut" language?  Could you hear Jabba saying "Mascoutah?"

Stop that Fighting!  I really mean it!
We ran across signs for another Missouri park in the same area as the Illiniwek Village.  In this case, it referred to the Battle of Athens, which I presumed correctly to be a Civil War historical site.  And, of course, we found Civil War history in Georgia when we drove by the site for the Battle of Resaca, which was part of the "Sherman's March to Atlanta."  This last was in the middle of a detour, so we might not have seen it otherwise.  At a guess, most people who know a little about the US Civil War will not recognize this event, despite there being approximately 150,000 troops involved over 3+ days.  One two hour skirmish resulted in 1200 casualties.

Whenever I wonder if I'm wasting my time learning the arts of negotiation and compromise, I look at the results of a battlefield.

Drive By Observations
  • Whenever I see signs such as the following: "Howard's Furniture and Mattress" or "Elliott's Carpet" I have to wonder.  What happens if Howard sells the mattress or Elliot sells the carpet?  Will they still have a business, or will they take the sign down?
  • Would you buy a house from a real estate agent who puts his face on a billboard and proclaims his name to be "Hoodie" (he placed his nickname between his first and last names)?  His last name was Hood - we'll talk about creativity and nicknames some other day.
  • Two signs right next to each other.  One for county road B and the other for county road E.  You could turn left for B and right for E.  If you went without turning, you could just BE.  
  • A front porch clearly removed from an old house sitting at the corner of a parcel of property also had a prominent "No Trespassing" sign on it.  So, much for the old myth that people sitting on their front porches were welcoming.
  • We wondered what the news was in Olds, Iowa.
  • The dump truck for M VanWinkle Construction looked like it hadn't moved in quite a while. 
  • If you've driven to St Louis from Iowa you might notice that they have a welcome center in Hannibal, which is by the Mississippi River bordering with Illinios.  But, there is no welcome center on the road (Keokuk area) between Iowa and Missouri.  Instead, you can stop at any number of fireworks retailers.  Hmmmm.
  • The Injun Joe batting cages.  That's all I should have to say about that.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 in Review

Many people send a Christmas 'form' letter with their Christmas cards.  We make a year in review post for our blog.  In the past, we've used the top 10 (or 11) countdown format.  For an example, you can look at 2011's list.  But, this year, we know what the "number 1" event would be if you consider impact on the farm.  Or at least, the impact on the farmers.  And, frankly, while we feel it needs to be included, we will not honor it with a "number 1" ranking.

So, here we go - with the "almost a top 10 list" for that "kid in the back."

Dishonorable Mention: What? You didn't *want* to be fumigated?

"At approximately 6:50pm on Friday, July 27 a plane applying Lorsban, Sniper and Stratego tried to apply to the field to our north and west. The wind at the time was low, but still there. It was out of the NNW. Not only was the application bound to drift some because of this wind, the applicator did not turn off the spray when they flew over the farm."

Original Post
Follow Up - Collateral Damage
Several other posts follow as well.

A quick note on this.  I did a quick read of the "Collateral Damage" post.  It remains an accurate assessment of how I feel when I think about this.  The difference is this - I don't think about it every moment of every day.  Be grateful for even the smallest amount of healing.

10. Moving Cedar Falls pickup to Hansen's Outlet

We made the decision to move from Roots to Hansen's Outlet for our Cedar Falls distribution this year.  Our biggest reason had to be safety - we were getting too nervous about the congestion and traffic by Roots and had visions of a small child dashing in front of a vehicle.  We were lucky to have Eric Cornish at Hansen's Outlet looking out for us and recruiting our presence at their store.  Our thanks to the Hansen's and to the Cornish family for their support.  The location worked well and we expect to return in 2013.

9. Mrranda and Sandman

Cubbie is a wonderful farm manager.  But, she's been handling all farm manager duties since Doughboy moved on to the great kitty hunting ground in the sky.  We welcomed Mrranda and Sandman to the farm this fall.  Kittens are usually fun for us to begin with, but these two have been extremely rewarding.  The goal is to have some friendly cats that we can trust to be able to handle gatherings and workers on the farm.  That - and we'd like them to help with rodent population control.  So far, so good. 

All that - and we ended up with this great picture of Sandman!  We suspect he'll be a part of our promotions this Spring.

8. A year without flying cold frames

An old hog building came down five or so years ago.  We've been plugging away at getting it cleaned up for a long time.  Finally ,the area in front of the old buildings foundation was cleaned up enough so we could be our cold frames and young plants there.  This is one of the locations on the farm that provides some shelter from some of the most damaging winds.  You may have noticed - well, maybe you didn't - BUT that's the point!  We didn't have a post here bemoaning the demise of young plants, or even a cold frame in a wind event.  Now - if we can get the slab cleaned up the rest of the way this March...

