Thursday, October 31, 2013

Fright Night

Halloween is on everyone's mind - or so it seems.  Apparently, one of the things people focus on is things that frighten us.

I appreciate the desire to have some fun and celebrate, but I have a harder time working from the 'scare' side.  If you want to know one thing that scares me, just look below.  One of my recurring stress dreams is being surrounded by tornadoes.  I've now seen enough footage, including some of the Parkersburg tornado, that these dreams have gotten too realistic for my own good.

Parkersburg tornado (AP story pic)
Now *that* is/was scary.  But, perhaps this is the wrong kind of scary.  Maybe I should be looking elsewhere?   So, try this:

I was told by someone that part of the roots of the tradition of carving faces into pumpkins was to create an object that scared bad spirits away.  I'm not doing fact checking on this - it doesn't really matter to me for the purposes of this post.  The last time I was involved in a pumpkin carving party, I was the guy who carved a pumpkin into the pumpkin (middle pumpkin, third row from the top).

So, if it qualifies as a 'scary' rendering of a pumpkin, will it frighten the 'Great Pumpkin' away?  It was, at least, a sincere attempt.

Only a farmer would carve a pumpkin on a pumpkin.
 So, which would be more frightening to you?  To see someone like this emerging from behind a pallet of walk-in cooler walls?

A not so sneeky pallet monster
 Or, seeing a reciprocating saw in the hands of this farmer?

If a saw in the farmer's hands isn't scary enough, nothing will scare you.
Look - Tammy made a promise that you would see actual pictures of the farmer if you all voted for us in the Dream Big/Grow Here contest.  We were only four votes short of first.  That deserves at least these pictures.
 Not too long after we had an aerial sprayer hit the West half of our farm, I received this picture of Mo Farah running away from a crop duster.  It was some much needed levity at the time.  But, I will say that chemicals and their pervasive use are a pretty scary thing.  In fact, this past Spring, when things were feeling overwhelming, I actually had a stress dream that featured tornadoes that spawned a crop duster.  It's enough to make me think I had a boggart in the dream.  This picture provides me with a humorous image - maybe I'll use it in my next stress dream. (ed. note: Harry Potter reference, sorry)

And, last year at about this time, another CSA member sent us this picture.  It's another one of those images that has floated around the internet so much that it may be impossible to find the original source.  I don't get into the 'zombie' thing that so many other people do - and that's fine.  But, even if you don't get into it, you still have admit there is plenty of humor here.

Most farmers on tractors that old would be looking over their shoulder.
With all of the hype about zombies, it was a bit surprising to see how quickly a post by us of this particular picture on Facebook went completely batty.  The sad thing about this?  We have never had any post of picture do as well as this one did for number of people who viewed or 'liked' one of our posts.

But, we've decided that a clever grower of local foods that drives old tractors would grow cauliflower and throw it to the zombies.

Food choice of vegetarian zombies
 Have a safe Halloween.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The World According to Jake

Jake (at right) and his buddies
editor's note: Male turkeys are known as "Jakes," with the dominant male of the flock being known as the "Tom."  Females are "Jennies."  On our farm, there are also turkeys we have named "Ima", "Muck" and "Myra."  All turkeys on our farm are also called "Knuckleheads."  This last is especially true when they get out of their pasture and explore areas we'd rather not have them go.  A week before their trip to the "Park," we asked Jake (one of them) to give you a look at the farm from his point of view.

Before I get started, I want to make one thing clear.  I do not write stories unless I get tomatoes.
Or cucumbers.
Since the big turkey with the red hat gave me tomatoes AND cucumbers this morning, I might be willing to tell you a thing or two about the farm.

Jake and friends in their room.  Jake is in front.  Yes, that one THERE is Jake.
My first memories are of life in our room.  The big turkeys (ed note: Jake refers to Rob and Tammy as the big turkeys) would come and give us food and fresh water.  They spread dead grassy stuff on the floor.  The grassy stuff was fun to kick around and look at.  One day, a flying thing was in the room.  It was smaller than us ,but it was very fast.  After we watched it for a while,  Muck suggested that we should try to catch it so we could look at it.  Everyone joined in.  We ran around, jumped and tried to catch the flying thing.  One of the big turkeys saw this and made strange noises that sounded a bit like "ha ha ha."  We don't know what that was about.

Muck and Myra

Have I mentioned that I don't give interviews without tomatoes?
Or maybe some cucumbers.

Like these:
Tomatoes too good for turkey food.

Hey!  Ignore the caption.  Aren't you surprised I know what a caption is?  If it has anything to do with yummy tomatoes or cucumbers, I know it.  Even if I might forget that I know it later.  (ed note: at this point, Jake ran out to check for more tomatoes and cucumbers and forgot to come back - we had to go get him.)

Oh, hi.  What do you want?  Tell you about the farm?  Ok.  Do you have tomatoes or cucumbers?  Later?  Ok.

