Friday, January 30, 2015

Stream of Consciousness

Any day that starts with one of us saying "It's going to be a weird day" is a day that deserves a blog post that simply follows with whatever I am thinking about at the moment.  The first thing I was thinking was that I need to get a blog post out here so that everyone doesn't forget about us.

On the way in to school today, something one of us said referred to a 'knock off' of something.  But, for some reason, my brain decided to change it to a "mock off."  Then, we were off to the races.

A new musical genre could be "Mock and Roll" or maybe it is a new party game?  The party game version probably requires one person to mock and the other person just rolls with it.  But, the music version made me think of the Tony Orlando and Dawn song.  You know what I'm talking about?  "Mock Three Times on the ceiling....."  We also seem to remember a song lyric about mocking on the window pane, but that would be a different thing altogether.  To mock on a ceiling requires some talent.  Mocking on a window pane seems a bit more doable.  If you lay on the mockery too thick, I suppose you could call it an Amber Mock.  If you don't get it, that's fine.  I told you this was going to be a bit strange.

That's a really pretty romanesco.
Hey!  We had some broccoli, cauliflower and broccoli for a recent meal from some of the veg we froze from this season.  It was good.  Stream of consciousness...  I warned you!

I like to remind myself once in a while of two things.  First, that I have a lot to learn.  And, second, that many things I think are easy or self-evident were not always easy or self-evident to me.  The first thing motivates me to keep learning and to not be too secure in what I think I know.  The second thing motivates me to be patient and to do my best to facilitate learning as best I can.  And now you know one reason we keep this blog going.

November had moments
I have been having some trouble motivating myself to apply myself to farm work in January.  I am not referring so much to active work as much as I am talking about field planning, seed orders and all of that other stuff.  Part of it is the normal process of needing to be lower key for at least one month of the year.  The other part has its roots back in November.  If you'll recall, we had some unseasonably bitter cold weather.  As a result, we were forced to make a number of adjustments on the farm in a very short period of time.  The example above shows where we had to put alot of our late harvest to keep it from freezing.  Numerous root crops are in the trays waiting to be cleaned, etc etc.  And, this only shows a part of what we had to do.  Then we had to move it all again as this building started freezing too.  Ah. Fun times!

Since we're on a farm related topic, one thing that is always on my mind this time of year is getting people to sign up for the CSA farm share program.  It would be wonderful if we simply filled up with no effort each year.  But, the reality is that it takes effort every year to get there.  So, we're realizing it is time to start making that effort.  If you haven't signed up yet, now is the time to say something.  We're working on the web page and sign up form today.  Help us out and get us filled up fast so we can focus on the growing rather than the marketing.

Looking forward to the Nota Conference
 The "Nota" Conference is just over a week away.  We're looking forward to spending some time with some quality people and trying to get motivated for the next growing season.

Hindenburg.. .Hindenburg.... where have I heard that name before?
January is a time where I get to spend time on my hobby (postal history) and I've enjoyed spending some evenings doing a little research on some items I have in my collection.  The item above is some mail that was flown on the airship Hindenburg in 1936.  Yes, this is the same Hindenburg that went down in flames in 1937.  To send some mail to Europe from the US via an airship, you needed 40 cents in postage.  It may seem like a lot, but the crossing was made in a few days.  Not bad.

Music is also a pretty big thing for me.  I do like listening to it while I work and always have.  At present, I have been enjoying music by the Classic Crime, House of Heroes, Evanescence, Apocalyptica, 2Cellos and a live set by the Choir.  Did you need to know this?  No.  But, there you are anyway.

I've had the opportunity to speak at the PFI conference and at a couple of classes at Wartburg in the last month.  I appreciate the chances to share and hopeful encourage learning and discussion.  Sometimes, I wonder if I get too preachy about some topics and other times I wonder if I don't take a position on some topics with enough conviction.  In the end, I have to conclude that if I wonder about both directions, I'm probably doing ok.

Part of January's job is to look back and see if we have moved the right direction over the past several years.  One interesting thing is to look at our old truck (Grover) and how we had to pack it for CSA distributions.  One issue was the lack of an operating back window.  Another was the height of the topper.  I do not miss having to be hunched over while trying to lift 60 pound tubs of cucumbers onto another tub.  It's a good reminder that investments in proper tools are not a luxury, they are a necessity if you wish to continue to improve.

Have a good day everyone!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Variety Show - A&C Pickling

A & C Pickling

This is a heritage variety from 1928.

What's a "heritage" variety and how is it different form an "heirloom" variety?  Good question!
In short, a heritage variety was developed by a seed company rather than a variety that was passed down from generation to generation in a family.  Heritage vegetables are still an important part of our gardening history.  And, as open pollinated varieties, can be maintained privately as well as commercially.

