Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Planting for You? Part I

ed: this is part 1 of 2 - other items we are growing for sale in 2013 will be in the second post that will appear in 2 days after the first.

It's time for us to start promoting ourselves a bit more.  And some it has to do with planning and of course - PLANTING!

We are starting to put things in trays, but we need a little help from you to make some decisions about what we are growing for PLANT SALES this Spring.

Below is a list of what we intend on growing for sales purposes.  For each vegetable type, we will include a list of all of the plants we are starting for the farm.

What should YOU do?
- If you see something on our growing list that is NOT on the sales list, but you WANT us to start some for you - you'd better say something now!
- If you think there is a limited number of something and are afraid that what you want won't be available - the same applies.
- If you want to be sure to get something, send us a note and reserve some plants.

Everyone's Favorite - Tomatoes
Sales List
German Pink (54), Italian Heirloom (54), Trophy (54), Amish Paste (36), Speckled Roman (18), Red Zebra (18), Green Zebra (18), Tommy Toe (54), Hartmann's Yellow Gooseberry (18), Moonglow (24), Golden Sunray (18), Black Krim (36), Jaune Flamme (36), Silvery Fir Tree (36)

On Grow List, but not on Sales List
Dr Wyche's Yellow, Druzba, Rutgers, Wisconsin 55, Powers Heirloom, Federle, Opalka, Black Cherry, Nebraska Wedding, Redfield Beauty, Paul Robeson, Ponderosa Red, Hungarian Heart, Gold Medal, Tastey Evergreen, Peach Blow Sutton, Stupice, Wapsipinicon Peach, Japanese Black Trifele

A Taste of Summer - Sweet Peppers

Sales List
Jimmy Nardello's Frying Pepper (36), Golden Treasure (36), Purple Beauty (18), Tolli Sweet (36), Quadrato asti Giallo (18), Wisconsin Lakes (54), King of the North (54)

Grow List - Not Sales
Chervena Chushka, Marconi Red, Garden Sunshine, Ace, Jupiter, Napolean Sweet

Spice it Up - Hot Peppers

Sales List 
Joe's Long Cayenne (12), Alma Papricka (12), Wenk's Yellow Hot (6), Early Jalapeno (12)

Grow List - Not Sales
Beaver Dam, Feher Ozon Papricka, Hot Portugal, Fish, Hungarian Wax, Ancho, Aji Crystal

Fun to Grow and Under Appreciated - Eggplant

Sales List
  Pingtung Long (24), Casper (6), Rosa Bianca (12), Listada di Gandia(12)

Grow List - Not Sales
  Florida Highbush, Diamond, Black King

Great to Grow with Tomatoes - Basil
Sales List
   Genovese (54), Dark Opal (36), Mrs Burns Lemon (18), Thai (18)


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

And now, for something completely different...

Sometimes, we see things and we just can't help ourselves.  We receive a few magazines related to horticulture (I wonder why that would be?).  And, those magazines have advertisements.  And, many of those advertisements are for products we won't use.  And... well, here's a picture that is supposed to make us want to use an insecticide.

Possible captions:
a. Caterpillar, it's what's for dinner (alas for Copland, a fine piece of music forever scarred)
b. Hey Rocky, watch me cut off my arm with this stylized hatchet!
c.  I have something to tell you, I'm not left appendaged either!
d. Look, I've got a new cell phone holder!  It makes me want to.... sing!

 On another front, this picture is from early January.  There is a snowmobile trail that goes around our property.  The signs, set out by the snowmobiling club, indicates the trail crosses the road and into the ditch on the other side, before turning South and away from our farm.
 Clearly, there needs to be some help identifying what the red circle with a slash through it might mean.  Yes, we spent time trying to pound in several more stakes and signs soon after noticing this problem.  Why are we so worried about this?  What you don't see are smaller lilac bushes at the left and a culvert on the right.  We really would prefer the lilacs not be pruned in this fashion.  And...we'd also prefer not to have frantic individuals at our door if someone hit the culvert with their snowmobile.  The actions of the few will likely result in reduced options for the many.

 Then, there is this picture.  I took it when I noticed (in December) how shiny Chumley's bumper was.  Mrranda noticed I was taking a picture and wanted to watch.  So, you can see the cat looking up (bottom left). 
 I missed framing it by "this much."  There's a hand holding a camera at the left.  Don't worry, I'm sure Chumley will acquire his share of farm dirt over the growing season.

