Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Return to the Hobby

Winter is here and the farmer gets to spend some time on his postal history hobby.  I enjoy finding interesting items that might have a story to tell.  I also like to uncover the details that pertain to the workings of the mail system that had to do with each item getting to its destination.  After the story is uncovered to a level that will allow me to feel comfortable that I have a decent understanding, I work on designing a page on which the item will reside.

In short, the hobby allows me to exercise a need to learn new things in a topic area I enjoy and it provides an opportunity create something interesting as a result.

The final step is to enjoy the page that is created and to share it with others.  This blog post highlights a few pages I finished at the end of last Winter and was part of a small exhibit of early French postal history that I put into the Cedar Rapids Stamp Show (where it won the Grand Award!).  While I am not in it for awards, it is nice to get some recognition.  An earlier blog post from September called Stories of a Moment in Time has a couple of other pages from that exhibit along with an Italy page that I like.

If you have perused some of my other posts on the blog related to postal history, you know that I favor the 1860's and the decades surrounding it.  In the past couple of years, I have been fortunate to be able to locate and acquire some nice items with French stamps from that period.  And before you ask - no, they didn't cost lots and lots of money.  Perhaps, $10-$30 seems like a lot to pay for some old paper to you.  But, then, I ask you - what do you do for fun and what is the cost you pay?  Do you feel you get enough enjoyment for that cost?  I feel that I am getting a good return of enjoyment for my investment, so there really isn't an issue here, is there?

The page above illustrates one of the special rates for what I would typically refer to as "printed matter."  This would include things like periodicals, sheet music and other papers that had no personal correspondence.  In this case, it seems logical that this envelope held some legal paperwork regarding real estate.

Typically, these items were sent in unsealed envelopes or in a wrapper that would allow the post office to inspect the contents to be sure the regulations were being followed.  After all, they were getting a discounted postage rate that was well short of the normal letter rate.

I do tend to favor mail that originates in one country and then travels to another.  The item above left France and went to Naples, Italy.  The inset map shows (roughly) the status of rail lines in Italy at the time this piece of mail traveled from Marseilles to Naples.  A marking on the back of the envelope says "Modane-Torino Amulante," which indicates that it crossed from France into Italy at that point.  An Italian postal official placed this mark on the back of the envelope (and all others riding with it) to provide evidence as to when and where this item traveled.  From that point, we cannot say for certain which of the train routes were taken to Naples.  However, I suspect it may be possible to find references to train schedules in Italy in papers of that time.  Unfortunately, I do not read Italian, so we may just let that detail go!
Perhaps it is more interesting to many who read the blog to see something that left France and came to the United States.

One of the things that makes this pair of envelopes interesting to me is that one shows correct payment that was accepted (the first one) and the other shows an item that did not have enough postage on it.  In that second case, the short payment resulted in the recipient having to pay the full amount due (30 cents in the United States, which was equal to 160 centimes).

Before you go and do other "internety" stuff, I'd like you to notice that the top letter has a docket that says "Duplicata 9 Novembre 1859" at the top of the letter.  It still was not entirely uncommon for people or businesses to send more than one copy of important business letters via different ships or mail services.  While it had become a good deal less common by this time, there were still instances of mail being lost at sea.

And now - back to your regularly scheduled farm blog!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Up for Falls

Our last post was about Winter, so we're going to balance it out with something from warmer days - even if some of those warmer days weren't exactly what one might call "warm."  Really, it doesn't take much when your high for the day is 2 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tammy and I have thoroughly enjoyed visiting waterfalls and we thought we'd share a few in a blog post.  It is still the Holidays and we're going to celebrate with you by showing you visits we still treasure.
South Falls (Silver Falls, Oregon)

Opaeka'a Falls (Kauai)
Waipo'o Falls - actually, a little falls just above Waipo'o
Waipo'o Falls (at left - Kauai)

Eugenia Falls (Ontario)
Bridal Veil Falls (Oregon)

Waimea Falls (Kauai)

Winter Falls (Silver Falls, Oregon)

Latourell Falls (Oregon)

Falls just off Pole Line Trail in Kauai

Unnamed falls in Kauai
Inglis Falls (Ontario)

Monday, December 25, 2017

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Winter has definitely arrived on the farm.  While we don't have much for snow this year, the temperatures are currently below zero (Fahrenheit) as I write this and there isn't much relief in the ten-day forecast.  There may be some snow later in the week.  In fact, we hope it will snow, since it seems silly to be cold without the snow.

We don't have much for Winter pictures from this season so far, but we have some pretty nice ones from years past.  So, as part of our efforts to celebrate the Holiday Season, we thought we would share some of the beauty that nature brings us.  While Winter may be cold and harsh, it is not altogether devoid of kindness, joy and love.  And life is always stirring just under the surface.

Tammy and I have had the privilege to work together a good deal over the past week once she completed her grading and commitments for the Fall Semester.  It's been refreshing for me because it's been a while since I've had anyone helping on the farm.  So, there's a renewal of purpose when there is someone else involved in the farm work.

Of course, I also like her a LOT, which is part of the reason we got married in the first place.  So, it is extremely nice to get to spend more time with her over the Holidays - even if significant portions of that time is spent scooping out the hen room.

Others who work in education can probably relate to this.  After all, the approach of the end of a term that also coincides with preparations for holidays at the end of the year is always on the edge of frantic.  We won't say WHICH side of frantic it lands on.  But, it isn't the side where sanity usually lies.
We were able to make our final CSA deliveries of the year together - mostly.  We actually ran out of time trying to clean everything so I zipped into Waverly while she cleaned a few more dozen eggs.  She was able to arrive about halfway through the Waverly distribution, but she was there for the entire Cedar Falls distribution.

Tammy is important for the success of the Genuine Faux Farm, but it can get difficult for her to see that as the semester wears on and she becomes more and more removed from our operations.  While I cannot say that our frantic day of CSA prep was relaxing.  I also cannot say that every moment was enjoyable.  There are only so many carrots and eggs a person wants to wash in a given period of time.  Yet, we were able to feel the accomplishment that comes with fulfilling a contract to provide good food to people who appreciate what we do.  And, we were able to feel that accomplishment together - as the team that we are.