Back to your regularly scheduled post!
 Fruits for this cucumber can be picked from 4 inch to 8 inch size, but plants slow production if too many are allowed to grow to the larger size. This cucumber is a strange case, having been introduced to our farm in 2005 and removed, then reintroduced in 2012. The results in 2012 showed us that this was an excellent later season cucumber, which was not something we were looking for in 2005. Our second succession fared far better than the first, so we are happy to keep this variety in the fold. We ran it in 2014 with both early and late successions just as a test to see if what we think we are observing holds true. But, since our first succession of cucumbers did poorly for all varieties, it was hardly a fair trial.

Fruit tend to have a bit of a 'star burst' on the flower end.

You will not see A & C Pickling in larger commercial operations anymore because the consistency in size and shape does not match some of the modern hybrids. This is not to say that there isn't good quality here, it is just a realization that bulk markets typically want fruit that meet very specific size and shape profiles (often disregarding taste). Speaking of taste, these consistently have a good quality. The skin may get bitter if you leave them on the vine too long. Otherwise, they don't need to be 'peeled'.

Refrigerator Pickles – Fast and Easy!
6 c. sliced cucumbers
1 T salt
1 onion, chopped
1 small/medium green pepper
1 c. sugar
1 c. vinegar
Mix salt and cucumbers. Let sit for 15 minutes. Add rest of ingredients. Stir to mix. Let sit overnight in the refrigerator, covered. The pickles will look too dry at first. Don’t fear – they will have plenty of liquid by the next day.
Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
S Zenk

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Practical Farmers

We returned last evening from our annual trip to participate in the Practical Farmers of Iowa conference.  I realize we have likely mentioned PFI in prior posts and, if you'll forgive me, I won't spend time finding those occurrences in our blog this time around.  Instead, I hope to highlight some of the things we like about PFI by pointing to THEIR blog and some of the posts that highlight programs in which the Genuine Faux Farm has some involvement.

If you know Tammy and I by now, you realize there are certain things that are important to us for our farm. Among those things is our desire to facilitate learning (ours and others) while we farm.  And, happily, PFI spends a significant amount of energy and resources pursuing the same endeavors.

Intercropping research at GFF
 We believe that every farm should have its own research program.  Which is why we participate in PFI's cooperator's meeting every year.  This meeting encourages farmers to participate in determining the research agenda to be followed with PFI's support for the upcoming season.  And, before you start to think that PFI is only for growers that are similar to Genuine Faux Farm, let me point out that the cooperator's meeting runs multiple concurrent sessions for grazing/livestock, horticulture and row crops.  Simply put, Practical Farmers of Iowa is all about farmers who strive to learn and be as smart as they can when it comes to running their operation, regardless of type, size or growing philosophies.  The combination of our interest in research and PFI's interest in promoting curiosity leads us to be that red dot in Northeast Bremer county that you see on this post.

Rob mesmerizing (?) an audience
Tammy and I are very interested in learning more and getting better at the things we try to do.  But, we are both equally interested in helping others to learn and improve as well.  In fact, we have been known to give presentations at various venues, some of which are sponsored by PFI.  And, this is another reason we find ourselves attracted to this organization.  PFI is very interested in aiding young and beginning farmers climb the learning curves necessary to being a responsible farmer.  The Labor 4 Learning program provides a program whereby a person who wants to work on a farm with experienced farmers might do so.  The Savings Incentive Program matches newer farmers with farmers with more experience and gives the new farmer a opportunity to invest in a capital improvement for their operation.  But, the best part of this program is that isn't just about the money, there is a strong component of sharing that is the hallmark of PFI members and staff.

Enjoying food at the first GFF field day
The Genuine Faux Farm has even been privileged to host two field days on our farm.  No!  Wait!  We have hosted THREE field days on our farm.  But, we're usually so tired after the field day, we often forget to add it to the count.  If we're that tired, we can't imagine how tired the PFI staff must be.  You can actually find PFI blog posts for two of them.  One is our 2010 high tunnel build and the other was this past season's field day.  Our prior field day focused on tomato trellising techniques.

2010 High Tunnel Build field day

Our trip to this year's conference was different from all of the others.  And, this wasn't necessarily because the conference itself has changed dramatically.  Instead, we think it is because we have changed.  Some of those changes have to do with our involvement in Practical Farmers of Iowa, and for that, we are grateful.

Were there really that many people at the 2014 field day?
If you are a person who reads this post and reviews some of the things PFI has done and can do.  If you are someone who believes that an organization that promotes being a smart producer of food is a good thing.  If you believe that it would be worthwhile to continue to provide opportunities to mentor beginning farmers so that they will become responsible stewards of the land, then maybe you should consider becoming a member.  You do not have to be a farmer, but you can support those who aspire to be as good as they can in farming by becoming a friend of farmers in Practical Farmers of Iowa.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Waste Not

It is January.  And, it is this month that I tend to spend more time thinking..... a dangerous pastime!

(You know, right?)

[edit: By the way, if you are not certain why it is I do this thinking/dangerous pastime thing, you should check out the song from Beauty and the Beast that is shared on this YouTube post.  You only need to hear the first few seconds to understand.]

In any event, this post is a dangerous pastime/thinking post and a 'faux real stories' post because I get to combine both into one!  It is a momentous occasion.  You might want to mark your calendars and make an entry in your diary chronicling where you are right now.  It could be important.  Then again, you could just enjoy this blog post, for what it is worth.

