Friday, April 26, 2013

News of the Farm

There is a lot to tell, so we'll tell it in one post and hope it gets to those who might like to know.

Spring Season Extension
We will be doing the Spring Season Extension utilizing produce from the high tunnel and anything we can pull out of the asparagus, etc.  Delivery will be at the Waverly Farmers' Market on Saturday AMs.  Cedar Falls/Waterloo folk, we may have someone willing to pick up for you again this Spring.  Those who have indicated interest (or who have gotten extended season prior to this) will be getting an email this weekend with details. 

The Health Fair
We will be attending the Health Fair at the W tomorrow morning (April 27) from 8:30 to 11:30 AM.  We will be there with other Waverly Farmers' market vendors outside by the Northwest entrance.  We'll have spinach!  And we'll bring a few tomatoes that are good for container growing.

Tom Sawyer Day # 1
Saturday, May 4 from 1pm to 4pm.  Send us a note if you are thinking about attending.  We'll be doing field and farm cleanup tasks and/or transplanting of tomatoes into pots.  

Waverly Farmers Market begins May 4
We will be there at least until the first Saturday of June.  Crops dictate our presence from there, since the CSA demand must be met first!

Plant Sales
We will have plants for sale at the Saturday market in Waverly.  We'll have a few tomatoes and maybe some kale, lettuce, etc the first week.  We'll begin bringing tomatoes in earnest on the 11th.  Peppers not likely until the 18th or 25th.  We may even bring some squash and cucumber seedlings later in the month.  We do this to discourage people planting too early and becoming the wrong kind of repeat customer (my plants died....).  We will be scheduling two plant sale dates in the latter half of May at Hansen's Outlet in Cedar Falls.  Are the other requests?

Regular Season CSA Report
We have room for exactly THREE members at Waverly or Tripoli.  That is all we have room for at this point.  We are grateful that so many people have elected to join us this year.  We've got some plants in trays that are anxious to go into the ground to grow for you!

Chicks Everywhere!
We now have 200+ broiler chicks on the farm to go with the 90+ hen chicks.  Ducks and turkeys come late next month.

Eggs This Year
Happily the hens have picked up their laying.  It is not at full speed, but it is better now that they are enjoying a little sunshine.  We crossed the 50 egg barrier for the first time in a long time (one day production).

Last year's approach of sending out a note and asking people to reserve eggs worked out wonderfully for us and did not seem to cause undue problems for all of you.  It also helps us to deal with the natural fluctuations of production. 

At this point, eggs remain $3/dozen.  However, we are not currently feeding certified organic feed to these birds (it is non-GMO).  Last year's dry weather reduced the supply significantly.  The Frantzens inform us that they should be able to provide us with certified organic feed for the next batch.  But, in order to do this, the cost of our feed will increase.  Depending on the increase, we will need to increase our egg cost.  Right now, we are looking at a price hike to $3.50 a dozen.  We're pleased that we've been able to stay at $3 for as long as we have.  Once we increase the price, we intend to hold the line again for as long as we are able.  And, of course, if feed prices decline dramatically in the future, we will drop the price.

Asparagus Still Hiding
We've had no sightings on the farm as of yet.  But, the next couple of days of sun should get them started.  We are hoping the plants survived the super dry weather last season.

New SARE Grant
We received a new SARE grant to continue our intercropping research on the farm.  The last SARE grant's report was approved and provided a good basis to begin this work.  What does this mean for you?  It means we're getting better at growing crops you want without adding chemicals to the mix.

In the News
You might find a familiar farm name showing up here and there, such as this article for Growing Magazine on intercropping vegetables.  Or, you might notice commentary on the PFI blog that came from a farmer who is involved with our farm.  We're happy to be able to share the things we think we know and the successes and failures we have to educate others.  We share these things with you to show you other ways we work.

Handling the Spraying Event
We don't want to belabor this, but we get asked about it frequently.  We are still working to give our legal representative data to enumerate losses suffered last summer.  At issue is the fact that we continue to uncover losses.  For example, our prior year Spring extension usually ran 7 or 8 weeks.  This year it will be four weeks, so we will charge accordingly.  The biggest worry we have is how we will handle the spraying that will go on around us this season. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Welcome to the 2013 Regular Season CSA

The following has been edited from emails sent to those who have signed up for the 2013 Regular Season Farm Shares.  We felt it would be useful if it were also on the blog for those who might prefer having a reference here.
Greetings from the Genuine Faux Farm

This is our first email of the season regarding the 2013 Regular Season Farm Shares.  For those of you that are new to the program - welcome!  We hope what follows will answer some of your questions and alleviate any concerns you might have.  For those of you who are returning - welcome!  We also encourage you to read what follows as there may be some changes or some pieces of information that might be of use to you as well.  We just ask that you be patient if there are things that appear here that you already are aware of.

