Friday, September 30, 2016

2015 Look in the Mirror

In prior years we have done a Top Ten Events for the prior year.  After all, January is the month for 'top ten' lists and that sort of thing.  So, of course, we started it in January and didn't finish.  Since I am needing some new material on the blog, what better way to accomplish this sooner than to finish something I've already started?

In keeping with a recent series of "Look in the Mirror" posts, like this one for 2012, we were feeling more like writing that way rather than trying to rank things.  And, after all.  I never did get this done in January - July (and then September) seems like a good time to do things differently anyway!

All in all, 2015 was a pretty good year for us at the farm.  Of course there were problems.  There are always things that don't go quite right.  But, for the most part, we did just fine.

Early Season Events and Decisions Set the Tone
It is hard to believe that some of these things just happened in 2015 as it feels like they occurred a long, long time ago.  For example, we finally received a settlement for the 2012 spraying incident in February.   And, in late July, we finally regained organic certification for the west fields and old high tunnel that were in the spray zone (three year anniversary).  It is hard to explain exactly how different we feel about things on the farm now that these two milestones have been reached.  Suffice it to say that we both feel like we have some extra energy for the farm.

We also made the decision to not do an extended Spring share this year.  Instead, we figured we'd make sure the regular season CSA started strong and rely on direct sales for early Spring for whatever crops we got going.  This allowed us to use the high tunnel a little bit differently in the Spring.
So, we used the high tunnel to start plants during the early months
Perhaps the Spring share will return in future years.  But, for 2015, it was exactly what we needed to be doing.

Truly Weather Wythards

A weather station for the farm
We've talked about getting a weather station on the farm for a few years, but the time/energy to explore options just never showed up... until this year.  We picked up a decent station and set it up in the high tunnel early in the year to get used to it AND see how things worked in a somewhat controlled environment.  I think we are most amused (by it, not the weather) when it tells us it is "raining cats and dogs."  If Rob were programming it, he might have added things like "hold on to your hat" and "your neighbor's cow just flew by."

Equipment Changes and Additions (Again!)
Every year, we add, modify and delete tools and equipment on the farm.  It's just part of the way things are.  If you really use something, it tends to break.  Or, if you use something often, you begin to see how it can be improved.  And, sometimes, you pick something out because you think it will solve a problem - and it doesn't.  It's all a part of what we do.

The orange running gear at the left has turned out to be the most used tool purchase of the year.  It now has a flat deck on it and, unlike our other hayrack, it can turn without a good deal of force.  Ya, something about needing to turn on a fifteen acre farm....

The middle photo shows off Jeff Sage's wonderful work in repairing the back doors on our chicken nugget trailer.  Yes, we know it's an old horse trailer.  But, it is now used to be the portable home for our meat chickens - usually referred to as "nuggets" when they are smaller.

On the right is a nice flair box that, shall we say, has yet to find it's real niche on the farm.  Ah, such is life.

The SNORT Returns
The last time we heard about the Snort, it was a situation that we hadn't planned on.  This time around, we actually invited the Snort to come dig our own personal "Grand Canyon."  Rather than say much more, we'll just go to the next item.

Valhalla at GFF

We started the process of pursuing the building of a second high tunnel in 2013.  And, as part of the process, we entered the Dream Big, Grow Here contest and won the local competition.  It took us until 2015 to get everything together and to gather the rest of the necessary funds (no small project in itself).  The SNORT was used to dig a trench for a frost free water line to serve the new building.  All I can say at this point is that we're glad we did it.  And, for those who care, we named our first high tunnel "Eden."  Hey!  It's better than the "Old" high tunnel and "new" high tunnel.

Well, I'm Bushed.
I'm beginning to understand why we were so tired at the end of the season last year.  The sheer number of additional projects in addition to the normal growing season and poultry raising is a bit surprising when you look at it in the rear-view mirror.
Laying fabric to help the new bushes survive.
We've had bush lines established in parts of the farm since 2005, but are really trying to establish lines on all edges of the farm.  Our hope is that this does several things for us.  First, it will provide habitat for all kinds of useful critters on our farm.  And second, we hope it helps protect us a little bit from spray drift form neighboring farm land.  Already, many of these bushes are putting on some size in 2016. 

