Monday, September 23, 2013

Crop Report

We realize that some posts are more fun for some people than others.  And other posts might be no fun at all.  Either way, we try to provide some variety to keep everyone happy.  Especially the farm.  If he isn't happy....

Well, if he isn't happy, then the plants might get depressed if they see him frowning all the time.  And, we don't want that, do we?

Information provided is as of Sep 20 of this season.


Of all the summer crops we grow, we'd have to say people focus the most on the heirloom tomatoes we grow.  And, this year, they got a very late start - not going into the ground until June 17 or later (we usually target May 25).

Field tomatoes are just starting to peak.  Thus far, we've pulled in over 500 pounds, which is wonderful, considering there was a fear that we might get nothing.  Italian Heirloom (272 fruit) and Druzba (119) are leading the way.  The surprise is that German Pink (63) is already producing.  These are typically 10-15 days after the other two.

Druzba tomato

The high tunnel tomatoes also went in later than they should have.  But, they did go in before the field tomatoes and have been producing for a while.  The focus in the high tunnel is on the snack sized tomatoes.  We only have 30 plants in the building, usually five of each type.  We have harvested over 300 pounds of tomatoes from the high tunnel so far.  The big winners have been Wapsipinicon Peach (70.2 per plant) and Red Zebra (61.2).  It is likely that each of these will reach 85-90 per plant by the end.  Jaune Flamme (31.2) has had a rough year, but we attribute that to an environmental problem in the area of the tunnel they were planted.  Green Zebra (30.2) is moving slower than the others, but should reach 50 per plant by the end.  That would be a respectable output. 

Wapsipinicon Peach tomato

Zucchini and Summer Squash
We are scheduling time to clean these up.  Any production from here is not likely to be worth our time since most fruit will be of poor quality.  We end with 1839 zukes and 1125 summer squash.  We consider these to be weak numbers, but acceptable amounts for our CSA program.  We'll bring all varieties back in 2014 in similar quantities.

Success summer squash

The season for these is also rapidly drawing to a close.  We can still get fruit from the vines, but the fruit quality is declining.  We harvested over 3000 pounds of cucumbers for the season.  On a farm this size, any time you can use the word "ton" with "harvest," you can feel pretty good about it.  Unless, of course, you have an elephant on that small farm.  Then, it may not be so impressive.  Of particular note were the Boothby's Blonde (2159 fruit) and Green Finger (1032) this year. 

A&C Pickling cucumber

We have a difficult time hitting the correct window for carrots on our farm.  And, of all things, during a year when hitting any planting window was nearly impossible - we hit this one.  We're not entirely sure how that happened, but we're pleased nonetheless.  We still have 50 feet or so left to dig, but the harvest stands are 460 pounds of carrots so far.  Our faith in St Valery's as our main carrot crop is renewed.  We are enjoying both Dragon (purple carrots) and Yellowstone (yellow carrots).  So, we'll probably try something similar next season.

741 pounds and counting.  And, Fall lettuce is the best!

We expect to lose up to 70% of a summer crop to bolting and other quality issues.  By contrast, our last row we harvested had 8 culls (rejected heads).  We harvested over 200 heads that made the cut to be distributed.

The beans in the high tunnel are flowering AGAIN.  Wonder what we'll get out of this pick?  With the pole beans jumping into the fray, we are sitting at 371 pounds of beans this season.  A far cry from the half-ton last year.  But, considering we lost 600 feet of field green beans to wet fields, we'll take it!

Early field kale died in the wet fields.  But, we were able to continue to plant.  So, the later kale has provided us with some good pickings.  And, for those that remember, the high tunnel had some very productive plants in the Spring.  Say what you want about kale, love it or hate it - it is still one of the most nutritious vegetables you can eat.  We might have liked a more consistent season from our kale this year, but we remain pleased with 312 pounds for the season thus far (this translates to about 800 bundles in our shares).

Red Russian kale

Heads of broccoli have been a bit smaller than we would ideally like to see, but the late Summer heat's timing forced us to pick many to avoid bolting.  We've harvested over 450 heads and reports have been great for taste.  We still have plants setting their first heads and the others are beginning to set side-shoots.  We like it!

The peppers that survived to produce this year are all located in the high tunnel.  Have we said before how much we've benefited from having that building available to us?

A typical pepper season for us has us landing at about 5000 sweet peppers (this includes everything from bell peppers to the long thing sweet peppers).  This year, we'll get to somewhere along the lines of 1100 (sweet and spicy peppers combined).  We're particularly pleased with Jimmy Nardello's Frying Pepper (398).  These are excellent fresh or cooked.  We like putting these on pizza and have recently heard someone else extoll their virtues in salads.  Just don't confuse them with a hot pepper.  We only put a few Golden Treasure plants into the high tunnel.  Considering how beautiful the peppers look on these plants, we might have to consider increasing their numbers.

Jimmy Nardello's Frying Pepper

Speaking of hot peppers, Beaver Dam likes to be in the high tunnel.  These are fairly large for hot peppers and are great for stuffing or putting in salsas or chili's.  In a good year for field production, we hope to net 2 top quality fruit per plant.  So far, we're between four and five per plant in the high tunnel.  Feher Ozon Papricka (111 fruit) have done well, but Alma Papricka (58) isn't as thrilled by life in the building.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

September Picture This

We've got a new(ish) batch of photos, so we thought we'd share on the blog.  Someone noted that most of our photos do not have people in them.  Hm.  They're right.  But, usually the human is on the other side of the camera.

First stop - the raised beds over by the cold frame area of the farm.  These were put up this Spring in an attempt to address the wet weather.  There has been success on that front.  Currently, swiss chard resides in bed #1.  The picture below shows Bright Lights Swiss Chard just prior to cutting for a CSA distribution. 