Our noisy neighbors - "Almost a Turkeys"
We have noisy neighbors.  They're kind of weird, "Almost a Turkeys".  But, they make lots of squawky, irritating noises.  They really think they're something.  But, we show them.  Whenever one of them makes their pitiful little noises we give them one of our excellent 'crowd gobbles!'  Thing is, they're all so stupid...they just don't get it.  They keep squeeking and squawking along.  But, one of these days we'll get them to listen.

Preparing for a "Crowd Gobble"
  One day, we had a visit from a bunch of little, bald turkeys.  Well, they weren't entirely bald.  They had these wispy feathers on the tops of their heads.  We thought they were pretty interesting.  And, they seemed to think we were pretty cool too.

The visit of the little 'bald' turkeys
They brought us some lovely cucumbers and threw them to us.  We decided they were really neat friends.  We like anyone who brings us these:

A good way to be a turkey's friend.
 We were sad when they decided to leave.  So, we gathered and gave them one last "crowd gobble."

Gift accepted, crowd gobble of appreciation returned to the giver.
 There are some other odd creatures on the farm.  One of them who visits often by walking along the edge of our room on... get this, this is really funny... FOUR LEGS!  Can you believe it?  It makes these silly "mewing" noises.  But, we know what to do.

Funny thing that walks on four legs (not currently walking)
 We give them the 18 feather salute!  This usually shows other turkeys or almost a turkeys or anything else how incredibly wonderful we are.  Usually, they have to stop what they're doing and admit we are the best.
The 18-Feather Salute

So, about those cucumbers and tomatoes?  Now?

(concluding ed. note: Jake and the rest of the turkeys have taken their trip to the park.  We are pleased to say that every bird currently has a reserved seat for Thanksgiving dinners throughout the area.  We have to admit that we are both relieved and sad that they have moved on.  Until next year!)

Monday, October 28, 2013

2013 Veg Variety Winners at GFF

Every year we attempt to identify the top 10 varieties that were grown on the farm during the year.  Criteria include production, quality of fruit, taste and plant health.  Additional factors that may increase the rating for a variety might be performance as compared other varieties of the same type or one that surprised us by doing far better than anticipated.  You might also note that we will give a tie break to a variety that has not been awarded a top 10 slot over one that has.

 For those who want to see what has gone before:

Honorable Mention

The following are shown in no particular order.  Each did well for us this season and we were pleased with the quality, production levels and taste.  Apparently, we had a pretty good year with diverse success since it was harder than it has been some years trying to pare down the list!  In addition to these, French Breakfast Radish gets an honorable mention.

Red Xpress Cabbage

Black Krim Tomato (#4 2012)

Grandpa Admires Lettuce

German Pink Tomato (#10 2012)

Green Finger Cucumber

Beaver Dam Pepper

Feher Ozon Paprika Pepper

Sweet Genovese Basil (#4 2007)
Koboko & Minuet Chinese Cabbage

10 (tie). Dwarf Blue Scotch Kale

Dwarf Blue Scotch Kale (#3 2008, HM 2012)
This result may seem a bit odd to everyone since there wasn't as much of the 'curly' kale in shares as the Red Russian (#6 2010, HM 2012) kale.  But, as of this writing, we had pulled in more than 240 bunches/112 pounds of Blue Scotch in much fewer row feet.  We had planned to do much more, but the first succession did not make it through the heavy rains.  What made this stand out was the flavor that had people requesting more of it, an accomplishment since many are still skeptical of kale.  We like the taste much better than Ripbor, which is the hybrid industry standard.  As an open-pollinated, there are some inconsistencies in growth habit from plant to plant, but not enough to bother us. And, of course, they are a dwarf variety, so don't go comparing height of the plant to Ripbor, that's just not in their genes.

10 (tie). Oregon Sugar Pod II Snow Peas

We had some trouble trying to figure out which varieties fit in slots 7-10.  Arguments could have been made for most of our honorable mentions to go in here versus those that were eventually selected.  As a result, we caved a little bit and awarded a tie.  We must admit that part of the criteria involved our working to not include too many of one kind of vegetable in the list.  And, an early crop, such as snow peas, has a disadvantage since it has been a while since we have had them on our dinner plate.  But, the reality is that we had good production from our peas this season and Oregon Sugar Pod II stood above the others.  According to Johnny's, 25 pounds of production for a 100 foot row should be expected.  We pulled in 57 pounds in 200 feet.  So, they performed on the upper end of expectations.

The key for peas on our farm is getting them fenced in time.  We managed it this season and were rewarded with vines that we could pick.  We've long appreciated the Oregon Sugar Pod types for their taste and we were pleased to be able to share more of them with our shareholders this year.
Oregon Sugar Pod II

9. Jade Green Beans

Jade (#2 2012 and HM 2009)
Here is another that might seem a bit odd to see here because we didn't set the world on fire with our green bean production like we did last season.  However, it was the circumstances that lead us to choose this one.  Our field green beans were covered in water early on, which put the whole production load on 120 feet of Jade green beans in the high tunnel.  Over 375 pounds of beans later, we can honestly say we are deeply impressed.  And, with the freeze in mid-late October, we had to finally say good-bye to these plants  They had more blooms on them.  Absolutely amazing.  We'll stack the taste of Jade up against all comers for green beans. This is not intended to slight Provider (#7 2010) or Black Valentine (#1 2011).  Both have excellent taste as well.  But, we think Jade just might beat both of them out head to head.

