Monday, January 25, 2016

News of the Farm - It's Still January - Right?

One of the hardest things to do is to get back into something that you purposely set aside in an effort to take a break and rebuild energy.  In this case, it is our blog and all of the accompanying online presence-type stuff that we do to promote our farm.  It actually goes a bit deeper than that.  By nature, I am a planner/analytic type of personality.  I really prefer to spend time figuring out what should be done and how it should be done before I take action.  The problem with that?  Well, time doesn't seem to stop while I sit and figure out exactly what it is that I want to have happen.  Why is that?
What does it mean when the burning bush freezes over?

Since time is not sitting still - I will work to get a quick January Newsletter type thing out there.  Then, we should be able to continue with our regularly scheduled blog posts for the month.

January - Time To Plan
There really is a good bit of that going on and we thought we'd let you in on some of what we're looking at.  Of course, you get the short version of it all.  Yes, I am SURE you are all relieved to hear this.

Of course, there are the normal things that we do every year.  We've got to figure out seed orders, planting plans and workers for the next growing season.  This year has the added complexity of a second high tunnel in the plan.  It's not that we're unhappy about having it - far from that.  But, its presence changes everything from crop rotations to seed varieties.  For that matter, it might change how we focus on labor and it may even encourage us to make a change in tools.

It won't be long until seeds are out again.
And, while we're at it, we're trying to figure out how to add a packing shed/plant starting building to our farm in the near future.  That's not a small thing.  But, rather than keep it simple, we are sold on doing our darndest to add solar PV to the mix as soon as we can manage it.  We've had the idea of going solar from the beginning, so this isn't new.  We're just getting the idea that the time is right.  The difficulties - as always - are time and money. 

Looking forward to this building working for us
The high tunnel also brings us to a couple of things regarding distributing our tasty produce.  Assuming our plans work out, we will have a larger volume of yummy things available May through July and also at the end of the year.  Without counting 'chickens before they hatch' we have to be prepared so that we have sales lined up for this food.  As a result, we are looking at early season sales in both Waverly and Cedar Falls, expanded sales through Hansen's Outlet and increased membership in our Fall Shares.

With lots to plan, there are moments where we might be a bit overwhelmed.  Usually, we have a few moments where everything seems to be in disarray, but we know we have the facts gathered.  Soon after that point, we typically have a flurry of planning activity where a number of things get pruned out and the overall plan becomes clear.

Available For Sale Right Now!
We gave ourselves a little time off from promoting what our farm has for you, but that time is coming to an end.  We're getting our email lists updated and we're taking stock of what is still in our freezers and our cellar.  At present, we know we have the following available if you want it.  Send us an email if there is something here you have interest in.

They made short work of the old tomatoes!
  • Broiler chickens.  Whole and Cut up.  $3.50/lb  About 80 available.
  • Ducks.  Primarily hens (4-6 lbs)  $6.50/lb
  • Potatoes.  Blue, red, yellow and white.  Mostly roasting size.  $1.50/lb  (lower for larger orders)
  • Garlic.  Maybe 500 heads still!  $10/lb (about 10 bulbs) or $1.50/head.
  • Butternut Squash.  6 to 8 left?  75 cts/ lb
  • CSA Shares for 2016.

The Farmers Speak (or Write)
Rob is happy to speak to interest groups and/or classes during the Winter months.  In the past month, he has had the opportunity to speak at the Exchange Club and Dr. Lindgren's class on food issues at Wartburg.  He is planning on speaking at Dr. McCullough's class (environment) at Wartburg and Dr. Perez's class at UNI.  Somewhere in the mix is a CSA Workshop he will be helping lead (sponsored by the Practical Farmers' of Iowa).

Cucumber Frog sleeps - but she WILL awaken!
Both of us had the opportunity to attend the Practical Farmers of Iowa conference this past weekend.  We were pleased to see a couple of our good friends, Jill Beebout (Blue Gate Farm) and Andy Dunham (Grinnell Heritage Farm) give excellent presentations at the conference.  We even managed to NOT heckle either of them.  We aren't sure how that happened.  Rob is also on the board of the Iowa Organics Association and was recently elected as Secretary for the board.  Meanwhile, he is involved in a coalition that is looking to promote legislative change with respect to pesticide drift.  Well, he did need more to do, after all.