7. Gang of Four Revisited

Want some of those plantings weeded? 
Let's start taking the roof off of that building. 
How about getting 4 rows of sweet potatoes in?  Eh - let's get eight of them in.
Maybe we'll start a few fence posts and try to make some progress on a chicken room.  No problem!
Maybe we'll dig some garlic?  Or prune some tomatoes?  Or perhaps, we'll just eat some really good food!
With this group - we just say "let's do all of the above."

Some of our favorite people in the world happen to work at Scattergood Friends School Farm, Blue Gate Farm and Grinnell Heritage Farm.  In 2011, we started a farm visit schedule, where all members of the group came and worked on a different farm each month.  We continued this program in 2012.  Each farm dealt with some stressful life events this year - and the support we were able to give each other meant a great deal. 

6. The hens get a new home

We can't use the barn anymore, so the hens needed a new home.  It took most of the year to get it done, but there is now a new room in the Poultry Pavillion.  And, the host of people who helped us accomplish this is impressive *and* we are most appreciative.  Trying to build a decent room that will keep varmints out is no small task.

However, I will say this - I'm not sure I want to take any more of the old ceiling down - though I know I will have to late Winter/early Spring.

5. Dry weather, dry soil and dry humor(?).

Dry dry dry.  Hot hot hot.  But, you all know this because the press made sure we knew this was a big deal.  So, instead, we'll talk about what happened on our farm in response to the weather.

If you've talked to us or read about our farm in the past, you know that too much water is very much an issue here.  So, we were looking forward to drier weather.  But, maybe not this dry.

Even so, we showed that we have more tools in the toolbox to handle dry versus wet.  We brought out the drip tape.  We adjusted our poultry schedule by removing the second batch of broilers to give our pastures a break.  We changed planting schedules and sacrificed some crops in order to secure the success of others.  We drank *alot* of fluids.

4. Sweet corn, melons and more!

So...the dry weather and spraying resulted in the loss of pepper, eggplant, okra and winter squash crops and it reduced others.  But, our efforts still netted some crops that we don't usually push hard for the CSA.

Because it was drier this year, we were able to get the planting done - which included the sweet corn.  Sweet corn is a crop we usually try to grow just for us.  But, we rarely manage to get it in on time - and if we do, it is low priority and ends up getting too weedy.  Not this year!  And, we got enough to freeze for ourselves, share with the CSA *and* sell one Saturday at market. 

Then, there was the melons and watermelons.  We attribute this to the addition of a mulch layer this Spring.  Durnik the tractor was more useful than ever now that we have a reasonable set of implements to use on the farm.  The paper mulch helped us to manage a decent crop of melons and watermelons this year and we're anxious to take what we learned and get a bumper crop next year. 

3. Granted, we had to work for it

The Genuine Faux Farm was performing work for two grants in 2012.  The first was a SARE funded research grant.  This was the second of two years for this grant and we were pleased with the results.  We are hopeful that continued research on our part will encourage more intercropping by vegetable producers.

We were also able to research renewable energy options for our farm with a Farm Energy Working Grant.  The next steps?  We need to seek out funding in order to install a solar photovoltaic array on the farm.  It will be 'grid tied' and we hope it will offset extra power needs we bring to the farm with our irrigation, cold storage and other power needs we wouldn't have if we weren't growing vegetables and raising poultry.

In the meantime, we are seriously considering a smaller, portable solar array for recharging batteries for various tools. 

2. Grover retires, Chumley is hired.

When you do what we do, a truck is not just a truck.  It's got to be reliable and it has to do the job.  Grover has done the job for us since the inception of the farm.  But, the 20 year old truck was showing its age and the frame was falling apart.  Enter Chumley, the big, red troll of a truck.  With the new topper, we should be able to increase our capacity and it is much easier to load and unload. 

1. Sabbatical - How a change of pace may have saved our year.

For those who may not know, Tammy teaches Social Work at the college.  And, for all who know anything about teaching, you realize how demanding that job can be.  Thus, we are grateful that she is eligible for a sabbatical every 7 years.  She received the Spring term off to pursue other academic interests (and to work on the farm a bit more during the early part of the season). 

While she did plenty of work during this time period for the college, the benefit comes in the form of freedom of schedule.  As a result, we took a trip to Oregon in March (before the farm season really got going).  We thoroughly enjoyed our time out there and it helped recharge our batteries for the growing season. 

If this had not been a sabbatical year, we might not have been able to respond to the early Spring weather as well as we did.  And, we would not likely had as much done by the time we got into June and the super dry/hot weather.  But, more important, we might not have had the reserves of personal energy we needed to get through the mid-season crisis. 

Oregon Pictures:  1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Blog Post on the trip.