Friday, July 28, 2017

Storm Front

It is no secret to those that pay any attention to what we do that there are things that we struggle with every single growing season.  And yet, if you think about what we share in our blog, in our emails and on social media, you'll notice we try not to say too much about it.

If you follow our farm or other farms like ours on social media, it isn't all that often that you see any of us reporting daily struggles.  Instead, you'll see a nice picture of a garlic harvest.  Or a field that was weedy, but has now been weeded.  Or smiling workers achieving something of worth on the farm.  We all figure you don't want or need to hear about day-in/day-out struggles - so we tend not to share them.

The exceptions to this rule:
1. A major disaster that needs to be shared in order to garner needed support
2. An issue that we can put a humorous twist on so it doesn't really seem like a negative after all
3. We feel like there is an worthwhile educational component, which often makes it all seem a little less personal and therefore less painful
4. Anything to do with the weather.

Change of plans, let's not go take farm pictures.
If you farm, the weather is always not quite right no matter what happens.  Too wet, too hot, too dry, too windy, too calm, too cold, too much like a roller coaster, too many entrenched weather systems that stick us in one weather pattern for weeks, etc etc.  In other words, weather is simply too much sometimes.

Instead, let's dash and close up the high tunnels!
We catch ourselves getting a bit whiny about the weather and we try to stay away from complaining about it too much.  But, there are times when it is warranted.  For example, it seemed to us that we have had more severe wind events in our area than most seasons - and after looking at some of our historical records, that seems to be true.  One of this year's events was the dust storm preceding the actual storm in May that scrubbed Rob raw as he tried to get inside and failed to do so in time.

One of the scariest weather events this farmer has been in... ever.
Since then, the weather has shifted a bit from the excessive winds, though we have gotten plenty of poufffssss over the past couple months.  Instead, it is more of excessive rain rates that cause our poor weather station to tell us it is "raining cats and dogs."
Yes, that's us in the Flash Flood Warning reddish box in NE Bremer County
 And, while it wasn't exactly a heavy downpour event, we even ended up rescheduling a CSA delivery because we weren't going to try to pick in the rain and lightning.  That's not something we've done many times since our farm share programs inception in 2005.  But, we had scheduled in some flexibility this time around and decided to take advantage of it.  It ended up working for the best for us AND for our customers, so we'll take it.
Jocelyn says, "Hey!  It's raining at the farm..."
Tammy and I actually did a rare thing and scheduled a quick trip away from the farm to see family and participate in a postal history related event in Minnesota.  We had workers we could trust to handle the farm and we just needed a break. 
Nope, we can't weed in that field today.

So - what happens?  It rains.  And it rains.  And it rains.  Sumner (to our East) is still trying to clean up from the flooding.  And as a side note, this is actually the second rain event this Summer that flooded Sumner's streets.  But, this one really did serious damage.   It was just ridiculous amounts of rain.
The final tally for rain on the farm in this event was 5.5"
And this is how the two of us can start to feel guilty in a hurry.  We leave and take a break from the farm during the growing season, which really shouldn't be allowed.  We're already feeling a bit guilty - even if everyone out there tells us we earned a break and it is ok that we took one.  But, when you leave the farm and things get difficult due to rain and heat, you can't help but feel guilty having left workers to deal with the problems when it should be you that has to deal.
The ditch by Valhalla filled up and overflowed.
Caleb and Jocelyn did a fine job handling everything and they kept us up to date with what was going on.  Caleb had to fix a high tunnel rollup bar that broke and they had to be creative with tasks.  You see, Rob gave them a list of things to do "if it didn't rain" and "if it did rain."  He failed to give them one "if the heavens opened up and dumped never-ending buckets of water onto the farm."

We returned from our break and the farm was still there.  Jocelyn and Caleb are both fine.  There are still some gummy spots in the fields, but it is drying out enough to do work most places.  We lost our productive green bean rows in Eden (older high tunnel) due to flooding followed by excessive heat.  A few other plants in that building didn't take the event all that well either.  Field peppers didn't care for the wet feet and are set back as well.  But, generally speaking, we'll be fine.  We just won't have bumper crops of everything like we dreamed we would in January.  (Remember Farmer Delusional Syndrome?)
And here's where it all gets really nuts.  The Western and Southern parts of Iowa are very dry and many areas are now in drought conditions.  Meanwhile, we're sitting at 8.75" of rain for July and points not too far away got more than that in a single rain event.  If you go just a little ways south and west of us (Waverly, Cedar Falls, Waterloo), the rain amounts weren't all that high.