8. Jimmy Nardello's Frying Pepper

They may look like a hot pepper, but they are a wonderful sweet pepper that can be used in many diverse ways.  We love the taste of this pepper fresh or cooked.  They are easy to dry or freeze and it only takes a few plants to get a decent crop of them.  Sure, they don't have the bulk other sweet peppers and bells do, but bulk doesn't always provide taste.

Jimmy Nardello's Frying Pepper (HM 2009, #1 2007)
This selection is also a situational selection.  Most of you will know by now that we lost our field peppers and had to rely on those in our high tunnel.  We had twenty of these plants in the building initially and added ten more.  Most of the production came from the first 20 with an assist from the additional plants.  We were able to pull in over 700 fruit from these plants and they wanted to do more.  It was primarily due to these plants that we were able to have peppers in the CSA shares for the last 7 weeks.  We've known what Jimmy Nardello's can do for us for some time, so it is good to be rewarded again for putting confidence in them.

7. Joi Choi

Joi Choi
In most of our lists, we try to stick to open pollinated varieties.  But, in the case of some veg, we have yet to find an open pollinated variety that does what we want or need for our farm's production needs.  We first tried Joi Choi last season in an attempt to find a Spring pok choi variety that would not bolt immediately upon hitting warmer weather.  Joi Choi showed good ability to handle the early planting last year, so we gave it more space this year.  And, to be perfectly frank, we gave it too much space (460 heads, 630 pounds).  We tend to plant crops with a certain percent excess to handle loss of all sorts.  But, we had only one thing that limited this crop - if the person transplanting did not ruthlessly remove a duplicate plant in a cell, then one or both pok choi were substandard at picking time.  We still like Black Summer (#3 2010) for Fall planting, but if we could only have one, this is our choice.

6. Bronze Arrowhead Lettuce

This one seems to appear every year in our top ten (#4 2011, #1 2010), though I was a bit surprised to see it missing from the 2012 list.  We've discussed the possibility of giving it an honorary top ten mention but disqualifying it from the 'competition' and may have actually done that last year.  But, that doesn't seem right either.  Essentially, what we've done is increased our expectations for this lettuce.  If it doesn't meet them some season, it will fall off the list (probably to honorable mention).

Bronze Arrowhead
This lettuce is good for all season growing, it tends to maintain good taste without getting too bitter.  It takes alot to get it to bolt and we've pulled in about 250 pounds of this lettuce alone so far in 2013 (average half pound per head).  I think we'd have to go through a serious grieving process if this lettuce were no longer available for us to grow.

5. Italian Heirloom Tomato

Italian Heirloom
Here is another of our long-time favorites making the list (#9 2010, #3 2007).  Because we grow so many tomato varieties, it is inevitable for one or two to make our list.  This year, competition was fierce, with German Pink pushing hard to take this spot.  But, in the end, it was the sheer volume of larger than usual, tasty as always, fruit with minimal blemishes that swayed us to select Italian Heirloom.  We usually rate these as 3/4 pound fruit on average.  This year, the average was closer to a pound.  We had an average of nearly 20 marketable fruit per plant this season.  In other words, there was an average of 20 fruit harvested that had no blemishes at the point we picked them. 

4. German White/Northern White Garlic

2013 Garlic Harvest
Here is the deal - last year was miserable for garlic.  None of the seed from our farm did anything for us this year.  On the other hand, the wonderful seed garlic from Blue Gate Farm did them proud.  Size and quality was excellent.  Germination was excellent, scape production was good and taste has been receiving compliments.  We're sad that most of the line we have maintained since we started gardening is nearly extinct - but we'll try to nurse them back with our 3 or four heads we've salvaged.  But, we will gladly maintain this strain for years to come.  And, have no fear, Music also did well for us this year.  Music has a history of landing in our top 10 (#2 2010, #8. 2011) and it wouldn't be a surprise if it returned.

3. St Valery's Carrot

Carrots have not been a consistent crop on our farm.  This is why Jeff Sage is our carrot guru.  But, we insist on planting carrots every year.  Of all things, we had a great year with carrots this season.  And, just like the last time we had a great carrot year, St Valery's was a part of it (#2 2008).  We like their size, their texture and their holding capacity in the ground.  Often, a variety that is part of a crop that excels beyond prior year expectations gets royal treatment in our variety top ten.  This is not an exception.  But, we're not surprised by these results - it's just a matter of getting the timing right at GFF for carrots.  When we do, St Valery's will perform admirably.