Once the CSA season is completed, we typically have a ridiculously long list of things that we want to do before we have to begin doing things for the new semester and new season.  We were hoping/planning to do some house repair work during the two weeks around Christmas.  Here we are with one week gone and it was spent doing all kinds of outdoors work on the farm.  The good news?  Some of that work actually forwarded the work on the house.  But, I am afraid Tammy will head back to school and we'll both feel that we didn't reach any of our goals for the break.
It is tempting to say that we will have failed.  But, the truth is that we could do nothing for the rest of this week (which we won't) and we should feel a sense of accomplishment and be at peace for what was.  We took on difficult tasks and completed them.  We enjoyed time with people we care for and reached out to others.  We dealt with commitments in a manner that hopefully left those to which they were owed feeling like they were treated kindly and well.  We even played a few board games and let the cats get some of the attention they so richly deserve.

Busy lives with heavy responsibility and daily puzzles that need solving can be a bit like the Winter.  The relentless weight of the cold can numb your senses and turn your thoughts toward negativity.  There are only so many days that a person can work long and hard to accomplish all that needs doing only to find that the effort wasn't enough.  It can just as demoralizing as the upcoming windchills we are looking at for the next few days.

But, there is still that life stirring just under the surface.  And once you open your eyes there is beauty to behold.  Even in Winter.

We hope that everyone who reads this has the opportunity to be reminded of the good things in their lives.  May you have the chance to celebrate life and love as you see fit, whether you celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa, Solstice, your own birthday, a long life well-lived but now past or the latest snowfall that made everything look now once again.
May we all remember that there are many who are struggling and need help.  We wish for us all the strength to break the ice that holds our wills still so that we can act in ways that make things better.  We have the ability to bring a little warmth to others in big ways and in little ways.  Let's see what we can accomplish in the spirit of this season.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Rob & Tammy
Genuine Faux Farm

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Where's Waldo?

Instead of Waldo, we're looking for pollinators.  After all, we're working hard to build a pollinator paradise on our farm and we'd like to see if it is working.

These pictures have pollinators in them, see if you can find them.  Remember, you can click on these pictures to make them bigger.

We'll start with an easy one.
Oh, yes, you are very clever.  You found the monarch.  Try the next one.

 You should be able to find a bee in the picture above.  If that was too hard, we'll go with an easier one next...

You should find a Painted Lady butterfly in the one above.

But, can you find the bee in the picture below?
How about in the picture below?
For bonus points, there are other insects in the picture above.  Can you find the grasshopper?  Maybe even a cucumber beetle?

It is possible that the resolution of photos on a blog will not allow you to find this one.  There is at least one visible insect in this picture of sweet alyssum.

And, for the final exam.....

Ok, ok.  It was a trick question.  There are no pollinators visible in this picture.  But, it's a cool picture!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Time Capsule

I remember our class trying to figure out what to put in the time capsule when our elementary school opted to create one.  I wonder now what that item was that we decided on, but I am guessing I will not find out.

But, my musings led me to consider trying a 'time capsule' of sorts with our farm pictures.  The rule was that I had to go to the picture files we have and select a random month for each year during the growing season.  Then, I had ten seconds to select a picture I could put into a blog post with similarly selected photos.  Let's see what happened, shall we?

2008 - Grandpa Admires lettuce in a cage
We didn't have a digital camera in 2008, but we do have some digital photos courtesy of Sally Worley, who took a batch of them during the first PFI field day we hosted that year.

I selected this photo because it illustrates how much things have changed and how much things have stayed the same on our farm.  The red cages have all been taken apart by now.  We still have some of the wood that has been repurposed and, of course, we do have chunks of chicken wire here and there that were probably part of these cages.  But, it is the way of a working farm.  Things get built to solve a problem or serve a purpose.  They work for a time until they wear out or the farm moves on to other approaches.  Then, they become something else.

On the other hand, you might notice that this cage in particular is covering Grandpa Admires lettuce.  We grew it back in 2008 and we still grow it to this day.  For that matter, as long as Rob is doing the growing, there is going to be some Grandpa Admires simply because he LIKES to eat this type of lettuce.  If you know anything about Rob's eating history, than you know that is really saying something. 

As I look at the picture, I realize that it may well be the very first season we used these cages.  Why?  Well, look how straight they are?  All it took was one Winter to change that.
2010 - we should have grown cranberries or rice

We have no digital pictures for 2009, but we did finally get access to a digital camera in 2010.  That was just in time so we could record what was our absolute WORST season on the farm.  And, at the same time, it was the MOST transforming season for the farm as well. 

We got rain.  And more rain.  And more rain.  If you look carefully at this picture you will see standing water next to the brassica plants.  There is tall grass in the rows because we had no way to weed.  The veggie plants in this picture are on their way to dying as can be seen by the browned leaves.  In short, we had an awful time of it until we got to mid-July, when it dried up some.

And, yet, that season saw some major changes that moved us forward dramatically.  We built Eden (our first high tunnel), we purchased our first tractor (Durnik), took a crash course in Fall and early Winter veggy growing and began finding that there were other growers in Iowa we could go to for morale support.

2011 - Eden's first Summer crop set
We were within a whisker of quitting the Genuine Faux Farm in June of 2010, but felt we'd better get through our commitments.  Some Fall success and the opportunities a new high tunnel brings encouraged us to give it a go in 2011.  And that's where we learned that green beans LOVE high tunnels.

Tomatoes love high tunnels too, I know.  But, the green beans were a revelation to us.  The rows on the right of this picture went crazy and we could barely keep them harvested.

The thing that strikes me about the 2011 picture is how different our planting methods look now as compared to what they were then.  Let's just say that we've learned a good deal and leave it at that.  But, that doesn't mean we didn't do things relatively well then.  After all, we were working with fewer tools in the tool box.
2012 - Look! Red cages again!

New tools don't always mean the old tools go away.  As you can see in the photo to the right, the red cages made a return as protection for seedlings while they were in trays. 

The backstory here is that the building that had been on the slab was blown down in some years prior.  We finally got it mostly cleaned up so we could use the area for seedling tray central.

I find this particular photo interesting because I know that there are good sized piles of ugly lumber and scrap just to the left that we were in the process of cleaning up.  But, like many things on the farm, we just couldn't get the project all the way done before we absolutely had to get seedlings outside.  The growing season always wins when the battle of priorities begins on our farm.

