Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Hot August Day - and Blogging is Easy

Ok, the title may not be entirely true.  If you've accumulated a little 'tired' from working in the warm, it isn't necessarily easy to keep the train of thought from derailing.

The Joys of Good Farm Share CSA Members
One of the big benefits for us is the boost we get from our CSA Farm Share members.  It means alot to us when we get a compliment that is well and truly meant.  It also helps us to feel good about our work when you refer us to others.  This is the highest compliment we can receive.  But, there were a few recent events/incidents/whatever you want to call them that made us think about how much we appreciate our members over the last few weeks.

- A CSA member asked if there was a way to get someone to pick up their share since their work shift changed.  We sent this request out to the group and inside of 5 minutes had 11 replies with offers to help.  I prefer to think of it in terms of the positive - these people are so willing to help!  One of them pointed out that it could be a negative - these people are ONLINE *right now*!
- We arrived last Thursday with two trucks of veg.  Shannon and Graham were there to help.  Tammy and I were there.  Even Tyler was there (2nd truck).  And, we also got help from a CSA member in the unload/set up process.  My goodness, that had to be the most efficient set up of that much produce for a CSA we have ever seen.  Wow!  Nice work everyone.
-  You think I didn't notice?  Several people positioned themselves on my right side when they spoke to me when my left ear was still acting up.  My thanks.  Happily, the left ear is now beginning to function normally.
- Several people attended Summer Fest part II.  We were most pleased to have you there.  And, our thanks to all who helped with set up and tear down.  We hope you all enjoyed your time on the farm.

De-Flanged and De-Flangification
We use electric fence poles to hold up tomato cages among other things.  These poles are essentially pieces of rebar with a small triangle of metal welded on to one end.  The purpose of this flange is to provide a way to 'step' the pole into the ground.  It is also there to stabilize the pole in the ground.  We find that the single weld is often unable to withstand too many 'step ins.'  Denis decided that such a pole has been 'de-flanged.'  By extension, the process of attempting to step in a pole and having the flange come off is 'de-flangification.'

That was just in case you all wanted to know how we amuse ourselves as we work on the farm.

Teen Paranormal Romance - Not Happening Here (garlic)

These two pictures were shared on Facebook with those who follow us and the hayrack picture is on our August 16 post of the blog.

We harvest our garlic in late July (usual target is July 20 - this year was more like July 30) and we hang them in bunches of 25 in the truck barn (top picture).  We prefer to let them cure there until we begin to distribute them to our CSA Farm Share members and/or sell excess.  Of these, we will select the seed for next year and put them aside.  Our normal goal is to pull in about 3000 heads of garlic.  We were able to get 2000 this year, which is just fine since we are rebuilding after 2012's aster yellows problems.

After working a good part of the day hanging up garlic bunches, our crew discussed the absurdly large section in book stores now dedicated to "Teen Paranormal Romance."  It seems the "Twilight Saga" with its focus on vampires has spawned a new genre - or at least a new marketing angle to sell books.  Our observations are as follows:

1. None of these Teen Paranormal Romance books would be based on a farm that grows garlic.
2. None of us were sure there was such a thing as Teen Normal Romance (please note, we had a couple of teens in on the conversation!  They said this!  I am merely reporting.).
3. Garlic can look pretty impressive hanging from the rafters.

Cucumber Yoga
We allow our cucumbers to sprawl on the ground.  We have done a trial with some fencing to trellis the cucumbers, but they just crawled up the fence, down the fence and continued on as if it was merely a bump in the road.  (Cucumbers in the high tunnel are a different matter - but that's another story).

So, we simply plant them in rows, run a drip line near the seedlings and try to keep them weeded until they make a tangled mat of vines, leaves and fruit.

When it comes time to pick, part of the battle is figuring out where you can put your feet.  Once you've figured that out, you need to figure out where you can put your feet so that you can also bend down to pick cucumbers.  Once your feet are settled, you have several options as to how to deal with getting down low enough to pick.