The Carrot/Beet Experiment
Carrots and beets have been difficult for us to grow in the field for various reasons that we have outlined in other blog posts.  So, we thought we'd see what would happen if we grew a row of each right next to each other in the high tunnel.
middle row, carrots on the left, beets on the right
The net result?  109 pounds of carrots and 107 pounds of beets.  We'll consider that a success and work to expand on it.

Valhalla's First Crop
The new high tunnel didn't go up until June, which was NOT our original plan.  But, that's when it happened.
Then, we had to change our plans as far as the timing of crops were concerned for the building.  We gave some late tomatoes and peppers a try, as well as a row of green beans and... some sweet potatoes and late melons.  The last two - not a good idea.  The others, however, did pretty well for us.  Getting some fresh Black Krim tomatoes on Tammy's birthday in November - priceless.

We Just Like This Picture

Weeded and the plants look good. 'Nuff said.
Treating Flowers as a Crop
Sometimes things work.  This year, we finally executed the plan we've wanted to with respect to flowers and melons.  We treated the flowers with the same emphasis in growing as we did the melons.  We reduced the number of melon plants by about 1/3 - net result, we got about 1/3 more melons this year than prior years. 
We might be on to something here.
We decided to over-Winter some ducks for the first time ever.  The hope?  We wanted to raise our own ducklings. 
It worked this time around!
It actually was fun seeing those little yellow fluff balls following mama around.  We're not calling it an unqualified success, but it gave us some hope for the future.

Summer Festival Takes Precedence
We decided to target our energy a bit more and have one large festival in August rather than trying to hold three festivals per year.  The result was a Summer Festival with music and a scavenger hunt, among other things.
oh, and painting!
And A Field Day?  Really?!?

We even helped host a field day with IOA (Iowa Organic Association) and NCAT (National Center for Appropriate Technology) on a new crop insurance program.  Part of the session was held at the Tripoli Extension Office building and it was followed by a farm tour at GFF.
Yep, I like this tool
Still Green In November
We still had some green and growing things in the field right up until mid-November.  But, when it decided to turn cold, it did it right quick!
Spinach, daikon radish, fall radish, napa cabbage and pok choi!
Rob spent a couple of frantic days trying to bring in everything he could prior to the deep freeze. And, since we didn't have a place to keep things from freezing other than our basement, he hauled several thousand pounds of produce to the basement.  Ugh.

Poultry Clean Up Crew
We decided to have a later Fall batch of broiler chickens so we could use them to clean up some of our field and, in the process, they could spread manure for us.
This field HAD green things in it a day or so ago.
Drift Catchers Are Us
And, we participated in a drift catching project that required some set up and consistent data collection.  We were ready to do this again in 2016, but they are looking at changing things so they can collect and test for more things.
We did receive results from this project and it opens up a whole host of questions that should be discussed.  We'll save that for another time.

Culinary Corner
Last but not least, we were able to debut the Culinary Corner post series on our blog to feature one of our workers, Elizabeth, and her culinary knowledge.  We saved one of the posts for this year and we try to link people to these periodically.  Thanks again Elizabeth for your work on these posts!

Belated Thanks
Again, this post was slated for January.  But, things happened and then other things.  And, we all know what happens after that... MORE things!  Still, our gratitude for everyone who helped us through 2015 is no less strong than it was when this post was begun.  In some ways, it might be stronger because we can see how things have proceeded since last year.

Here's to a timely 2016 post!  But, let's enjoy 2016 before we even begin to worry about that.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Kids on the Frontline

We heard from a person who reported driving down a country road when a plane flew over their vehicle and droplets from the plane landed on them as they drove by.  She was indignant that this happened and upset when she told us about it.  But, she didn't feel there was much that could be done about it.  "And," she said, "I suppose no one was really hurt by it anyway."

Another individual told us about the time he was riding on a bike trail on a windy day.  As he rode by a field, a rig was applying some sort of chemical and the wind blew it towards him.  He tried to hold his breath as he went by and was upset by the experience.  He had some headaches afterwards, but figured it could be for any particular reason.  Maybe he pushed too hard and didn't stay hydrated.  No one was really hurt by it, so maybe he should just let it pass.

After all.

You live in Iowa, so deal with it.