The farmer holding carrots
2. Boothby's Blonde Cucumber

Boothby's Blonde (#1 2012)
They fell just short of an unthinkable repeat at the top of our list.  And, they would have gotten it if the veg variety that gets number one this year hadn't anchored our season so well.  Our expectations for this variety have grown and our ability to recognize when to pick them has improved.  As a result, we saw production go up from 1500 to 2200 with the same number of row feet planted.  Ok, the fact that we didn't have the same issues with drought and heat this summer probably also helped. 

These have a mild taste that gets people who might not otherwise enjoy a cucumber to eat them.  They are a nice snack size with a tender skin that makes it easy to consume them whenever and wherever a person might like to have one.  We love seeing the kids gnawing on these after their family picks them up at a farm share distribution.

1. Wapsipinicon Peach Tomatoes (and friends)

Juicy.  Sweet.  Slightly Fuzzy.  150 fruit per plant in the high tunnel in a short season.

Wapsipinicon Peach Tomato
It doesn't hurt that the Wapsipinicon River is just a mile away from our farm.  In fact, that is the main reason we decided to try this tomato several years ago.  If you are by the river, you have to try the tomato, right?  We've always known about the exceptional taste and the tendency of these tomatoes to decorate the shirts of unsuspecting tomato snackers.  But, we've never seen them reach their potential until we had a season with them in the high tunnel. 

Wapsi Peach with Red Zebra and Green Zebra
Along with Red Zebra and Green Zebra, production of these salad/snack sized tomatoes was exceptional.  With the end results firmly in hand, it is hard to believe we were bemoaning the lack of tomatoes in August!  We were actually wondering if any of our plants, high tunnel or field, would do anything much.  Well, they came through - and get to the top spot in the variety list for 2013.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Newsletter for Last Week of the CSA

This post is going to be full of important (to us anyway - we hope it is for you) information.  Please read carefully.

First, it has been an honor to serve you as your personal farmers this season.  We hope you have enjoyed the produce.  We also hope you will return to join us in our TENTH season of the CSA next year.  Time flies when you're picking cucumbers.

What?   CSA Farm Share Distribution
When?  Tues-Thus
Where? Normal Locations
Why?    Because it's the last regular season distribution.

What will be in your share this week:
     Lettuce - see notes about weather after this.
     Tomatoes - I grabbed some before the freeze.  They've been off the vine a bit, but they should be fine for you.
    Snack Tomatoes and Peppers? - we'll see what things look like in the high tunnel tomorrow.
    Potatoes - we were able to pick potatoes today.  The crop was not exceptional and the potatoes are small, but the form and taste are very good.  I think we pulled blue, yellow and white potatoes for you.
     Acorn Squash - There was a nice surprise for us in the area we tossed in some winter squash.  It was a gamble, and it didn't pay off with a huge crop.  But, it did provide us with enough acorn squash to give each of you 1 (larges get 2).  There are two types.  Table Queen is the standard green acorn squash and Thelma Sanders is a tan colored acorn squash.  We suggest you eat these within 3 weeks of receiving them as they will not likely store as long as normal.
     Radish?  - we'll see how they fare with the freeze and snow.
Chinese Cabbage or pok choi or broccoli - again - dependent on the weather and what we can do.

-----------FARM NEWS-----------------
The colder than normal weather is going to make things a bit difficult tomorrow.  We WILL be there.  So, let's be prepared:

a - WAVERLY - it is possible that NONE of the other farmers' market vendors will arrive because it will be so cold.  If they do not, I will park as close to the SE corner of the parking lot that is next to the street we usually hold market on.  Obviously, if other vendors DO show up, I'll be in our normal spot.

b - If the weather is an issue for you, you can try to flag me down and I can pick up your share and bring it to you.  You may need to be patient if there are others demanding my attention at the same time.

c - I cannot pick greens until the temperature is above freezing.  They will be fine at that point.  But, this means I may have a very limited preparation period.  What this means for you is that I am not likely to spend time doing much cleaning of produce.  The greens will not need cooling (one of our purposes for hydrocooling) and I'm not sure how much time I am willing to have my hands in water that is 34 degrees F.  So, apologies in advance if I don't get things as beautiful as I want for all of you.

d - It's getting dark much earlier now.  If you are coming late, give a quick call.  By the time it gets closer to 6pm we will be anxious to pack up and go somewhere warm.  If you find yourself on schedule to arrive at 5:50 or later, that call will help me immensely.  We will probably prepack your share and and continue to pack up the rest.  You can then get your share quickly and we can be on my way as well.

2. CSA SHARES (Fall 2013, Spring 2014 and Regular Season 2014)
It is time for us to begin taking reservations for the next seasons of CSA shares.  We realize that life changes may force you to say no to us.  But, before you do - give us an opportunity to try one more sales pitch on you.  We would like to have you all return next season!  Obviously, if you must say no because you are moving, etc, then we would appreciate hearing that you will not continue with the GFF Farm Share program.  We acknowledge the respect you show us when you tell us that you must move on.  It helps us to plan and to recruit new members.