Clearly, the 'sunny-side up' position can be made to work, but it has a distinct disadvantage.  If it is very warm, all of the sweat runs into your eyes.  And, if you don't keep that t-shirt tucked in, you get a sun burn in a rather uncomfortable place (I bet you didn't put suntan lotion there).

Another option is go into a squatting position with both feet relatively close together.  We highly recommend that you do not go into a squat with your feet close together.  Our cucumber patch is full of frogs and they love to jump when you don't expect it.  Our experience tells us that the squat position with legs close together is the most likely to end with a cucumber picker falling over into the vines at some point after a frog surprises the picker with a jump.  This is, of course, great fun for the frog, less fun for the picker and no fun for the cucumber vines.

Rob favors a wide stance that allows him to reach a wider area without moving his feet.  There might be a number of reasons for this, but the biggest reason has got to be his feet.  Have you looked at them?  They're a foot long.  (hahahaha.....sigh)  Sorry, couldn't resist.  But, with bigger feet, it's kind of nice finding good spots for them to be and then picking as wide an area as possible before moving on.  And, if you want a serious explanation, the fewer moves you have to make from a position while picking, the more efficient the process is.

In any event, the first few serious cucumber picking sessions result in the rediscovery of some muscles that were probably hoping not to be rediscovered in the fashion cucumber picking finds them. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

So, How'd That Work Out For You?

It's August 23, do you know what your farmers are up to?

No?  Ok, let's fill you in.

Quick Review
Just in case you need a quick review on what has gone before during this particular growing season, here it is in a nutshell.  Spring never came.  Or, at least, one that allowed fields to dry out so that they could be worked and planted didn't happen.  Things were tough enough that even some of the row cropped fields North of us were never planted this year.  That, in itself, says something.  In an effort to turn a difficult season into something worthwhile, we made a significant number of adjustments and quick decisions.  We thought you might appreciate hearing how some of them worked or failed *and* you might appreciate a bit more knowledge about how certain crops are doing.

Raised Beds
We used some old wood and got some black dirt and made 3 raised beds.  Each is about 8'x12'.  Like many things this season, these were not put in as early as we might have liked in order to get an optimal result.  But, you have to remember, we were putting these in as a part of a 'crisis response.'  Timing has little to do with it.

So far, we rate this as a successful effort.  We have harvested one succession of lettuce from all three beds.  A succession of chard is now a week away from its first harvest.  A second succession of lettuce is 1-2 weeks away.  The three tomato plants we put in the corner of one are doing very well.  For that matter, so is the basil clump in the middle of the tomatoes.

The jury remains out on how long the structures will last and how well we will be able to extend the season in these with some covers.  They are in a heavy snow load/drift zone.  So, final judgement is withheld until next Spring.

Allowing the High Tunnel Spring Crops to Roll Into Early Summer
We're not sure most of you caught this adaptation this year.  But, the cooler weather allowed kale, chard and kohlrabi to go longer in the high tunnel than usual.  So, while it was preventing field items from growing, we had these.  The tradeoff is that we were unable to get the Summer crops for the high tunnel very early at all.  That means the early beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, peppers and melons were not put in on time - no where close.

We are paying for it now with very slow introduction of peppers and tomatoes.  We'll talk more about green beans in a bit.  The cucumbers started the same time as the field cucumbers, so that doesn't help.  However, we must not belittle how much the late Spring crops in the high tunnel helped us to fill shares in June.  Without them, we might not have started until July, which we feel would be very bad for us.  And, frankly, we don't think July-August shares have suffered greatly from the delay.  Boxes and bags have left full with excellent produce.  And, we should be able to provide tomatoes, peppers and melons from the high tunnel in greater amounts soon.  Cedar Falls saw how good the Red Zebras, Green Zebras, Wapsipinicon Peaches and Jaune Flamme tomatoes can look.

Was this a win or a lose?  If these summer crops come through for us during the next several weeks, we'll call it a win.  If not, the gamble works out to be a wash - with the feeling that it was a loss if you count the emotional side of the equation.