For some reason, I was thinking about the tendency of many (not all) people to be wasteful.  In fact, I suspect we are all wasteful at some level and in different ways.  But, specifically, my thoughts were responding to three things.

1. An observation I heard on the radio (NPR) regarding how those with wealth tend to be wasteful of resources as opposed to those who struggle to meet ends meet, who tend to be less wasteful of resources - if only out of necessity.

2. A discussion I have had (more than once) with others about the tension surrounding decisions regarding new versus used versus repairing what you have for tools on the farm.

3. On a different front, I was realizing an unhappy anniversary since it was about this time in 1995 that I learned of the death of my best friend from high school, Jeff Mellick.

All of which reminded me of this story.

Jeff and I were partners for the Newton High School debate squad and we went to many tournaments during the school year.  We were a reasonably good team, but lost our Junior year due to a faculty change at the high school.  As such, we were a year behind in experience during our Senior year.  Can you imagine how painful it was for us to have judges say, "Wow!  You guys are pretty good.  You'll be winning all sorts of tournaments next year."

Our thought bubble: (Yeah, thanks.  Can we get a redshirt option?)

Teams from school "B" were clearly from an affluent area and their teams had a number of resources other schools did not have.  We found these people to be (typically, not always) rude and they often found ways to belittle others.  This was made worse by the fact that school B teams often won.  Jeff and I didn't begrudge them winning.  After all, they went to more tournaments, spent more time practicing and simply focused on it more than we (and most other teams) did.  In fact, we could forgive some of the attitude as well.  Some of it may have bred by the peer group they were in and there are many other possible reasons we couldn't be aware of. 

But, the tipping point was watching how most of the members of these teams would waste materials.

A debate team consisted of TWO members and it was the norm for each member to use legal pads to keep notes of the 'flow' of the debate.  Jeff and I would each use a whole legal pad over the course of four or five tournaments, using both the front and back of the sheets as needed.  These people would use up one to two legal pads EACH per match.  To put this in perspective, there were usually six matches in a tournament, plus play off rounds.

Folks, that is a conservative estimate of 12 legal pads used over a two day period of time for one team from school B in one weekend.  It would not be an exaggeration to say that these people attended twelve to sixteen tournaments a school year.  That's easily 150 legal pads for one team of two people.

It wouldn't have been so bad if these legal pads were used entirely.  But, usually there was one line written on each page and many pages toward the back were still blank.   And once the round was over, they would discard the entire pad.  Sometimes in the trash.  Sometimes, just left on desks..or the floor...or wherever.

Jeff and I were not ones to look a gift horse in the mouth.  We would often pick up these legal pads and make use of them ourselves.  Why not?  Just cross out or erase one line on a page and it is good to go.  But, that's not the best part.

One day, we noticed that a careless member of one of school B's teams had left a copy of a key argument sandwiched between pages of a discarded legal pad.  Normally, an opposing team would not have much time to view and prepare against such an argument prior to a debate.  But, we had a break and we were going to be facing one of the toughest teams from school B the next day.  Simply put, the oddsmakers didn't give us a chance in that round.  But, oddsmakers didn't know what we had in our possession.

We spent some time dissecting what we had and preparing a counter argument that was specific to it.  Often, teams could only come up with more general attacks against a particular argument, so this was a step up.  But, we also took the time to figure out what their counter arguments might be and prepared for those.

To say that we took great delight in dismantling school B's team the next day would be an understatement. 

Recycling or Re-purposing at its best?

I still miss my good friend.  And, the one thing you want when you lose a good friend is the one thing you can't have - a chance to talk to them again.  Instead, I partake in the next best thing, remembering Jeff and the stories we created together as friends.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Variety Show - Beaver Dam

Beaver Dam
(Hot Scale: 2-4)
This is possibly our favorite hot pepper. Plants are compact, thus we can get many more per foot in one of our rows. We have also gotten as many as three flushes of fruit as long as we pick at the 'lime green' or slightly later stage. Fruits mature to red, first showing some yellow and orange. Taste is excellent at all stages but will grow hotter the longer you leave it. Each plant will produce between 3 and 7 peppers per plant per flush, with an average around 7 fully formed fruit per plant in a season. Fruit can be as long as 7 inches and are excellent for stuffing. Walls are not terribly thin. Heat levels have been highly variable on our farm. Some can be very mild and others extremely warm. Heat tends to concentrate in the tip of these fruits. These have given the most consistent results in the high tunnel since they do not like wet seasons.

