Sunday, April 15, 2018

Stuck on the Farm Music

There used to be an exercise that people who very much enjoy music would indulge themselves in that used the old 'if you were stranded on a desert island' theme.  Given current technology and the tendency of many to 'stream' music and not play entire albums of music at a time, this thought exercise doesn't seem to get used all that often any more.  The basic idea is that you will be stranded on a desert island and you can select only 10 albums worth of music to be available to you from that point on.  You can't pick and choose single songs, you have to take all or nothing from each album you select.

So, why would I actually spend time on this sort of a post, you ask?

Well, Tammy and I both like our music and...  sometimes when you aren't feeling well and can't sleep, you find something to do with yourself.  Like a think about what music albums you would bring with you to a desert island.

(ed note: this was written in late January and was scheduled for a later release IF Rob could find time to proof it a bit)

To make this fit the farm blog better - here are the ten albums Rob would choose if he were stuck on the farm and could access ONLY ten albums for his music.  They are listed here in no particular order.  After all, they made it on a list for a guy who has about 10,000 songs to choose from on his Ipod Classic.  Ya, ya.  I know.  But, do you expect me to carry that much vinyl around with me?

To increase the suspense... we're going to split this into a few posts.  (ed note: yes, suspense!  For all three readers out there who might want to know!)

Apocalyptica - Reflections
We're not talking the original release, you've got to include the extended release material because there are some really good songs there.  It has cellos.  We like cellos.  It has cellos playing music that might not have been initially intended for cellos.  But, that's wrong, because all music should be played on a cello.  So there.

The Choir - Circle Slide
It's relaxing when you play it quietly.  It can rock when you turn up the volume.  It's artsy.  It's thought-provoking.  It's layered and textured and...  Well, I like it.  I listen to these songs that I know so well and I still pick up new things.  And, while they don't show up on this album, the Choir has been known to use a cello in its music now and again.

Future of Forestry - Pages
We listen to this compilation of songs and both Tammy and I say things like, "I like this song."  Or, "this one is my favorite on the album."  This is quickly followed by, "but I said that about the last song too."  We can't decide and we don't want to decide.  We just want to listen to the album.  And, there are cellos in this music sometimes.  I begin to detect a theme... How about you?

Two more posts are in the pipeline!  I wonder when I scheduled them to go?  Who knows?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Poultry in Winter

"The Ladies," also know as our laying hen flock, are the only poultry that currently over-Winter on our farm.  We did over-Winter ducks a couple of times, but we have taken duck off of our poultry menu for a while. 

The ladies suggested that we have not written a blog post about them lately.
A couple of our recent posts have alluded to the weather and how that impacts our chickens, so I guess it makes sense that we should follow through with a 'flock report' of some sort. 

If you check out the photo below, you'll see what happens to the hen yard when we do NOT get early snow cover.  The area closest to the building gets pretty beat up.  We like to let the hens out every day we are able, but if there is no snow cover during the cold months, the birds go out and scratch everything up
This area is just LOVELY during mud season.
If you have not dealt with chickens before, it is important for you to understand that chickens like to forage.  Part of the foraging is to scratch up the ground.  They are so good at this that we've actually used them as a poultry clean-up crew.

I recall returning to a place Tammy and I used to live and cringing as I watched chickens pulling away all the mulch in perennial plantings the two of us had put down prior to moving away.  I realize that not everyone values perennial flower plantings the same way we do/did and I get the appeal of having hens wandering around a country farmyard.  But, it was still alarming how quickly they destroyed what was once a well-manicured planting.

So, now we raise chickens.  And they beat up pastures like this.  What do we do?  Well, we've worked to create a more mobile summer home (see Oh Give me a Home) that will allow us to move the birds around a bit this Spring and Summer.  Our hope is that this will allow us some time to rehab this pasture area a bit AND get some needed maintenance done in the hen room.  The presence of a bunch of birds around your feet does not lend itself to many productive moments in carpentry.  How do I know?  Well, let's just say we've given it a try or two.

Another example of poultry 'destruction' explains one reason why we don't keep our hens right next door to most of our vegetable production.  It also shows you how we supplement our poultry's diet with produce that isn't going to find a home via sales (or in our own kitchen). 

Some pumpkins just don't meet the cut.  Others don't find a home early, so we hold on to them until they start to get softer.  Then, we let the hens have them.  You might think that you have to split the pumpkin up for the birds so they can eat it.  Not so.  Just look at the pictures above and below.

For a point of reference, we were able to store these pumpkins into January.  The benefit is that we can have some quality supplementary food for our hens from the farm in the middle of Winter by simply storing some of the lower quality squash and feeding it to them over time.  This past season, we were able to give them some squash as late as the end of January.  In fact, we were able to give them some bolted greens from the high tunnel just this week.  Happy birds!

If you are interested in getting some of our farm fresh eggs, we suggest you contact us to get on our email list.  We send out a note prior to each egg sale (usually every other week in Winter and every week the rest of the year).  Our customers regularly make positive comments about the high quality of our ladies' work and you will too once you start using them.  Eggs cost $3.50 a dozen and the ladies - despite the cool weather - are doing just fine and giving us 5-7 dozen eggs a day.