2013  - Raised Beds
A common theme on our farm has got to be what happens when we get too much rain.  We have flat ground and relatively heavy soil.  Too much rain is probably the worst situation for us to grow in.  As a result, the years that have seen some of the greatest innovations were those that saw the most issues with rain.

Or, perhaps I should say, the years that had the 'most' innovations were the years we had the most issues with rain.  I am not sure that all of our responses during those seasons were all that great.  The raised beds did a decent job for us and still do.  But, like the red cages, they are no longer as important as other tools on our farm.  It's just another interesting way to see how our farm has grown and changed over the years.

2014 - garlic in the rafters

And yet again, there are things that have remained fairly constant.  We still hang our garlic from the rafters in the truck barn.  It is still an impressive sight to find 3000 or so garlic hanging up to cure after a day of harvest, bundling and hanging.

We find it interesting that each of our work crews over the years think this is one of the most exciting work days of the season.  With the event of Facebook, we can tell you that other farms like ours have similar reactions.  The garlic harvest is a BIG deal.   One day, you have rows of garlic plants standing up in the field.  The next, they are all hanging up to cure.  It's a big, big change and the task has a definite beginning and end.  The farmers and the crew can actually take a moment and appreciate what has been done.

2015 - Beans and peppers South of Valhalla
We put Eden up in 2010 and told ourselves that it would be the biggest project we would undertake for our farm's infrastructure.  My how a few years can change your viewpoint. 

We completely restructured some of our fields so we could insert a new high tunnel (called Valhalla).  Like Eden, this building can also move between two growing locations.  The biggest difference is that Valhalla is about 25 feet longer.  That may not sound like much, but if you are used to working a certain row length in a high tunnel, it is surprising how it gets ingrained into your head.  I still find myself stopping and being confused 25 feet SHORT of the end of the row in Valhalla because my internal measurements say I should be finished with the row by then.  It actually gets worse - I get confused in Eden now too because the rows are shorter than they should be.

2016 - the Inspector has arrived
Ah! The life of a farmer - always confusing.

We have had kittens on the farm more than once, but Inspector is the only cat that was born on the farm.  To be honest, this wasn't actually a welcomed event.  Inspector's mother (Soup) had been dumped at our farm and we weren't entirely sure she would fit in with how things worked there.  In fact, we still have some reservations about Soup.  At least she has shown she can handle the Winters - an issue we were not at all sure about early on.

Inspector, on the other hand, has turned out to be about the friendliest feline you'll ever meet.  He's my friend.  He's your friend.  He's EVERYBODY'S friend.  He has gotten more independent as the year has gone on, which is good.  But, he still likes to hitch a ride in a farmer's arms if he can manage.  Some good skritching is always appreciated and he'll reward with a nice purr every time.

2017 - Set up to harvest
The last picture is one that is familiar to me, but it doesn't usually show up on blogs or anywhere else for that matter.  Harvest day usually means loading up the trailer with harvest totes of various sizes, the portable scale, some tunes, a towel, sometimes a coat, various harvesting knives and the record book. 

After a fairly short period of time, many of those totes will be full of produce and we'll be hauling them back to the cleaning and packing area. 

And, now that I've gotten to the 2017 picture for this post, it is time to clean and pack this blog post for your reading pleasure!

Thank you for checking out our GFF Time Capsule!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Heirloom Melons - 5 Years Later

We noticed that some of our older posts that focus on particular crops get attention every year during certain times.  This encouraged us to check out some of these posts and consider how things have changed.  Our first post in this series focused on pie pumpkins.

Our melon production has changed significantly over the past five years and yet there are still many similarities.  If you want to see how it was, go to the original Post that is here.

Carrying the Load
Minnesota Midget
We have a few varieties that have been carrying the load for us in recent years.  We decorate the 'edges' with other cultivars in hopes that we find their secrets or manage to luck out with a year that has the perfect weather for them. This is actually the philosophy we have adapted to using over the years that seems to work for us.  Clearly, we need to find varieties that are reliable so we can meet our base goals for production.  And that is exactly where Minnesota Midget comes in for us.

Minnesota Midget is grown exclusively in our high tunnels, though we have had some decent results in the field in past seasons.  These plants like to climb our trellis and seem to enjoy the environment we give them.  Because we had vines in both Eden and Valhalla this past year, we were able to handle the 'mini-disaster' that was our field melon crop in the Eastfarthing 1 plot.  We are actually considering saving seeds next year to see if we can select for plants that are particularly happy with the environment we give them.

Eden's Gem, Oka and Pride of Wisconsin
Eden's Gem and Pride of Wisconsin normally shoulder the load for our field melon production, with reasonably productive levels from 2012 to 2016.  This works well for us since Eden's Gem gets started ripening a week to ten days earlier than Pride of Wisconsin.  The picture above shows an admittedly large Eden's Gem against a relatively small Pride of Wisconsin.  Eden's Gem averages just over a pound in size for us and Pride of Wisconsin runs between three and five pounds.

The really good news here is that all of these open pollinated cultivars have good taste and texture.  So, we haven't sold out just to get some melons here.  Of the three, we might be tempted to say that Eden's Gem is the tastiest, but the reality is that Eden's Gem has the most distinct taste of the three.  Minnesota Midget has a traditional cantaloupe taste, as does Pride of Wisconsin.  All three easily outstrip most melons you will find in the store.

Decorating the Edges
You might have noticed that we did not discuss Oka in the prior section.  That's because Oka is part of our 'decorating the edges' that we mentioned at the beginning of the prior section.  Oka has a very thin skin and is prone to splitting, which makes them a bit difficult to grow for sales.  The example you see in the picture is as about as perfect as they come.  Sadly, that doesn't happen as often as we would like.  We feel like the texture of this melon is what really wins us over - being firm, yet smooth.  Some melons are a little grainy, while Oka is not.  We are hopeful that using our walk-in cooler will encourage us to harvest Oka daily to avoid the splitting they tend to do right after they hit the 'slipping' stage from the vine.