Bright Lights Swiss Chard

Tommy Toe cherry tomato
The second photo shows some of the ripening Tommy Toe cherry tomatoes in the third raised bed.  Traditionally, we plant a cherry tomato somewhere closer to the house so Tammy can easily pick a snack before heading in to work in the morning.

We had it in our plan to begin trying to maintain a flock of Sussex chickens.  These birds could be good for both eggs and meat.  So, the idea was to process all but one rooster and keep the hens.  Sadly, the supplier couldn't get us very many - and they came later than we expected.
Sussex chicks
The result - we have a few chicks in the garage.  They are, of course, now bigger than this picture and about ready to go outside.  We were sent a mix of birds, so it will be interesting to see how they work out.

Blue sky over the new chick home
The ducks went to the "park," so, now we have a building open for the chicks.  We just moved them Saturday as part of the Tom Sawyer Day.  They like running around in the grass.  They also figured out how to get out, but not back in again.  Arg.

Then, there is the volunteer watermelon that took off in the area where we had meat birds this Spring.  If only our field watermelon had done this.

volunteer watermelon

Broccoli rows with a kohlrabi row in between

Gypsy broccoli

We're pleased with our broccoli this year.  Our early batch didn't go in because of the wet weather.  But, we made the late batch a much bigger planting - and the results have been favorable.  Also useful has been the new cultivation tool we purchased this Spring for the tractor.
Those rows look pretty good!

It looks like Gypsy and Belstar will be our varieties of choice for as long as they are available.

Snow Crown Cauliflower
Another winner is Snow Crown cauliflower.  The purple is a natural response to plant stress.  We think it makes them look good.  And, their taste is always quite good.

We are participating in a cover crop study this year.  What you see below is a field with several different cover crops (buckwheat, clover, millet, field pea, etc).  The purpose is to find cover crops that help reduce weeds, improve the soil and establish quickly to do their good work quickly in between early and late vegetable crops.

Various cover crops in one of our plots

Buckwheat seedlings

Some of the very warm September weather was hard on some of our workers.  We caught them napping on the job during the heat of the day.  We can't say that we blame them overly much.  And, we also have to admit that their work schedule, such as it is, is pretty flexible anyway.

Sandman climbed a ladder in the truck barn and found a nice place to try and conserve energy.  Mrrranda found a spot in the garage.

They look almost too comfortable.

The high tunnel has been wonderful this year.  We're certain that this season would not have been nearly as strong for our CSA Farm Share program without it.  There are about 30 tomatoes in the high tunnel, with a focus on snack sized tomatoes.  And these have performed well.  One new introduction was Peach Blow Sutton, which grows a bit bigger than most of our snack tomatoes.
Peach Blow Sutton tomato
High tunnel in early September

Area West of high tunnel
And, for those who do not know, the high tunnel moves once a year.  It will move to the West plot this Fall and will cover crops we just started in the ground.  The photo above shows the tilled ground and the transplants.  The seeds are now germinating in the rows that appear to have nothing in them.  We're not anxious to move the tunnel, but we know we have to have something planted if we want veg in late October and November.  Maybe even December!

Tomatoes went into the field very late this season.  One of our earliest producers is typically Italian Heirloom (rated at 70 days from transplant).  Our first sizable pick of these was September 5 this year.  Most years, they are going full bore by August 5.

Italian Heirloom tomato

Fortex pole bean
And, finally, we replanted our pole beans when the first crop died due to the water.  We didn't expect much, but we have been rewarded thus far.

Fortex is an excellent pole bean that has done reasonably well for us.  We've determined that they don't like some types of trellis as much as others.  So, we get some beans *and* we get a little more knowledge for next year.

Bumblebee on a gazinia
We've also been seeing more of the bumblebee on our farm lately.  They get a little sluggish in the colder weather.   So, they are also easier to photo!  The flowers, on the other hand, are pretty easy to photo in any season as long as there isn't wind.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Farm Newsletter

This post is going to be jammed full of farm announcements, details, opportunities and other stuff.  We could write paragraphs about each thing, but we'll just give you the basics of each thing and move on.  If you want more details, send us an email or talk to us directly.

Reaching Us
Our farm email is gff AT genuinefauxfarm DOT com
Some spammers found a recent email link we put in the blog, so we are doing it this way this time.

Tom Sawyer Day/Farm Festival - GF7 (Genuine Faux Farm Fall Festival and Fetid Fruit Fling)
If you've been looking at the website, you might have noticed the GF7 festival is scheduled for this weekend (Saturday, Sept 21)!  The web details are here.  A few small amendments follow:
We will start the Tom Sawyer Day portion at 2pm and will run until 5pm.  Food will be served starting at 5pm.
Persons who might like to help, but are not willing to do some of the field or building work could come and help with the food setup.  Tammy is planning on making sloppy joes and we'll have some heirloom tomatoes for everyone to taste!  We expect we'll have some fresh cauliflower and broccoli as well.

If you will attend the Tom Sawyer Day portion, please RSVP so we can plan.  Possible tasks (depending on who says they might come) include prepping the granary for paint (scrape/sand), cleaning some field areas out so we can put in cover crops for the fall and perhaps going out and finding ugly tomatoes so they don't infect better tomatoes on the plants.

Chickens, Ducks and Turkeys - Oh My!
We still have some broilers from the Spring batch available for sale.  Our next batch will go the Park the first week of October.  The ducks have gone to the park and are now available.  We also have stewing hens ready to go.  The turkeys go in at the end of October.

