Saturday, April 22, 2017

Words to Live By

I admit to being a bit of an introvert.  Ok, I am very much an introvert.  Someone sent me a series of sayings that many introverts could relate to and I found one in particular that stood out with me:
"When you are an introvert and try to say anything in a group of extroverts - 'Please be quiet, I'm really very interesting.'"

I find that one a bit humorous and a bit sad at the same time.  But, another thing that rang true was a recurring theme that many persons who exhibit introversion tendencies will contemplate things that were said far longer than many who are extroverted in nature.  Maybe it is a function of the nature of many introverts to say less and listen more, all I know is that I have a number of things running through my head that have become 'words to live by.'

A "Happy Little Tree"
I know I am not the only person who still thinks fondly of Bob Ross and his Joy of Painting episodes that appeared (and still appear) frequently on Iowa Public Television.

Bob would talk about 'happy little trees,' 'happy little clouds' and he would encourage people to be creative ('this is your world').  The most important part for me was the tone of these shows.  I always started to relax, no matter what was going on, as soon as Mr. Ross loaded up his brush and started painting.  I am not sure I ever fully realized how much the serenity this man exhibited in his shows affected me until recently.  A pretty nasty cold/flu bug was making it impossible for me to sleep, so I flipped through some of our limited TV channels and found Joy of Painting on IPTV.  I fell asleep for the first time in a couple of days almost as soon as the words 'happy little tree' left his lips.
Our new-ish horse chestnut in the front yard appears to be happy
Why did I finally fall asleep?  It isn't that I think his painting is boring.  In fact, I usually can't help but be riveted by the process.  But, I needed some serenity.  Some sense that things could and would be ok.  And, how can you be without hope when the trees are happy?

You Meant Well
Sometimes a little backstory is necessary - so I will give a bit of one here.  I was very frightened of talking in front of people (introvert - remember?) and was absolutely appalled by the choice I would have to make for 9th grade... Speech or Debate.  There was no getting around it, you had to take one or the other.  So, I opted for Debate.  Why?  Because I knew it wasn't very popular and there would be fewer people in the class.  Then, a strange thing happened.  I showed an aptitude for public speaking - and took Debate all four years of high school.... as an elective!

For three of those years, Mr. Kruse was our debate coach and one of his pet sayings was "you meant well."  Initially, I don't think those of us in his class fully understood all of the nuances this phrase could hold and I suspect most of us thought he used the phrase to console us when things didn't go as planned.  But, as we gained some experience, we started to understand that the context of the conversation and the situation had as much or more to do with the meaning of "you meant well."
Helicopter spraying a field a half mile west of our farm - I'm sure they meant well.
Of course, Mr. Kruse was not the sort of teacher who would spell everything out in the simplest terms.  He took joy in challenging us to consider meaning and variations in meaning.  "You meant well" could imply that you did your best with the resources you had and there wasn't much more that could have been done in your situation.  It could also imply that someone else did not "mean well" by exclusion from the comment.  And, of course, it could imply that you were operating on false assumptions and the harm that had occurred as a result wasn't what you were working towards.

In the end, the biggest lesson I took from Mr. Kruse and this saying was that good intentions do NOT always carry the day.  You may have "meant well," but your failure to do your work properly or your unwillingness to think through your actions and consider the fallout can result in a bad situation regardless of the results you envisioned.   

Do or Die!
That's a "do or die" weeding job if I ever saw one!
I learned a year ago that Coach Rowry had passed away and it reminded me of the single year he served as baseball coach on the JV Newton High School baseball team.  Playing on that particular team with that particular person as coach was one of my more positive experiences in baseball.  I may not have appreciated all of the 'pole to pole' running he made us do at the time, but I always appreciated his fair and balanced approach to handling the diverse personalities and talents on the team.

Baseball practice often consisted of 'situational drills' where the players trained to respond to given scenarios.  One of Coach Rowry's favorite was the "Do or Die!" drill, which was focused primarily on the outfielders (yes, I was one of them).  With the bases loaded and less than 2 out, the outfielders were trained to charge a ground ball that gets through the infield as hard as they could.  They must pick up the ball cleanly and get the ball to home plate as quickly and accurately as possible.

If you could get there quickly, pick it up, throw it accurately (and low enough so it could be 'cut off'), you were able to "Do" and if you didn't... well... you get the point.  I guess I was particularly good at this drill since he would say "watch Faux do or die!" during practice and then make me do three in a row.