We are proud to report that standard shares (cost $330 for the season) received approximately $400 worth of produce from us this season.  We are also pleased with the quality and consistent volume we were able to provide for all of you.  But, most of all, we were honored by your presence in the program and your willing support.  We have heard from a number of members who have noticed that the Farm Share program gets better in the second year because they are ready for what is about to come.  Still others have told us that while year two is good, year three is even better because you start to have alot of fun with the shares.  As people gain experience with the CSA, they learn ways to extend the value they receive from their shares.  It gets easier to use all of the produce and save some up (even if you only have a small freezer on your single refrigerator) for later use.

So, consider this.  We had an incredibly difficult start to the season.  Yet, we managed to make a number of adjustments on your behalf to provide you with positive results.  In fact, we suspect many of you may even have forgotten how hard it was to get things in the ground early in the year because it didn't seem so bad as we started making deliveries and filling bags.  We attribute this to the efforts on our farm, on Jeff Sage's farm and on Tyler Albers' farm to bring you pesticide and herbicide free produce.  Jeff and Tyler intend to work with us again next year.  Imagine what we can do for you as we continue to refine how we work together.

Remember the tasty snow peas in June and early July?  Or the refreshing Boothby's Blonde cucumbers in August and September?  Or, if you want something more recent, the juicy, sweet Wapsipinicon Peach tomatoes?  We expect to bring all of these wonderful tastes back next year.  So, let's get ourselves set up to do it!

2014 Regular Season Shares  
    Standard: $340
    Large: $480
2013 Fall Extension - $150 - see description later in the email
2014 Spring Extension - $150 - as above

The link below will take you to a simple form to reserve a spot.  Please do this as soon as you can so we know what to expect for our next season.


3. Poultry

Go here to order:

We still have 19 turkeys available, 8 ducks available and about 100 broilers remain.  We are most concerned that the turkeys find homes, though we would be most happy if they all found homes soon.

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).

4. Turkey Delivery

If you ordered (or will be ordering) a turkey, you will be receiving an email later tonight regarding processing and delivery options.  We are asking as many people as are able to pick up their bird on Thursday of this week.  They will NOT be frozen at this point.  We simply do not have the storage for all of these birds - thus we ask to impose on those who order birds to take them if they are able.

If you still want a bird, but cannot take them this Thursday - by all means - ORDER!  It makes it easier to figure out storage when you know the bird is stored and has a home by some given time.  Lockers appreciate it when you can give them concrete dates for removal when deer season is around the corner.

5. Fall Extended Season
We are doing a Fall extended season that is planned to run for 6 weeks.  Content will include greens (incl spinach), fall root crops (like parsnips, radish, taters, carrots), some winter squash and garlic.  There is one size of share.  Deliveries are planned for Tuesdays.  We will determine delivery location and times depending on how many people sign up for which locations (Farm, Waverly, Cedar Falls).  In the past, we have had a delivery in Waverly and one member has picked up for the Cedar Falls members.  If we decide to go to Cedar Falls for part of the delivery, we will have condensed pick up times.  If the times we choose don't work with you, there are options that can be taken so you can still participate, so please ask.

6. Spring Extended Season 2014
We will take sign ups for this now until it is full.  This usually runs through all of April and May and will include our asparagus.  Usually, there is a good deal of spinach as well in this share.  It is a greens heavy share.  This may change in future years as we modify our farm further, but for next season, it should look alot like past Spring shares.

7. Gearing up for 2014
We intend on making 2014 a big year for our farm's tenth anniversary season.  Obviously, we will do our best to keep everyone informed.  But, the biggest news is that we intend to go forward with putting up a second high tunnel building on the farm.  We also intend on taking advantage of year-end supply deals in December for the farm.  As a result, we are asking people to help us out by being willing to pay some or all of their 2014 share price in the next couple of months.  If you can only afford a deposit, that will be fine.  We understand budgets and we do not wish to be the cause for destroying them. 

Other ways you can help is by encouraging people to buy our poultry.  It helps to convert them to cash and allows us to shut down freezers sooner, reducing our cost on that front.  We will be ordering more t-shirts and hope to use that to raise a little bit of funds as well, so if you need a new t-shirt, consider getting one from us.  And, of course, if we can sell out our CSA shares before the year is out, that will be most helpful of all the things people can do for us.  Selling out quickly reduces the amount of Rob's time required for promotion and handling efforts and recruiting new members, etc.  If we can work together to make the sign up fill quickly, then Rob can spend more time getting supplies and seeds ordered.  He can work more on building brooder rooms and putting up high tunnel buildings.  The end result is that you will get an even better product from us, with more variety, more quality and more options to fit your family.

Thank you so much for reading all of this.  As a reward - or punishment - for your willingness to read it all, we bring you the following:

Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, but when they lit a fire in the craft it sank -- proving once and for all that you can't have your kayak and heat it, too.