Spring batch broilers (chickens):  $15 per bird.  Some are cut-up birds, these are $16.
Stewing hens:  $7 per bird.  20 available.
Fall batch broilers (chickens): $3.35 per pound, average 4.5 pounds.
Ducks:  Drakes average about 7 pounds - $6.25/pound.  Hens average about 4.5 pounds and cost $6.50/pound.
Turkeys: usually run from 13 pounds to 24 pounds.  Cost will be around our normal $3.75/pound.  If you want one of the 40+ birds this year, time to contact us and reserve one (or two or more).

Poultry Fall Package: 
1 turkey, 8 broilers  - $180.  The broilers could be delivered over a period of time.  Turkeys are much harder for us to store (for obvious reasons), so delivery is in a smaller window.  You may order more than one package if desired.

Our poultry are all day ranged birds.  No antibiotics or hormones.  Processed at Martzahn's Farm in Greene.  If you haven't tried one of these birds, you will be surprised by how good they taste compared to those you typically find in the grocery store.

Tomatoes for Canning/Freezing
We anticipate that we will have enough tomatoes to fill some bulk orders.  Price will be $2/lb with discounts at various volume levels.  We will take orders and put you on a list.  We will fill these in the order we receive them as soon as the plants produce the tomatoes to fill them.  We will contact you when your order is ready and see if a reasonable option can be made for delivery.  If you decide the time is not right for you to receive the tomatoes at that time, we will offer to the next person and put you at the bottom of the list.

We will give you a mix of heirloom tomatoes.  We will combine tomatoes for the base with those that will add a nice depth of flavor to your sauce or whatever it is you decide to do with them.

CSA Season End Game
We will continue through the fourth week of October.  So, Oct 22 is the last distribution for Waverly.  Oct 23 for Tripoli and Oct 24 for Cedar Falls.

Extended Fall Season Possibilities
We expect to be able to do a shorter extended fall season this year (moving our regular season back shorten our fall share).  Interested persons should let us know.  We will give information to all who tell us they are interested once we get closer to the end of the regular season CSA.  Typically, we have greens, fall roots and whatever other storage crops we might have (garlic, potatoes, etc).  Because of the season's early difficulties, we will not have winter squash in these shares.

2014 CSA
Next year will be our TENTH year of running the farm share CSA.  We'd like to make it a special year for everyone involved.  We have also targeted 2014 as a major capital project year in order to set us up to do well for another ten years.

Beginning in October, we will promote next year's CSA.  Typically, we do not get enough people for the CSA until April/May.  We want to be at least 80% full by the end of THIS year.  Look for some additional promotions to encourage your participation in the near future.

T-Shirts, Bags and More
Speaking of special promotions.  We have a stock of GFF canvas bags and GFF t-shirts.  We are looking to order some smaller sizes for the shirts as well.  You know these are out there.  We're working on some details for the promotion, so be forewarned!

Flour from Tyler Albers
Tyler is growing wheat and corn.  He has a mill.  He is grinding flour and will grind corn meal.  This is a learning process and he is rapidly climbing the learning curve.  If you want to support locally grown and produced flour, corn meal, etc.  Then, you should look into buying some flour from Tyler. 

The first batch of 20 bags should be available by the first week of October and we will use our CSA distributions to help Tyler deliver the flour.  Price is $6/bag (pound) and he will give us a special price of $5/bag if we get more than 12 ordered.  The additional 'cost' is that he requests feedback so he can refine the process and come up with the best product possible.  Contact us and we will share Tyler's contact information with you and let him know you are interested.

We have used some of Tyler's flour and were surprised by the robust taste fresh flour has!

Lamb from Jeff Sage

Jeff has about a dozen lamb available, to be processed over the next couple months.  Jeff does not use antibiotics and he raises these animals on pasture.  You should see them mowing his lawn!  Jeff sells lamb by the half, but no smaller (splitting further is hard to do).  So, if you want less than a half, find someone to share.

You have control over how your portion of lamb is processed - which is a benefit to you. You will need to call the processor (Jeff will tell you how this works), but this means you could do anything from all ground lamb + the leg of lamb or you could have chops, etc. 

We have ordered lamb from Jeff in the past and will do so again this year.  We have found that for families where some like the taste of lamb and others do not - a mixture of ground lamb with ground beef makes everyone happy.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Lessons Learned

Something you might not know about your farmers.

They actually can be taught.

Here are a few conclusions we have come to now that we are approaching Fall and we can look at the trials of the early part of the year in the rearview mirror.

1. Build raised beds on the farm before you use ground 25 minutes away.

We just took a look at the three small plots we worked at the Waverly Community Gardens.  The results are pretty disappointing to us.  With all of the rain early in the year, we couldn't plant in our own fields.  So, we did whatever we could to adjust.  This was one such adjustment.  We planted romanesco, cabbage, leeks and onions.  Our last count shows one cabbage harvested from there.  There may be a dozen more that will mature.  None of the romanesco are starting heads.  All of the onions are dead.  About the only thing looking reasonably good are the leeks - and they are a bit small.

Why is that?  Well, first of all, the soil is not nearly as good there as it is on the farm.  But, the primary reason is simply a time factor.  When do you find time to go work in those plots when you have to drive 25 minutes to get there?  That doesn't sound bad, except we weed, water, plant, harvest, etc on the farm all of the time.  So, it's not like it is a diversion from something else.

Swiss Chard in the raised beds

On the other hand, we have harvested 2 batches of lettuce (320 heads), have been able to grow a cherry tomato for workers to snack on and have so far picked 31 pounds of swiss chard.  All of this in fewer square feet of ground, located where we can see it every day.  And, we don't have to leave the farm to work with it.

2. Splitting crops into multiple zones on the farm is good if you can manage it.
The spray incident last year only emphasized for us that it is useful to not put all of one long season crop into one plot if you can help it.  In 2012, all of our peppers were either in the Southwest or in the high tunnel (also in the SW quadrant).  So, when the spray plane hit, it took all of the peppers.