Stuffed Beaver Dam Peppers
  • l lb hamburger, cooked and drained
  • 1 c cooked rice
  • 1/4 c shredded cheese
  • 1 med tomato, diced
  • 6-8 Beaver Dam peppers
  • salt, pepper and other seasonings to taste
Mix stuffing ingredients and let sit for 5 minutes. Cut off tops of Beaver Dam peppers and remove seeds. Stuff hamburger mixture into peppers. Place peppers in a greased 9x13" cake pan. Bake at 400 degrees F for 35 minutes.
Substitution: 2.5 c black beans for hamburger.
Note: Easy meal. Beaver Dams rate 2 to 3 out of 5 on the heat scale. Hotter with seeds and hotter towards the tip of the pepper.
T Faux

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Break Time III

Often times, postal history in the 1800's is as much about the travels the letter took on its way to its destination as anything.  For example, here is a folded lettersheet that was sent to Hong Kong from Boston in 1862.

A folded letter sheet is essentially a piece of paper that is folded down to envelope size (approximately).  The message in on the inside of the sheet and addressing and postage is on the outside.  Envelopes were not necessarily the prevalent technology for sending mail at the time, so letter sheets are not at all uncommon.

At the time this item was sent, there were two routes for mailing items to Hong Kong via the British Mail system.  And, each of these routes had a different cost.  Can you imagine having two options for postage rates if you wanted to send something to California (for example?).  In this case, the sender had an option to choose the faster route via train through France or the slower route by ship around the Iberian peninsula.  The quicker route cost a few cents more, but often shaved off a week of travel time.  This particular letter followed the faster route (via Marseilles).

But, why would anyone want to send a letter via the slower route?  This item left New York in mid July and arrived in early September.  I suppose a person could figure another week wouldn't make a difference at that pace.  But, the other reason has to do with shipping schedules.  International commerce relied on shipping at that time and shipping tables were widely available.  Ships carrying the mail and their schedules were relatively well known.  If one looked at the tables and understood them, there could be instances where the faster route actually would not get the mail to Hong Kong any faster than the slow route depending on the day of arrival at the south coast of France.

So, the next time you got to the post office to mail something and you think the rates are complex now, consider the complexities of the past.  If you aren't grateful, you can at least have some appreciation for what has gone before to get us where we are with communications.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Spider in the Door

Once upon a time, there was a door.
Hello!  I am a door.
 This door was a very humble door that came from very humble beginnings.  In fact, it was so humble that it was simply glad it had a beginning and that it had not yet reached an end.  Unless, of course, you considered that it was at the end of a hallway that led to a room.  In that case, it was certainly fine with ends since it was also a beginning.  It was the beginning of a room where chickens lived.

And chickens believe they are the beginning and the ending of all.
The door wasn't very pretty.  And, it was sometimes embarrassed that it didn't have a proper latch or that it didn't have a sturdy frame.  In fact, there was another door nearby that was much more attractive.  And, it didn't hold back with criticism when it wanted to feel superior.

 But, the humble door had a job.  And, that job had to be done.  And it was happy to do it.

When his unfriendly neighbor door was opened, the chickens could go outside.  But, if our humble yellow door wasn't there, the chickens would ignore the outside and they would explore the rest of the building.  This was not good, and the humble door knew this.

So, it used its makeshift latch.  And, it stood proudly in its rickety frame.

And, the chickens went outside.
Then, one day....

a spider built a web in the doorway!

 Cubbie the cat saw the spider in the doorway and she said,
"I would rather have a picnic than worry about a spider in the door."
 And, Mrranda the cat looked at the spider in the door and then she said,

"I would rather see what the humans left me for dinner..."
"... than worry about a spider in the door."

The Sandman saw the spider in the door and he declared,
"I will eat the farmers' peach pie, rather than worry about a spider in the door..."

"I, the Sandman, have spoken."
The Sandman talked like that all of the time.  The spiders, chickens, both doors, Cubbie and Mrranda all kind of thought this way of talking was silly.  But, they agreed that peach pie did sound rather nice.

And, the farmers hid the peach pie from the Sandman.

Unfortunately, the farmers forgot about Kieran.  Kieran liked peach pies.  And, Kieran knew how to get inside the farm house.
So, Kieran ate the peach pie.
And, there was still a spider in the door.

And, it made the humble door unhappy.

The humble door had another purpose, other than keeping the chickens from going where they shouldn't.  The humble door opened and closed to allow the farmers to go to the end of the hall so they could enter the beginning of the chicken room.  But, the farmers did not want to disturb the spider, so they used yet ANOTHER door to get into the chicken room.  This door lost no time in taunting the humble door.

And, the door was sad.
The farmers were sad too, because they had no more peach pie.  But, the door didn't care about that.  After all, what would a door want with a peach pie?
So, the sad, humble door cried.

and it echoed around inside the building.
Another spider heard the sound and yelled,

"Hey!  Keep it down, you're scaring away the flies!"

The humble door apologized. And, since the spider really was a pretty decent spider, as far as that goes, it inquired what was making the door so sad.  The door opened up to the spider (that's a pun, get it?) and told the spider about its problem.

"Well," said the spider, "you're in luck!  My sister's sister is a realtor.  And she told me about this nice web just 10 feet from here that is ready for immediate occupation!"

"What does 'immediate occupation' mean?" asked the humble door.  After all, the poor door had never gone to school.  So, it really is a bit much to expect it to know such big words!

"Immediate occupation means....