It's time to get over that attitude.  It is becoming clear that our continuing OVERUSE and MISUSE of chemicals for horticulture, agriculture and for our own 'lawn vanity' has costs that we should be unwilling to pay.  

On May 10 of this year, the Pesticide Action Network held a press conference announcing the release of their report on pesticides and their impacts on children.  If you would like to read about this press conference, you can go here:
Carmen Black and Mark Quee
You will see that our good friend, Mark Quee was one of the speakers at this event.  Mark has an innate ability to take a report with all kinds of factual details and turn it into something that is personal - something we should have feelings about and something we need to take action on.  He, in particular, spoke about his personal worry about how his actions and inactions, in addition to our collective action/inaction, are effecting his child.  In short, this isn't about someone you don't know.  This is about the children in YOUR life.  What you do with this information, or fail to do, can impact them.

Also at this event was Kent Boyum, who is a board member for the Iowa Organic Association with Rob.  IOA decided that they wanted to stand behind this report after a few of the members reviewed the document.  The research is sound and I personally feel that the authors worked very hard to say ONLY what the research is saying.  They do this even though it is so tempting to extrapolate what only seems logical beyond what the research says.

The Report is Here

Of course, more research is needed and will be important.  However, there is, in my opinion, enough here that we need to be setting up to take action.  We have energy and knowledge within the scientific community to develop these chemicals.  That means we should have the same kind of energy to find ways to limit their use and better target their application.  It also means that we have the ability to work harder to be absolutely sure we have a sound knowledge of both short-term and long-term effects of chemical application.

Tammy and I are convinced that PAN is a good organization that is trying to help collect information and advocate for approaches that prevent application of chemicals that can adversely affect health.  Emily Marquez put some amazing effort into developing the most recent report.  This report is not about demonizing people who use chemicals, nor is it about making people who opt not to use them angels.

What is it about?  It's about admitting that the things we do impact those around us.  It's about realizing mistakes we make and looking for ways to correct them as we discover them.  It's about opening our eyes and forcing ourselves to stop ignoring problems that are in front of them.  We have a problem (or a set of them) and we need to address it.

Start by taking a little time and reading this report.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Playing With Your Food

If you have heard someone say that you shouldn't play with your food, then you haven't heard it from us.  As a matter of fact, we've enjoyed some of the creativity folks have shown when it comes to finding veggies of unusual shape or size.

Hey! I just picks 'em, I doesn't always check for faces!
Sam Larimer has been particularly good at finding interesting veggies and actually following through with making them into interesting characters AND taking some pictures.  We, of course, love this.  To be honest, I sometimes wish I had the time to select some of the odd fruit and accentuate the features I see in them.  But, usually, I just get a small chuckle as I place it into the bin with the rest for delivery later in the day.

Sometimes, I see it and take a picture.  Who else sees a yellow submarine?
More often than not, someone will notice the odd veggie in our CSA trays and will just have to take a picture.  Occasionally, a parent will groan as a child picks the carrot with lots of fingers because they KNOW who will have to CLEAN that carrot.  But, even they get a little bit of a smile from the odd shapes that sometimes grow in the field.
Which is Shannon's hand and which is the carrot?
Every once in a while we even get a photo from a person who is really happy to be getting a particular type of veg.
Tiger Eye dry beans anyone?  Thanks Mary!

And, at other times, the picture gets taken right at the CSA distribution.
Hey Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of a hat!
Mr. Aubergine knows that there are more like him out there.  Can you be creative and come up with a new veggie character for the Genuine Faux Farm?
Mr Aubergine always wants to know.  He's a curious fellow.

Sometimes, we create the characters in the field.  Picking veggies that keep growing can lead to some interesting veggie sculptures.
Pippi Kalestocking
This brings us back to Sam's creations.  We're beginning to wonder if we need to create a story line for Carrotman and his new nemesis.  Hmmmmm.
What shall we name this one?
Carrotman is unable to save his veggie friends from the fry pan.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

What does the CSA distribution look like?

We are in the home stretch of our 2016 regular season CSA Farm Share program at the Genuine Faux Farm.  And, really, that just seems a bit wrong to us.  Didn't the season just start?  But, seasons are cyclic and we are entering the part of the cycle where growing things are slowing down.