Spending Extra Time and Resources With Seedlings in Trays and Pots
We had a couple thousand 3.5" pots with plants in them and a few hundred trays with seedlings wanting to be planted.  And we couldn't put any of them in the ground.  Plants can only stay viable without stunting for so long in these containers without some effort to help them along.

We gave a couple of treatments of compost to help plants survive in their containers.  For the most part, this was a big win.  Our broccoli plants were in trays a bit long, but their health now is excellent - they are just beginning to produce.  The tomato plants held on and are generally healthy, though we do note a much higher incidence of plant loss than usual this season.  Our first tomatoes went into the ground on June 14.  We even lost some of those to heavy rain/saturated soil.  If these plants do hit a peak by mid-September, you can point directly to the additional efforts we took while they were still in pots as a big part of the reason we had any for you this year.

In other instances, we made later seed tray starts for some vegetables with the realization that most of our 1st (and sometimes 2nd or 3rd) successions would not get in the ground before the plant was damaged to the point of being worthless to put into the ground.  We put late plantings of summer squash, zucchini, cucumber and melon into trays and ended up throwing nearly all of the earlier succession plants into the compost.  So far, the summer squash, zucchini and cucumber have chimed in with good yields.  We'll see how the winter squash does.  We do note fruit starting on the melons.  We shall see.  We still reside on the edge with these.

Making Decisions to Give Up on Certain Crops
This is never popular with us.  But, if you expend too much energy on something that is likely to fail, other things fail too.

We only have a small area (about 15 feet) of watermelon planted this season.  And, these are there only because a tray was mixed up with another tray.  These are simply too long season for us to make work this year.  So, we dropped them.  The same thing applied to most of our winter squash crops.  We did put shorter season winter squash in.  We don't know if they'll be worth the effort, but we had to try.

The okra was seeded in late, but never received resources for weeding, so they have been mowed.  They were not likely to produce even with babying.  the sweet corn was never planted and all of the pumpkin plants were thrown into the compost.  There was likely more, but this is what comes to mind.

Looking back, this all makes sense.  It was unlikely that many of these would have produced.  And, the weather condensed the planting period for all of our crops into 1/4 the time we usually have for getting them all in the ground.  Since we're usually extremely busy planting during planting season when we have all of the expected time to do so, how could we expect to get everything in with that much less time?

Applecart Upset with Rotation of Crops
Some areas dried out.  Others did not.  We had to make choices.  We delayed (or canceled) some plantings and moved others.  When rabbits and weather took out 90% of our field planted peppers, we put 2 more rows into the high tunnel.  We canceled pumpkins and sweet corn so we could get kohlrabi, chinese cabbage, lettuce, pok choi and numerous shorter season crops in.  When the carrot crop in the field showed it was going to do well, we dropped the high tunnel crop and put in another row of green beans.

After a great deal of time spent making an excellent plan for the season, Rob had to swallow his pride and make a long list of adjustments - all while trying to stick to the purposes of the rotations.  For the most part, we've made things work.  With respect to getting food in the CSA shares, this was a big win.

Status on Some Crops We've Been Asked About

Green Beans
The green beans in one field went in on time in May.  Most of them were adversely affected by the wet weather.  Only a small amount seemed to make it through that.  And, those stunted and did little.  In response to that, we've moved to 2 rows in the high tunnel and one row in the pepper field.  The pepper field row was salvaged from weeds, but is a variety that doesn't produce as much.  Last year, we picked 1/2 ton of green beans.  But, last year, we had about 1000 feet of green beans producing.  This year, we have 220 feet producing.  Of that, 100 feet are producing at a marginal level.  So, if you were wondering what is up with the green beans, now you know.  But, if we hadn't made some adjustments, you might be looking at 0 green beans in your shares.  So - that's a good thing!

Normal plant date at GFF for tomatoes is May 25.  This year, the first tomatoes went into the ground on June 14.  And, some of those actually died when we got a heavy rain soon after.  We kept them going in pots as best we could (see above) and we gave them little fertilization boosts, good mulch and trellising in an effort to treat them well.  They are still behind the game.