Jimmy Nardello's Frying Peppers (sweet pepper)

This year, we had the field peppers well away from the high tunnel.  As the field peppers were quickly destroyed by weather, rabbits, deer and then weeds - it was a good thing we'd made a last minute adjustment to increase the high tunnel pepper crop.  In 2009 (for example), we picked just over 400 Tolli Sweet peppers.  So far, in 2013, we're at 121 of these delicious peppers.  We'll have to stretch to hit 200, but it's still a reasonable insurance policy to make sure there are some sweet peppers in shares.  We've picked 300 Jimmy Nardello's Frying peppers as well.  In a normal season, we will land around the 1000 mark for these.  But, we'll take that over the big, fat zero we'd be talking about if we'd put all of the plants in the field plot.

Perhaps it is unfair to show a split between a field and  a high tunnel, but we have examples that show effective splits for other crops.  For example, you have seen a decent amount of lettuce in the 2013 shares (about 1600 heads worth) because we've split production between some fields.  If we had not worked to make these adjustments and splits, there would have been very little lettuce to speak of in June and July.  Then, there would be the normal dip in August due to the hot weather.  In short, this has been a successful strategy and we hope to figure out ways to use it more in the future.

3. Set a deadline for planting onions and abide by it.
We had wonderful looking onion starts this Spring.  We wanted them to succeed and we planned on them succeeding.  But, when our early weather prevented us from putting them in when we planned to put them in, we should have just tossed them all.

Onion plants in trays, ready to put in the ground.


Here's where we remind ourselves of some facts.  Bulbing onions in Iowa are typically "long-day" onions.  When day length gets to 14-16 hours of sun, that is what triggers these onions to bulb out.  Prior to that point, they focus on establishing roots and building their solar collectors (green leaves).  But, our first 14 hour days in Tripoli occur at the beginning of May.  In effect, May is the transition month for onions to move to bulbing.  So, you *can* effectively plant onions in May.  But, it is best to aim for earlier rather than later.  We have successfully harvested some decent onions planted as late as May 25.

The second set of facts has to do with the labor involved in growing onions.  They are time consuming to plant.  They are time consuming to weed (though we have a new tool to help with that). 

The final set of facts has to do with field readiness this past May.  Simply put, they weren't ready.  They were too wet and could not be prepped for the onions.  Not until mid-June.

But, we'd put so much effort into creating nice starts, we just couldn't let them go.  So, we tried to plant some of them.  And, they were a waste of time and effort and drip tape.  At least we only planted a couple of rows rather than the entire batch we had originally planned.  And - we did have a chance to test out the new cultivator and try to figure out how it works on onions.

Why did we plant any at all?  We certainly knew how long season onions work and we were pretty certain we'd have a crop failure.  But, a couple reasons are good enough to plant a few.  First, we figured if they didn't bulb, but grew/survived, we could pick them as green onions (too few survived).  Second, we wanted to figure out the cultivator on a crop that had minimal value to us (rather than tearing up a good crop).  Third, we just couldn't stand throwing all of those wonderful seedlings away (bad reason).

But, in the end, we might have gotten a batch of delicious onions if we'd thrown them into a compost pile and let them do their thing. 

What to do next year?  Well, if we can manage to get a second high tunnel up and running, we'll set up a row of onions for the high tunnel.  And, maybe we'll put a batch in raised beds.  We'll work with Tyler and have him raise onions on his sandy soil.  And, when our deadline arrives, we throw the rest of our onion seedlings into the compost.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Framing the Future

This is a brainstorming session.  If you were looking for a thunderstorm, they have apparently been outlawed for the rest of the year.

For those of you who are CSA members *and* you read the blog, you will recognize some of these ideas.  For those who are not CSA members, suffice it to say that we've put the germ of some of these ideas out in CSA emails each week.  We've gotten a little bit of feedback and have also done a good deal more thinking - so this post will represent where our thoughts are at this point in time.

We solicit YOUR opinions on any of these ideas.  Feel free to post them below or send to our email address here.

Many of the ratings are dependent on the interest shown by others.  For example, if no one wants to do a work share for #1 on this list, it won't happen.

1. We love our flowers
***high likelihood for 2014***

Tammy and I get enjoyment seeing our flowers bloom on the farm.  But, this is almost always tempered by the weeding in those beds that rarely gets done.  You can guess why it rarely gets done too - we're likely out weeding the vegetables that you all want to eat!

In any event, we are considering offering a work share to someone who is willing to keep our flower beds weeded and looking good.  A work share means a person works a number of hours on the farm and receives a vegetable share in return.  We aren't sure how this will play out, so we would be looking for someone who is willing to let us figure it all out on the fly. 

2. Pretty as a Picture
***moderate likelihood for 2014***

Thanks to the Figura family, we have a barn quilt for the granary.  We just need to do some painting on that building to prepare it for the quilt.

That said, we were wondering about the idea of putting a mural of various veg on one side (or more) of the granary.  We would need the help of someone who could design and at least outline the entire thing.  Our hope would be that perhaps there could be a big painting party as part of one of our festivals.  We would hope to include painters of all ages.

Obviously, we would need to get the base coat of paint on the whole building.  This would facilitate putting up the quilt.  But, even before that - we have to prep the building so the paint doesn't just flake right off...  First step - scraping and sanding anyone?

3. Rock Stars
***high likelihood for 2014***

Most farms have a rock pile.  We don't have a very big one, but there are some good sized rock piles on nearby farms.  We're considering collecting a batch of these and doing a bit of rock painting.  The thought is that participants take one home and leave another at the farm to be placed on a flower bed border, etc.