But, the moment I remember most is when the scenario actually occurred in a game.  I charged the ball, picked it up and...
Threw a strike to the catcher standing on home plate.  We very nearly caught the guy coming home from third.  Coach Rowry jumped out of the dugout and yelled "THAT's the way to DO or DIE!!!"

While I don't walk around telling myself or others to "do or die" this memory reminds me that preparation to succeed is part of success itself.  And, I learned from Coach Rowry that sometimes success isn't flashy like a home run, a diving catch or a pitcher striking out the side.  Success is doing the right things in the right way and doing it even when the situation is difficult and maybe even in situations where it didn't seem to make a difference at the time.

I Like You Just the Way You Are
This last one may also ring true with a number of people who read this blog.  Are you feeling a little beat-up?  Maybe a little depressed by things that are going on?  Maybe you feel like you've messed up or you aren't what you're supposed to be?

Listen to Mr. Rogers for a second or two:

A simple show teaching important concepts - among them is self-acceptance and acceptance of others.  I watched this video and instantly felt better about myself and the world I live in.  And, I was reminded that if a person I've never met and only seen on Iowa Public Television (or Youtube) can make me feel this way by saying "I like you just the way you are," just imagine how much power this statement might have if you tell someone you know the very same thing.

A picture of two Dr's in one GFF field - cool!
And, I like them both - just the way they are.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Busy Week

How do you know you've had a busy week?  Well, if you finally write the blog for it a week or so later, you can guess you've had a busy week.  And, perhaps, you are still busy?  That means it must be April on the farm!

The first order of business is to wish the Inspector a happy birthday.  And, since he is a cat and he can't stop me from doing it, I'm going to show off a baby picture from last year.  Inspector's brother, Sparrow, was injured while he was a kitten and was later adopted by a family who could care for him.  Inspector, on the other hand, has taken Cubbie's spot as the 'friendliest feline on the farm' - that's FFF at GFF to you and me.

Inspector and Sparrow
"The ladies," on the other hand, are enjoying Spring very much right now.  As a result, we have lots and LOTS of eggs.  If you want them, we have them.  And every once in a while...
...we get a pterodactyl egg
Getting back on topic - April is the time of year where things can change on the farm very rapidly.  At the beginning of April, we only had the laying hens.  Now, we have a batch of hen chicks (arrived Apr 5) and a batch of broiler chicks (arrived Apr 13).  There are chicks here and chicks there.  As long as there aren't chicks EVERYWHERE we should be fine.  If they are everywhere, we should probably make sure the doors are closed and latched next time.

Chicks get extra shelter and heat until they grow in some feathers.
The arrival of chicks means we have to consider what we have for food on the farm.  We were running low, so we took a trip with the trusty feed bin to Earl Canfield by Dunkerton.  The grains and soybeans in the feed mix come from Earl's farm, so we are happy to give this a trial run. 

I suppose a trip to get feed doesn't seem like that big of a deal, but it's not like we can drive super fast with that thing behind the truck.  And, the first major feed purchase of the year is a sort of signpost for the season.  By the time we get to August it will all be just part of the blur.

We had a service trip group from Wartburg College come out to the farm on Saturday (the 8th) and lend a hand with some projects that would have been mighty tedious if it were just Rob and Tammy.  There were eleven people in attendance and they came with positive attitudes and a willingness to do what was needed.  They helped clean up several fields by rolling up drip tape, pulling down fencing used for pole beans last year, yanking old corn stalks and visiting baby chicks.  Ok, I think that last item was just because it sounded like fun to most of them.
If any of the participants in this group read this blog post, let the others know that we have already done additional work to prepare the fields you worked in.  As a result, we are on target to get potatoes, peas and carrots in on schedule - and maybe a bit ahead of schedule?  Wow.  Thanks for the help.

We also had another group come out to the farm for a tour and a little bit of farm work so they could get out of the classroom.  Dr. McCullough's group were pleasant to be around and we managed to get some good things done - some of which was actually out of the cool wind that was blowing that day.

Mixed into the week was a trip to Webster City for the IOA board meeting, a GFF CSA meeting with the Bandsaw Man (Jeff Sage) and lots of seedling tray dancing (as we move trays from one step of development to the next).

On top of that, farm unpacking has been going on in earnest.

What is 'farm unpacking?'  I'm glad you asked!  Every Winter we go through the process of putting things away after their last use for that year's growing season.  We try to get as much of our tools and supplies under cover as we are able to with the knowledge that some things are going to be placed in a back corner and be hard to access until we unpack.  March and April see us removing things from our buildings so that we can begin to use them all.  Sure, it might be nice to have a nice big building that wouldn't necessitate some the 'packing' we have to do now.  But, the reality is that we have to work within the constraints of our current building configurations.  Hence, we unpack every Spring.