Our favorite for exotic taste is Ha'Ogen.  This melon has green flesh with a gold edge against the seed cavity.  They tend to be quite juicy and smell a little bit like a ripe banana when they are first opened.  In fact, the first taste you get reminds you a little of a banana until.... it changes.  Let's just say you want to leave this melon in your mouth for a second so you can experience the full range of its flavor.  Ha'Ogen is a Galia-type melon and it apparently caught the attention of breeders who are trying to create hybrids that maintain this taste.  Arava is one such hybrid and we will run it with Ha'Ogen this coming season to see what happens.

Of course, this goes against much of our farming philosophy.  We would prefer to grow open-pollinated varieties and we like finding ways to identify traditional varieties that work in our system.  We would rather grow Ha'Ogen successfully.  And, of course, we will continue to work on ways to make that happen.  However, we also want to give everyone the change to taste Galia-type melons from our farm.  If Arava is as good as advertised, we can spend more time experimenting with Ha'Ogen to see what it will take to make it work and still have production to sell.  This approach has worked with our cucumbers and bell peppers in the past, so here's hoping.

Hearts of Gold is a wonderful melon that has a hint of brown sugar to the taste.  The vines seem to be healthy and they produce a fair number of fruit.  So, what's the problem?  Well, they are difficult to figure out when they are ripe.  Many melons "slip" off the vine or change color when they ripen.  Hearts of Gold?  Not so much for either.  As a result, we miss the majority of them when they ripen and then rapidly deflate in the field.  We like their taste so much that we let "Farmer Delusional Syndrome" take over every year and we VOW to figure them out EVERY year.  I know 2018 will be the year.... uh huh. 

Emerald Gem is a much easier melon to grow and harvest.  It is only a little bit bigger than Eden's Gem and it ripens about the same time.  We added it to the mix so those who didn't want a green-fleshed melon could choose the orange-fleshed Emerald Gem.  Yes, yes... we get the irony that the melon with the word "Emerald" in the name doesn't have green flesh.  Look - we doesn't names 'em, we just grows 'em.

Alas, We No Longer Grow Thee
Then there are the cultivars we have tried and no longer grow for whatever reason.  Some of the varieties we discuss below were on the 'don't grow anymore' list in 2012 and they remain there to this date.  We admit that we still read a couple of the catalog descriptions and wonder if we should try to figure them out "just one more time."  But, we've got enough on our plate with Oka, Ha'Ogen and Hearts of Gold.

Tell you what.  Find me 50 or so acres and pay me a salary to figure these things out and I'll do it!  What?  I can dream can't I? 

Boule d'Or
This is a variety we REALLY tried to make work at our farm.  We liked the idea of a melon that stores well and actually gets better tasting n storage.  The descriptions in the Seed Savers catalogue made us feel that we should like them too.  But, reality didn't keep up with the fantasy, I guess.  Seedling death rates were consistently higher than others in our growing system and production numbers just didn't get to where they needed to be for us.

It wasn't all about production either.  Sometimes a variety just doesn't fit your farm.  Boule d'Or just didn't seem to have much going for it with respect to taste when we grew it.  We are NOT telling those who love it that they are wrong to do so.  We have a number of veggie varieties we love that others claim have no taste.  It is a reminder to us that the farm environment can have a say with respect to taste and texture.  Boule just doesn't work here.

Sakata's Sweet
We tried it in the high tunnel.  It climbed the trellising well.  It produced a whole bunch of tiny fruit.  No one in the CSA liked them with the biggest complaint being that it had too many seeds and very little edible flesh.  And, we liked Minnesota Midget in the high tunnel much better.  Okay then.

Crane has received a couple additional trials at the farm and it never really showed us what it could do.  With so many other options that gave us reasons to be optimistic, Crane became a variety that we felt trying it again would be the equivalent to beating your head against a brick wall.  In fact, the last time we tried it was simply because a variety we wanted wasn't available and we still had Crane seeds from the prior season.  That's not much of an endorsement.  We suspect Crane would like a sandier soil type than our heavy loam.

Amish and Schoon's Hard Shell
Pride of Wisconsin continues to hold down the fort and we just haven't had the reason or motivation to run a comparison trial.

Canoe Creek Colossal
We enjoyed this melon when we had it and we have never seen it available since the last year we grew it.  We sincerely hope the variety is not extinct, but we have also found that Oka fills the same role - but with a more manageable size.

Petit Gris de Rennes and Prescott Fond Blanc
Dead plants grow no fruit.  Seedling survival rates of 5% means there were a good deal of dead plants.  So, never mind.

But I Don't LIKE Melons!
Tammy and I are often surprised by how many people inform us that they do NOT like melons at all.  We agree that every person has the right to determine what they do and do not like.  After all, Rob just can't handle carrots and Tammy does not like eggplant.  If the farmers can choose, so can you!

However, we have found that most people who express dislike are those who have been subjected to the dread 'shipping melon' that has been so prevalent in groceries and catered meals all over.  Melons varieties that are bred for consistency in size, days to maturity and a hard shell to allow the fruit to survive shipping rarely are selected for their taste.

To top it off, commercially grown melons are often harvested before they ripen on the vine.  Before you get too critical of this, please remember some of what I've discussed regarding some of our tasty varieties.  It doesn't take much, once they are ripe, for many melons to split or show damage to the hull.  Since consumers generally don't like to buy melons with splits - even though they will have plenty of evidence that they are very ripe and likely VERY sweet - the industry has worked hard to avoid that problem.

Add to this the fact that we seem to think we need melons at all times of year and now we have to ship melons for thousands of miles during the off-seasons.  Why should you be surprised if they were harvested unripe so they could arrive at your store in January intact and ready for sale?  

The result is that most people have not had the opportunity to taste a truly ripe melon.  When you don't get a product at its best, you can't hope to make an accurate judgement as to whether you really like it or not.  What you have determined is that you do not like unripe melons that are bred for uniformity and shipping qualities.  Well, that's certainly fair - and we agree with you!  Join us next season in August and we'll get you a ripe melon.  Then, you can decide if you like a ripe melon that was selected for taste and texture.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

December Newsletter

December - You're Not Done Farming Yet?
Tammy and I start scheduling things that we normally can't get to during the growing season for late November into December.  Surely we will be able to get to those things by now - right?