Our phone numbers:

These can be especially useful during distribution days.  If you are running late, give us a quick call and we'll find a way to accommodate you.  Note about phone calls - be prepared to leave a message.  We will not drop tomatoes or watermelon in an effort to get to the phone.  We have changed phone service and have had much less problems with dropped or missed calls (hurray!).

Why does GFF need an email address?
We like to keep our members informed.  We use this email list to remind you of distributions and make important announcements.  During the regular season we will send out an email prior to the distribution.  In these emails, we attempt to predict what produce we will be bringing for you.  We do our best, but sometimes time runs out and you get a note the same day.

If we are sending to the incorrect email address and you would prefer we use another, reply and tell us.  If you are SHARING with someone else and you don't think they received this note, please give us their email.  We want all members to be informed.

Why does GFF need a preferred phone number?
If someone has forgotten to pick up a share (especially during the first few weeks of the program), we try to make a quick call to remind you.  This does not guarantee a call - so don't purposely test it.  But, we do want you to have your produce and if we are able to get to it, we make the calls towards the end of the distribution period.

Staying in touch with the farm.

We have a website.
    Our website includes things like our schedule, recipes, event information and links to the things you see below.  If you need directions to the farm, they are at the bottom of our About page.
We maintain a blog.
    Numerous things appear there from informational to humorous.  It is simple to follow that blog by email.  Look under the sunflower, enter your email.  It will send you a note when something new is posted. 
We are on facebook.
   If you are a person who uses this, we try to put things out there periodically - often referring to the blog or other things.  We do not rely on Facebook because their software determines what you see unless you regularly tell it to show all posts in order of most recent to least recent.

Genuine Faux Farm events. 
We have three festivals.  We hold Tom Sawyer Work Days.  We may be at farmers' market or other events.  Go to our website and check out the schedule.  Dates for our festivals are already finalized, as are most of the Tom Sawyer Days.  Come be a part of the farm.  Check out our calendar here.

How Distribution Works
Cedar Falls distribution is held at the Hansen's Outlet (East side of their building - outside).  We place CSA material on tables that are East of the walk that runs right by the building.  There is an overhang there that should keep you dry if there is rain - but you may have to dodge a drop or two on the way to the car.  Pick up time is from 4:00pm to 6:00 pm on Thursdays.  Note - as the season wears on, we have a tougher time getting there.  If we are running around setting up, please stay out of the way - we don't want to run over you.  However, we have made a few adjustments this year and hope it will aid us in getting there a bit earlier.

Waverly distribution is held at the Waverly Farmers' Market (by the Qwest Building).  We place CSA material at the SIDE of the truck.  Things placed on our front table would be excess we allow for sale at the market.  Many days, there will be nothing there because all produce is intended for you that day.  Pick up time is from 3:30pm to 6:00 pm on Tuesdays.  Note - the farmers market opens at 3:00 pm.  We usually get there by 3, but need to set up.

Tripoli and Sumner members, please refer to the email, we will work with you to determine what is best for all involved.

There will be a check off sheet.  Please check off your name when you arrive.  It will have a reminder as to what size share you have purchased.
Bring a bag or a box for your produce.  This is our way of recycling containers.  If you need a nice organic cotton bag, we have some for sale with our logo for $5. 

Produce will be set out by TYPE of vegetable.  Each tray of veg will have a sign that gives an amount for standard shares AND for large shares. 

For example, the sign might say:  Cucumbers  Large 5  Standard 3
Those with a standard share may take any 3 cucumbers from that bin for their share.  Those with a large share may take any five. 
Some bins may have various types of veg in the bin.  For example, one bin might have cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage.  If it tells you to take one, then you must choose one of those options in the bin.

We encourage people to talk with each other about the produce.  Ask questions of us or of other farm share members.  If you really don't want something, trade it with another share holder.  Or, leave it in the basket and tell us you are doing so.  If we know this, we may be able to offer something else in return because we know someone else left something behind!

When is the first distribution?
June 4-6 are the intended first distribution dates.  Given the very slow Spring, we will let everyone know if this must be moved back a week.  If that is the case, we simply go later into the Fall.  You will get 20 weeks of produce.