And, whether we are ready or not - Spring is here.

Friday, April 7, 2017

GFF April Newsletter

Ok, so our prior April newsletter was a little bit um...  Well look, it was April Fools, we HAD to do something.  Didn't we?  Maybe I should seriously start that Kickstopper campaign.  I am getting the feeling there might be some real money to be had there.

April Calendar of Events
  • April 5: Hen Chicks arrive at the farm
  • April 6: Wartburg ID Class at GFF
  • April 6: Cedar Falls Egg Delivery 
  • April 8: Wartburg Service Trip at GFF
  • April 11: Waverly Egg Delivery
  • April 13: Broiler Chicks (Flock 1) Arrive
  • April 22: Health Fair at the W (Wartburg College)
  • April 27: Anticipated Delivery 1 Cedar Falls 
Babies at the Genuine Faux Farm
It has begun.

Wednesday saw the arrival of 85 hen chicks at the farm.  These little ladies will form the backbone of our flock for the next two years, joining last year's new additions after they've grown up a bit.  Typically, we do not integrate the flock until October, when we feel the new hens are big enough to hold their own with the older birds.  We picked up Americauna (blue/green eggs), Barred Rock (brown egg), California White (white egg) and Isa Brown (brown eggs) this time around.  

Best Laid Plans
It has begun.

Hey, I started the last feature with that same statement.  What could I possibly getting at here?

Every season, things happen - and they happen in ways we didn't plan for them to go.  Some who have worked with us in the past are very aware of how many adjustments we end up making on the farm every day of the growing season.  Case in point, those cute little baby birds arrived on Wednesday, but we had anticipated a Thursday arrival.  What's the issue?  Well, when baby birds arrive, you have to deal with baby birds - period.  Never mind what you had planned for Wednesday, Thursday is upon you - even if it is really Wednesday.

Maybe that was the jolt we needed to remind us to be prepared to have our plans changed. 

CSA Signup 2017

It has begun - and it continues.  We are in the midst of our 2017 CSA sign up.  We have several CSA options this year.  There are STILL plenty of spots open!  If you need convincing - please consider the value you get with our programs.

Contact us if you have interest and we'll get you started.

Plant Starting 2017
It has begun.

The seedling tray dance is beginning to take on some steam.  The tomato seedlings are beginning to look a bit like tomatoes - they certainly have added the fragrance that tomato plants have!  The pepper plants are showing signs of wanting to grow up some day and we've got onions popping up in the trays everywhere.  And, the next HUGE seeding session is coming up in the next few days.

For those who are interested in plants - things will be different this year.  For details, please view this prior blog post.

Volunteer Groups and Tours at GFF
It has begun.

It is Spring, which means groups from schools are beginning to show interest in coming out to the farm and seeing what we do here.  We are very happy to host this sort of event and have often had these groups lend a hand with a task for two.  It's all part of trying to be a positive part of the community and fulfilling our desire to make a connection between people and the systems that grow the food they eat.

There are some issues with this, of course.  First, it is April.  There isn't a whole lot to see in the fields at this time.  Second, it is April.  It can be a bit chilly and windy out here!  But, for the most part, people seem to enjoy their time out here.

Song of the Month
A song titled Spring.  In April.  By our favorite band.  Life is good.

Recipe of the Month
kale quiche

 kale, spinach or collard greens
spices of your choice
 pastry shell
 shredded cheese
1 cup sour cream
3 eggs
Chop kale or other greens and saute with onion and spices. into pastry shell layer shredded cheese, then vegetable matter. whip sour cream with eggs and pour over vegetables. Bake at 350 f 'til set.

Field Report
We are very much looking forward to a big planting push in the high tunnel buildings right now.  The time is right.  The early spinach planting FINALLY set it's first true leaves and the komatsuna and tatsoi are beginning to look like real plants.  The start was extremely slow with the high percentage of cloud cover for the past six weeks.  If there's no sun, they won't grow.  We have a batch of nice kale seedlings we need to spread out as well.  Instead of starting these plants in trays, we decided to try direct seeding in the high tunnel.  The idea is that we would dig up seedlings and spread them out to proper distances once they got big enough.  It looks like they are very nearly ready.

The rhubarb is coming up and looking very strong.  We managed to get the last of our plants moved to their permanent location (most were moved last Fall) and we are hopeful this will work out well for us.  One of our three asparagus plantings have been cleaned up in anticipation of harvest starting late April.   The other two are on the docket if weather allows.