It's December where I realize, yet again, that farming never shuts down completely.  Yes, there are cycles.  The pace is very different in December than it is in June.  But, how is it that we still make the mistake of assuming that things will be all under wraps by the time we get to the month of December?  It is true that there are only four CSA deliveries remaining in December.  It is also true that we have moved Eden to its spot for next year and all of the garlic for next season is in the ground.  Our first presentations of the 'off-season' were successful and are behind us as well.

On the other hand, we still need to mulch the garlic, there is still equipment to clean up and store and there is plenty of field work to do.  We would like to get the hen room mucked out soon and the turkey room still needs cleaning.  Plenty to do before we start on our Winter projects on the house.  So, no, we're not done farming for the year yet.

At least we're not frantically trying to open an access to this building this year - this was last year's project in December.

October Calendar of Events

  • December 1 - 2: Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario Annual Conference
  • December 5: Delivery 25 Waverly and Cedar Falls
  • December 7: PFI Cooperator's Meeting
  • December 19: Delivery 26 Waverly and Cedar Falls
It never fails.  One season ends and we have to start working on the next.  We have been keeping our current CSA members informed, but we feel like we should make sure everyone else is in the loop as well.

We are planning on offering CSA shares again in 2018.  We will begin promotion on January 15, 2018 - which is a departure from prior seasons.  We are hopeful that this will allow us the opportunity to finish this season before we start trying to juggle sign ups for next year.  The "promotion season" has just gotten too long for us and we needed to do something to bring it under control.

We felt some explanation would be appropriate:

First, we realize that many of our valued customers are in life situations that make it very difficult to make a commitment to something for the following year.  So much can happen between now and next Spring.  We have always understood that, but the idea of deposits and reservations was an attempt to reduce some of own uncertainties from year to year.  Our farm is mature enough that we can do a decent job of planning without the Fall sign up period - so we will take on some of the uncertainty in hopes that people reward us with future patronage as we offer it. 

We have found that trying to promote next year's CSA while still finishing the current year AND trying to promote turkeys, chickens, eggs AND fall season extensions seriously diluted our efforts for each.  We are also certain that we wear ourselves out in the recruitment effort that has ended up spanning the period from September to almost May.  If it stresses us out that much, we need to change.

And finally, we needed to take some time to reflect on where Tammy and I are at with respect to the Genuine Faux Farm and our lives.  Do we want to keep doing this?  Can we keep doing this?  Are there other opportunities we should look towards?  Well, it seems the answer is that we will keep doing this - making changes as we go through the planning processes for next season.

Do You Have Feedback For Us?
If you have been a customer or are a current customer OR you might be a future customer, we'd like to hear from you!  Let us know what you like about what we do and what you'd like us to improve on.  Your feedback helps us to become a better farm. 

Song of the Month
More Heart and Less Attack by NEEDTOBREATHE.  Just a reminder to myself that an angry and aggressive response is often the easy way out and perhaps the least likely to succeed.

Recipe of the Month
Just in time for the turnips that will show up in the last CSA shares in December!

Turnips (Young) Stewed in Butter
4 Servings

Take two pounds of young turnips; cut them into small squares or make them any shape that may be preferred; dissolve two ounces of fresh butter in a saucepan sufficiently large to hold the vegetables in a single layer; put in the turnips and simmer them very gently until they are tender, without being broken. A few minutes before they are finished cooking through, sprinkle a little salt and white pepper over them; put them in the center of a dish, and arrange fried or boiled cutlets neatly around them. Time: three quarters of an hour to stew turnips.

Picture of the Month
From our trip to Ontario - we give you this picture:

EFAO Conference in Ontario

Of course, Iowa weather decided to be nice while we were away.  Now that we're back...

Rob and Tammy attended the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario Annual Conference in Collingwood in late November to early December where Rob was an invited speaker.  The staff and membership of EFAO were kind, supportive and very interested in what Rob had to say about on-farm research and intercropping vegetables (two sessions).

While we were there, we were struck by both the similarities and differences of diversified farming in Ontario and Iowa.  One thing that remains the same is the fact that farmers who operate on smaller farms such as ours dedicate themselves to raising good food - and doing so in ways that try to work with, rather than against, the environment.  In Iowa and Ontario, there are issues with access to land and capital and there is tension between larger agribusiness components and these smaller farms.  And, just as is true in Iowa, each farm finds its way forward using a path that is unique to its assets and challenges - or they find no way forward at all.

But, behind it all is YOU - the people who support our farms.  We exist because of that support.  Without it, we would all go do some other thing - and perhaps we (you and the farmers) would all be lessened in some fashion.

Time to Have Pun
Courtesy of Jason Edgington.  You can only blame me for being the messenger this time:

Veteran Pillsbury spokesman Pop N. Fresh died Wednesday of a severe yeast infection. He was 71.

He was buried Friday in one of the biggest funerals in years. Dozens of celebrities turned out including Mrs. Butterworth, the California Raisins, Hungry Jack, Betty Crocker, and the Hostess Twinkies.

The graveside was piled high with flours, as longtime friend Aunt Jemima delivered the eulogy, describing Fresh as a man who "never knew he was kneaded".

Fresh rose quickly in show business, but his later life was filled with turnovers. He was not considered a smart cookie, and wasted much of his dough on half-baked schemes.

Still, even as a crusty old man, he was a roll model to millions. Fresh is survived by his second wife. They had two children, and one in the oven.

The funeral was at 3:50 for 20 minutes.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Top Ten Veggies for Ten (2008-2017)

We have been putting together our Top Veggie Varieties every year since 2007 based on our farm's production.  One of the shortcomings of those lists is the wide range of weather and personnel factors that can make a "perfect storm" for a particular crop.  For example, Blizzard snow peas won the 2015 list in a year where peas were just ridiculous on the farm.  The weather was perfect for them.  The crew bought into keeping them picked so we could set a new farm record.  We got the plants in at the perfect time, weeded them at the perfect time and got them trellised right on time.  But, would Blizzard make a top ten list based on the results over several seasons?  Well, read on to find out!

Welcome to the Top Ten Veggie Varieties at the Genuine Faux Farm for the years 2008 to 2017 (10 years).  The rules are similar to our yearly list.  We evaluate for production, quality and taste.  In this case, we will eliminate any F1-hybrid varieties and go with only open-pollinated.  And, unlike our yearly lists that often err in favor of a variety that did well but hasn't been on the list (or in favor of a variety that surprised with an exceptional year) we will be rewarding those cultivars that make us happy year in and year out.