What if I have to miss a distribution?
If you know you must miss in advance, we encourage you to find someone to pick up for you.  It could be a neighbor or relative.  Tell us this is happening so we can be prepared to walk them through the process.  It could be another CSA member.  They can pick up for you and hold it until you get home.  And, of course, you could simply donate your share for the week.  In that case, some of the produce goes to the Cedar Valley Food Shelf, Cedar Valley Friends of the Valley and/or Waverly community dinners.  We do not give them the share as you would get it because their needs do not necessarily match up with a share.  But, we prepare excess so everyone has choice, so there will be plenty to give.
If you realize you are missing distribution or just missed it, give us a call.  It takes a while to pack up and we want you to get your produce.  However, if you do not realize you missed until much later, you have to assume we found a home for your share for that week.  You can ask us - and maybe we'll be able to accommodate.  But, do not make the assumption that we are still able to give it to you.

Ask and Tell
If you have a question, please ask.  We cannot help you if you don't direct us to do so.  And, if you have a problem with the program or the produce, please tell us and we'll do what we can do to make it right.  If there is nothing we can do, it still helps us to understand how we can provide excellent produce for you.  At the least, we can provide an explanation.  For that matter - we encourage you to talk with other members as well.  Sometimes they answer BETTER than we do.

Where does your produce come from?
Practically ALL of your produce comes from our farm (Genuine Faux Farm) with exception of early beets, carrots and sweet potatoes that come from Jeff Sage.  Jeff works for us to provide these products and is doing so for the third year in a row.  In all cases, we know exactly HOW the produce was grown.  We can answer your questions about them and we invite them.

Certified Organic?
The majority of your produce WILL be certified organic.  Any tag with the green USDA Organic logo will be certified organic from Genuine Faux Farm.  However, many of you know that an aerial sprayer hit part of our farm last summer.  Any produce from that part of the farm will be safe to eat, but it cannot be certified organic for three years.  Any thing from that part of the farm will NOT have the green USDA logo on the tag.  Also, Jeff's gardens are not certified organic.  However, the size of his operation allows him an 'exempt' status and he is not required to certify.  And, we vouch that all of Jeff's methods adhere (and perhaps exceed) the standards we place on our produce.  Even so, anything from his operation will have his name on the tag and no USDA logo according the law.

Finally - if there should be a situation where we feel an obligation to acquire additional produce (as we did last year after the spraying event) we will fully disclose to you where it comes from.  We do not anticipate a need to do this, but we did not anticipate having all of several of our crops destroyed last year.

Offerings of Extra Produce
During the growing season will offer special prices to our CSA members for extra produce for those who might want to can, freeze, etc.  Typically, we have extra green beans, tomatoes and other product on and off throughout the season.  We will sell some of this produce via the farmers' market in Waverly.  We also might sell some through Hansen's Outlet in Cedar Falls and we often sell produce to the Waverly Day Care and/or Bartels Retirement Center. 

You may now ask us how we can call this a farm share if we don't let you pick from everything on the farm.  The reality is this - we have learned that most people only want a certain amount of produce per week and our shares are based on those amounts.  Our intent is to provide enough to stretch most of you with a bit more than you might normally want.  But, we don't want to overwhelm.  We grow even more of certain crops to maintain a profitable operation.  For many farms such as ours, the CSA provides the basis for our expense.  Additional sales provide profit.  However, you should know that you come first.  If we only have enough for the CSA, the CSA gets the produce and there are no other sales.  Put another way, in a typical GFF year, standard share holders who pay $330 for a season get about $460 worth of produce from us. 

Why so much in this post?
Thank you for reading to this point.  A farm share program goes no where without the support of the share holders.  This much text may seem overwhelming, but there is much to tell.  And, we still will miss many questions.  So, ask and we will do our best to answer.  We believe in being responsive to your needs and it is our intent to keep you informed as to how YOUR produce is being grown by YOUR personal farmers.  It is our belief that more people need to have a stronger connection to their food supply and we hope this is a part of making that connection with you.

Rob & Tammy Faux

Monday, April 22, 2013

Bird's Eye View

The current Google Maps satellite picture of our farm is below.
It looks to us like it is June of 2011.

It is interesting to get this view of the farm.  Please forgive if I don't take the time to use a tool and draw in some of what I'll talk about.  Word descriptions will have to do for this post.

This picture is oriented with North to the top (of course)

Spray Zone
The area of our harm that was hit with spray last summer is in the West.  This area cannot be re-certified as organic until July 27, 2015, though we continue to use all of our organic practices on this area and report on our practices as part of our organic certification process.