"The spider in the door can move to a new web right now!"
"It is priced right!" said the spider. "And....
it has a nice view!"
Meanwhile, the farmers made a second peach pie and ate it before Kieran could find it.  Cubbie, Mrranda and Sandman ate the picnic lunch the farmers neglected while they were eating the peach pie.  Kieran was still full from his peach pie, so he didn't care about the lunch or the second pie.  Two spiders were happily wrapping up flies in their webs and the realtor spider took a check to the bank after making a very quick sale.

And the humble door?  It continues to be pleased that it can do its job being an end and a beginning all at the same time.  In fact, it is more content now than it has ever been.

Do you know why?

Because it likes stories that have happy endings.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Break Time II

One of the fascinating things about postal history is that a single item can open up windows to interesting events, people or situations that occurred in the past.  A good example of this is the item shown on an exhibit page I created.  I'll let you take a look at it first.  Go won't bite.

I will not overwhelm you with the postal history coolness that I like about it.  Instead, I'd like to point you to some interesting things that might give you some perspective.

First, look at the map.

If you look at the scale at the bottom left, you begin to realize that the distance this letter covered is no short distance.  Three hundred miles would not be out line for an estimate to get from Williams Creek to New Westminster.  With today's roads and means of travel, that doesn't sound like much.  But, if you do a little looking into what the terrain in this area is like and you'll realize that this was not a small task.

This letter probably traveled over the Cariboo Road and below is a picture of some of the Yale Cariboo Wagon Road.
Old Cariboo Road, picture from wikipedia
The Old Cariboo Road was created in response to the Cariboo Region gold rush in the 1860's.  And, if you know anything about North American history, you have to recognize that the discovery of gold fields was one of the quickest ways for an area to attract settlers and cause development of infrastructure - such as the Old Cariboo wagon road shown above.

And, there you are.  I realize I may have over-simplified on the whole thing - but the hope here is that I can share some of what attracts me to these bits of paper.  It isn't always just the item by itself, it is the story that comes with it - if you have eyes to see it.

Friday, January 9, 2015

By the Numbers - Ten Year Tenure (TYT) Edition I

We often do posts that talk about the numbers for crop yields and other things farm related.  Per the norm, I try to put something in these posts for everybody to keep it interesting and informative.  But, even if I fail that, these posts do serve as a record we can use on our farm.

Cucumber Roller Coaster
In this post we'll concentrate on cucumbers - in part because we have so much interesting data on them.  We've actually used our cucumber crop as subject material on this blog in the past.  For example, in 2010, I went through one process we use to determine the worth of the crops we grow.  And, we also talked about cucumbers from the perspective of how we plan for success AND failure of any given crop.  After re-reading these posts, I still find that they hold up pretty well.  Some of our processes have changed, but not enough to invalidate what was said there.

Green Finger cucumbers

First, the basic numbers for each year since 2006.

Cucumbers Produced
2006 1588
2007 3641
2008 612
2009 1063
2010 7318
2011 1058
2012 5928
2013 5884
2014 2142
Total 29,234
Average 3248

Raw numbers are dangerous for many reasons.  First, higher and lower numbers can have many reasons.

For example, 2006 was fairly early in our farm's development and the number of cucumber plants we started was much lower than what we grew in 2007.  At that time, we decided the production level was a little high for what we needed at the time, so we reduced the number of row feet slightly for cucumbers in 2008.

and...this is what happened in 2008

At this time we were still direct seeding cucumbers.  And, for some reason in 2008, germination was terrible and growth was very poor once things germinated.  Many other growers in our region reported similar troubles after the fact.  And, these problems continued in 2009.  But, we made more efforts to reseed - so our production numbers were higher, but not all that good either.

So, what do you do after you have particular problems with a crop?  You make major adjustments.  We made several in 2010.  And, the cucumbers just happened to be landing in our best field for production.  We increased the row feet planted and planned some overhead irrigation if things got dry.  Needless to say, the cucumbers responded in record amounts.  As it was, we were back to the problem of too much of a good thing.  The turkeys that year learned to love cucumbers.

Our final year to direct seed cucumbers was 2011.  That was a particularly bad year for cucumber beetles - our timing for planting hit their peak population dead on.  Add to that the issue of being in a weedy field and there you have it.  Oh, and we reduced the number of row feet because we were gun shy of the exuberance shown by these plants the previous year. 

and that brings us to 2012-2014
We actually consider 2014 results to be a continuation of the success and consistency shown in the prior two years (more on that later).  Starting in 2012, we went to all transplanted cucumbers.  In addition to that, we went with installing drip irrigation immediately with the transplants.  It is far easier to install irrigation when you transplant because it is clear where the plants are and where the drip tape should be.  We also implemented a new plot plan where the peas, carrots and pole beans were organized differently around two successions of cucumbers.
Succession I in 2014
Our two succession model showed its value in 2014.  The first succession didn't really want to get going with the cooler early season temps.  As a result, the older, smaller vines didn't establish quick enough and we ended up letting them go when succession II started producing.  It just wasn't going to be worth the effort to get them weeded and give them attention for the returns we saw them producing.  On the other hand, succession II brought us to nearly half the production of the prior two years.  In short, despite conditions that were not optimal, our practices brought us an acceptable return.