So, we are beginning to get serious about having people sign up for our Fall Extended Season shares that start at the end of October and go into December.  You want some fresh produce for Thanksgiving?  Well, this is a good opportunity for you.

We are also beginning to take reservations for 2017 shares.  We start this process in September of the prior year in hopes that we can get the lion's share of our customers lined up.  The better our recruiting goes, the more successful the following growing season is.  

Why is that?  Simply put, we can plan and we can spend our energy in the Spring on getting it all to grow for you.

Here is what a farm share CSA distribution looks like outside Hansen's Outlet. Each tray or station has a sign telling you what you're getting. If you get five tomatoes, you pick your tomatoes... Come join us this Fall and next season!  We would love to be your personal farmers.

The farmers' job (at left)? Keep those trays filled and answer questions. Red hat, mandatory. Bag hanging out of the back pocket, frequent. Tell him to get a haircut, not likely.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Tater digger

 We are setting up to dig potatoes as soon as the soil dries up from the recent rain.  So, the tater digger will come out to play yet again this season.  A few years ago, we posted the picture on Facebook and asked people to be creative and come up with uses for it.  We thought we might share them again here!
The original post: Soon, this will be put to use. So, how shall we use it? Be creative!
Nancy DSome kind of chipmunk torture device?
Jeff C Picking pea pods, before they break the surface?
Keith K - I used one identical to this, as a kid, on my parents farm for digging potatos. It's an old potato plow (meant to be pulled by a horse), modified for a tractor. Maybe you know this. I just got excited when I saw the picture.
GFF's Response to Keith:'re not supposed to be accurate, just creative.
Everyone ignore Keith! Keep being creative.
Keith K - Crab grass filtration device. Dress it up into a scarecrow for Fall. Cloths drying rack on top, boot dryer on bottom. I'm done. (that's the spirit Keith! We know Keith and realized he could take a nice chiding.)
Susan C - a device for slinging turkey manure into your neighbors fields...
Theri V It looks like it could be a big, scoop-billed bird with big whacky eyes!
Keith Khook it to a zip-line, and provide rides at the farm. (Boy, I tell ya, get the guy started....)
GFF - Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Now we're having fun! If the zip line was lined up with a row of potatoes.....
Glen E A gold finder
Michael P - It should definitely involve a cello bow, an amplifier, and a full moon. (how'd he know we both played cello?)

Melissa J - Looks like a catapult. Aren't the turkeys getting to the obnoxious teen phase? Threaten to launch them into the corn fields! (no animals were harmed in the making of this comment)
Ryan Dwe all know plants grow better with music, it is an oversized thumb harp called a Hypogaea Harp. Best played in the fall to get the one last upward spurt out of the plants before harvest.
Theri V - How about a giant robot head to go up against your new pergola?  Like the "Bad Robot" at the end of some of the TV shows, like Lost.

We're glad so many people had some fun with this and we hope others enjoy the responses as well.  

Do you have other ideas?  Respond to this post and share them.  Or, if you can't get the comment feature to work and still want to share, send us your idea and we'll add it to this list!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The C in CSA is Community

We asked for help - even using our blog to explain what we needed to do.  And, happily, we got ALL KINDS of help!  If our count was correct, we had at least 20 people come to help us put new plastic on Eden, our older high tunnel building.

Our thanks to those who were willing to take and share some pictures and to those who willingly took our camera and took pictures as well.  And, of course, many thanks to all of you who came and helped.  We realize that it didn't always seem like you were doing much.  But, your presence was critical to make sure the plastic stayed where it was supposed to stay.  The results were fantastic.

Bandsaw Man, the superhero - at it again!
Tammy and I managed to get the plastic off of the high tunnel on Saturday.  It was a bit windy, but we were able to get it cleaned off and get things largely prepped prior to Sunday.  We got the scaffolding up on both ends, gathered tools and supplies and were pretty close to ready to go at 7:30am on Sunday.

There were a few brace bands that needed to go on prior to the plastic being pulled, but after that, we were ready to go.
the plastic is spread out on the North side, read to pull.
Look carefully, do you see Tammy?
We had a couple people on each peak, standing on scaffolding.  We had three people pulling, one person in the middle to help get around any snags, one person on the South scouting and the rest were in positions to try to keep the plastic from getting caught on anything as we pulled it over.