While this is not perfectly accurate, you can draw a line from our driveway to the North edge of the property.  Essentially, we cannot grow crops in this area and claim organic certification.  That means the high tunnel (see that clear building center West?) and the SouthWest fields will not produce certified organic product.  We can grow in these, but we cannot claim organic status.
The grass fields in the NorthWest are our pastures for laying hens and turkeys.  This area was also hit directly with spray and there were birds on it at the time.  The bees were located just south of the long thin building to the north of the high tunnel.  They are, as we suspected they would be, completely gone now. 

Certified Organic Growing Area for 2013
Looking East, you will see 7 rectangles.  Each of these is a 200 foot by 60 foot plot and it represents a seven year rotation.  One year is entirely cover crops and some years there are chickens on the cover crops.

The center North area shows a triangular shaped growing area as well.  There is a bush line to the North and the East of these plots. 

The barn is the larger complex that is furthest East in this picture.  Sadly, the barn is on its way down.  We hoped 2012 would be the year we could complete the deconstruction.  Now we hope it will happen in 2013.  The area in the center is the old site of a building that came down several years ago.  A 90 mph wind from the north knocked it over onto Grover the truck.  Grover survived to work for us until last season - he was one tough truck.

The granary shows a nice new red roof that was only a month old at the time of this shot.  It could be less since we can actually see evidence of the rubble form the old roofing material on the ground around that building in this picture.  The Poultry Pavilion is next on the roofing list and is located in the West (the long thin building).  And, the Truck Barn (south of the granary) has been undergoing renovation nearly every year since we arrived.  This year we plan to add a walk in cooler to that building.

Other Things of Note
Young orchard trees are in pasture areas to the East and North of the barn.  A couple of pear trees are in the NorthWest pastures.  If you look carefully North of the barn and southeast of the triangle fields, you'll see a bright white square.  That's the Duck N Cover portable building in action sheltering the first batch of 2011 broilers. 

We hope you enjoyed a bit of a virtual tour!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

March Photos

We actually got out and took some pictures in late March of the farm.  We need to do that again, but it can be difficult to be motivated to take a bunch of pictures when it is cold and raining.  Maybe Saturday?

The barn looking its most forlorn.  Maybe someday we will find a way to get it taken down?  If I'd been thinking, I might have played with the angles and light - but I was just shooting pictures to document life at the farm.

Late Fall is all about trying to compress everything into the shelter we have available on the farm.  This was a three high pile of carts, but I didn't think to take a picture of it until we'd taken one down to be used.  Also, we never quite appreciate our air compressor until we find ourselves trying to fill every tire of every cart, implement, trailer, etc there is on the farm.

Ah...the Duck N Cover looks so sad without its cover on it.  But, this is another Winter thing.  As it stands, this is going to be converted to a plant shelter in the very near future.  that means we have to build new bird shelter(s).  The motivation is, in part, the degradation of the canvas cover for this shelter.  That, and the bottom frame is beginning to rot out.  It may not handle another year of being moved about as it stands anyway.

The high tunnel was opened in late March for the first time this year.  It was actually the first time we could roll up the sides since there was a good deal of snow and ice covering the sides.

And, in the middle we have the spinach that overwintered fairly well.  Trays of things to be transplanted are at the left.  Everything else we tried to overwinter did not fair so well this year.  Some of this has to do with the way last year ended for us.  Some of it had to do with the weather.  It's ok.  We'll get another picture out there soon so you can see the progress.

Meanwhile - spinach anyone?

We lost an oak tree last Spring and we decided this poor sentinel was too close to the house (and other trees) to let it stand.  Just a little cleanup left to do.

You know, that truck barn isn't looking so bad after last year's work.  A little more painting.  We're wondering if we'll get to replacing the door here or not.  Probably not, so we better paint it too.

And, here is a project that needs to happen this Spring.  We were able to acquire the walls from a walk-in cooler in a Hy-Vee that was remodeling.

Upside #1 - this stuff can get expensive and these are in reasonably good condition.
Upside #2 - it only cost a little time and transportation money to get it.
Downside #1 - The rafters in this building are about 6 inches too short to accommodate these walls.  This could get interesting
Downside #2 - We only acquired ONE corner.... hmmmm.

All in all, this represents some serious work, but the benefits for us long-term are significant.  We'll share that with you some day - especially if you ask nice!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What's So Funny?