But, the plants look healthy - even if the healthy they look is the normal July 25th healthy instead of the August 25th healthy.  If Fall stays nice, we'll have plenty.

Normal peak for our tomatoes - Aug 15 to Sep 15.  In 2010, our peak was Sep 15 to Oct 15.  If that's what it will be this year, we'll take it.

Winter Squash
We put winter squash vines in even AFTER the tomatoes this year.  Ideally, we'd like them in around June 1.   We threw many seedlings that just weren't going to make it.  And, we didn't plant many vines that were going to take too long to mature.  We have acorn squash, spaghetti squash and buttercup squash in.   There are some butternuts as well, but we really don't expect anything from them (110 days to production - that's 3 and 2/3rds MONTHS of growing needed).  Planted June 25 and you are deep into

These went in late as well - but they are a shorter season crop.  They are just now starting to produce and they look extremely good.  They actually preferred some of the cooler nights in August.  Yes, the same weather the tomatoes and peppers didn't care for.

There are many short season melons in the ground.  they are vining.  They are setting fruit.  We're doing what we can for them.  They are also running out of time.  Typically, if we get past Sep 10 and the melons aren't getting ripe, they aren't likely to do so with any consistency.  The warm weather is actually going to be a huge plus for those plants.

We're trying to save some eggplant from the weeds.  They lost the priority battle this year.  We'll be getting some of these.  But, we are also aware that eggplant are one of the more unpopular items we have in our shares.  We felt our time needed to be spent on some other things.  We're very sorry for those of you who love them.  We hope to pull enough of them out for the eggplant lovers to feel like they got a bit of them this season.

We'll see what the plants have done in a couple of weeks.  We got them in on time at the cost of lots of rain taking many of them out and stressing most of the others.  The following dry weather came at a time when they wanted more moisture.  This is part of the reason we worked with Tyler to help get some of his potatoes to you this year.  We wanted to be sure you received some potatoes as a part of your shares this season.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Because Someone Asked

We get questions from people in the CSA, people at the farmers market, friends, family, other farmers, our cats, ourselves and sometimes even a turkey.  We don't always remember who asked the question, but we do try to give some answer when it is asked.  And, sometimes, we even think about sharing the answers with others.  This is especially true if we think the answer won't embarrass us.

Ok, maybe that isn't entirely the case.  Nonetheless, here are some questions that were asked by someone, somewhere that come to mind and that might be worth sharing:

There have been alot of cucumbers the last couple of weeks.  Is this a record crop?
Oh my.  This question was likely asked by someone who was not in the CSA in 2010.  For those of you that were, you may recall that we were even suggesting that people GRILL cucumbers to try to eat them up.  (By the by, grilling cucumbers actually works pretty well - some similarities to zucchini.)

In 2010, we harvested over 7000 cucumbers.  And, this does not include the cucumbers we picked that went directly to the turkeys and chickens.  It was about the only thing that went bonkers for us that year.  Last year was a good, but not abnormal production year.  We pulled in 5800 cucumbers for the entire season.  So far this season we are at 2630.  The start was later than 2012, but the pace is similar.

The follow up question is/was: Why did it seem like we went from no cucumbers to a bunch?
The simple answer is that the wet start to the season compressed our plantings of cucumbers.  Normally we have 2 successions to spread out the harvest.  Our two successions ended up going in within a few days of each other.  That does nothing to spread out the harvest.  As a result, both matured at the point when the 2nd successions is supposed to start.  The best laid plans....

How many years has the CSA been going?
We are currently in our 9th year.  No, we don't really know how that happened.  We started with about 20 members in 2005.  Our CSA currently has 113 shares being filled, with a number of them being split.

What are your favorite vegetables?
Our initial response was to ask if the person wanted to know our favorite ones to eat or favorite ones to grow.  The answer, of course, was "Both."

For Rob - give him fresh green beans to eat, lightly steamed and he is very happy.  Peppers and tomatoes are the most fun to grow.
For Tammy - give her a Golden Treasure sweet pepper a Wapsipinicon Peach tomato or some green beans to eat.  Luckily, she likes harvesting the green beans.