Tammy and I actually remember a time when we were less tied to the weather.  Sure, if there was tremendously extreme weather, we took note.  But, if it rained three days straight, we read books (for example) and didn't really worry too much about it unless our basement flooded or some such thing.  Now, a little bit of rain, or no rain, can alter much of what we plan to do on a day to day basis. 
It's enough to make our peppers make faces!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Mini Snort!

A few years ago, we had to put in a new well and we wrote a series of stories about the "SNORT" that visited our farm - much to our chagrin.   The Snort visited us again a couple of years ago when we ran water lines to the new high tunnel. 

The Mini-Snort
It turns out the Snort wasn't available to come out and help us fix a hydrant that had broken, so we got its little brother the "Mini-Snort" to visit us.  As always, much to our chagrin... Snorts always bring about chagrin.  Don't ask me why, I just know it is true.
The Mini-Snort made a right nice little mess for us in hopes that we could find the line that led to the broken hydrant.  Apparently, such things are not simple here.  But, it was, eventually, found.

One works, one doesn't work.
Now we just need to flatten the dirt out somewhat....

Friday, July 21, 2017

LilyPalooza 2017

Every year we tend to share posts that feature our day lilies as they enter peak bloom at the farm.  We thought we'd start formally calling it "LilyPalooza" in hopes that Rob will take the time to share pictures with you each year.

And hey!  If you want to see them in person, let us know.  We'll trade you a little bit of weeding time for a LilyPalooza tour of your very own!  Or maybe you can help us with the dishes...  Or you could try not wince too visibly when Rob throws a pun or two your way.

 Daylilies can be difficult for me to photograph sometimes because I admit to being an impatient "photographer."  After all, I am usually needing to do my job as farmer and taking a moment to take pictures of pretty flowers can usually only be an actual moment...

 Sometimes, the picture gets a little washed out looking when the flower is in full sun.  To my eye, many of those featuring yellows really show off during bright daylight.  Add a little red and perhaps some angle to sunlight and you get the picture above.
 At times, you get a little bit of a sparkle in the picture.  Yes, it is true, some of these daylilies show off because they KNOW they look good.
 As an opportunist when it comes to taking pictures, I'm willing to take what is given to me.  Some different shadows?  Ok.  Why not?  If they don't work, they don't work, that's fine.  But, I can still recall how nice it was to take a picture or two at 6:30am so I could get some different shadows on the flowers.

 At times, the colors are absolutely stunning.  I can only hope the camera will catch a bit of the color that is there.  The two surrounding this text are pretty good representations of what I was seeing during my LilyPalooza tour this year.
 If you look carefully, you might notice that daylilies are not all shaped the same.  Some have drastically different sized petals, some are rounder in the overall shape.  Some.... look a little spidery.
 And others just can't wait to open all of their blossoms at once.
 But most are happy with a couple at a time, extending their bloom over a period of many days.
 Some of the flowers are bold - saying "Look!  I have something to share with you."
 And others might rather stay in the corner and mind their own business.
 Perhaps they'll take a look at the aster plant nearby.
 Some of our daylilies are old standbys that we have had for nearly as long as we've been married.  Hyperion is not as flashy as many of them, but it is reliable.  And it makes both of us smile.
 And, Hyperion plays nicely with others.
 Every once in a while, we get a surprise.  We don't recall this one blooming before.  It has small flowers with a frilly texture.  It's actually quite nice, but you have to really stop and look at it to really appreciate it.
 Speaking of texture - even some of the bigger daylilies play that game.
 I suppose we should get around to figuring out what we have and trying to come up with a nice representative planting.  It sounds like a fun project.  But, who will weed it?  We have to ask these questions.