We have our seed taters and we plan to put them in at the end of the month.  Late April and early May is also when we typically seed out field carrots, peas and beets.  Onions will go in the ground as soon as the field conditions allow AND the onions are big enough to put in.  Now that they are up, it shouldn't take too long.

Picture of the Month
Sometimes, the chicken decides it wants to lay an egg NOT built for an egg carton.

Farm News Shorts
  • We are trying a new feed supplier for our hens.  Earl Canfield of Canfield Farms in the Dunkerton area uses his own field crops to create various field mixes.  He is closer to us than our other options and we like the model he and his family use for their farm.
  • It's amazing how much happens in one week.  We usually tell people things start to really get rolling in April.  The truest test we know for this is when Tammy and I look at each other and say, "that was only yesterday."  It's a testament to the number of things going on that time seems to both stretch AND compress all at the same time. 
Time to Have Pun
Rob is considering whether or not he should continue to shower on a regular basis.  We figure the combination of his penchant for wordplay added to an increased likelihood of body odor would make him a....

Ya, ya.  I had to stretch a bit for it.  Maybe I'll go take a shower now.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Better Late than Never

We made a goal to come up with a decent blog post on the first of each month as a sort of news letter to all who have interest.  So, here is the installment for the first of this month! 

Pre-Wilting Technique for Greens
Your farmers spend some time reading up on the newest techniques for production and harvest during the cold months of the year.  One of the hot topics recently has been finding the best ways to deal with post-harvest handling of greens.  Our farm has used hydro-cooling since 2007 in an effort to make it possible for lettuce and other similar veggies to last longer in your refrigerator and we feel we've been very successful with this process.

Note the successful wilting in the row to the right.
Apparently, one of the newer techniques is to stop watering the target plants long enough for the leaves to wilt.  Once wilt is achieved, they are re-hydrated with a heavy irrigation pass prior to harvest. 
The logic here is that those leaves that return to their prior picture of health were the ones most likely to last longer after cutting.  In short, this removes any of the weaker leaves from harvest, resulting in the customer getting the best quality leaves from the plant.

This process may be akin to the recent trends towards removing irrigation from tomato plants for a period of time prior to harvest to encourage more sugar set in the fruit. However, the articles we have read thus far do not discuss the taste quality of the produce in question.

Given the picture above, we can manage the wilting part.  We're not sure if we've got the timing down for the rest.

Music to Tame the Wild... um... Vegetation
The Genuine Faux Farm is in the process of finalizing the trials (and maybe some of the tribulations) that will be held during this year's growing season.  Among those trials will be an experiment testing the best ways to expose vegetable plants to music.
Portable music machines work well to target specific crops

Our experience has shown that plants in fields where music has been playing for the farmers over longer periods of time seem to have higher yields than those that are exposed to less music.  We will admit that we have done no controlled experiments up to this point nor have we collected anything more than anecdotal evidence.  But, we are curious souls and are certainly up to the challenge of designing research to test the hypothesis.

The difficulty with the experiment will be placing ear muffs over the control plants so we can determine what difference, if any, exposure to music might have.  While we are not entirely sure what to expect for results from our studies, we do know for certain that Pachelbel's Canon in D will NOT be on the playlist.  After all, there are TWO CELLISTS who own and operate this farm and the reactions THEY might exhibit to repeated exposure to that piece may result in no yields whatsoever from the farm.

The Sandman Speaks Out Against Wild Weather Swings
 Recent weather events have been enough to get the Genuine Faux Farm Spokescat, the Sandman, to issue the following statement: "I am not in favor of climate change.  I, the Sandman, have spoken."
The Sandman surveys his domain.
While the Sandman refused to comment further, it was clear to us what prompted him to come to this conclusion.  We refer you to events in November where there were wild swings in weather conditions, with lows in the upper 20's and highs in upper 140's.   The high for the following day was only 43, but the prediction for warmer temperatures the next day had everyone, including the Sandman, just a bit nervous.
No, really, look at the bottom left for "yesterday's high and low" (click on the image for a bigger picture)
Cucumber Frog Re-applies for Clemency
The Genuine Faux Farm Cucumber Frog applied for and apparently received approval from someone other than Farmer Rob to move indoors during the cold Winter months.  This latest comes on the heels of Mr. Frog's prior application for clemency with regard to prior 'wrongdoing' on his part.

Mr. Frog is known for his tendency to find ways to startle Farmer Rob during cucumber harvest times.  The timing of his 'surprise appearances' can be good enough to cause the farmer to drop freshly picked produce and/or jump backwards quickly while saying something that sounds like "Gaaaah!"  The farmer is quoted as saying "that frog is a menace and hazard in the field. I am just glad I don't have to deal with him at other times of the year." 