Sometimes people notice cartoons or other items that remind them of us. Sometimes we wonder *why* certain things remind them of us, but that is another question.

I was feeling the need for a little humor this morning to go along with some rumination on my part.

Spring Time - Where are you?


The first robin of Spring at Genuine Faux Farm was sighted and heard on March 15 this year.  In fact, our records show that this is pretty normal for us.  The difference this year from years just prior is that we were actually having temps closer to normal for Winter.  And, we weren't having the ridiculously warm temperatures in early Spring that we've had the last few years.  In fact, up to this point, we've probably had a Spring that is closer to the norm if you look at the averages.  But, now we're tending towards a bit colder weather.  And, we haven't really had that many warm days that offset the cool days most Springs.

Maybe we're all just being a bit impatient.  Average lows in Waverly for mid-April are in the mid 30's (subtract a degree or two for our farm).   Our recent lows fall within that norm.  Our daily high temps, on the other hand, should be close to 60.  And, if we had some sun, I don't doubt we'd reach those temperatures.  But, with the clouds, we're running about 10 degrees below the norms for highs.  Ok - maybe we're just a bit justified in being anxious for Spring

Is this weather good or bad for the farm?

Photo: Too funny!
Aside from our being anxious to get things growing, this weather may be a bit of a blessing for the farm.  But, it is always a frustrating thing how quickly a blessing can become a curse when it comes to weather.  The weather has not allowed us to do any field work, some of our plans to get some things in the field early and covered with low tunnels did not happen.  The frost did not go out until everything got really wet.  And, when things are really wet, you can't do anything in the field either.  The net result is that we are starting to get plants stacked up in trays with less space to put them in than we want.

On the other hand, we have had great weather to get paper work done.  And, this time of the year always has a great deal of tension between office work and field work.  Mother Nature knows this and is trying to tell us something.  I can hear her now!  (* Rob...Rob.... stop typing in a blog and get your paperwork done! *)

Um... Ok.  I'm not sure that's what I wanted to hear. 

Hey! That's not a robin!

Photo: poultry month?

We do have hen chicks (about 10 days old now) on the farm to go along with the adult laying hens.  The broiler chickens will arrive at the end of April.  May brings the ducks and the turkeys.  And, as I type this, Tammy is running up to Frantzen Farms to get starter feed for the chicks.  For the most part, we appreciate the opportunity to raise poultry on the farm.  But, there is a reason we have a bit more affinity for Winter than many people do.  November through March requires only that we care for the laying flock.  But, once we get to April, things get so much more complicated.

We just remind ourselves that we're getting better at this every year.  At least, we tell ourselves this.

There's something every season

Each year on the farm brings its own concerns.  Usually, those worries are weather related, but we've been working on ways to handle that.  This year, both Tammy and I admit to being very skittish about anything having to do with chemical sprays.  And, more specifically, we are not looking forward to the aerial applications that are going to happen again this season throughout the state.

We were both tested a week ago as we were driving in to Waverly in the morning.  What should we see on the horizon but an airplane making the familiar swooping patterns of the crop duster?  This plane was diving around the new intersection of highways 63 and 3 east of Waverly.  Its mission was to drop seed onto the medians and newly sculpted areas around the road.

While we were able to deduce that this was likely the purpose of this plane, neither of us handled seeing the plane at all well.  We've never enjoyed hearing or seeing them, nor are we big fans of the ground spraying equipment.  But, now, when we see these things we both feel as if they are a direct and imminent threat to our personal well-being.  Whether this is irrational or not may be left open to discussion.  What matters is that we're going to have to find a way to deal with the realities of living in the middle of land dedicated to corporate agriculture.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

All That's Going On

We're working hard to do everything at once.  But, we know people are also asking for information.  So, here are a bunch of quick bits in an effort to keep everyone in the loop and to keep Rob from typing on this too long!

CSA Shares Available?
Yes - especially in Waverly and Tripoli pick up locations.  Send us an email with name, mailing address, share size and desired pick up location.

CSA Billing - When is it coming?
It is being printed today.  Mailed later today (Apr 11).  Yes, it is slower than we wanted.  But, that's the way it is sometimes.

Spring Extended Season - Is it Happening?
Yes, it will happen, but it will likely be shorter than we would have liked.  Still, we expect to have 5 weeks of produce from the high tunnel before the regular season kicks in - and don't forget asparagus.  Those who have done extended season before get right of first refusal (we will contact you about 10 days before we think we'll have something).  Others may email with a request to be notified if we have spots.