 Because it would be a shame if the flowers were covered up.
 The more I look at them, the more I realize that each one can make me feel differently.  Have a little fun and try something different says one daylily.
 Relax and have some lemonade says Prairie Blue Eyes. 
 And then there's Rocket City.  Not too hard to guess what it might say.
 A flower like the one below almost seems like it is wearing the flowers version of a tuxedo.  Bond, James Bond, it says.
 And this one is just "wedding day" pretty. 
 Then, there is the pinkish flower that just won't let me get it's color right when I take its picture.  Hopefully, I can take another crack at it.
 On the other hand, this one is really that red.
 And these are a coral color both of us love to look at.  It shows off most in the evening, but it just doesn't want it's photo taken then - they just never turn out the way I see them.
 And, if there was a clown of the flower world, it might look like this.
 Daylilies even look good if you don't get all of the weeds out of the way.  You just have to pull them to the side a bit.
 And, the biggest flower we have (for daylilies) is Big Bird.  The flower is a good deal bigger than my hand.
 Thank you for joining us for LilyPalooza 2017.
It's still going on at the farm and we hope to enjoy it as much as we possibly can!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Enough to Make You Cry

I don't check social media all that much.  My interactions there tend to be farm focused because, to me, it's a tool that I can't ignore if we want our farm to continue.  As is the case with every communication tool that has increased the ease with which we can share varying media, the content quality can be suspect.  And, the immediacy or the 'call and response' cycle encourages us to skip the process of critical thinking.

It's so easy to share things that upset us.  It's so easy to share inane things that don't matter all that much.  It's so easy to get overwhelmed by all of the unhappy things out there.

It's enough to make you cry.

Until you remind yourself that there is a strength in knowledge.  If you are careful about what you share and you think hard about what goes out there, perhaps you can help inform people about things that they should know about.

For example:
Dicamba Sales Suspended in Arkansas and Missouri

Dicamba is a 'reformulation' of 2-4D, which was known to drift and cause problems before it was banned from use. Supposedly, the producer of the chemical addressed this problem and got approval for the sale of the dicamba ready soybeans and use of the product. Since that time, it has become apparent that they did NOT handle the drifting issue. In fact, there are problems with storing the stuff as well. Dicamba damage to plants can take on many forms but it is not easy to verify, and it is nearly impossible to track from whence it came. All I can say is this chemical is dangerous.

Note at the end of the article the mention of enhanced penalties. Iowa's penalties top out at about 6% of Missouri's new penalties.

Why do I bring this to your attention?  Well, if we want to do something about it, people need to be made aware of the issue.  Please, consider contacting legislators and voicing your concern.  While a suspension of sales in Arkansas and Missouri is something, it will not stick if people celebrate and assume it will go away.  It won't without some effort.

And, while we are worried about herbicides like Dicamba, there are also pesticides like the neonicoianoids that have been linked to pollinator decline.  
We started asking nurseries if their stock was treated with neonicotinoids prior to purchase.  Why? Because we took the time to learn about an issue and how we might be perpetuating a problem.
Then there is this:
Farmworkers in California sickened by Spray Drift

While it is true that there are more field workers in California than most states, you should take note that there has been more field activity in Iowa fields than there has been in recent years.  We've seen some farmers going back to hiring crews to "walk beans" and go "rock picking" than in prior years.  Some of this might be a response to lower corn and soybean prices (among other factors), but the point is - there are more workers outside doing a job during the growing season.

Then there are people such as myself and Tammy and our crew Caleb, Emma and Jocelyn.  We're out there nearly every day.  Just because we are doing a job that many people don't WANT to do, it doesn't make it ok that we have to inhale chemicals someone else is spraying for crops that are NOT on our farm.  Heck, it wouldn't be ok if we wanted to spray some of our crops and our workers had to inhale it (or be covered in it).  For that matter, if I sprayed a field with my workers in it, I would expect to be in trouble.  Why is it we accept that a neighboring farmer can spray and miss their field and not be in trouble for harming workers on another farm?  Why is it ok to drift on people who just live in the country or at the edge of a small town in Iowa?

Again, this is worth our time because it isn't ok.  We need to say this clearly and we need to be persistent.  We can take action to make things better - which is why I put it in front of you.