Over the past three years, we feel we are safe in saying the following expectations are not unreasonable for these varieties:

Boothby's Blonde: 8.1 to 9.3 fruit per row foot - Succ I
        7.6-7.9 fruit per row foot - Succ II
A&C Pickling: 3.0 per row foot - Succ I
       3.5 per row foot - Succ II (likes a warmer soil to start)
Green Finger: 6.9 per row foot
Marketmore 76: 5.0 - 9.2 per row foot
Parade: 4.1 to 5.7 per row foot
True Lemon: boom or bust.  less than 1 per row foot to more than 10 per row foot.

These are all open pollinated varieties.  2013 was the last season we planted a hybrid cucumber and these were the poorest producers in both 2012 and 2013.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Lessons in Farming IV - Synchronized Swimming

Part 1 - Every Morning is the Dawn of a New Error
Part 2 -  I Don't Have a Solution, but I Admire the Problem

Part 3 - If at First You DO Succeed

If one synchronized swimmer drowns, do the rest have to drown too?
This saying is both amusing and incredibly applicable to so many things we do in life.  But, I'd like to confine it here to horticulture/agriculture.

On a smaller scale we can consider this from the perspective of the management of crops on our farm.  Many of our crops have a short enough season to allow for a second (or maybe third) crop to follow in the same area.  As a result, we have to manage a 'critical time line' ruthlessly.  If an earlier crop falls behind or doesn't show the appropriate promise for returns, we have to terminate the crop.  If we don't, we run the risk of losing following crops in an effort to get something out of a planting that is not doing as well as it should.
Well, one bed of radish worked out.

The photo above shows our Southwest field just after we put in most of our peppers and eggplant and seeded in most of our dry beans and green beans for this field.  Just prior to this, we had a planting of radish, spinach, arugula and mustard greens.  These crops germinated poorly and grew slowly (remember the cold weather we had early this year?).  We had not harvested much at all from these plantings at this point, but it was definitely time to get the peppers and eggplant into the ground.  So, what do you do?

You let the rest of the synchronized swimmers do their own thing - that's what you do.

In this case, we had only one bed that looked to give us a reasonable return if we left it for one more week.  That's the radish bed you see in the middle.  Otherwise, we terminated the crops and cut our losses on them.  The long term result was that we hit the planting time for the peppers and eggplant in this field perfectly.  Our CSA members will tell you that they got some pretty darn nice fruit out of this field in 2014.

Taking this to a broader scale I find myself worrying that horticultural operations such as ours are in danger of some of the same traps that I feel the row crop operations and livestock operations have fallen prey to over the years.

Synchronized Drowning in Agriculture
In my opinion, row crop operations (corn, soybeans, etc) have worked entirely too hard to remove two critical things: thinking and actual work.  And, these are replaced by the all encompassing drive for the bottom line (make money).  There is no room for individuality.  No room for innovation (unless it squeaks another bushel per acre - who cares at what cost).  Everyone has to have the largest planter they can get.  Never mind that the hilly fields in some areas make these tools a problem.  Buy the tool anyway (because everyone has one) and then knock the tops off of your hills so everything is flat.

The development of "super-weeds" as a result of overuse of glysophates (Roundup) and the likely transition by many farmers to 2-4D resistant GMO seeds feels like one of those cases where all of the synchronized swimmers are setting themselves up to drown together.  The difficulty here is that they may bring others with them in the process.  But, my point here is that everyone is looking for and jumping on what seems to be the easiest general solution that will work for everyone.  And, that's exactly how you drown a whole line of synchronized swimmers.

Synchronized Drowning in Horticulture?

Just because a farm grows vegetables does not mean it is immune to the same pressures and temptations that commodity crop farmers have fallen prey to.  This happens when farms allow the bottom line to dictate all actions without consideration for a broader picture.  Now, don't get me wrong, I know many small farms that need to do a better job of considering finances.  In fact, many small farms are weak in this area.   Either way, synchronized drowning is still not a good idea.

Example #1 - What sweet corn seed did you use?
When we started growing for more than ourselves, we were introduced to the 'truck farm/farmers market' grower culture.  We learned how success is copied by other growers from season to season.  We watched over a period of two years while one grower's success with a sweet corn variety was noted by others.  The following year, everyone grew that variety.  Most converted sizable portions (if not all) of their growing to that variety.  There was an excess of that particular type of corn available that season (all at the same time).  Needless to say, none of the people who followed this particular approach did all that well with their returns because they ALL had corn and the demand had not risen to meet what they had.  On the other hand, another grower who grew multiple varieties had corn earlier and later than the other growers.  I wonder who still had a decent year that season?