Two boll weevils grew up in South Carolina. One went to Hollywood and became a famous actor. The other stayed behind in the cotton fields and never amounted to much. The second one, naturally, became known as the lesser of two weevils.

Rob & Tammy

Friday, October 18, 2013

What's a Half-Ton Pickup For?

Actually, we know what a half-ton pickup is for.  It's for picking up and carrying a half-ton of produce every so often.  And, actually, Tammy and I have done the mental gymnastics every so often to estimate our CSA farm share load weight.  Let's just say that the maximum is more than a half ton.  Poor Chumley (our truck), he gets asked to put up with so much.

Chumley the truck.
I started wondering about what a half-ton of various vegetables might look like.  This, of course, got me to thinking about numbers (OH NO! Mom!!! He's talking about numbers again!).

Thus far this year we have picked over 2100 heads of lettuce.  Of course, with all of our lettuce types, you have to expect that you will get a fair amount of variability in size.  But, we seem to be just under a half pound per head of lettuce this season.  As a result, we are at 929 pounds of lettuce so far. 

Now, while you might be impressed with the numbers or the aggregate weight of all of that lettuce, you really should be impressed with another fact.  Rob has picked that many heads of lettuce this year using a sharp lettuce knife.  Last we looked, he still had all of his fingers.  Now THAT is an accomplishment.

Crispmint Lettuce
Let us ( no.) look at this another way.  A nice head of Crispmint romaine will average about .6 pounds.  We can put about 20 heads into one of our coolers.  In order to get a half ton of Crispmint, we would need to fill more than 83 coolers.  I'm afraid our truck can't do that.  For that matter, I don't want to purchase or store 83 coolers. 

We have pulled in over 980 pounds of carrots from our fields this year.  These are only the carrots we have grown at Genuine Faux Farm, I have yet to calculate what Jeff Sage has grown for the CSA.  There are still carrots to dig, so we should easily cross the half ton mark. 

St Valery carrots

In order to picture this, it took a 200 foot long seed bed that is approximately one tractor width or about 2 tiller widths wide.  One of our yellow trays that you may have seen at distributions can hold about 33 pounds of carrots when it is full.  So, we would need over 30 of these trays in order to hold a half ton of carrots.  It is possible to stack these 5 high in the truck, so I could put a half ton of carrots into these trays and then drive around town with them.  But, I'd rather not.

2013 Carrot Seedbed
Those wonderful, meaty red tomatoes called Italian Heirloom have treated us well this season.  In fact, they have been larger this year than we've seen other seasons.  After today's pick, we have harvested 885 of them for a total of approximately 750 pounds.  Ok, that's not a half ton.  So, we'll add in our 250 pounds of tasty Black Krim tomatoes from the field (400+ fruit). 

Wait?  What was that?  Did I actually weigh all of those tomatoes?  Well no, what do you think I am?  A numbers freak?  geeeeeeez.

In any event, we *do* count all marketable fruit as they are harvested.  This helps us assess varieties and the season.  It is also important so we know what we can give people at our CSA distributions.  So, there are reasons for all of this.  As for weights, we take random samples and weigh them periodically to confirm and refine our average weight per fruit that we use for calculations.  This is particularly useful when someone orders 50 pounds of tomatoes. 

Italian Heirloom tomatoes

But, getting back to the half-ton pickup thing...  Italian heirlooms might fit 20 to a white tray.  So, 59 white trays full of them would do the trick.  We can stack these 6 high in the truck.  Again, I think I can manage to put 10 stacks in the truck, but I'd need to order more white trays.

Record Setters in 2013
Despite the slow start this year, we did have a few tomato varieties that decided they liked us this year more than any other year.

German Pink, Black Krim, Druzba and Nebraska Wedding all set records for harvest in our fields this year.  Italian Heirloom did very well, but had an insane record (from 2010 - 1128 fruit) it had to beat.  Of the records set, we're happiest with German Pink and Black Krim.  Fruit were generally of the highest quality and slightly bigger than prior years.  Taste quality for all were exceptional.  Druzba and Nebraska Wedding had some issues with cracking we didn't appreciate, but the fruit still held well enough.

Boothby's Blonde cucumbers blew right on past the previous record and landed over 2000 fruit this season.  In this case, we can attribute it to both the season *and* our experience learning what they need to keep going.  The A&C Pickling cucumbers also set a record.  But, in this case, we need to consider the fact that we grew twice as much as we've ever grown. 

You'll probably notice we have favorite veg when it comes to numbers crunching.  But, be honest, numbers of tomatoes or cucumbers is easier to visualize and appreciate than stems of kale or pounds of broccoli side shoots, isn't it?

Still Going...Waspi Peach report
The Wapsi Peaches in the high tunnel are still producing, but slowing down.  This weekend's cool weather may finish them - which we think will be a sad thing.  Five plants and over 750 tomatoes (150 per plant).  And they are a winner for taste. 