And then:
Iowa is Losing Trees and It Is Hurting Water Quality

I have watched unhappily while people in our area of Bremer county have ripped up trees, brushy areas and lightly wooded areas so they can till a few more acres of land.  After all, if you have access to the land, you MUST make it work.  Right?  Right?!?

The problem here is that we have a terribly narrow and short-sighted view of what making land 'work' for us might be.  Uncle Brownie used to find tree seedlings in his field that he would move to the fence line.  He understood the value of trees in the farmscape and he promoted their presence on the land he stewarded during his lifetime.

Now, it seems like some farmers are even jealous and upset that there are ditches next to our roads.  How many times have you seen fields where the old fence posts are ripped out and the field is worked up and over the crown that leads to the ditch?

It is no longer about making the land work for you so you can make a living and it is more about milking every little ounce out of the land NOW so YOU can USE it NOW.  Who cares about anything (or anyone) else?

But wait, there is more:
Farmers Commit Suicide at a High Rate, Even after 80's Farm Crisis

No, this is not a cry for help.  But, I feel it is a part of the puzzle.

Simply put, farming can be a stressful vocation.  I could write an entire post about this alone (and then some).  But, I feel part of the issue is that we have built a system that rewards competition and monocropping and large scale agriculture.  Anyone who fails to go that way adds extra stresses that may be the straw that 'breaks the camel's back.'  Or, even if you try to play the game, it's not so hard to end up playing for the losing team (so to speak).

Farmers under high stress are less likely to want to think about things like how what they do impacts water quality, or their neighbor's crops or the meadowlark population.  When you are hurting, your world gets smaller.

The problem, perhaps is just that - we've all made our own personal worlds so small we can't see when we harm others:
Meteorologist Shows Poor Air Quality in Central Iowa After Fireworks Frenzy

I am glad we have personal freedoms in our country.  I am not necessarily a big fireworks fan, but I guess I can understand why some people were very excited about the removal of the firework sales ban in Iowa this year.

My biggest reason for not liking this decision was the fact that I could see how our tendency as humans to not consider others could cause some very real problems.

What about veterans who cringe and have flashbacks (or worse) every time a firework goes off?  It's one thing to have fireworks on the fourth of July.  They have a chance to find a safe place and try to muffle the sound.  But, when it is ANY citizen shooting a firework off at ANY time at nearly ANY place?  What are they supposed to do, find a deep cave and stay there for a month?  How is that right?

I thought of several other issues and I was still surprised (though I shouldn't have been) by the air quality issue.  As an asthmatic, if the air quality in our area had reached those levels, I would have had a pretty bad time of it.

And now, you know why I am sharing all of these links and stories - along with the issues.  Sure, they may make you sad
or angry
maybe even feel helpless.

But, I submit that the solution is within reach.  When you consider how your actions and choices just might negatively impact others, you can improve things.  When you see problems like these and draw attention to them, you can encourage action and thought that might widen someone's personal worldview.  And, when you make it known that you are dissatisfied with how things are in a reasonable way that considers how others feel - maybe something positive can happen.

If you don't take care of the problem, it only gets bigger.

Positive change sure won't happen otherwise.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Brassicae and Allia Together Again

We try to do a fair amount with intercropping on our farm and we're always tweaking how we attempt to make it happen.  This year, we stuck with the general principles of the last few years when it came to the brassicae (broccoli, cauliflower, etc) and the allia (onions, garlic, etc).  Instead, we went with a couple of tweaks.

Even in a decent year, it often seems like we ride the edge of disaster.  Case in point:
Ok - that's a day away from "uh oh."
Some people would say that we had already reached the "uh oh" stage, but I think the picture actually overstates the case this time around.  The weeds were not all that dense, but they certainly had some real bulk to them.  An earlier run with the Williams Toolbar with the flextines made onion weeding do-able rather than a nightmare.  Simply put, the picture you see above is what happens when the next field on the cultivation list isn't taken care of before a series of rains that make the field too wet to work.  It really did not look all that bad prior to the rains - honest!