Then, there was Bullwinkle the potato...
 Hey Rocky!  Watch me pull a potato out of the ground!  It seemed like the Rio Grande russets were more prone to odd shapes this year than any of the other varieties we grew.  Happily, it was not all of the crop, so when we ran across something like this, it was amusing, rather than annoying.

If you recall the growing season for 2013, you'll remember it was dry.  But, do you also remember how warm it got REALLY early?  All of the trees budded out early and fruit trees in Iowa went to town, putting blooms on absurdly early.  Then, of course, we had freezes that took out most of the fruit crops in the state. 

We're not big fruit growers.  We just have 6-8 young apple trees, a couple of young plums, pears and ...one peach tree.  The only tree to give us any fruit in 2013?  The peach.  Look in the center of the picture and a bit to the left.  There it is.  The only fruit we got from our trees last season.  Yes, it was tasty.  Yes, I shared.

As veg farmers, we don't get quite as excited for Spring as we used to.  Don't get us wrong.  Both of us still felt the thrill of seeing some robins down by Knoxville last weekend.  But, Spring means the beginning of the season that doesn't let us slow down.  It's fine once it starts, but sometimes a person doesn't want to start.  I'm sure everyone knows that feeling.

So, when all else fails.  We remember iris flowers.  Now, there's a good reason to look forward to Spring.  The flower above is known as Spouting Horn.  Hoping to see it again this Spring.

Speaking of "Spouting Horn,"  here it is - from the coast of Oregon.  No, we don't get to go back there this March, but we sure did enjoy our trip there last March.

 Spring also makes us think of wind....  speaking of which, we are slated to get a bit of that with some snow tomorrow.  Now that I've visited Oregon, I can look at the picture below and get some perspective.
When I'm tempted to complain about the wind on the farm, I'll look at this.  Our trees don't look like that.  Maybe the wind here isn't so bad after all.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Tools of the Trade

With another batch of cold weather and maybe some precipitation heading this way, we are encouraged to continue evaluating tools, supplies and other items for the farm in 2013.  Since neither of us grew up on a farm, the whole process of scaling up our operation and acquiring proper tools for our operation is new to us.  Ok, so we've been going through the process for eight or so years, so it's not that new and we're not entirely lost.  But, if we take a little time to reflect, it can be a revelation to us to see where we've been and where it looks like we're going.

If you've been with us for a while, you might recognize this picture.  We started Genuine Faux Farm when our biggest pieces of equipment were the walk behind tiller you see above and a lawn tractor.  Our first graduation came when this tiller threw a rod and stopped running (not too long after this picture) - and we weren't done prepping for planting.  We made our first larger farm purchase by acquiring a tiller attachment for our lawn tractor.  It was unnerving and frightening to think about investing so much into this project with which we had so little experience and direct knowledge.

We've learned that a key part to being a sustainable farming operation is the ability to complete the tasks we've set out to do each season.  The trick is finding the balance between environmental health, our financial health, a positive place in the community (which includes the satisfaction of our customers) and our personal well-being.  We believe that they are all related in that if you ignore one of these, you are likely to harm the others.   But, there is tension between them as well.

Case in point - the high tunnel (2010).   

This building is the second largest purchase we have made for the farm (with Chumley the truck exceeding it in 2012).  We decided to make this leap in part because the extremely wet years of 2008 and 2010 illustrated that we needed to be more resilient during years that saw too much rain.  Our long term financial health was in jeopardy if we couldn't respond to weather extremes better than we had up to that point.  We decided to put this tunnel up as part of our efforts to address the problem.  It was a toss up as to whether it would help our personal well-being and it made our short term finances a bit tenuous.  We were/are also concerned about how the increased use of plastics in horticulture may be negatively impacting our environment.  And so, we made a larger short term financial sacrifice in an effort to reduce a perceived negative impact on the environment.  We invested in a movable high tunnel in order to allow nature to do its magic on the ground that had been farmed the previous season and we resist the temptation to let optimal financial returns dictate how we grow in this structure.  Of course, they are a part of it.  But, the day we let that be our only decision point is the day we will cease to farm.

Working at the Farm

Having people work on the farm is another advance we've made over the last several years.  Thank you to all who have done so!  I bring this one up because it is part of my calculations as I consider new equipment, technologies or techniques for our farm.  If you think you know exactly where I am going, you are likely only partially correct.

Many new tools are intended to reduce our reliance on manual labor.  So, a simple way to look at something is to do the following:
It cost us X dollars to hire the three ladies shown above to weed the melon patch in 2007.  Mystery tool/technology A will cost me A dollars to purchase and B dollars to maintain yearly and it does the same job.  In the end, the labor cost I save will have it paying for itself in Z years.  That's what you expected, yes?