Who knew this could be fun?
That means we had people between the plastic and the building on the North and South sides.  Do you remember playing with sheets and making a fort in the living room?

Well, there you go.

You might notice the picture on the right.  If you look VERY carefully, you can find Farmer Tammy.  It might help if you click on the picture to enlarge it. 

People on the ground kept the plastic on the North and South from lifting up and the people on the peaks worked to pull the plastic as tight as we could get it.  Once we felt it was tight enough, we put wiggle wire in to hold both peaks.  We followed that with putting some wiggle wire on the hip boards in the middle.  Then we worked towards the corners, trying to get rid of any wrinkles as we went.
What's wiggle wire?  That's wiggle wire!
Once we had that connected we could use wiggle wire to attach to the roll-up bars.  Since this was on the ground, we could give lots of people a chance to try their hand at wiggle wire.

After we all decided wiggle wire is cool - if slightly dangerous for the eyes if you aren't paying attention (no, no one was hurt) - we herded everyone together for a picture.

Even Inspector got into the picture.
And, of course, people were now hungry.  So, there was food.  After all, this IS a farm you know.  There is food there.  That is a good thing.
Food specifically approved of by Ilsa
And, now, we are ready to grow more good food in Eden.  In fact, the following Tuesday, Rob was able to pull Golden beets and lots of snack tomatoes out of this building.  Here's to several more years of Eden being the farmers' happy place.
there be lots of green things in there!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

BLT Snobs

This will surprise my parents, I suspect.  Or, perhaps it is no longer a surprise to them.  But, one of our favorite Summer and early Fall meals is now the one that features BLT sandwiches (Bacon Lettuce and Tomato).  We also often have green beans with that meal as well.  That part will NOT surprise them at all.

Part of the driving factor that has changed my opinions about BLTs are the extremely good heirloom varieties we grow on our farm (both lettuce and tomato).  But, this is actually going to get a bit scary (for some of you).  Each of these varieties has their own taste and they actually work with different parts of the BLT in different ways.  Some people may not taste the difference initially and others may not have the taste buds to be able to tell the difference.  But, we believe that many people's tastebuds begin to learn to tell the difference between certain tastes over time.

Do you love your mayo?
Australian Yellow Leaf
The Tasty Evergreen tomato often does NOT get the love it deserves when it sits in our tomato tray for pickup at the CSA distribution.  Often, I will try to encourage people to try it and the reviews from those who do try are generally quite good.  But, there are days when I won't say a word.  Why?  Because I love my mayo on a sandwich - and the slightly tangy taste of one of these tomatoes is the perfect combination.  Add some Australian Yellowleaf lettuce and you've got a great BLT in the making.

It's all about the bacon.
German Pink
Maybe it's psychological, but I tend to favor some of our meatiest tomatoes to work with the bacon as a taste combination.  German Pink has long been one of our favorite tomatoes as has Italian Heirloom.  Both are not terribly juicy, so the sandwich won't be too soggy.  The firmer texture works great with some nice crispy bacon.  Just enough mayo for taste, but not too much to make it sloppy and add some Pablo lettuce to the mix.  Yum!

I dare you to care about the B and L
Black Krim
Black Krim has been our recommendation for the absolute best tasting tomato for several years now.  This is especially true once we started growing them successfully in our high tunnels.  Sure, sure.  This is supposed to be about BLTs.  Get yourself some fresh, homemade bread.  Make sure you are using REAL mayonnaise - not that salad dressing stuff.  Get bacon from a locally raised pig that has seen some pasture time and then select the heirloom lettuce that makes you happiest.
Bunte Forellenschus

I believe I just made myself hungry.  I think I'll be going now.  And, maybe I'll add a couple of pieces of Jimmy Nardello's Frying Pepper as well.  Hmmmm.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Crop Report, September 2016

We haven't done this one for a while - so here you go!

We do these sorts of posts in part for our own reflection and in part because folks in our area sometimes find it useful to see how things are doing here in comparison to their own gardens.  Sometimes our observations validate what is going on at their place.  Other times, it makes them feel like they've done very well.  And, occasionally, it only serves to make you feel like you did fail on a given crop - but don't worry - we're "professionals."  If we can make something grow and you can't, you can just use that excuse.  If it's the other way around, you can tell everyone how you can do better than the "professionals."
Lettuce Be Thankful
That this is not intended to be an all-puns, all-the-time post.  But, a pun here and there just adds to the flavor.