4. Tenth Anniversary T-Shirt Bonanza
***high likelihood for 2014***

We have a number of t-shirt design ideas.  We've only executed a couple of them (in fact, we have some available right now that are looking for homes).  We're thinking about reviving an old design (They're Real) and adding one or two to the mix to celebrate our 10th anniversary.  But, we also realize many people are flooded with more than enough t-shirts.  So, your thoughts are welcomed.

5. Big Idea - Tiling Fields
***high likelihood for 2013/14***

This is more of a farming decision that we expect most of you will stay out of, but we'll gladly hear your comments.  We are 95% likely to tile our fields in the East and North to increase drainage.  The idea is that the fields will become workable more quickly.  It likely would not have fixed the problems we had this season entirely.  After all, corn/soybean farmers with all of their tiling and less demanding seed crops had troubles.  But, we're certain it would have helped.  We just have to find the right tiling company, prep everything, make a batch of decisions and then find the money to pay for it before the end of the year.

6. Big Idea - More High Tunnels
***moderate to high likelihood for 2014***

We initially introduced this idea that we might put up several high tunnels.  The reality is - we don't think we can find the capital to do that.  But, it might be realistic to put up a 2nd high tunnel next to the current high tunnel.

Simply put, the high tunnel is one of the bigger reasons why 2013 has not been a repeat of the troubles we had in 2010.  The CSA is getting GFF peppers and green beans because of it.  Almost all of your early tomatoes came from there.  Your early kale, chard and lettuce came out of there.  The high tunnel makes Spring and Fall extensions possible.  In fact, we grow three crops in the tunnel each season.

What's the problem?  We can't get all of the crops in on time because they 'run into' each other.  A second tunnel will alleviate that problem and increase our capacity for Spring and Fall season CSA.  And, for the main season CSA, it will help make June stronger.  In fact, since 2011, CSA members have already seen evidence of a stronger June and July share.  And, we can increase the number of available slots in our Spring and Fall extended shares.

Once again, the issues are timing and money.  To make this work for 2014, we've determined that we should probably focus on putting this building in by mid-April.  We anticipate building a similar building to the existing one.

7. Kickstarter or other Crowd-Source Fund Raising
***low to moderate***

Clearly, Tammy and I have our share of big ideas that will cost money.  And, in order to alleviate time crunches, we would have to hire help.  It was suggested by three different individuals that we look at Kickstarter or sites like it to see if we could get people to invest in our project(s).

Most of these sites work by providing tools to promote the project.  If the project is "funded," they collect the funds and disperse it (less their fee) to the organization looking for the funds.  In order to entice donations, incentives are provided by those looking to gather the funds for the project.

We aren't sure we will do this and would like thoughts.  However, if we did, these sites often want a video where we show who we are, what we do and what our project is.  We would need help with that.  And, our incentives would need to be developed.  We have a number of ideas - including using numbers 2, 3 and 4 above.  Another incentive would be a turkey dinner on the farm.

8. A Book?  Really?
***low likelihood***
I have now heard from no less than five different individuals that I should convert some of the blog and other writings into a book.  I don't know when I'd have the time to do that.  But, the creative part of me likes the idea.  The realist, however, tells me that I should just say "thank you" and move on.  The seed is planted in my head.  No idea if it will ever germinate.  Nonetheless, I *do* thank you for the kind words.

9. Produce Cleaning/Packing Work Share
***moderate likelihood***

Along the same lines as the flower bed work share - we might be able to work something out with someone who is willing to come twice a week during the CSA season to help clean and pack the produce for delivery.  The key is that the person doing this has to be reliable.

However, we thought of this idea simply because there are people who might like to do some work on the farm but are not willing/able to weed, plant, etc.

10. Big Idea - Working with Jeff Sage and Tyler Albers
***high likelihood***

Jeff Sage
Both Jeff and Tyler use organic methods for growing and they also do not use any sprays.  Neither are certified organic.  Jeff's operation is too small to make it financially reasonable.  Tyler is just starting out and we are mentoring him in the process of trying to set up for this.  Regardless, we are confident that anything you get from them will be clean and good for you to eat.

Jeff has been working with us for three years now.  He focuses on carrots, beets, parsnips and sweet potatoes.  All crops that we either do not grow on our farm, or have trouble growing because of conditions on our farm.  Simply put, Jeff is good with these crops.  We still plant beets and carrots, but Jeff fills the early season needs and provides us insurance that you will get some if our season fails.  We are considering offering a lamb share extension on behalf of Jeff's operation in 2014.

Tyler Albers
Tyler is our PFI Labor 4 Learning mentee.  He is working hard to figure out his niche for his own farming operation.  It just happened that he planted onions, potatoes and other crops that dove tail with crops that struggled this year for us.  As a result, we have a positive situation where we can purchase these items from him for your shares on your behalf.  It helps us to give you a more diverse product and it helps get him going by giving him a secure outlet for some of the things he likes to grow.  We are in discussion with him to determine if we can get him to focus on certain crops for our CSA Farm Share program next year as well.  It is possible that we will offer a share extension that will include his sweet corn and wheat next year (we'll see what else).

Tyler and Jeff are both good people with a desire to grow good food for your use.  We want them to succeed, and we feel working with them helps all of us to do better.  We also feel that having some arrangements with these two people will provide us with the ability to be more resilient in the face of difficult weather.  We'll be able to improve the quality of our product even more while still maintaining a connection to those who grow your food.  And, frankly, as your personal farmers, we have found that support from other like-minded growers helps to keep us going.

Watch for details as 2014 farm share information comes out.  In order to be sure that both Jeff and Tyler are able to get some reasonable income from this without significantly reducing our own, we will need to find a way to increase sales.