Are there any you don't like?
For Rob - he still does not like to eat carrots.  And onions are a pain to grow.
For Tammy - has 'learned' to appreciate certain eggplant, but won't go out of her way for them.  She does not like harvesting summer squash and zucchini - it requires full body armor.  And harvesting/cleaning leeks - ugh.

When are we going to see tomatoes this season?
We must reference the weather once again.  We were unable to get tomatoes into the ground until very late.  Even then, we lost several because the field was too wet.  Since then, we've had a lot of cool nights, which does not help with production of these warm season loving plants.

Simply put, our plants look like they should on July 20, not August 19.  Even the high tunnel tomatoes are behind.  But, the heat this week may kick them into gear.  We shall see.  All we can say is, it isn't for lack of trying.  We expect the high tunnel plants to kick it in at any point.  We won't be surprised if we don't see the beginning of any real harvest from the field until mid September.  Sure hope we don't get an early frost.

How do you know when you are doing well when you grow a certain crop?

Whoever asked this one deserves applause.  Why?  Because it is a great question.  And, the answer is complex and changing (as we continue to learn more each day).  It probably deserves more than what I'll give it right now.

1. How does our yield compare to numbers held up by other trusted resources?
For example, Johnny's provides a list of yields for direct seeded crops.  While we are always cautious about such comparisons, it can give us a baseline to begin assessing.  Johnny's indicates a harvest of 25 pounds per 100 row feet for peas.  Our Amish Snap pea row as 200 foot long and we harvested 46 pounds.  The Oregon Sugar Pod pea was also 200 foot long and we harvested 57 pounds.  The conclusion based on those numbers is that we are doing fine.

2. How does our yield compare to our history?
Johnny's suggests that a yield of 45 pounds per 100 feet is great for green beans.  So, how should we feel about 94.5 pounds from a 60 foot row in the high tunnel this season?

Before we pat ourselves on the back, we should ask whether we are growing the same way they were when they established the average.  And, if we cannot determine that, we might need to rely on our own history.  Prior history tells us that 1.75# per row foot of this variety is reasonable to expect by the end of the season.  We're not done picking out of this row yet, so it looks like we're on target.

Rest in Peace
And, finally, we were saddened to hear of the passing of Dick Thompson, one of the most intelligent and caring farmers this world has known.  If every farmer thought about farming the way Dick did, we wouldn't be so despairing of what is going on in agriculture right now.  And, it wasn't so much about what Dick concluded, or what Dick believed were the right ways to do things as much as it was about how he worked to learn and strove to do what was best for his farm, for the community and for the environment.  He asked important questions and then expended energy and effort trying to find the best answers that were feasible.

Hey agribusiness, take another look at what Dick Thompson did in his lifetime.  He illustrated for all that certain key concepts could and should be the cornerstone of a farm business.  Diversity is the best insurance.  On farm research is the best way to learn how to do things on your farm.   Being environmentally minded is not the opposite of having a financially viable and successful farm.  Sharing ideas and having open dialogue with other farmers makes all participants stronger.  And, finally, that the farm is a good place for families to live and grow in Iowa.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Genuinely Newsy

1. The Tom Sawyer Work Day planned for August 17 is canceled.  There number of replies were very few.  Those who did reply, we would be willing to set up a volunteer time if you wish to come out to the farm.
2. Summer Festival Part II
When:  Friday August 30th 5-8pm (trying to start serving food at around 5:30pm)
Who: CSA Members past and present, friends of the farm, family, etc.  Bring your family – our farm is used to lots of kids who enjoy the chance to roam around on the open lawn spaces.
Bring: Potluck – bring a dish to share and a serving utensil (try to bring a notecard to label what your food is, who made it and what’s in it – this helps those who have special dietary concerns); also bring lawn chairs or a blanket to sit on; a sweatshirt or jacket – plan on it being 5-10 degrees cooler on the farm and usually a lot more wind; bring a lawn game if you have one you enjoy and want to share
What will be here: We’ll provide the lemonade and ice tea plus s’more makings; we’ll also provide table service and cups
Please RSVP by Wed. Aug 28th  so I know how many s’more makings to have on hand.