Since the last report ( a few people have asked how they are doing) the Red Zebras are at 112 per plant and are slowing down significantly.  The Green Zebras picked up the slack and are at 82 per plant.  There is an outside shot for them to reach 100 per plant by the end of next week.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

One of THOSE Days

One of the things we honestly try to do when we go to our CSA distributions is to be positive.  But, every once in a while you just want to say, "It's been one of those days."  I suspect nearly everyone knows exactly what I'm referring to here.  It may be different in form, but the substance is pretty much the same.  Typically, it is simply a day where so many little things go wrong or get annoying that they accumulate and threaten to bury your attitude (and other things) by the end of the day.  Tuesday was one of those days for Farmer Rob this week.

Since it is now Wednesday evening, it seems like it might actually be an interesting exercise to make some fun of myself.  Why not?  It's good for me.  And, to keep you all from getting bored, I'll just stick with a few of the things that got on my nerves that actually are a bit humorous (from a distance).

The morning began with a rather startling note.  Literally.  We have an ipod player that allows us to set music to play as our alarm.  Typically, this is a very relaxing way to get up.  Well, at least, that is the case when you don't forget to turn the volume down the night before.  Hey, it's not that I must listen to my music loud - but if you're outside on a windy day and want to hear *any* of the music, it has to be turned up.

The upshot of this is that we woke up VERY quickly.  Let's just say that I don't quite know how I got to the player so fast to turn the volume down.  And, of course, the heart was racing pretty quick. Welcome to your day - and HOLD ON TIGHT!  At least the tune being played wasn't Adam Again's "Helpless, Hopeless, Useless."  If it had been, I think I would have taken that as a warning.

Feeding and watering the birds are two of the morning chores.  So, of course, I worked to do that.  The feed bin decided not to let the feed out - until it did.  A bit much for that bucket.  Oh well, scoop the excess on the floor into another bucket.  It happens.  And, of course, when it gets colder outside, watering is a bit more of an adventure.  Essentially, the level of annoyance when water splashes on your feet goes up as the temperature goes down.  And, since it was one of *those* days...I made sure to get my feet wet.  Again, we are sad to report that this one was also literal.  I really do wish it was just the figure of speech application this time.

I managed to get through the part where I was wielding a sharp lettuce knife without cutting myself, but I did manage to put my hand around a thistle.  But, that's not a big deal this time of year.  The hands can handle it.  The real fun came when I was cleaning the lettuce and pok choi.

For those who do not know, we have a packing/cleaning area that is open.  Tuesday was breezy.  The makings of a slapstick comedy routine were all there.  Farmer wants to clean lettuce, he sticks hands in very cold water and gets some lettuce ready to go in the cooler.  He reaches to put them in the cooler and a wind closes the lid.  He sets the lettuce back down in the water and opens the lid.  Reach for the lettuce, pick it up, lid closes again.  In the end, I cleaned the greens with one hand while I held lids open with the other. This comedy continued as I migrated to the high tunnel and tried to open the door with my hands full.  The results were predictable, so I finally sighed, set everything down and opened the door.  Happily, I have a block I use to prop the door open.

The good news - at this point, I realized that it was going to be "one of those days," so I resigned myself to not taking shortcuts.  This was a good move.  But, frankly, it probably is a good idea to exercise more patience anyway.  Thanks for the lesson, Tuesday!

Mrranda and Sandman are getting a bit more needy as the weather gets colder.  They see us less, and there are fewer people on the farm.  As a result, they are much more insistent when they want something.

Sandman "helped" me pick Green Zebra tomatoes.
Sandman: "Mew. prrrrrrrrr"
Farmer Rob: "Hello Sandman.  Please get out of the tote, I need to put tomatoes there."
S: "prrrrrrrr"
R ***lifts cat out of tote*** :  yes, you're nice, now stay out of the tote.
R ***picks some tomatoes***
S ***steps back into tote*** : "Mew. prrrrrr"
R ***turning to put tomatoes into tote***: "Sandman - stop that, I need to use the tote."
***removes cat and turns to pick more tomatoes***
S ***steps back into tote*** : "MEW! PRRRRRRRRR!"
R: Sigh.

Both cats also have learned that I go into a squat or kneeling position when I pick tomatoes.  That gives some space on my leg they can jump onto to get attention from me.  Needless to say, that's not really what I want to do at that time.  Usually, both cats can be dissuaded from these behaviors after one or two iterations.  But, Tuesday it was more like TEN iterations.

I took a quick break around midday and ran into Tripoli to check the PO Box.  It was all junk mail.  But, then again, that is normal.  On the way home, I looked in the rearview mirror and into the back of the truck.  I had forgotten that some things had been left in there after Saturday's market.  The tables had nothing holding them up, so they had fallen over.  Typically no big deal...except for the trays of tomatoes they fell ONTO.  The good news - many of those were slated to go to the turkeys and chickens anyway.  The bad news - now I have to clean up the truck.