11. Big Idea - Reformatting Our Farm Shares
***low to moderate likelihood***

At present, we aim for 7 to 8 week Spring shares for 25 (or so) families.  We follow that with 20 weeks (June-Oct) for about 120 families.  We close with 7-8 weeks for 30 (or so) families.
If we can manage to accomplish the high tunnel project and work with Jeff and Tyler, then we can expect to expand these numbers a bit without restructuring the whole program.  With a second high tunnel and some good planning with Jeff and Tyler, we expect 2014 to be 35 Spring members, 140 main season and 50 Fall extended season members.
However, we were playing with the idea of running Spring 8 weeks, Summer for 12-13 and Fall for 14-15 weeks.  For the time being, that idea goes to the back burner because it relies on too many infrastructure changes on our part to execute the plan in 2014.  But, if many things fall together quickly, don't be surprised if we make a move on this - depending, of course, on your feedback.

12. Big Idea - Cleaning/Packing Area and Greenhouse
***moderate likelihood***

We've been working towards multiple building goals for several years now.  Every year we get closer, but it has gotten to the point where we feel like we may need to do whatever it takes to get them done.  We do, however, admit that things like a new well kind of put a damper on some of this and we've adjusted goals accordingly.

One such project is to create a new 'three-season' type building for produce cleaning and packing.  It would reside next to a greenhouse/propagation building on the slab that used to hold the old hog building some of you will remember flinging tomatoes at during our 2nd year on the farm.

Why is this important?
   a.  We need to improve our water reclamation approach.
At present, water used to hydrocool and clean produce runs into an open black tub.  We use that water on young trees and bushes.  We use buckets to dip out water and then we put them in a small lawn tractor trailer and haul them to the plants.  We then dump the water on the plants.  Usually, we don't catch all of the water and we often don't need to use all the water each week.  A large part of this project is to build water storage systems so we can store more water and use it when it is needed.
  b.  Our cleaning/packing area is difficult to use when the weather is not nice and is always less efficient than we'd like it to be.  That first cold, drizzly CSA day will remind me why this is important. 
  c.  Much of the post-distribution cleanup work is inefficient and uses up time we'd rather be working in the fields.
  d.  We move our seedlings around too many times (this is for the greenhouse portion) and some of the traffic areas are difficult to navigate.  It's never a good thing when you trip and drop a couple trays of seedlings.
  e.  We do not have sufficient area to keep things covered during early Spring when bad weather can result in losses of whole crops before they even go into the ground.  As a result, we are often forced to use resources that are intended for other purposes (such as putting trays in the high tunnel), resulting in reduced crops in the Spring.
  f.  We'd like to get more of our seedling production centered around the cold-frame area.
  g. If we are going to continue to grow vegetable plant starts in the Spring, we need to find a way where sale plants can remain organized with less time expended in sorting them.  We expect this extra energy and time because proper space is limited and found in multiple locations on the farm.
  h.  We need to separate picking and packing containers from seed starting supplies in order to keep the former cleaner (reduce washing needs).

13. A break/lunch area for workers and a seating area for festivals
***low likelihood***

If we can accomplish number 12, our work traffic patterns will change.  That means the area that was literally washed out by the well drilling will no longer be a critical traffic work path on the farm.  Since most/all of that lawn is mostly gone, it seems like an opportune time to change its purpose.

Our thought is to build a small 'pergola' type structure to shelter the picnic table.  The fire ring and grill could be nearby.  The idea would be to have some sort of paver or other permanent base to remove the need for weed control/mowing so all of this can just stay put all season long.

14. New Roof and Solar Panels on the Poultry Pavilion
***moderate to high (first part) - low to moderate (second part)***
This remains on our "to do" list.  We know we need to do the roof.  It is leaking.  We know we want to do the solar panels.  Some day.

15. Walk in Cooler
***high likelihood***

We've secured walls.  We've secured a "Cool-Bot."  We need to get the A/C unit and we need to figure out corners and a floor for the cooler.  Then, we need to put it all together.  Oh - but first there are some repairs to the building it will go in.  (there is always something more, isn't there?)  If we can stay on task, this should be done by the end of 2013.

16. Final Destruction of the Barn
***low likelihood***

We're not sure much else needs to be said.

17. Game area for Festivals/Gatherings
***low likelihood***

Ideally, we'd like to identify an area where people (especially kids) can play some games and be visible to the adults while they do so.  The hardest part is location since it can't go where the work traffic is.  That said, we'd be happy to hear suggestions about what might be nice in an area such as this if we were able to pull it off.  It is possible that this is not as wonderful as our dreams make it seem.  What do you think?

18. Brooder Room in Poultry Pavilion
***high likelihood***

It just needs to be done.  So, we will do it.  If all goes well, it will be done by the end of 2013.  Work has been started.

19. Deck, etc on back of house.
***low to moderate***

 The entry to the back of the house is difficult, to say the least.  We've meant to do something about it now for six or seven years.  Other things have taken priority every year.  And, looking back at it, they've all been necessary and all would have been more difficult if this project were already completed.

Sadly, to do this project properly, there has to be some work done on the enclosed porch area first.  It qualifies as a 'farm project' because we do go in and out of that door with eggs, produce, etc over and over again.  Our workers go in and out of that door as do visitors.  In the end, it will likely still be on the list next season.  But, we put it here because we're sharing our plan for larger projects we are looking at.  To do the whole thing up right, the sidewalk (such as it is) needs rehabbing and the ground where the well pit was removed needs to be worked as well.  It's just all part of the project.

20. An electric tractor.

Yes, but just think about how cool that would be.  

Saturday, September 7, 2013

September Crop Report

We haven't done a crop report for a while, so it is time.