How's the Weather Treating You?
It's weather.  Next question.

No, Really - How are things growing?
The things in the high tunnel look good, but small still.  We were going to put some things in the ground outside, but soil temperatures are still very low.  It was a good thing we didn't get things in the ground before the latest weather system came through.  The bad news?  The fields are going to take a while to dry out.  So, it will be about 10 days before we can hope to put anything in.  That' ok, we have enough to do.

Plant Sales - Are these going to happen, and when?
We have tomato plants growing and peppers need to be seeded.  We'll have some broccoli, kale, cauliflower - maybe some cucumbers, etc etc.  We'll have them.  Peppers and eggplant will be late this year, so we may cut down on these a little.
We will sell plants at the Waverly Farmers' Market on Saturdays through May and into the 1st or 2nd week of June.  We do not often encourage people to buy tomatoes and warmer crop plants during the first market week.  The soil is usually too cold to transplant without some shock to the plant.
We also plan on having a sale day or two at Hansen's Outlet in Cedar Falls.
The issue is getting everything into trays and then finding a place for them with the way the weather has been going this year.

When Will the Regular Season CSA start?
The plan is to start the first full week of June.

Any New Veg or Varieties this Year?
Of course. 

Ummmmm.  Would You Tell Us More?
We're interested to see how the Paul Robeson tomato does on our farm.  It comes with recommendations, but it may like areas further south more than our farm.  The Winter Luxury pie pumpkin currently has our attention as well.  The descriptions read well - but that doesn't always mean anything.  We're doing a small trial of the Ella Kropf lettuce from Seed Savers and we're anxious to see if the Midnight Lightning zucchini from High Mowing can give us the production we want from an open pollinated variety.

Garlic - what's the word?
We had to purchase most of our seed for this season.  We did salvage some of our own, but we are not optimistic about how well it will grow.  Our thanks to Blue Gate Farm for the seed.  So far, they are slow to poke through the straw mulch.  Given the cooler start to the season, it is still too early to tell.

New or Old Farm Research at GFF?
We've submitted our final report to SARE for the prior project and have received a grant for a new project that stems from the old.  We will also be participating in a couple of projects with Practical Farmers of Iowa.  And, of course, we always have a few of our own.  If you'd like to see the slides or posters from presentations related to prior work, check out this page.

When are Tom Sawyer Days and Festivals?
We've figured out our calendar for the year.  Go take a look!

Is There More To Tell Us?

When Will You Tell US?

Ok... Well, thanks.
You are welcome.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Eyes Wide Shut

Summer wasn't summer until the first giant Tiger Swallowtail floated by you as you were trimming the hedge.  And, once you noticed that particular butterfly, you could count on seeing it fly that route every day for quite some time.  Occasionally,  we would have the pleasure of seeing a "black-phase" Tiger Swallowtail (more black than yellow).  Regardless of the phase, or the year, or the time of year, or the number of times that butterfly had been spotted in the day - there was always a little bit of joy to be had in the viewing of these creatures. 

As I was growing up, it seemed like I was seeing butterflies everywhere.  The little yellow and black, Sulfurs, the tiny Blue Azures, Black Swallowtails, Mourning Cloaks, Red Admirals, Painted Lady's and, of course, Monarchs.  Tammy and I observed a hoard of Red Admiral larvae as they consumed much of a patch of nettles at one of our previous residences.  We both believe we could hear their mandibles snapping as the tens of thousands of caterpillars munched away.  The resulting 'flock' of Red Admirals was something to see. 

Another memory that I equate with summer is the sound of the meadowlark as you drive down a country road.  I recall that I would hear that sound from a different bird for nearly every mile of the journey, if you drove during the right time of day.  In fact, it is still a sound that encourages me to relax and appreciate the world around me.  It is a sound that speaks of rural places and the beauty of country living. 

And perhaps many of you notice the Red-winged Blackbirds that sit on the electric lines every so many feet?  Tammy and I have dubbed some of these birds as our 'sign-birds.'  These birds will stake their territories and select certain locations to watch over it.  Often, it will be a road sign.  So, we like to say to ourselves that the 'sign-bird' is reminding us that we are to stop, or we're on the right road.  Whatever the case, we recognize their presence and appreciate that they are there. We also remember seeing Kestrals on those lines on a regular basis - just not so regular as the Red-wings.  The fine markings around the eyes of these little raptors are reminiscent of eye liner and they are fun to watch.