We re-dedicated ourselves to our lettuce crop and have found some real success in that area.

Last year's total harvest for lettuce was just over 1000 heads for about 350 pounds of product and the year before the numbers were 1500 and 450.  As of September 7, we are at 1822 heads and 838 pounds for the season.  The great thing about that?  We still have the Fall crop to go.  I don't think we'll get to the 1500 pounds from 2009, but we also had trouble moving all of the lettuce that year.  Sometimes records just aren't what they're cracked up to be.  All indicators are that the amount of lettuce we have grown has been well-received and of good quality.  It's nice to start a crop report post with a positive.

Sa Squash of GFF
Ok, I'll admit that one is a bit of a reach.  But, I did want to talk about a crop we often ignore in these reports.  In fact, the last time we talked about Summer Squash and Zucchini that I can recall was in 2010.

We've been modifying how we grow the summer squashes over the past several years for a few reasons.  First, changes to other crops resulted in moving these crops from one part of the rotation to another.  When you change conditions for a crop, you should probably expect a change in production, which there was.  We also reduced our production levels because we felt like there were too many good fruit going to waste on these plants and we didn't feel like there was enough of a market to move the excess at the numbers we were producing.  That, and our CSA members were telling us they couldn't use that many fruit either.  So, we cut back on this crop so we could concentrate more on other crops.

That brings me to a 'sidebar.'  There are often markets for items if we grow larger amounts of excess (and sell at a lower, bulk price), but it is easy to get caught with an odd amount of extra product that is less easy to sell.  We were landing there far too often.

This season, production numbers still have not been fantastic, but I need to remind myself that we have reduced production and I still have memories of years with higher numbers simply because of the amount we were growing.  Our first succession is largely finished and the second succession will get its first pick on Thursday of this week.  We were sitting at just over 700 summer squash and almost 600 zucchini with only that first succession.  If the second does similarly, we are on target for numbers that exceed both 2014 and 2015, but are well below some of the high production years.  In short, fairly comfortable numbers.

Why Should I Carrot All?
We tried seeding our carrots on the farm more than once this season and the germination rates were poor in all but one case - the batch in our high tunnel.  We were not the only ones in Iowa having this issue, so I guess we don't feel all that bad.  Ok, we do.  But the reality about carrots for us is this - direct seeded carrots can be picky and we have Jeff Sage growing carrots for our CSA in addition to what we grow.  That safety net allows us to concentrate on other crops and not waste too much time on the carrots.

We have certainly grown great carrots in the past.  We expect to grow them again in the future.  We were able to pull out 122 pounds from the high tunnel planting which is on par with the 109 pounds last year.  But, we don't have the additional field carrots (we had over 1000 pounds in 2013, for example).  The good news?  See the next crop.

Minding Your Peas and Cukes
We are actually going to focus on the cuke part of this one today.  Why?  Because I hear the people of this world crying out, "Peas! No more puns!"  What?

The cucumber crop actually did better than last year, even though our numbers do not necessarily indicate that.  We harvested just under 3000 fruit this year (up only slightly from 2015), but they came over a longer period of time -which was a goal we had for this year.   And, there were many cucumbers we did not harvest.  So, it is likely that our numbers would have easily reached the 5000 mark we hit in 2012 and 2013.  We see no reason to pursue 2010's record of 7300 at any point in the near future.

It is only natural that readers might wonder why we left perfectly good cucumbers in the field.  The answer my friends, is in the available resources - primary of which is time and secondary is space.  Perhaps we have the space, but then we would need more time to make that space.  And, we would need time to distribute or sell more cucumbers.  Suffice it to say, the cucumbers did what was needed and we had to recognize that they were only one crop of many.

On the plus side, we were able to send cucumbers to Grinnell Heritage Farm and Blue Gate Farm this year.  And, it is possible we can get some carrots from Grinnell later in the year if Jeff doesn't have them.  See, things work out.

Would you like to see more crop reports like this one?  Tell us which crops you want to hear about!