Apparently, the Cucumber Frog has been given access to warmer places on the farm this Winter.  And, what could be warmer than the farmhouse itself? Now, with Mr. Frog enjoying these warmer environs during some of those "other times of the year," the farmer has dropped the laundry basket, a pile of books, a stitch and a line or two.   

"Look," said the farmer, "I appreciate all Mr. Frog does to keep down some of the pests in our cucumber field and I don't want him to leave the farm.  I can tolerate his shenanigans during cucumber harvest.  But, I just don't feel I should have to worry about him jumping out from behind the shower curtain when I'm trying to use the loo."

In later news: Yes, the Farmer Did Say "Use the Loo."

Egg Filming In Progress
Iowa Public Television was once again at the Genuine Faux Farm to record supplemental footage for an upcoming Iowa Ingredient show.  GFF will already appear on a show that features the use of duck for this season and next season they will use footage for a show focusing on the use of eggs.
Awaiting the hatch with baited breath
IPTV staff contacted us in hopes that we might have some fertilized eggs that could eventually hatch.  Of course, we do have roosters in our flock, so we responded in the positive.  After all, the operative word in their request was "could."  Or, maybe they could have if they hadn't already been put in the refrigerator - but they don't need to know that - so don't tell them.

The filming crew has been at the farm for the past four weeks, taking turns keeping the camera running just in case the eggs should begin to show signs of hatching.  We suppose we should tell them at some point that these eggs needed to be in a warm environment for them to hatch, but when they aren't filming they've been pretty useful around the farm and we hate to lose the extra help.

Special Organization Technique (Don't try this at home)
Past meets the present
Many of you may remember that Farmer Rob was a Computer Scientist in a former life.  Yes, he did things like work on algorithms to solve things like the "Bin Packing" problem.  Just type "bin packing problem" into Google or your favorite search engine and you'll find out what it is.

What?  You didn't go look it up?  Trying to avoid learning are you?   Well, you can't get off that easy, I'll just tell you about it myself.

The basic idea is to find a way to put a batch of objects of varying sizes into the absolute fewest possible number of bins.  What better place to attempt to find a practical application than a farm that has a finite number of bins and lots of different sized objects to put in them?

So, what's the problem with that you ask?  Well, the bin packing problem is one that is an NP-Hard problem.  In other words, you cannot hope to find an optimal solution in a reasonable amount of time.  And by reasonable, I mean in my lifetime...

We may want to pack it up so it's "good enough" and not worry about the "optimal" solution, what do you think?

One Phobia Beats Another
The Bandsaw Man is not too fond of heights.  But...

All I said was, "Look! A snake!"
New Pepper Variety
Our farm has continued to work on breeding some of its own vegetable varieties.  Some breeders work to improve taste, others work on storage qualities or uniformity in size and shape.  Us?  Well, we like vegetables that have faces.

We were able to develop this variety by pollinating a pepper plant that had been listening to music by Kiss and watching video of Michael Jordan's best dunks with another variety that we had tried the "Pre-wilting technique" during the week prior.  I'm pretty sure that peppers with varying shapes such as this will only make bin packing on the farm harder and they may introduce the Bandsaw Man to a new phobia.

Fear of peppers with faces - what would that be?  We know that the fear of vegetables is lachanophobia.  Maybe lachcapsicumophobia or something like that?

Prior successes would be Carrotman, Mr Aubergine and Bullwinkle the Tater.  We look forward to another successful year of growing with the possibility of many more veggies with faces.  Until then, we'd like you to consider supporting GFF in a new way.

Genuine Faux Farm Kickstarter Campaign
If you haven't noticed or figured it out yet, today's date is April 2, which is only one day away from April 1.  And, if you've seen some of our prior attempts at April Fool's posts, you would realize any date between April 1 and 5 is FAIR GAME.  This brings us to the new Kickstarter Campaign!

Are you tired of Rob being unable to maintain a timely post schedule for things like the April Fool's post?  Well, prepare to sign up for a Kickstarter campaign to fund timely posting by Rob on this blog!  After all - what would you give to see posts like this on the day they were intended for?

Wait? What was that?

Ok, let's amend the above.  What would you give to get Rob to STOP writing these silly blog posts.  Perhaps we need a KickStopper campaign?

If you'd like to see prior year installments, here they are!
2016 April Fool Post
2015 April Fool Post
2014 April Fool Post
2013 April Fool Post
2012 April Fool Post