I also vividly remember why I am not someone who is big on sandals or walking barefoot in the yard.  Our yard had some wonderful patches of clover, some of which were fabulous sources for four leaf clovers.  But, where there are clover flowers, there were bound to be bees.  In fact, there were almost always honey bees and bumblebees floating around our yard.  You had to watch where you were walking because one false step could result in sharp pain in your foot - and I suspect the bee wasn't too happy either.  And, while I was leery of the bees, I enjoyed watching them go about their business.  They really didn't care if I was there as long as I didn't step on them.  So, I could follow one bee around the yard for as long as my attention span allowed. 

And now I ask you - have you kept your eyes open to see?

In the last five years - how many kestrals have you seen on lines, looking out over the ditch in hopes of seeing their next meal?
When is the last time you heard the song of a Western Meadowlark?
Did you see a Tiger Swallowtail last year?  How about the last time you saw a Sulfur butterfly?
Have you ever seen a congregation of monarchs on an evergreen?  How many years ago was that?
How many of the people in your neighborhood actually HAVE clover in their lawn?

And, why am I writing about this?
I've been noticing changes in wildlife populations and it isn't my profession, or even my hobby, to do so.  But, I like to think that I am reasonably observant.  I also like to think that I have some real concern for other living beings on this earth - rather than concentrating on just me.  But, while my eyes are open and I observe, I wonder if I (and many others like me) shut them tight because we don't want to own up to what we are observing.

So, I wondered if others who study these things are observing this as well - and what they make of it:
Kestral populations are declining - "These declines may be due to several factors, including poisoning by pesticides in agricultural areas, predation by increasing populations of Cooper’s Hawks (Accipiter cooperii), development and reforestation of preferred habitats, and potential exposure to the West Nile virus."
Western Meadolark populations are declining - " breeding populations have declined slightly throughout their range in recent years, a trend seen in Washington in both the winter and breeding seasons. Most of this decline can probably be attributed to habitat destruction from livestock grazing, mowing, and development, and contamination from pesticides."
Butterfly populations in Iowa are declining - "In 2002, a DNR report listed butterfly species that were endangered, threatened, and under special concern in Iowa. Two species of butterflies were endangered, five threatened, and 25 special concern species. With that information, of the 122 species of butterflies believed to live in Iowa, more than one-fourth of those butterfly species’ long-term survival is questionable in Iowa." 
" Due to their short life span and multiple generations in a year, butterflies are an excellent indicator for population trends or habitat suitability of all animals."

Friday, April 5, 2013

Certified Organic at GFF (Part III)

There is so much we can discuss with respect to organic certification, but the key is for us to share with you how we see organic certification on our farm.  A key item that we feel we should make clear before the season really gets going is how last year's spraying "event" impacts our certification.

If you do not know what I am talking about with respect to the 'spraying event' you can see our most recent post about it here:
Spraying Event Post

Our first two posts on certified organic are here:
An overview of what it takes to certify organic
post 1
How we interpret and apply organic principles with respect to inputs on the farm.
post 2

The organic 'rule' number 4:
Production land must have been transitioned for three years after ANY non-approved substance has been applied before anything from it may be certified organic.  Efforts to avoid contamination (including buffers) are required.

There are two things everyone might like to know about with respect to this section.  First - the unwanted spray applied on the West half of our farm on July 27, 2012 kicks that part of the farm into 'transitional' status.  In other words, until July 27, 2015, we cannot sell anything from that part of the farm as certified organic.  But, in the meantime, if we wish to recertify that half in 2015, we must continue to follow all organic regulations on that half of the farm.

Can we grow in the sprayed area?
This does not mean we cannot grow produce in that area.  But, it does mean we must be careful not to label any of that produce as organic.  In fact, since most of our produce will still be certified, we may go a bit overboard just to be sure no one thinks we're trying to break the rules.  In effect, our sweet corn and pie pumpkins will not be certified organic.  Nothing from the high tunnel can be certified organic (this one really hurts).  Our poultry will graze on pastures that were sprayed last year, so they cannot be certified organic.  Most of our perennial herbs are in the West half of the farm and a small batch of asparagus are there as well.  All other produce will be certified organic -which will be a sizable portion of our farm's production.

Product safety - can we eat this?
Will the produce and poultry grown in the west half of the farm be safe for consumption?  We believe that they will be safe since we have taken actions to help the system cleanse itself and the half-life of the products sprayed indicate they should have broken down.  We will not introduce any other poisons to the system and will continue to treat these areas as we treat the rest of the farm (with exceptions noted below).  To be perfectly frank, this produce, eggs and meat will be as clear of chemical residue as most produce you can find in the state.  But, we need to inform you of it, because this area WAS sprayed.  There is a reason there is a three year setback for transition, so we still have to consider the possibility that there is residue from that event.  That may lead to another post in the future.