Well, consider this as well.   As a small, local farm, we feel we have some responsibility for providing a positive place for people to do some good, honest work for decent pay.  If we blindly make changes to our farm in an effort to wholly mechanize, we remove opportunities for people.  Now, at this point, we are not in danger of mechanizing to the point of not needing help on the farm.  We are very, very far from it.  In fact, we are still attempting to identify and acquire enough tools so that we can accomplish what our farm needs to accomplish each season with a reasonable number of workers that we can afford to pay.

But, when I consider tools, I also consider what sorts of jobs are best suiting to people and which are not.  In fact, I feel a responsibility to myself and to those who work for us that the jobs should be interesting, have an element of challenge and be diverse in their actions.  The tools we buy are purchased in an effort to make working on the farm a more positive experience, both for us and for those who join us each year.  They are not intended to replace anyone.  This may be one of the most attractive attributes small, diversified farms have.  Tools are not typically intended to replace humans, instead they are intended to support them in their efforts.

Out of the Comfort Zone

Every year we push ourselves out of our comfort zones and try to figure out what the best approach for our farm will be.  Each season we try new things, even if we have had little personal experience doing those things.  We challenge what we think we know and we ask ourselves if what we are doing is the best we can do for our environment, our community, our customers and for ourselves.  We ask questions and look for answers, we share what we think are the answers so far and we dream about what we could do, exploring new ideas constantly.  It is difficult, it is frustrating and it is oh so rewarding when we make steps forward - even if we are just going to question ourselves again later to see if we've done everything we should have done. 

What's Next?
We are back from our Gang of Four "Nota" Conference and I am full of ideas and thoughts about their farms and our farm.  The list of investments for the year is long and I'm trying to figure out what we should do.  Then I have to figure out what we MUST do.  After that, I determine what we are ABLE to do.  We'll share some of that process with you in the next two weeks via the blog.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Variation on a Theme

Here we are - most of the fields are now planned.  The calendar is being laid out for the season.  Seed orders are being placed. 

It is time to promote our CSA to those who may have interest.

Let us begin by telling everyone what we intend to grow this season!

arugula, mustard greens, lettuce, spinach, radish, collard greens, swiss chard, kale, pok choi, chinese cabbage, cabbage, amaranth, kohlrabi, turnip, carrot, beet, rutabaga, melon, watermelon, basil, pepper, eggplant, hot pepper, dry beans, eggplant, green beans, snap peas, snow peas, cucumbers, okra, pie pumpkins, winter squash, summer squash, zucchini, garlic, onion, leeks, potato, tomato, broccoli, cauliflower, romanesco, brussels sprouts, daikon, wax beans, rosemary, sage, marjoram and maybe some other things I've forgotten on this list...

This is one of the best reasons to join the CSA.  There is a lot of variety coming your way during the season.  And, every year, we get better and better at doing this.  Part of the issue is gathering the tools needed to succeed, but most of it is simply the fact that we continue to learn more about what it takes to succeed.  We don't stand still and we don't give up. 

But, the variety doesn't stop there!  We have worked hard to identify some of the tastiest varieties of these vegetables.  Don't think you like beets?  Then you need to try Chioggia.  And, you've got to join just to try the Jade green beans.  Who says gourmet taste has to be small and expensive?   A Costata Romanesco  has a light, nutty taste that will change your mind about zucchini.  And, the Black Krim tomatoes....  you may consider having a T instead of a BLT.  Except, you might consider having some Pablo lettuce for the L.  And, very few people are able to say no to bacon.  If you haven't had spinach from the farm, you don't know what it's supposed to taste like.  It's hard not to mention all of the converts who love the pale True Lemon and Boothby's Blonde cucumbers.  Let us convince you that a Rosa Bianca eggplant really does taste alot like a portabello.  Consider kale sauteed in garlic from our farm.  Or, if you don't like stirfry, try a zuppa tuscano with the kale. 

Are you hungry yet?  If you are, now is the time to tell us you are hungry for produce!  We still have room for you.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Awfully Dry Lemonade

I noted one image that caused me to look for the other image which has me thinking - which we all know is a DANGEROUS PASTIME.

The first image is a National Weather Service drought map.  Our area is right on the tip of the orange/severe drought in northeast Iowa.  In other words, not great, but it could be oh so much worse.  But, the thing we need to keep in mind here isn't the fact that there are areas in a drought - that's almost always the case.  It is the fact that so much of the landmass is in one.