Example #2 - Everyone needs a high tunnel (or two... or ten)
There was a big push to increase season extension options for growers in the United States.  And, we were among the farms that decided to install a high tunnel building.  Now, there is a conventional "wisdom" being spouted by others that a small farm, such as ours, cannot be profitable UNLESS it has a high tunnel.  The first mistake made here is that the only reason being given for having a high tunnel is to be profitable.  A high tunnel is not, by its very nature, a profitable venture.  And for a small farm getting started, it is one of MANY sizable purchases that might need to be considered.  The second mistake is the assumption that a small farm without a high tunnel cannot be profitable.  And the final mistake is that there is very little consideration for the bigger picture of the individual farm at this point in its evolution.  It is entirely possible that the farmers are not ready for a high tunnel.  Getting a high tunnel should NOT be a directive - that's just drowning with the other synchronized swimmers - or haven't you noticed the number of high tunnel frames that have been put up that never got the plastic covering?  Considering whether a high tunnel is the right thing for a farming operation and how it can be made to work best IS a good idea.  Whether actually following through is a good idea or not is a different thing entirely.

Synchronized Swimming with Options
In my opinion, a farmer needs to think, research and assess in order to determine what is right for their farm rather than blindly following what others are doing. And, they need to be willing to make an assumption that maybe some things don't work because they haven't figured out how to do them yet.  It drives me nuts when I hear someone say they tried a certain tool, technique, seed, etc once and proclaimed it a failure.  Doesn't it occur to anyone else that operator error is the most likely cause of failure in these cases the first time around (if not the 2nd, 3rd and 4th times)?  Just because farmer A uses plastic mulch and is successful does not mean every other veg farmer who wants to be successful must do the same thing.

On the other hand, it is foolish to say that farmers should not learn from each other and share ideas.  This is also very important.  How many times have you (or someone you know) done something on your own - letting your pride get in the way of finding some help when it might be best if you did so?  But getting help is not the same as eliminating all other options.  Collecting ideas does not mean they must all be implemented.  It's about learning.  It's about thinking.  It's about experimenting.  And, it's about keeping the bottom line a part of the big picture, rather than the only picture.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Top Events at GFF for 2014

Every year we do a "Year in Review" Top 10 list with respect to our farm.  Once again, we have no real 'rules' and, as far as that is concerned, we would probably break them if we had them.  

Previous Year in Review Posts can be found in the links provided next:
2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2008

Welcome to 2015!  Since it is a new year, we get to look back at the old year.  You may have already noticed out prior posts for Veg Varieties of 2014, Best Humor of 2014 and Best Photos of 2014.  We now present the "top events" of 2014 for the Genuine Faux Farm.  
10. Festival Fun!
We have held three festivals each growing season for a number of years.  For the most part, these are gatherings that feature a potluck and a chance to run around on the farm a bit.  Sometimes they are well attended.  Sometimes, they are not.  Sometimes, the weather cooperates, sometimes it does not.

Why tomato lovers like Summer Fest
While our first festival (Iris Fest) had issues with rain, the other two (Summer Festival and GF7) featured beautiful weather and many participants.  We even added a couple of twists this year that were well received.  GF7 featured a scavenger hunt on the farm that saw every attendee participating at some level.  Clearly, we need to make it a little bit harder next time and we're not above putting a few twists into it for the fun of it!  And, this year, we added an heirloom tomato tasting to the Summer Festival event.  We've usually done these tastings at the Waverly Farmers' Market, but we feel like this added something interesting to our Summer Festival as well. 
9. Flower Power
Sometimes we do something right.   This year, it was asking for some help keeping the flower beds in shape.  That didn't necessarily mean Tammy and I didn't do anything with them.  But, it did mean we didn't look at them with dismay every time we walked by them.  In fact, better looking flower beds encouraged flower pictures

Ain't it Purrrrrdy?
A particularly nice accomplishment this year was getting a new planting established West of the garage and getting a number of perennials moved out of the weed patch that was our old perennial garden.

Big thank you's to Sam, Nancy and Sean for their help!

8. Tool Power
In prior years, we often would focus on a particular tool that was new to the farm.  This year is no exception (look at #3).  However, sometimes we do not realize the full potential of a tool until we've got some experience with it.  And, in other cases, we finally get pushed into using a particular tool because we've exhausted other options.

It may not seem like much, but this was a big deal in 2014
Two tools that made a huge difference in 2014 were the electric netting we used to protect seedlings from rabbits and other critters and the Williams tool bar.  But, perhaps the tool that made the biggest difference was the new tandem disk harrow.  
7. People Power
Once again, the Gang of Four farms got together on a regular basis during the growing season.  We started at Grinnell Heritage and weeded strawberries and lettuce.  The following month we weeded in our high tunnel, trimmed tomato plants and did some wheel hoe work.  Blue Gate Farm had us weeding asparagus and we helped harvest potatoes and carrots at Scattergood.  The days we visit each others' farms are a highlight for us each season.

Oh, and there's usually some really good food involved!
This year, we also added a farm visit agreement with Jeff Sage and Lindsay Kaiser.  We are all located in Bremer County, so we can make a trip for a two hour work session.  I suppose to some this might seem counter-intuitive.  Aren't they our competitors?  Well, if it is a healthy competition to encourage each other to do better - I'll be all for it.  But, in our minds, it is more important to return to the values of being supportive neighbors.