Crops still working on getting there:
Melons - there are melons set.  We need to do some weeding to better see what we have.  These are all short season melons (because of our wet/late plant dates).  The warm weather bodes well.  Not sure how many we'll get, but it looks like a pick around Sep 15-20.
Ha'Ogen Melon
Winter Squash - same as above.  We'll see what we can get.  I did notice a spaghetti squash turning yellow yesterday.

Potatoes - if the plants were any indicator, they didn't fare extremely well.  Many plants died early with the heavy rain.  We'll get some.  But, we suspect they will be smaller in size.

Kale, Chard and Collards - all of these are looking good and we expect to be picking them fairly often through September and October.
Red Russian kale with Pablo lettuce to right

Tomatoes - the field tomatoes made their entry into the fray starting this week.  The Italian Heirlooms, Druzba and Moonglow are three of the earlier full sized tomatoes and we were able to find a decent number of them.  Here's hoping 2013 matches 2008 for a peak from Sep 15 to Oct 15.
Druzba tomatoes

Crops that failed in 2013:
Onions - happily, we were able to secure onions from Tyler Albers for the CSA. 

Field Peppers - Sometimes, there are just too many things that go against a crop.  When the rabbits and deer homed in on these, it was just the capper.  The good news, we adjusted and put more peppers into the high tunnel.  So, you will see Jimmy Nardello's Frying Peppers (below), Tolli Sweet and other heirloom peppers this year in your shares.

Jimmy Nardello's Frying Pepper

Field green beans - too much wet early.  But, the high tunnel beans have been good for us.  Maybe we should have seen this coming since we pulled in a record 1/2 ton of green beans from the field last year.  Mother Nature saw us crowing about it and kicked us down a notch.  The great thing is that we've been able to pull in 275 pounds so far this season anyway. 

A tub full of yummy green beans
Select Crops:
Zucchini and Summer Squash - for the purposes of the CSA, we're closing the book on these.  We may be able to pick 20 or 30 more fruit.  But, the time needed to find them isn't worth it.  We're sitting at 1793 zucchini for the season and we established back in 2009 that the 1893 we grew that year was a worthy and reachable goal.  So, despite late starts and things not going the way we wanted them too, we got enough of these.  Our field plan projects out to about 2200 fruit so we would have the freedom to sell some excess.  Ok, so that didn't happen.  Summer squash took a hit this year and landed just over 1000 fruit.  That's a little over half of what we wanted to have.  But, again, the CSA didn't really suffer for a lack of them.  We just didn't have the flexibility in additional sales we were aiming to get.
Cocazelle zucchini

Peas - This was a good year for peas, despite losing one 200 foot row to a seed issue and missing the pick on another one because we didn't get it fenced in time.  Yes, of course, we had time to fence 3 of the 4 rows.  And, yes, we opted to fence the row that had the seed issue and not this one.  That happens.  Even so, we pulled in a reasonable 128 pounds of peas (all edible pod) and were able to give CSA members multiple helpings.  We're now another year wiser on this crop and think it can be improved.  A reasonable goal of 50 pounds per row gives us the possibility of 200 pounds of peas next season.

Cucumbers - ahhhh cucumbers.  When you grow, you sure do make us look good.  We just crossed the 5000 fruit barrier this week.  The record is quite safe.  But, we could have challenged if we could have stayed up with the picking over the last couple of weeks.  But, the heat took its toll on workers and cucumbers alike.  Never fear, the birds love the culls.

Boothby's Blonde cucumbers

Broccoli - They are looking very good.  Most of the Gypsy broccoli have given us their main heads and will begin side shoot production soon.  The Belstars are just starting on the main heads.  Thus far, we're over 250 pounds of broccoli.  And, we're really just getting started.  We're looking for production to take us deep into October.  This is one example where some extra focus by us on a crop led to success. 
Rows of broccoli plants

Carrots - It was nice to have a GFF crop of carrots this year.  We split the 200 foot bed and grew St Valery's, Dragon and Yellowstone.  Thus far, about half the row is in and about 250 pounds of carrots are the result.  Jeff Sage's Tendersweet carrot crops have also done well this year.  The CSA has been doing well with carrots!

Pok choi and Chinese Cabbage - during years where part of the season is rough, some of the shorter season crops end up doing exceptionally well.  Why?  Well, if the farm loses opportunities for longer season crops, the focus shifts to grow shorter season crops to keep the farm going and keep people fed.  These two crops have benefited from the weather situation.  As a result, we've pulled in over 1/2 ton of these beauties.  That translates to a little over 700 heads.

Kohlrabi - we targeted kohlrabi as a vegetable we would increase a little bit so we could be sure to give everyone a few more shots at it in the CSA.  Feedback was that people did like them, but they weren't getting quite enough so everyone in the family could have some.  So far, we've harvested over 1100 kohlrabi with a couple more batches to go.  I think we hit that one ok.

Lettuce - it has not been our best year for lettuce, nor has it been our worst.   And, of course, the fall is an excellent time to grow more!  Thus far, over 650 pounds have been brought in for use.  We believe at least that much has bolted or been lost to various weather conditions.  But, that's part of the reason we grow as much as we do.  The reason most vegetable stands do not have lettuce in the heat of summer is that a high percentage of plants fail.  We know this, so we plant with the expectation that we will lose more.  The losses will decline as the days grow shorter and temperatures are reduced.  Besides, the ducks and other birds like the greens.