From NOAA climate maps.

Of course, the weather concerns me because I intend to (yet again) try to grow some delicious produce and raise some poultry this year.  And, raising food requires water.  Any given day on the farm illustrates for us exactly how important water is.  Every day we give our animals water, sometimes twice a day (or more) when it is hot, dry and windy.  Water is important to keep our plants alive and growing.  We need water to help clean produce, eggs and ourselves before we deliver.  Water is used to clean equipment and containers.  Our extensive use of water concerns us, and we hope to continue making changes to improve our conservation of the water we use.

How wonderful for us that we will try to be responsible.  But, what happens when not enough of us are being responsible?

Photo shared by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, taken from wiki.  Texas dust storm during the Dust Bowl.

Yes, that is a picture from the Dust Bowl.  Pretty amazing.  And, very frightening. 

Nature will do what it does.  Even if we are all being responsible, there will still be droughts, floods, fires and whatever else.  But, when we are not watching what we're doing, we can take a natural event and help turn it into something exceptionally nasty.

On a scale that I have no direct control over, we have hydraulic fracturing (fracking) being used to recover natural gas.  This process uses large amounts of water, often in areas that have very little left to give.  Consider the Dakotas as a case study (reference the drought map please).  We've been lucky to not have to deal with extreme water shortages and water wars in the United States.  But, poor water use decisions may be changing all of this.

Then there is the case of corn ethanol.  The cost for corn ethanol is being taken out of our hides by increased water use for corn crops in areas that are better suited to grow other things.  Or, by the contamination of water through the processes used to grow the corn.  And, I thought the purpose of ethanol was to be better stewards of our resources?  Apparently not.  And, it gets a bit more disturbing when I realize that the pressure to grow corn has come from government subsidies for corn ethanol as well as subsidies for the corn commodity crop. 

And, perhaps we should also consider bare soil farming.  If you drive down Iowa's roads in Winter, you might notice the snirt (dirty snow) in the ditches.  This is an indicator of wind erosion of our farmland.  Those who use no-till practices see less of this, but they are still losing soil.  In fact, we are acting like we all want to see a repeat of the Dust Bowl.  Are we really that enamored with tragedy that going to the movies isn't good enough now?  It isn't that difficult to implement longer rotations (instead of corn-soybeans or worse, corn on corn) and it isn't hard to plant cover crops to help hold the soil. 

So, how does it come to this?  Does it really require regulation to force us to try to take care of our environment and our resources?  Are humans really so greedy that we won't reduce our profit margin a bit in order to get something done right?  Are we so inflexible that we can't adjust once we see a problem with how things are being done?  Are we all just so lazy that we can't bring ourselves to do a little bit more in an effort to prevent catastrophe? Or, are all of these things so much more complicated than a single blog post can address?


But, that doesn't mean we shouldn't still try to do something about it.  I don't want to see a reenactment of the second picture.  Do you?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

February Newsletter

It has been a while since our last newsletter.  So, here is out February newsletter with alot of January posts!  And, a picture that hopefully makes everyone think Summer!

Recent News
You can get a quick summary via our post of News Shorts
But, suffice it to say that we are now in the season where we are looking for CSA members to join us in 2013.  Encourage people to contact us!

What Veg Do YOU Want More of?
Recently, we asked this question via the blog and via Facebook.  The responses we received resulted in a number of posts showing our plans to address these wants.  It's not too late!  If you have an opinion, let us know about what you want to see more of in 2013!

Our plans to increase tomato availability.
A post about asparagus, peas and winter squash
And spinach

Want to see what vegetable varieties we are planning to grow?  Some of these will also be available as plants we sell in the Spring!


The Lighter Side

I guess the blog has been known to have some humor in it.  If you can call it humor, it makes an appearance in the following:

Winter Games
Stream of Conscious Traveling
The Sandman Has Spoken

Excuse Me Sir, You Appear to Be Listing
There has to be something with a list.  And, of course, our 2012 in Review contains such a thing!

Winter Ramblings and Rumblings
'Tis the season where the farmer has a bit more time to ruminate.  And, so he tries to do just that with a few posts.  The first offering describes a couple of December farm work days as a response to a request about what we do in Winter.
An unexpected gift around Christmas had us thinking about the whole idea of bonuses and work on the farm.
And, finally, a post that wonders why we do what we do with our blog, newsletters and everything else.

Still Fighting the Spray
We continue to share how we are dealing with last year's spraying event by sharing some numbers from our farm.