Tammy, of course, is merely working hard at Wartburg.  Anyone who knows her will recognize that understatement immediately.  She has been working on an instructor's manual for a new edition of a textbook and she has some research for an upcoming conference presentation that needs to be completed.  In addition, she took a bit of time during the holiday break to write a self-assessment portfolio for the college.  Oh, and she was elected to be President of the board she serves on.  She will fulfill these duties in addition to being Queen Boss on the farm.

Newsy Odds and Ends
You have probably detected that this post is a little disjointed.  It falls under the "Lemme explain... no, there is too much.  Lemme sum up" category.

So, here are few shorts that you may (or may not) have interest in:
  • The ducks are starting to lay eggs again and we're trying to sell them!  Let us know if you want to try some.
  • We were able to harvest spinach FROM THE FIELD on Thanksgiving this past year.  This would be the latest we've harvested that crop when it isn't under cover.
  • Rob's Nation's Cup team for Ticket to Ride won the tournament in 2015, defeating France's Team I in the final.  
  • We broke the 10 ton mark for produce during the 2015 season.  We'll take it!
  • We were able to donate somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 pounds of produce to the NE Iowa Food Bank and Cedar Valley Friends of the Family thanks in part to help from those who volunteer to help us get the produce to these locations!
  • And, we're looking for a few more votes before we close the voting on 2015 picture of the year!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Misunderstandings and Irony

I have been asked by people if I plan on expanding our farm to year-around growing by trying hydroponics or growing in a heated building.  It doesn't take me very long to respond in the negative.  Rather than bore you with the financials and realities of that sort of operation, I'll give you one good reason why.

I need my January.
Pretty easy to be up in time for the sunrise in January.
While I am not particularly fond of very cold weather and I KNOW I am not pleased with the nice little head cold I landed, January gives me a chance to exercise other parts of who I am and do other things I like to do.  A critical part of staying healthy and being successful (in my opinion) is maintaining a balance.  And, simply put, year around growing is a good way to promote the farm running me rather than the other way around.

I certainly have enough to do for the farm right now as it is.  But, it sure is nice not to have to worry about harvests and all of that other stuff hanging over me every day.  Yes, we still have birds to care for and we still have chickens and ducks to sell.  Oh, and there is garlic and potatoes as well.  But, this isn't the same as having to maintain a crop, harvest it, clean it and sell it.  Thank goodness! 

So, one treat to me is that I get to play with postal history. 

I try to select things to put on the blog that might be interesting to a wide group of people without being overwhelming.  I find this one to be amusing, so I thought I'd share.

3 cents for a normal letter + 13 cents for "Special Delivery" fee
The Misunderstanding
This letter was posted by a person who probably wanted to do business with the Spencer Fire Works company located in Polk, Ohio.  You would think that someone who lives in Chicago (where this was posted) would have some idea as to the difference between Ohio and Iowa.  Yes, yes, I know.... They both have alot of vowels.  With two of the three letters in common, you *might* be able to suggest that they were having trouble with a vowel movement.  

No, no.  We shan't be punning here.  Oh, it's too late?  Sorry.

In any event, a helpful postmaster found that there was a Polk CITY in Iowa, so they added "City" to the address and away it went.  The Polk City postmaster probably rolled eyes to the sky and said, "we've got another one."  I'm guessing this wasn't the first (or last) time that something was incorrectly addressed to the Spencer Fire Works company and sent on to Polk City, Iowa by mistake.  The postmaster dutifully re-mailed the item to Polk, Ohio and a backstamp on the envelope shows that it did arrive there on June 28.

The Irony
Items like this are a bit more interesting to a postal historian, such as myself, because something didn't quite go according to plan in the delivery process of this letter.  That's why the item caught my attention when I first saw it.  I was able to purchase it for a couple of dollars and I could then take a little time to research it.