Some between row cultivation and some in row weeding and it looks better.
Tammy and I spent a good portion of our July 4th celebrating our ability to eradicate weeds.  If you look at the picture above, you'll notice all of the rows at the left are pretty clean and the rows directly in front of us are well on the way.  The sunny, warmer weather made it easy to just let the weeds dry out in place.  Let's just say they didn't appreciate having their roots exposed.
Ah, finished!
The crew rejoined us on the 5th and we got the in row work done on some onions and broccoli.  What you don't see clearly here is the intercropping of marigolds in row with the broccoli.  We've tried some herbs in the past with some success, but we're both enjoying the marigolds more.
A rewarding end of the day sight for me was this picture as I brought in tools.  This blog post was written on July 8 (even though it will not appear until July 17).  It's only three days later and the field exhibits significant growth for all of the crops. 

Broccoli and onions were actually part of our SARE funded study from a few years ago along with our bean/potato research.  If you are interested, you could view this:

A quick summary could be this: we found planting onions and brassicae in the same bed to be an issue for the onions.  Since that time, we've found that adjacent bends help with cabbage looper and cabbage worm.  We are now tinkering with three versus four rows of onions per bed and with the frequency of the in-row companion (marigold, for example) with the brassicae.  In the next few weeks, we will undersew some cover crops in select rows and see what that does for us.

And now, you know more about some of our crops than you ever wanted to!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Rats in Your Room

Our story begins with a batch of turklets in their room.  They had nice clean straw and lots of area to run around.  They jumped and hopped when a moth made the bad decision to fly through.  We saw the moth for a while and then it wasn't there.  We're not sure if the moth managed to leave, land somewhere safe or if it met a "Beak of Doom."
The turklets were healthy.  They were curious about everything.  They ate well.  They stayed hydrated and got plenty of exercise.  Until, one morning.

Tammy found some dead turklets.

We'd seen this before and figured rats had decided to expand their diet from stealing feed from the turklets to the turklets themselves.  Not good.
So, we moved the turklets from their room to the brooder room, which is more secure.  There are fewer entry points and we got the birds away from where the rats had established that turklets were edible.
Unfortunately for the turklets, they now had noisy and stinky neighbors - the "nuggets" (aka broiler chickens).  Fortunately for the turklets, the nuggets were due to go out to pasture the next day.    The farmers moved a fan into the room and added some extra venting to regulate the temperature and everyone did fine the next night.

Caught in the Act!
We set out to rid ourselves of the rats in the turkey room and ended up catching one in a rather non-conventional way.  Apparently, the one picture above was used to going THROUGH the chicken wire about half-way up the turkey room wall.  Also apparently, adding turkey to the diet went straight to the rat's hips.

Tammy went to check the room the morning after we moved the turklets and found this rat stuck and unable to get out of its predicament.  Queen Boss Tammy's wrath resulted in the smiting of said rat and it is no more.

If you are a farmer with animals, you have to know there will be rats.  If you have livestock, you have to accept you will lose some of them.  It doesn't make you happy, but there you are.  But, it is even rarer to be given a gem like this after what could be termed a 'bad situation.'

The turklets are currently 'safe' and healthy.  The nuggets are moved and out on pasture.  And, the rat gave us an opportunity to laugh and have a little fun - at its expense.  We put out some Facebook posts asking people to give us song titles that would fit the picture above.  Here are our favorites that were submitted or mentioned:

Honorable Mention: Journey "Who's Crying Now?"

Number 10: Tonio K "You Don't Belong Here"

Number 9: Vigilantes of Love "It Could Be Alot Worse"

Number 8: Queen "Great King Rat"

Number 7: Giant "No Way Out"
Number 6:  White Stripes "I Smell A Rat"

Number 5: Creed "One Last Breath"
perhaps six feet under isn't down far enough?

Number 4: Kerosene Halo "Bad Sense of Direction"

Number 3: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band "Stuck in the Middle"

Quite literally - at that.

Number 2: Kerry Livgren "Hindsight"
Ahhhh!  A title that works on SO many levels.  You just have to like it.

Number 1: NRBQ "Rats in My Room"
There was just no question about this one.

And a bonus: Princess Bride and the ROUS

If you didn't believe in them before - you have to now!