Crop Report
Last year was a bad year for garlic.  A disease commonly known as "aster yellows" attacked many midwest farm's garlic crops last year, including ours.  Typically, we select our own garlic for seed the following year.  But, we were aware that our seed was not likely to be viable, so we purchased seed garlic from Blue Gate Farm.  We planted some of our seed and had only a 5% germination rate, so this purchase was a good one.  The BGF seed germinated at about 95%.  And, here is the result:

New Varieties
We managed to get a few pictures of some of our new (to us) varieties.  We thought you might enjoy hearing results so far.

Cocazelle is an open pollinated zucchini.  These tend to stay thin, which means it takes a bit more to get the 'Louisville Slugger' type of giant fruit.  That's fine with us.  We are picking 2 times a week right now with the cooler weather, so it is nice to not have to worry about these ballooning out over night.

Green Finger cucumbers are a European type cucumber.  Smooth skin with very little to no spines.  The skin is not bitter and CSA member response has been overwhelmingly positive.  These also tend to long/thin fruit.  This is a High Mowing developed variety.

Golden Zucchini is an heirloom seed from Seed Savers. We tried to grow them last year and the pests took all but a couple of plants out very quickly.  This year, we planted these into paper mulch and we're getting some decent production out of them.  

Full Truck and Full Bags
Packing the truck is getting more challenging.  But, we consider this a good thing because it means more produce for your shares!  We're feeling pretty good about the variety and amount of veg we've been bringing to our CSA Farm Share members this year and are working to keep it going.

The broccoli is showing signs of producing soon.  Here are a few of the rows we have planted just after cultivation and weeding this week.

An Earful - or Just - A Full Ear

Rob continues to fight a battle with an ear infection.  So, if you've seen him and he said 'what?' alot and/or looked like he's a bit uncomfortable, that is probably why.  I am now on round three of treatment.  But, perhaps the most important point is that IF you need to call one of us at the CSA distribution, you should call Tammy.  While the phone isn't usually my favorite thing, it has become somewhat useless of late.  If I do hear the phone ring the conversation is something like this  ->  "Hello?  Hello?  Hello?  Um... I think someone is there, but I can't hear you.  Could you send smoke signals instead?" 

The ludicrous part of this is how we tend to get so used to using certain 'sides' of our body for certain tasks.  The ear infection is in the left ear.  I have always put the phone up to that ear.  It is absolutely ridiculous that something as small as trying to remember to put the phone up to the other ear can be difficult.  But, it is also interesting to note that the right ear doesn't seem to be trained to listen  in the same way the left ear has.  The infection has gone on long enough that the phone call scenario is more like this:

Phone is pulled out of pocket and shoved up to the left ear.
Rob:  "Hello, this is Rob."
Person on other end of phone:  "mmrmphmrrsmwrrphff."
Rob: "Um, hold on for a second."
Phone is placed against right ear.
Rob: "Could you say all of that again?"

I can now hear just fine.  But, for some reason, the brain/ear doesn't always want to stay on task with the process of listening on the phone.  It's almost as if the right ear is saying "Hey!  This isn't my job, I'm supposed to get to spend my time shutting out other noises so lefty can do its job and help you concentrate on the conversation."   I must admit that I'm never quite sure what to think when various body parts begin speaking to me.  If you were all worried about my penchant for conversing with plants...

In any event, the resulting phone conversations probably make people think that I have absolutely no ability to concentrate.  I can only hope I haven't agreed to do something that I shouldn't have.  At the very least, I suspect some of my answers have been - to be charitable - confusing.

Other Person: "So, are you able to bring the frozen chickens we ordered to the Thursday CSA pickup?"
Rob: "Yes, we put all of our CSA produce into our pickup on a delivery day."