 For those who want to see what has gone before:

10 (tie). Bloomsdale spinach
#9 - 2014

This one may seem a bit odd because we have not had the spinach harvests we are used to for the past year or so.  But, we're still putting Bloomsdale on here because most of the issues have been due to circumstances beyond varietal control.  One of those issues is simply how much time the farmer is willing to spend harvesting spinach in the cooler months.  We could probably grow much more spinach than we do right now - but it would require a different farmer attitude.  If we did grow much more spinach, most of it would be Bloomsdale.

This variety can be harvested for baby leaf or full leaf production.  As you let them mature, the savoyed nature of the leaf gets stronger and the taste (in our opinion) gets better.  We like the texture of the larger leaves and love to eat them raw in a salad or on sandwiches.  The taste gets even sweeter in the colder weather and the over-wintered spinach is absolutely the best you can get.

Our production records show us harvesting almost 100 pounds in 2012 and 2015, with most of it coming from our over-Wintered plantings in high tunnels.  But, the really crazy year was 2011 when we harvested 181 pounds of yummy spinach leaves from Bloomsdale. 

We are trialing some transplants this Fall in an effort to improve uniformity of production and give us a bit easier time with weeding and harvest.  Hopefully this works out for us because we like eating Bloomsdale spinach as much as our customers do.  We just need to make adjustments so the farmer is willing to work with it more.

10 (tie). Oregon Sugar Pod snow peas
#10 - 2013

No, Blizzard did not and will not make the list.  See, that didn't take you long to find out!  Instead, Oregon Sugar Pod makes the list to represent the peas.  While we love Blizzard, seed sources are inconsistent, which makes them a bad year-in/year-out choice for our farm.  On the other hand, Oregon Sugar Pod (and now Oregon Sugar Pod II) is consistently available, tends to germinate well and it produces for a longer season than most snow peas.

The snow pea taste of Oregon Sugar Pod fits in well with either raw eating or stir fry.  If we have a choice, we think Blizzard has a sweeter taste and appreciate it more.  But, we're not at all unhappy with Oregon Sugar Pod.  Pods can be decent sized, but land in the 'average' snow pea size with Blizzard and Golden Sweet being smaller and Mammoth Melting being.... um... mammoth?

The original Oregon Sugar Pod, which we actually liked better on our farm, vined 4 to 5 feet tall.  Oregon Sugar Pod II tends to stay a compact 3 and a half feet tall.  Pods can often be hidden, so harvest is not the easiest job in the world.  But, how many other harvests are there where you can snack a bit while you work?

Production numbers are pretty consistent at about a half pound per row foot each season.  The exceptional monster year for peas of 2015 saw us harvesting a similar amount per row foot, but for many more row feet than we normally planted.  Oddly enough, the other snow peas produced at much higher rates per row foot that season, but they tend to produce at a lower level nearly every other year.  And that, my friends, is why Oregon Sugar Pod gets put on this list and the others do not.

9. French Breakfast radish
Honorable Mention - 2014

Radishes are not the first vegetable crop we think of when we contemplate our top varieties each year.  The reasons become obvious once you think about it.  Radish crops are in the ground for a very short period of time as compared to most other things we grow.  Usually, early season is the time period for most of our radish planting - so when we work on our lists in November, they are not at the top of our mind.  And, finally, radish are rarely considered the "main-event" of a veggie growing season.

On the other hand, if a radish variety fails, the knowledge sticks because we need them to help fill up early season share offerings.  This brings us to the very reason French Breakfast is on the list.  It germinates well.  It bulbs out well.  It holds as well as any radish.  Simply put, it produces when we plant it.  None of this "all top and no bulb" silliness that some varieties might give.  And, people like the taste.

Of course, French Breakfast likes the cooler weather and the size of the radish often depends on temperatures and amounts of water.  Like most crops, they don't care to be surrounded by weeds either.  But, that's the joy of radish.  They like the cool.  They grow better than most weeds during those times of year.  If you irrigate, you can solve the water problem if it is too dry.  If it is too wet - well, French Breakfast will tolerate it for a time.  We have tried many radishes over the past ten years and only two have consistently returned: French Breakfast and Helios.  Now that's saying something.

8. Waltham Butternut squash
#2 - 2016, #3, 2017, Honorable Mention 2009
Record fruit harvest of 370 in 2017 exceeds 2007's 354.
Average fruit size around 3 pounds.

Butternut squash are favored by many growers simply because they have the solid stems that prevent vine borers from eliminating young plants.  Waltham has been the standard bearer for a very long time in the squash industry, and its performance on our farm is consistent with that observation.  After all, seed developers have been trying to improve on it for years.  There are now some hybrids out there that claim superiority with respect to one virtue or another.  But, when it comes to all-around goodness, we still see no reason to stop growing Waltham.

We prefer to grow our Walthams in two rows about five feet apart and then we surround those two rows with flowers on either side.  Our hope is that the flowers help attract more pollinators to increase fruit set.  Because we seed our flowers heavily and we choose sturdier flowers like zinnia and borage, these hedges of plants also tend to keep the squash vines contained in their beds.

Our farm's soil and weather situation often results in delays in our Spring planting schedule, but Waltham still produces even with a later planting.  The size may be smaller and the production numbers may be lower, but we still get something.  Fruit size can be variable which suits our model as well.  We find that people have an idea about how big a squash should be, so it is nice to have options that run to all preferences.

In the end, I would like you to reference the factoids just above the picture.  Our old record for Waltham was in 2007.  It shows up again in 2017 with a similar number to just barely set a new record.  Proof positive that we've stuck with this variety and that it earns its keep on our farm.

7. Jimmy Nardello's Frying pepper
#1 - 2007, #8 - 2013, Honorable Mention - 2009
 Over 3400 fruit harvested from 2012 to 2017.
20.3 marketable fruit per plant in 2009
Likely record production year in 2012 negated by spray incident.