Extra work required with split operation.
But, we are required to do additional work since some of our product will be certified and some will not.  For example, any containers used to harvest produce in the transition area must be cleaned before being used in the certified organic areas.  This holds true for farm equipment and tools.  We will have to maintain separate tracking records and we must fill out additional forms for our certification process for the next couple of years.

What else are we doing to address the spray problem?
We are charged with working to avoid contamination of our crops.  Clearly, we cannot be prepared to stop any contingency - last I looked it was illegal to put giant plane-catching nets around our farm.

The buffer zone is a work in progress for us.  Some parts of the farm are surrounded by bush plantings, but not all.  We continue to work to put in more bushes in an effort to provide some vertical buffer space.  The entire farm has a buffer area (space that is adjacent to our neighbor's fields) that is intended to absorb any unintentional drift of their inputs.  The thing that bothers us about this is that we must maintain a buffer, but they do not have to.  This, too, is fodder for another post on another day.

We also contact our neighbors, the coops they might use and any other party that may have something to do with chemical applications in the area.  In fact, the list of things we try to do is reasonably long.  Suffice it to say, we do what we can.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Don't Mess With Tradition

Don't mess with tradition - even if that tradition is only in its second year.

New Apple Variety Trial on the Farm
We are planning to introduce a new variety of apple to our growing list this year.  Researchers have developed a fruit bearing plant that combines bush and vine habits.   The Ankare Apple can be very prolific if growers remain calm and follow a complex and difficult set of cultivation techniques to maintain the plants.  We feel that we should be successful with these fruit after attending Ankare Management classes.  But, if these plants get too frustrating, we still might till them under.  We are told it is a matter of self-control.

Compressed Air Aids Laying Hens
The process of laying eggs can cost a hen a great deal of energy.  And, as we have found, egg production decreases during temperature extremes due to the increase in energy required to maintain body temperature.  We are considering the purchase of a new air compressor with special tubes and attachments to aid the hens with their egg laying tasks.  This special equipment is not entirely unlike automated milking machines in set up, but rather than using suction, puffs of air will be sent through the hoses and into the birds' beaks.  Essentially, the intent is to reduce the effort of laying eggs by helping to push the eggs out with air pressure.  It appears the most difficult part of setting up this equipment will be determining the correct psi (pounds per square inch) setting on the compressor.  Clearly, if the setting is too low, the only thing that the birds will get out of it is an extra dose of oxygen.  On the other hand, we're not entirely sure we want to find out what happens if the setting is too high.  We really do not want to be dodging eggs flying around the room that got pushed out a bit too quickly.
Five Year Farm Development Plans
We review the status of our farm yearly, but every five years we try to assess what the next steps are for the bigger projects.  One of the items on our list for future development is the modification of the old hog manure pit into an aquaponics project.  You may have heard of hydroponics (growing plants in water), but aquaponics is hydroponics with the addition of fish to the system.  We hope to fill a niche market for baby swordfish.   Apparently, certain cultures find these very young fish to be a delicacy and they often use the 'sword' for needlepoint projects.  On the other hand, sales of baby swordfish are strictly regulated.  Persons who have a history of using voodoo dolls or those who failed their Ankare Management courses would not be able to make purchases.

Spinach to Soap Program
Genuine Faux Farm spinach is certainly tasty, but did you know that spinach is also known to contain saponins?  The saponins in the soapwort plant are the impetus for its name ("soapwort").  Crushing leaves, adding water and then agitating the solution creates a soap-like substance.  Saponin levels in spinach is relatively high, so we are considering creating a value added product from spinach plants that bolt and go to seed in warmer weather - liquid spinach soap.  The best thing about this project is that it ties in well with our other projects.  Accidental wounds inflicted by flying egg shell shards or wayward baby swordfish can be cleansed quickly with a ready supply of spinach soap.  And, if we forget the principles learned in the Ankare Management classes, we can always wash our mouths out with saponins. 

First Vulture of Spring
There was much celebration on the farm with sighting of the first vulture of Spring.  While we have seen vultures since approximately March 20 in the area, the first vulture to circle to farm appeared on April 1st.

For Those Who Didn't Get Enough of This
The post that began the tradition of April 2nd posts for April Fool's Day... is here.