Initially, I thought it was interesting that someone would try to send something to a fireworks company in Iowa of all places.  After all, there has been a ban on the private sale and use of fireworks in this state since 1938.  By 1947 (the time this letter was mailed), I suspect most people in surrounding states might have some idea that fireworks were illegal in this state.  One could say that it is ironic that people are confusing one state with legal fireworks with another state with no fireworks allowed.

But, that's not good enough.  I like a full dose of irony when I can get it.  And, I got it this time.

In the process of confirming the date that the ban was put in place, I was able to learn some information about a key event that had much to do with the fireworks ban in the state.  Before I tell you about it - look again at the NAME of the fireworks company.  Got it stuck in your brain now?  Good.

The year was 1931 and a very dry weather was beginning to take hold of a significant portion of North America.  Have you heard of the Dust Bowl?  Well, there you are.  In any event, things were dry in Iowa, but towns in the state were still intent on celebrating the Fourth of July with fireworks.  On June 27, 1931 temps were in the mid to high nineties and winds were strong.  I think you know what comes next...

There was an accident in one town.  A local retailer had a display of fireworks that was accidentally set off.  Fires spread rapidly.  By the time they died down, one hundred buildings in the center of town were destroyed.  Amazingly, no one died in the fires.

The name of the town that burned due to a fireworks accident?


And A Bit More of the Story
One major event wasn't quite enough evidently to spur the ban.  The Remsen Holocost of 1936 simply provided more impetus for change.  Legislative action in 1937 led to the ban taking effect January 1st of 1938.  This ban exists up to the present day, though the presence of large retail outlets at the border attests to a long-standing tendency of Iowans to cross the border to purchase fireworks regardless of the ban.  As recently at 2013 there were more than 25 fires started by personal fireworks in the state.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Squished Squash and Jack Frost

Congratulations Winter, you have finally arrived.  And with a vengeance it seems!

It started with a nice snow where we got about a foot of the white stuff at the farm.  Some time later, we had a very nice hoar frost that covered the trees and other things, dressing them up nicely for the farmers to view.  And, of course, it was suddenly quite cold, making it a bit more of a trial to get the camera out.  But, as you can see, we had a little success with it.  I just wasn't willing to stay outside longer to wait for the sunlight to come around and sparkle things up a bit more.

I have to admit that I am of mixed feelings when it comes to the colder temperatures.  On the one hand, our climate has a norm to it where we expect some frigid temperatures that freeze the soil (and the nostrils shut).  I was actually beginning to worry that if we didn't get the cold, we might have more trouble with certain pests (such as aphids) next season than we might normally have.  Yes, folks, there are certain advantages we have in Iowa that come with the colder January weather.  Among those advantages is natural pest control.  It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good.

On the other hand, there are a number of things that get downright difficult when the weather turns very cold.  Chicken and duck eggs can freeze pretty quickly in this weather.  That means we have to go out and check fairly often if we don't want them to freeze.  And, of course, the ladies aren't particularly thrilled in temps below zero, so they tend to reduce egg production when that happens.  I can't say that I blame them.  Certainly, we do what we can to help them out.  But, hey, it's cold and we're NOT bringing them into the house.  If one of the things they have to do to cope with the temps is to drop egg production for a bit, I guess we have to respect that.  What I don't care for is the consequences of spilling the water bucket on yourself and finding that it is cold enough to freeze your pants legs in a matter of a couple of minutes!

Even old spider webs collected hoar frost this time
At the risk of making you draw parallels to a see-saw, I also have to admit that the colder weather and snow is welcome from my perspective because it officially seals the end of a large number of outdoor projects.  Any drip tape left in the fields at this point will wait until it gets warmer, for example.  After all, the reality on the farm is this - if the temps remain moderate, the farmer will continue to find that there is more than enough to do outside on a daily basis.  Snow covered, frozen ground effectively puts a stop to some of the outdoor project options.  And I'm very ok with that.  After all, there is plenty to do indoors on the farm.