Crispmint Lettuce seedling
New Variety Report Card - a quick glance

Green Finger (cucumber) - winner!
Japanese Climbing (cucumber) - will not return in 2014 to the farm.
Cocazelle (zucchini) - gets another year to see what it does.
Dunja (zucchini) - winner, but it is a hybrid, so who knows how long it will be available.
Midnight Lightning (zucchini) - good enough to return in 2014.
Peach Blow Sutton (tomato) - production and plant health is good.  Still trying to figure out if it is worth it for the taste.
Paul Robeson (tomato) - only one tomato so far.  But, it was really good.
Minuet and Koboko (chinese cabbage) - both winners.
Joi Choi (pok choi) - winner for all season growing.
Ella Kropf (lettuce) - will try again this fall - still learning how it grows
Mammoth Melting Sugar (snow pea) - seed problem, will try again next year if that is resolved.
Scarlet Ohno Revival (turnip) - winner.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

When Farming is Fun

We were asked an excellent question by a younger CSA member (I think she is about 7 years old?) and thought we'd answer it here.  Well, ok, we answered her when she asked us.  But, it was a good enough question that we thought others would enjoy hearing an expanded answer that grew with reflection.

The question:  What part of farming is the most fun for you?  

First of all, this is an excellent question because it reminded me to consider the things I like most about what we do.  After all, it is easy to get bogged down in the day to day struggle to get everything done.  And, like many other people, we have a tendency to let the negative events rule our emotions.  So, here is a worthy exercise to remind us to give the positives their due!

I (Rob) tend to type most of the blog posts, but I'll try to get Tammy to dictate a bit about what she finds to be the 'fun' things on the farm as well.  But, since I'm doing the typing....  I get to start!   Yay!

1. Harvesting when the crop looks good and there is plenty to go around.

The corollary to that is that it can be stressful to harvest when the crop is not very good and there is a shortage.  But, we're not supposed to be looking at it that way!

Today, I had the pleasure of picking broccoli, chinese cabbage and pok choi today for the Waverly CSA.  The chinese cabbage were superb and the pok choi were huge, but still tender.  And the broccoli?  Wow!  What a nice stand of plants we have right now.  And more are coming along.  The heads cut easily, very few were culls and I had enough broccoli for 45 CSA members in 15 minutes.

It didn't hurt that the sun was shining, the temps were moderate and there was a light breeze.  Every year, we've had days where this happens.  Weather is beautiful and picking is rewarding.   It certainly goes a long ways towards improving the farmer's attitude.

Wait.  What was that?  You want to know what a "cull" is?
A cull is a name we use for any produce we won't sell or give out in a CSA.  For example, a head of broccoli might start to open flowers before we can pick the head.  Or maybe there is a rotten patch on it.  In some cases, Tammy and I will cut off the bad spots and eat the rest ourselves.  Usually, the birds will get culls to eat.  But, if it is a vegetable they don't eat, we'll put it in the compost pile.

Hey - teaching makes farming fun too!

2. Having a day when we complete a large number of tasks on a long 'to do' list.

Periodically, we might make a post on the blog that lists everything we accomplished on a given day.  We don't intend for posts like that to do anything more than
     a. give people who don't work on a farm a peek into what one does on a farm like ours
     b. share the pleasure of having had a good day on the farm

We worry sometimes that people might take offense that we believe we are doing so much more than anyone else.  We know everyone has important things to do, so we don't intend these lists to spark comparisons.  And, we certainly don't want anyone to feel bad for us because we have so much to do.  It's a blessing to have meaningful work and to be able to accomplish much on a beautiful day.

Are we tired at the end of days like that. Of course!  But, we're tired on days when things don't go so well.  And, I'll take the first kind of tired most of the time.

Is it difficult to follow up one big day with another?

Of course it is.  We wear down just like anyone else.  That's what we try to find ways to balance out our lives with other tasks or events.  That doesn't always work, but at least we make an effort to stay healthy and as happy as we are able to be.

3.  Planting when the soil is "mellow."

Sometimes soil can be hard and pebbly.  This is hard on hands and shins (if you crawl to plant).  It can be easy to turn your ankle when the soil is like this.

But, when soil is 'mellow' it is a pleasure to kneel in and easy to put seedlings into the ground.  In fact, when soil is mellow, transplanting can go amazingly fast.  And, it is always good to see progress when you are working on the farm.  We've often found that worker attitude is best when we encourage looking back down the row to see how far you've gone instead of staring ahead to see how far there still is to go. 

The other nice thing about planting is that you can put on headphones and listen to music or a good book.  Or, if more than one person is planting, you can have a nice conversation - as long as everyone keeps planting as they talk.

Tammy pointed out that she likes working with the seedlings - in part because

4. Farming is often about the "possibilities."

This is one of the things that makes farming fun for Tammy.  And, a seedling is one of the best examples of something showing potential for the future.  The possibilities of what that seedling can do and the chance that it will help lead to a beautiful day of picking helps keep us going.

And, every year we try new things and invest our time, money and energy into tasks that we hope will lead us to become better at what we do.  And one of the things we strive to do is to grow excellent food for others.

That leads us to another one that Tammy pointed out to me...

5. Successfully providing good food for people who are pleased to receive that food.

If there weren't people interested in the food we grow/raise, then a good deal of the enjoyment of farming would go away for us.  This is why we prefer to sell what we produce at the local level.  And, not only do we sell locally, we prefer to sell direct to the consumer.  As a result, we have a direct connection to those who will eat the food we provide.

We get a great deal of satisfaction out of successfully providing quality food for those who appreciate it.  And so, that makes farming more fun for us.

In fact, we'd like to turn something around on all of you who have been supportive of our efforts.  Many of you have taken to telling us (sometimes in these words, sometimes in words with similar meaning) -
Thank you for all you do.

We would like to thank all of you who have supported us - past, present and future - for all you have done.

Because you have shown us that you care about what you eat.
Because you have been kind enough to support us through the good and the bad.
Because you are responsive to us and you let us know that we are appreciated.
And, because you are part of what makes farming fun for us.

We thank you for all you do for us.

Rob & Tammy