How do you know you have started taking a particular cultivar for granted?  You know when you develop top 10 vegetable variety lists every year and a variety that has consistently good production of tasty fruit over a six year period hasn't been mentioned since 2013.  I suspect this statement will be true of all of the varieties at some level that land above Jimmy Nardello's on this list.  But, isn't that the point of creating the Top Ten for Ten list in the first place?  These are all cultivars that we've come to expect that they will succeed in producing quality food for us every year.
Jimmy Nardello's is best harvested at full red.  However, they turn quickly to red on the counter if you harvest them with a little bit of red on the fruit, just like several in the picture above.  Fruits look a good deal like a hot pepper, so it's a good idea not to mix them up.  The fruit tastes great raw and provide a little light crunch for sandwiches or salads.  However, once you cook up a Jimmy Nardello's, you figure out why they are called a "frying pepper."  The taste sweetens up considerably and lends itself well to all sorts of applications.  For example, they are very good in a sautee mix or on pizza.

Plants are of average size and generally keep enough cover to protect fruit from sunscald.  As is true for most peppers, fruit that touch the ground can have some problems, but culls (fruit that tend to get thrown) are not the norm.

6. Dwarf Curled Blue Scotch kale
#3 - 2008, #10 - 2013
Typical bunch of 10 Dwarf Blue stems is a half pound
Highest production 440 bunches in 2014.
Have never recorded a crop failure year for this variety.

I checked my last statement in our 'factoid' list for Dwarf Curled Blue Scotch five times.  As a grower of a wide range of crops and varieties, it is unlikely there hasn't been a failure, no matter how good the variety is, over a period of ten (or in our case,13) years.  "Why is that?" you might ask.  Well, I'm not going to wait for you to ask, I'll just tell you.  It's just plain HARD to grow this many crops every season and not make a mistake that ruins a crop or land a crop in conditions that the variety just can NOT handle.  It's a fact of life for a highly diversified vegetable grower.

The picture to the left shows Dwarf Blue flanking Scarlet before Scarlet got MUCH taller than our curly kale friends.  That is one of the things that I like and don't like about Dwarf Blue Scotch - it's dwarfness.  Harvest requires that you have to get down to its level, which can get a bit old over time.  On the other hand, the low growing nature tends to keep the soil shaded near its base, even after multiple harvests.  As a result, you tend to maintain a more consistent soil moisture with less irrigation AND there is a solid canopy that prevents weed germination.  Since my job requires that I be able to crawl, kneel and/or bend over, I guess I can handle that part.

Since Dwarf Blue Scotch is an open-pollinated variety offered by Seed Savers, it is not unusual to see a little inconsistency in the leaf structure.  Sometimes you get finely ruffled leaves and sometimes they are not quite as curly as you might like.  However, the texture is fairly consistent, as is the taste.  The plants will sometimes send a 'sucker' up from the bottom and it helps to nip those before they go much of anywhere.  Otherwise, as long as you have reasonably fertility, you're going to get good results with this variety every season.

5. Marketmore 76 cucumber
#5 - 2016, #10 - 2010, #14 - 2015
Over 1500 fruit in 2010 (the monster cucumber year) with 17.2 fruit per row foot.
2015 succession II with a production rate equivalent to 60,000 pounds/acre
Typical production before farmers give up is 7 fruit per row foot.

When we started farming in 2005, we were told by some people who seemed to know that we could not hope to grow successfully unless we adopted F1 Hybrid cucumbers (and peppers - but that's another story).  We took their advice and ran a couple of hybrids.  But, at the same time, we were running through the possible open-pollinated cucumbers that were available to see if we could find cultivars that worked on our farm.  Marketmore is a variety that has been with us since our early farming years and we do not regret putting our faith in this variety.

At one point in time, we tried Marketmore 97 and had some trouble with the speed with which the fruit got overly large.  Marketmore 76, on the other hand, tends to give us a little more time until the fruit gets too large.   We feel that the fruit are best from a half pound to a full pound in size.  Happily, harvesting them small doesn't destroy the taste either.  Vines are healthy, but not overly aggressive and bees seem to like the flowers, which leads to decent pollination.  But, the best thing about Marketmore 76 from our perspective is the fact that it helped us get to the point where we have no F1-hybrid cucumbers on our grow list.  This was the variety that started that ball rolling.

4. Jaune Flamme / Wapsipinicon Peach snack tomato
Jaune Flamme: #6 - 2017, #4 - 2009, #4 - 2015 (with Wapsi)
Wapsi: #1 - 2013, #4 - 2015 (with Jaune)
Per plant production numbers in the field for 2010 41.4 (Jaune) and 21.8 (Wapsi)
Per plant production numbers in high tunnel for 2017  153.6 (Jaune) and 123.4 (Wapsi)

When we started the Genuine Faux Farm we thought it was required that we grow cherry tomatoes for our customers.  After all, they are typically productive - and who doesn't like a nice bowl of cherry tomatoes on the table during the Summer months?  But, it became clear to us fairly quickly that growing cherry tomatoes for commercial purposes is a completely different animal than growing them for your own enjoyment.  The biggest issue - the amount of time it took to harvest.

So, we began exploring possible 'salad sized' tomatoes as an alternative and fairly rapidly settled on Wapsipinicon Peach (that river is only a mile away from our farm), Jaune Flamme, Red Zebra and Green Zebra.  It became apparent that some of these varieties would vary in production in the field depending on the season, with Jaune Flamme being the most reliable.  Once we started growing them in our high tunnels, Wapsi Peach and Jaune Flamme just took off!

Wapsi Peach tends to like drier and warmer seasons, so it really performs well in the high tunnel environment.  These plants produce the light yellow fruit with a fuzzy texture and a sweet taste.  They are extremely juicy, so they are probably not the best for date night - unless you want to find out if your potential significant other either has a sense of humor or can handle looking a little silly while tomato dribbles down their chin.  Jaune Flamme, on the other hand, also has the potential to be roasted and then frozen for future use in pizzas and other tasty concoctions.  But, don't think that Jaune Flamme isn't a good snack as well!  They are a bit less juicy and have a slight tang to them.  Apparently, they taste pretty darn good because our workers never say "no" when Rob offers them either Jaune Flamme or Wapsi Peach as a reward for good work. 