So, I grabbed a cat and rubbed it around for a while on the inside of the truck... at least it was getting attention.

Ok, I didn't do that.

But, the thought of it made me laugh.  And, when you're having one of those days, that's all it takes.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Little of This and a Little of That

Tammy and I spent quality time together this afternoon digging carrots.  After our efforts today, there are only 20-30 feet of carrots left to dig.  And, we are nearing the 1/2 ton mark for carrots from our farm this year.  We're pleased by that.  Add in Jeff Sage's carrots and our CSA members who love this vegetable should be happy for what they've gotten this season!
St Valery carrots from GFF

In any event, we dug carrots - and now both of us are tired.  But, this gives me a chance to address a question asked of us last week.  Why do we have Jeff grow carrots when we are also growing carrots?  

The simple answer is this:  Our farm's soil tends to make it difficult to get early crops in.  Jeff, on the other hand, is extremely good at early carrots and beets.  So, he plants the early crop and we plant a later crop.  But, we have found that even a later crop of carrots at GFF has been sporadic.  So, when we hit the jackpot with carrots at GFF, our agreement with Jeff results in our farm share members getting lots of wonderful carrots with different looks and somewhat different tastes.  And, there it is in a nutshell....or perhaps in the carrot greens.  Whatever.

We had a spectacular show of lightning on the evening of October 4.  I was encouraged to try the camera.  I haven't done much with night time shots, nor was a willing to set up a tripod, etc.  But, the picture below does give an idea of the activity.
A blurry, but wonderful, picture of lightning
Whenever a storm passes by that has this much activity, it is important to watch and appreciate the power and beauty of it.  It is also important to be grateful that you are not directly in the path of the storm in question.  Believe me, we were.

Speaking of weather - we had our first frost of the Fall this morning (Oct 13).  We are so pleased that it waited this long.  We are not so happy that it snuck up on us.  Our currently short-handed weather service (NOAA) didn't put a warning or watch our for us (they did for NW Iowa) and I'm afraid we let that lull us.  Both Tammy and I saw signs that it might happen.  So, it's our fault for relying on other things other than our senses.  Or, more important, we know we should use all of our tools rather than limit our opportunities to observe.

Sweet Genovese Basil
The result is that we have a number of things that are not doing so well anymore.  Some of which we might have found energy to cover if we'd been more alert (or if we'd been alerted).  But, the reality is, we're probably getting a bit tired and the idea of covering too many of these crops isn't as attractive as it is a month earlier (Sep 13).  The basil did well for us this year - but now we must say good-bye.  It is gone - and it won't come back.    Alas, we hardly knew ye.

Crops that handle the cold well include the brassica family.  If you hear us refer to "brassica," we are indicating plants like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and romanesco.  Yes.  Romanesco. 
Romanesco ready for the CSA
Romanesco is best described as having a cauliflower texture.  But, it is light green and has whorls rather than a rounded head.  If you know what fractals are, you will appreciate seeing their appearance in nature here.  If you don't care what fractals are, you should at least care about how good romanesco tastes.  It is excellent raw and equally good steamed.  We ate a nice big pot of romanesco, along with green beans, a baked potato and a little bit of GFF chicken for dinner tonight.  It's 10pm and I'm still full.

It's great meals like this that remind why we work on the farm.  It also reminds me of why we keep learning and keep trying to improve the tools in our tool box.  One of those tools was the Williams Tool Bar we purchased this Spring.

The farmer acting like he knows what he is doing.
We're still learning how this tool works best, but so far it has been a big winner for us.  Thus far, it can be credited with helping us to bring you brassica (see!  see!  I reused a word I introduced to you earlier!  Clever me!).  It has also helped us to incorporate cover crops that did very well.  (I talked a little about cover crops in this post a week or so ago.)  You didn't know there was a quiz later, did you?

It has been very nice having a decent fence for the laying hens this Fall.  It really makes things much easier to deal with.  This is especially true with the gates we have (thank you Tyler).

Tyler stuck with the chickens.  We told him to put the latch where he could get it.
The difficult thing with tasks such as this one is the natural tendency to believe the task is done once it  But, with things like fences, there is probably never going to be a "done."  When you have chickens scratching and digging around the fences, raccoons pushing, climbing and digging, and other critters doing whatever to it - there will need to be repairs.  And, then there is the weather.  So - there it is.  A gate, a fence, a pasture.  It works great.  Now we just have to maintain it.  No problem.  Right?

And then, I found this neat picture of our raised beds when the swiss chard and marigolds were but wee little things.  I am beginning to see even more wisdom in putting marigolds by swiss chard as I watch how clean the chard is.  No thrips damage.  Hmmmm.  It may also be timing, but I have other chard in other locations that have much more damage on their leaves than these do. 
Swiss chard and marigolds in the first raised bed.

And, therein lies the challenge.  Is it the marigolds or is it some other variable?  Sounds like I may have to do a little experiment next year, doesn't it?