6. Duck!

The ducks appeared now and again in blog posts throughout the year.  The upshot of it all was that we were running a trial between Silver Appleyard ducks and Muscovey ducks.  Overall, the experiments largely successful and is ongoing as we are over-wintering three Muscovey's and four Appleyards.  The females are now laying eggs and we hope to raise some of our own ducklings in the Spring.

Were they really THAT small?
5. Apples
And, here's one that has been several years in the making.  We suspect most of you realize that it takes a few years for a young apple tree to get established before it produces apples.  Last year was the first season that we had any number (other than a handful) of apples for our enjoyment.  This year, we actually had more than we can handle. 
Well done, apple tree, well done.
We don't want to count our apples before they are harvested, of course.  But, our hope is that they will eventually provide enough so that we can grace our CSA with a few GFF apples.  We don't have an orchard big enough to sell large numbers, so our friends with local orchards should not even give it a second thought.  But, if we can sell a few and share a few through the CSA, I don't think there is a problem.  But, in the end, it's the ability to feed ourselves with our own apples through the Fall that means the most to us.

4. Granary Painting
The granary painting event was a pretty big deal on the farm this Summer and Fall.  Rather than re-iterate the whole thing here, take the link and read about it there!  But, if you wonder if it was a good event, all you need do is look for the smiling faces below.

Ya.  It was kind of fun.

3. We Can Do It - Rosie Joins the Farm
This is another one that got a fair amount of attention on the blog and elsewhere.  But, it was (and is) a big deal for us.  Rosie the tractor was a big investment for the farm and it represents a commitment to continue beyond the years we have already put into the farm.

We COULD do it in 2014!
2. PFI Field Day at GFF
We agreed to hold a Practical Farmers of Iowa field day in 2014.  And, as is usually the case when you expend energy attempting to put something together that hinges on attendance of others, there was some worry on our parts that no one would attend.  Ok, we weren't THAT worried about it.  But, anyone who organizes events of any kind will recognize the feeling.  The field day featured great people who had excellent questions.  We enjoyed holding the field day very much.  The only short-coming Rob could think of is that there was so much he wanted to cover that there wasn't time for.

And, the sky was blue.

1. Ten Year Tenure and True Grit (survival)
 And finally, we celebrated our tenth season as the Genuine Faux Farm.  Technically, our anniversary continues into the Spring.  But, that's for a future post.

But, the biggest news for us in 2014 was the "never give up attitude" that pulled a difficult season into a perfectly acceptable one.   We made adjustments.  We fought through some difficulties.  We used a broad range of tools and tactics.  We managed our resources and we graciously accepted help when it was offered at times when we truly needed it.  We had some good workers and we had some good volunteers along the way. 

In other words, we used a wide range of tools in our toolbox to make 2014 the year it was.  And that, my friends, is the way you are supposed to farm. 

Break Time I

If you look at the topic, Philosophy of Philatelics on this blog, you will see that Rob has a hobby involving stamps and postal history.  During the Winter months, he likes to spend a little time on this hobby and will sometimes share some of his research with you here.  Enjoy it for what it is worth - or ignore it if it isn't your cup of tea.  In the end, it's all part of trying to balance my life and stay positive and interested in things around me.

Our first installment for the Winter is a page I created with a single envelope that was sent in 1867.  At this point in time, a letter to France from anywhere in the United States cost 15 cents per quarter ounce (15 grams).  If you do the math, you'll find the conversion between the grams and ounces is not exact.

A quarter ounce is not very much weight, so there are many cases where the letter required a double rate (30 cents).  The letter that was sent in this envelope apparently weighed more than a quarter ounce and no more than a half ounce.

The other interesting thing about this item (ok, there are actually many things) is the odd little scratch on Washington's forehead.  Stamps were printed using metal plates. Multiple images of the same stamp were impressed on these metal plates.  Ink was applied to the plate and then paper was placed on the sheets to take the impression.  The plates could be damaged over time.  One of the images of the stamp received a scratch on the metal plate.  Once that scratch occurred, every stamp that was printed in that position of the sheet from then on has this extra little line on it.  So, you might think that there are LOTS of these out there?

Well, you would be wrong about that.  This scratch would appear once out of about 200 stamps after the point in which this scratch was made.  Then, you have to consider that most of the stamps that were produced no longer exist - thrown into the trash.

To put it into perspective, there were approximately 10 million of this stamp design created.  If you assume the scratch appeared right away, then 50,000 of this vareity were printed.  Let's assume 2 percent of all of these stamps survive today.  That's only 1000 copies remaining and that is a very optimistic survival rate.  Then, you have to consider the likelihood that many remaining copies have cancellations (the ink used to deface the stamp when it is used) that will hide this little scratch.

At this point, I have only seen two of these 'on cover,'  which means it is on a piece of mail.  However, even if there were 1000 of these, I'd still think it was fun.