Sometimes the confusion can be hilarious.  I remember having a wax buildup problem in my ears when I was in elementary school.  I also remember that I had a vocabulary (whatever that is) that was greater that many of my classmates.  We had mandatory hearing tests at that time and a subset of students were called back for second tests.  Of course, our names were broadcast over the speaker system for all to hear.  And, also to be expected, some of the kids wanted to use this opportunity to tease those who were tagged to leave for a second test.

Other kid in standard taunting voice: "Ha ha ha!  You have to get your hearing tested again!" 
Rob in standard indignant kid voice: "No way!  I've already had my urine tested."

The good news - my classmate didn't know what 'urine' was.
The bad news - I heard 'urine' instead of 'hearing.'
More bad news - I hadn't heard the announcement well enough to understand what my name had been listed for.  So, I was actually pretty nervous about having to have my urine tested.
The confusing part - what's an eight year doing thinking he's being taunted about urine testing?  Is it possible he was worried about the spate of PED's in playground dodgeball?

I'm also much more aware of how much I use my hearing while I work on the farm.  A leak in an irrigation line is easier to locate when BOTH ears are working.  A chicken hiding in some weeds is easier to find with both ears operating normally.  Imagine how embarrassing it could be to be discovered poking around in the high tunnel in the cucumbers, looking for a leak, only to have someone walk in and point out a leak on the OTHER SIDE of the high tunnel.

Other Person:  "Hey, did you know we've got a leak in the drip tape over here?"
Rob:  "Um.  Yes, I heard some rumor about that.  Hold on a minute while I...uh... tie my shoes.  By the way, have you seen a chicken in here?"

  And, you can locate the frogs hoping around in the cucumbers more quickly, making it less likely that they can startle you with an unexpected leap.  But, I suspect even normal hearing would not have prepared me for the frog that made an err in directional judgement. This week's "cucumber yoga" session was highlighted by the frog that landed on my foot and then proceeded to jump so that it collided with my cucumber picking hand.

I am proud to say that I held onto the nippers AND that I was not startled into cutting myself with them.  On the other hand, I am not entirely certain I found all of the cucumbers I had in the crook of my arm at that time.  Although, I did find a couple of cucumbers over by the old pea row later in the week that I don't recall putting there on purpose.

Then, there is the issue of sleeping.  I am a "light" sleeper and I tend to wake up for odd noises, lights, etc.  For one example - check an older blog post about an event a few winters ago.  But, what happens when a person with an ear infection on the left side, rolls over to sleep on their right side?  With both ears effectively blocked, you might think I would sleep better because I would not hear *any* out of place noises.

Au contraire...  I have found it to be harder to get to sleep if I can't hear and I'm more likely to wake up.  It's almost as if my brain is operating on the principle that most parents with small children are very familiar with -

It's quiet.  It's too quiet.  I'd better go check on things.

The positive for me is that I just wake up, get my right ear off the pillow, open my eyes and assess things.  And, of course, everything is usually just fine.  Parents of small children typically discover that their 2 year old has just stuffed an entire roll of TP into the tub drain.  I think I can deal with this.

I also understand cats and dogs that have ear mites a bit better.  I've seen a cat with that affliction walk around with its head slightly tilted.  It would stop periodically and shake its head.  Now, the farmer walks around the farm with his head slightly tilted, stopping occasionally to shake his head.  I've finally trained myself to stop the head shake after I realized that some of the crew thought I was saying 'no' to one of their questions.  The reality was, I hadn't heard most of the question.  But, I will admit to being a bit surprised later on when part of a task I had set them was not done.  Apparently I told them not to complete that part of the task.  Oops.

And, of course, there is the crackling noise that comes from fluid and other junk in the ear moving around when I swallow or breath or.. well whenever it wants to make a crackling noise.  Imagine desperately wanting to listen to a program on an AM radio station that is barely in range.

And finally, there is the issue of intermittent hearing out of the left ear.  At times, the ear will clear enough to let sound in.  My poor brain is finally training itself not to expect much sound from that side, so when it does happen it isn't sure what to do with the signals it receives.  A sudden burst of sound on that side is sufficient to cause me to jump a bit.