It is difficult to sing the praises of what these two varieties have done for our farm, especially since the point we moved their production space to our high tunnels.  But, if you want a little bit of an idea as to what we really think of them, they were part of the motivation for naming our first high tunnel "Eden."

3. Jade green bean
#2 - 2012, #8 - 2015, #9 - 2013, Honorable Mention 2009 and 2014
1,941 pounds harvested at GFF since 2012
more than 2.5 lbs per row foot in high tunnel production, .75 lbs per row foot in field

Pictures of green beans are usually uninspiring, so we're going to show you a picture of our chief bean picker (no she doesn't count them) and Queen Boss of the farm.  To our left (and her right) is one of the two bean rows in Eden this Summer.
When we first started the farm our green bean of choice was a variety called Benchmark.  We were then introduced to a key reason why you never put your stock in one variety of everything when Benchmark suddenly disappeared from all seed catalogues due to some sort of crop failure that has never been satisfactorily explained in our opinion.
We had the good fortune to select Jade and have immediate success growing it.  But, perhaps most importantly, we found ourselves rapidly forgetting about Benchmark as Jade set for us some new standards for taste.  Jade beans work well for us because the beans hold taste even when they get larger.  In fact, it is best to not pick them too small.  The fruit have a fantastic texture after being steamed and the two of us often will celebrate a first picking by eating a whole pot of them for dinner.

Unlike Provider, Jade doesn't mind if we run a double row in a bed and Jade rows tend to have a virtually continuous production rate. Many varieties, like Provider, will give 'flushes' of beans, usually losing quality after the second flush.  Jade does provide flushes if you look carefully, but the plants actually keep going for much longer than you might think.  This makes them ideal for high tunnel production where you can run the row over a much longer period during the growing season.  We thought we were sad when Benchmark went away?  Well, the disappearance of Jade would be far worse.  It's actually enough that we are beginning to consider doing some seed selection of Jade for our own seed supply.

2. Black Krim tomato
#4 - 2012, #10 - 2015, Honorable Mention - 2013
High tunnel Spring planting averaging 20 pounds per plant and 30 marketable fruit per plant
High tunnel "Fall" planting averages 10 pounds and 20 fruit per plant.
Average fruit size between .53 and .61 pounds.

Our history with Black Krim actually goes back further than we often think since we actually grew a plant in our personal garden when we lived near Decorah.  We recall having a difficult time knowing when these fruit were ready to harvest and had most of them split before we were ready to pick them.

Fast forward several years to our current location at the farm and you will find us trying to figure out if we were going to grow open pollinated heirloom tomatoes or F1-hybrids.  During our first farm season, we ran a trial with German Pink and Wisconsin 55 against standards like Better Boy and Early Girl.  Needless to say, the heirlooms won and here we are extolling a variety that we committed ourselves to learning how it should be grown.

The road has not been as clear cut or easy for Black Krim as it has been for many of the varieties on this list.  In fact, as I write this I am trying to figure out exactly why it beats Jade (for example).  The largest part of the answer is simply taste.  We should probably remind you that Rob did not eat raw tomatoes prior to starting the farm.  That changed after he tried German Pink and now he can tell you the difference in taste between a German Pink, a Paul Robeson, a Moonglow and a Black Krim.  And, Black Krim is the champion when it comes to taste.

Black Krim actually had to defeat Cherokee Purple, Black from Tula and Black Sea Man to earn a permanent place on our growing list.  We had to learn how to successfully grow the black/purple - type tomatoes and the process of learning has been a long one that has included a number of modifications in our growing system - even up to the present day.

So, why does Black Krim deserve the number 2 spot on our Top Ten for Ten list?  Certainly, the taste is a primary reason.  And, of course, since 2012 we have been able to produce a significant number of top quality Black Krim fruit, much to the delight of our customers.  We would be more than just a little disappointed if we suddenly couldn't grow this tomato variety.  And, we have had consistent production over a number of years.  These are all good reasons for this ranking.

But, the biggest reason for this high ranking for our farm is how well this particular variety represents what we've been through and how we have adapted as a farm since its inception in 2005.  We stuck with Black Krim because we identified how it fit with our farm's goals and ideals.  We wanted to find cultivars that gave us the best tastes and textures for each vegetable on our farm.  Once we identified Black Krim, we learned and adapted how we did things until we could consistently grow Black Krim reasonably well.  Our farm has grown and evolved, and the production of this variety has moved through those growth steps with us.

1. Bronze Arrowhead lettuce
#1 - 2010, #4 - 2011, #6 - 2013, #10 - 2016, Honorable Mention - 2014
Over 1200 lbs and 3000 head harvested since 2011.
.44 lb per head average over that 7 year period.

Bronze Arrowhead can be grown in the high tunnel and it can be grown in the field.  Bronze Arrowhead can be picked small or you can let it get bigger.  Some people report that they can pick leaves off a Bronze Arrowhead plant for an extended period of time before the plant finally gives up.  Bronze Arrowhead holds better than most lettuces and rarely tastes bitter.  Bronze Arrowhead can be grown in cool weather, warm weather and may even make it through some of the hottest periods with some help.  And, Bronze Arrowhead can, in some years, be overwintered with some shelter.

From a texture standpoint, this lettuce tends to run in the middle between the 'harder' and 'softer lettuces.'  The taste is stronger in heat and milder in cold, but when it is stronger, it is not the bitter 'spit it out' taste many lettuces move towards.  In short, it is really hard to go wrong with Bronze Arrowhead.  And that is good enough reason to put it at the number one spot on this list for our farm.

But, we aren't going to stop there.   Our CSA customers are disappointed when we don't have Bronze Arrowhead among the lettuce varieties.  This variety has been so good for us that we have purposely eliminated from contention in our Top Ten lists just so we can talk about some of our other worthy varieties.  Every time we seed a succession of lettuce (sometimes as many as 10 in a growing season) Bronze Arrowhead would be conspicuous by its absence.

Like Black Krim, we see a little of us in Bronze Arrowhead as well.  Our farm has shown resiliency and flexibility over the years.  We adapt to the seasons and the odd weather - but perhaps with more complaint than this lettuce cultivar.  And, in the end, we are still here, doing the things we think we should be doing.  In this case, producing good food for people who want and need it.  And, Bronze Arrowhead is going to be right there with us - as long as we both are able.