Among the things that take up our time at the farm is our desire to process some of the remaining produce.  We keep some winter squash for ourselves each year, eating some of it throughout the Winter and processing/freezing the rest for use throughout the year.  Tammy is particularly good at making pumpkin bread and will often make it for various events at school or for the farm.  We simply cannot allow our supply to dwindle so that she can continue to make her excellent pumpkin bread!
Musquee de Provence - now that's a meaty pumpkin!

During the fairly recent snow storm, Tammy selected a Musquee de Provence pie pumpkin (and some others) to process.  We thought we'd take a picture of it once we opened it up to show you one of the reasons why we like this variety so much.  The volume of usable pie pumpkin flesh on these is quite impressive.  And, the taste is fantastic.

We cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seed cavity.  Once that is cleaned up, we cut the pumpkin into wedges.  The pumpkin above weighed in at about 17 pounds and we cut it into seven pieces for cooking.

We put them in a roasting pan and roasted them until they were soft enough to scoop out.  Tammy will typically run this through a blender to make it easier to work with for her bread and pie recipes before she puts them into freezer bags.

We took the time this Winter to do a side by side comparison for taste and concluded that they all had their qualities.  And, not surprisingly, they ALL tasted different.  What was a surprise (though we shouldn't have been) was the fact that we each tended to choose different pumpkins as having the better taste and texture.  Once again, this shows that we are on the right track growing more than one variety.  People have different tastes, so as long as we have a nice range of pie pumpkins with good quality, people can identify what fits them the best when it comes time to choose.

If you are interested in Tammy's pumpkin pie recipes, take this link and visit our recipe pages.  Look for the tab that says "Winter Squash" and scroll down until you find them (should be the first two on the page).  One of these days, I might be able to convince her to divulge her pumpkin bread recipe.  Or, perhaps, you can all tell her how wonderful she is and you might convince her to make some for a farm event and you can have some then!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Finalists for Best Picture of 2015

The category winners have been selected and it is now time for you to place your votes for the photo of the year!

How to vote:
Go to the bottom of this post.  There is a box to submit your comment at the bottom.
If you are browsing our entire blog rather than just this post, there is a link that will indicate the number of comments currently on this post (it starts with the words "no comments").  Click on that.

You will be asked to enter a code to submit your comment, simply follow the instructions given.

If you don't want to comment here, you can email us or you can post your vote on our Facebook post.

Now, without further ado, here are the category winners that are eligible to win the 2015 GFF Picture of the Year!  Want to see the picture a little bigger?  Double click on the picture.

People Category Winner
a) Who Needs a Kid Sized Rake?
Tammy managed to have the camera out for part of our Gang of Four visit to Scattergood Friends School this year and she managed to document some of our work down there.  We have to admit that we're usually immersed in the visit too much to do picture taking, so I'm glad Tammy grabbed the camera this time around.  You never know for sure what you have until you look at the pictures later.  This one looked pretty good in color, but Rob thought it might be more interesting in black and white.  A quick conversion and a little tone adjustment later and this is what we have.  And, yes, she was successfully moving some dirt with that rake.  The Grinnell Heritage Farm girls know how to work!

Flower Category Winner

b) We Love Our Borage
Our melon crop was supported by some excellent flower companions this past year.  In fact, we've always worked to include flowers in our vegetable plantings for a number of reasons.  Late Springs have made it difficult in prior years, but this year we rededicated ourselves to planting more flowers and the results were spectacular.  Rob was inspired to try to document the borage a bit more this time around and this photo was one that really stood out from that batch.

Look to the Skies Category Winner
c) High Tunnel Sunset
 Tammy was much more interested in running and getting the camera than she was in helping Rob clean and bag the spinach one evening in May.  While we love our spinach, we might be getting more mileage out of this photo than anything else.  We do like to try to capture sunsets at the farm, so we've had a fair number of good shots over the years.  This one ranks at the top.