Picture Rob walking in the field with an AM/FM radio up to his ear.  His head is cocked sideways and he occasionally shakes it from side to side.  Frogs are leaping onto the bill of his cap while he attempts to find the hole in the drip tape somewhere in the cucumber field.  His phone has annoyed him one too many times and lies at the end of the row in pieces.  Next to that are flint and steel he tried to use to start a smoke signal fire.  But, since he doesn't know how to effectively use them, they have been discarded.

*crackle pop* ..tom of the ninth, what a World Series it's....*crackle zzzt* are loaded and two ou....*crackle crackle*

*suddenly the left ear clears and the sound of crickets confuses the brain*
...full count and.. *pop crackle* comes the pitch and ...*zzzzzzt crackle*

 I may not hear it all, but at least I don't have to try to get the TP out of the drain.  I just hope I don't have to have my urine tested.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Counting Pre-Tested Zucchini

Pre-Tested Light Bulbs
We recently saw a display that advertised this and wondered if it was anything like pre-owned cars.  I can hear it now - "Well, gee, that light bulb was tested thoroughly.  After all, we ran that thing for two years and it always worked fine.  I can't understand how it would have burnt out on you so soon."

The Foolishness of Numbers Only
At a place Rob used to work for, a mandate was brought down that programmer effectiveness would be measured by the "lines of code" each person in our department wrote.  There was no control for quality nor was there a way to determine what lines of code were needful.  I couldn't help but think of this experience when some recent political commentary focused on the ineffectiveness of Congress because they had passed so few laws.  A person attacked this as a silly way to judge effectiveness.  I waited with baited breath to hear them say things about judging quality of actions that might include workability (etc etc).   Instead they made the argument that it should be the number of laws we REPEAL that should be the measure of success.


As many of you know, I like numbers and enjoy working with numbers.  But, I'll also be the first to tell you that they give you only part of the story.

Speaking of Numbers
We're getting some production numbers on the farm and I find it interesting to share a few with you now and again.  We do this, in part, to give everyone some perspective as to what the farm, as a whole, needs to do in order to meet obligations.

So - quick primer.   If I want to give everyone on Tuesdays with a standard share 2 zucchini and everyone with a large 4 zucchini and I have 35 standard shares and 10 large shares, I need 110 zucchini at the minimum.  But, if I want to be sure that everyone gets size choices and good quality, I need more like 125.  Adding Wednesday and Thursday shares, we need about 275 zucchini in a given week for this distribution number.

So, now it isn't just about a raw number of zucchini, it is also about the timing those zucchini have as they reach picking size.  It would be ridiculous to say I had a great year for zucchini for our CSA if I harvested 3000 zucchini for the year, but they all were ready in one week.  And this still says nothing about quality and selection.

If these zucchini taste bad, then "3000" is a useless measurement in terms of positive production.  And, from our perspective, this number doesn't reflect the selection provided to members for size and type of zucchini.  Everyone has slightly different tastes and needs for their family.  It is not every family that wants the 'butterstick' size (about 4-6" long) and it isn't every week that someone wants the 'Louisville Slugger' monsters that sometimes occur.  And, we enjoy giving people the option to choose between varieties, such as the Golden Zucchini, Cocazelle (striped) and Midnight Lightning (dark green).

Pre-Tested Zucchini?
 Now that we've typed all of that, do you think there is a market in "pre-tested" zucchini?  The hardest part would be trying to figure out how to attractively package this product.

What?  I was thinking about zucchini with a bite taken out of each one.  What were you thinking?!? 

Road Map to Zucchini
And finally, we have entered the time of year when Rob's arms have all sorts of little cuts on them.  If you want to know why - go to this blog post ->  Road Map to Zucchini.  It is still an accurate assessment of picking zukes.  The only change is that we now plant these things in 200 foot rows (we have 7 rows of zucchini and summer squash at this time).

Stay tuned for MORE about zucchini!  Why?  Because "zucchini" is a great word.  And, zucchini can be used so many great ways!