Critter Category Winner
d) Diggle as Photo Bomber
We over-wintered some ducks for the first time last Winter in hopes that they might raise some of their own ducklings.  Well, it worked, to some extent.  The event of small, fuzzy babies brought the farmers out to the duck pasture with a camera a couple of times.  We'd been meaning to get some better pictures of our ducks anyway.  So, Rob went about trying to capture some decent pictures of the two different breeds: Muscovey (white) and Silver Appleyard (I'm not describing all of the colors, just look at the picture!).  The picture above occurred when Rob was trying to get a good picture of the Appleyards.  For some reason, Diggle the Muscovey wanted to be in the picture and photobombed the Appleyards more than once.

Vegetable Category Winner
e) Winter Luxury Pie Pumpkins
One of the things Rob tries to do each year is get some decent pictures of the vegetable varieties we grow.  Over time, our library is filling up.  Now we need to get them out on our web pages so everyone has a nice reference site for GFF veggies!  We're hopeful that we can take some pictures that look nice (and maybe a little artsy at times) and will help our customers recognize what they are getting from us.  If it ends up helping a gardener or another grower in the process, all the better.  Both Tammy and I liked this one for the shadow contrast from this later afternoon photo on what was a very bright, sunny day.

Around the Farm Category Winner
f) Faux Mountain Range
The past couple of years, we've managed to surprise ourselves with some really good pictures very late in the year.  This year, Rob managed to get himself to go get the camera before a system that sported some beautiful clouds moved out of the picture.  I will admit that I often see things on the farm and I think that everything would be perfect for a great picture, but I don't make the effort to grab the camera.  This pictures is also a tribute to the very warm December we experienced this past year.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Best Medicine 2015

A "year in review" of humor in the blog was started a couple of years ago, so we thought we'd treat you to the same for this season.  There are two categories.  Line of the Year may appear in any type of post.  Needless to say, it may actually encompass more than one sentence/line.  Hey, it's our blog, we can use whatever rules we want!  Post of the year was selected for the perceived entertainment value.  Of course, entertainment value is subjective.  And, since the farmer and his lovely bride were the only two judges, you can feel free to comment and correct our flawed insight!  

If you wish to read any of the posts that have been highlighted here, feel free to take the links provided.

Previous Best Medicine posts are linked here: 201420132012, 2011, 2010, 2009
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.

From Stream of Consciousness : January 30

I picked the right bucket!
From Summer Festival at GFF: August 24

Today's List:
   1. Do everything.
Tomorrow's List:
   1. Do what you did yesterday.
Simplicity at its finest.

I guess she could have said I was as "dumb as a post."  But, I am smarter than a post as long as it is made of wood, I guess.

From Harder Than It Looks : April 10

Now, that's a word I think has alot going for it - "obliquely."  But, I probably shouldn't talk about it directly - it might be offended.

From November - A Quality Month : November 18

Tammy: Oh, look!  The first squinny of....
***squinny darts across the road and directly under one of the truck tires***
Tammy: Oh.
From Scents of Humor : November 24

If one synchronized swimmer drowns, do the rest have to drown too?

 From Lessons in Farming IV - Synchronized Swimming : January 7

And not 'nough gloves to go round
Can't you see...
This is a land of contusions.

From Land of Contusions - February 14

7. Allow fence roll to push you onto your other side
From How to Roll Up An Electric Fence - November 16

The door opened up to the spider (that's a pun, get it?) and told the spider about its problem.

From The Spider in the Door: January 13


I am STILL cooler than you!
From The Sandman Has Spoken : December 8


Hugh and ONLY Hugh, can prevent florist friars.
Oooooooh.  You just HAD to, didn't you?
 From Traditions Don't Die, They Just Look Different Each Year : April 1


If those vines choke out the peppers but result in top quality peas, you might say we won a No Bell Peas Prize  

From Vinally! Minding Your Peas and Cukes : July 20

Rob The turkeys are in there.
OSP In the freezer? That's inhumane!
Rob Um. Well, they're dead.
OSP I suppose so, it must be very cold in there.

From Know Your Okra, Know Your Farmer : November 3

When the vines fall off or otherwise evade our trellis efforts, you could say we have an issue with...Escapeas!

From Minding Your Peas (and Cukes!) : July 6

the Blizzard peas STILL do not endorse Rob's puns