And, of course, there is the next generation of hens on the farm now.  We got the chicks JUST prior to Easter and right on time for the cold snap.  It happens every year when we get chicks.  Get the little birds - weather gets cold.  This year has just been a bit more persistent about it than some.  Nonetheless, the little ladies seem to be healthy and are looking forward to being let out of their tub so they can explore more of the world.  We just need temps to stay a little bit warmer at night.

If you would like to read more about how we work with our poultry, you can check out this post: Poultry Slam

Monday, April 9, 2018

Winter Wonderland

I've noticed that there are a number of people who are letting themselves get a bit on the grumpy side with the cold weather and the snow.  I wonder if they've taken a look at how nice everything looks out there right now?

First step outside of our door.
I realize that everyone is anxious for Spring.  I also fully understand that there are many (ourselves included) that are finding our work to be a bit more difficult with this weather.  But, I am finding myself getting amused with how 'up in arms' everyone is about this "LATE" snow on April 9th of this year.

Out of curiosity, I randomly chose to go to the weather history for April 9th of a different year (2009) and I noticed that there was mention of snowfall in April.  A quick look found this.   4.3" of the white stuff on April 5, 2009.  Or, dare I remind you of May 2013 again?
Besides, did I mention that it was kinda pretty?
 To put you in the mood, how about a little Bing Crosby:

I'll grant you that snow makes farm chores a bit more difficult.  The cold weather has really put a crimp on our getting an early start on any of our veggie crops.  They really are just holding on in the high tunnels right now - not much incentive to grow.  But, we didn't get much snow during the period that we would normally associate with snow.  So, forgive me if I actually take a moment to enjoy the short-lived beauty.

Hey, that looks kinda.. um... pretty.
Underneath all of that snow is brown grass and black mud.  We will see that soon enough as the temperatures jump past the "averages" and beyond over the next week.  Oh, don't worry, we'll come back down.  April in Iowa is always a roller coaster.  We can at least agree that temperature swings would be normal.

Besides, I still think... oh, you got the point?  Never mind.
And, seriously, it isn't going to be long before we see signs of Spring other than robins huddled around the crab apple trees in town - desperately pecking away at the dried fruit.

Here is a picture from the farm from April 16 last year.  See!  Green grass! 

And April 9 two years ago.  See!  Gree....  um.  No.  Skip that one.

Here - April 27 from two years ago. 

Spring is on the way - hand in there!

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Robin's Tail

There is an old saying that there are always "three snows on the robin's tail."  Well, we're pretty certain that the number used in that saying must be a statistical average rather than a law of nature.  I'm watching snow number four (or is it five?) as I type this.
That isn't sand, is it?

I can tell you that since we started farming, it has seemed to hold fairly close to true that the robins arrive and we get a few snowfalls.  Usually at least one of them is only a dusting that barely qualifies as the third snow fall.  But, when you are getting anxious for Spring, you'll count a single snowflake as an official 'snowfall' if only to get past the third "robin's tail snow."

Funny thing about Mother Nature, she doesn't really care what we think.  And, she certainly doesn't worry about staying true to an old saw about robins, snowfalls and the timing of spring.  Nonetheless, I still submit to you that, at our farm, the saying is accurate - on average.  After all, it was just 2013 when we got this snow in early May.  According to my notes, I had counted three snowfalls after the arrival of our first robins on the farm.  But, one was, admittedly, one of those snowfalls that didn't even give us a dusting of snow.  I should have known that there was still one more coming.  Darned robin and its tail...

For those who might enjoy it - here is a link to a time elapse snow cover of North American for March through May of 2013.  

The good news about snow?  Well, it looks pretty - even when you don't want it.  And it blows around alot.

Like this.  It wasn't that much snow, so we got 'mini-drifts' for the April 3 snow
Ok, maybe the 'blows around alot' part isn't seen as a positive by most people.  I think we're all over-reacting a bit to the snow this April because we (at least in the area around our farm) haven't gotten all that much snow this year.  Here is the snow cover animation for November 1 to April 1 of the past winter. 

March 15 on the farm.
The animation sure makes it seem like we got much more snow than we recall getting.  But, the truth is one inch of snow IS snow cover.  For us, we didn't have to do too much "path-making" in snow to get to the chickens until March this year. 
March 27 on the farm
 It all evens out in the end, depending on what sort of balance you are using.  For now, I am going to go outside and console the robins.

Their tails are getting a little tired carrying all of that snow on them.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

April Newsletter

Reluctance, Anticipation and Ambition
Every month of the year marks a transitional period for us at the farm.  There was a time when I wouldn't have agreed with that statement - until I realized that every time I set out to write the monthly newsletter, I found myself wanting to write about how things will change during the month.  So, here we are - in another month of transition.

The end of March and beginning of April has many similarities to the end August and beginning of September.  There is a profound sense of reluctance to move on.  In August/September, we are realizing that many of our crops are coming to an end, though there is always plenty to deal with into December.  There is regret for things that didn't get done and a realization that certain things cannot be fixed until the next growing season.  March/April is when we realize our 'other' season is coming to an end - just when we were really getting into the rhythm of doing things differently.  There is regret for things not completed and certain things cannot be fixed until the growing season reaches its conclusion.
On the other hand, we do have a sense of anticipation for the good produce that is to come.  There are days where we can put in an honest effort of labor and see the rewards of jobs well done.  We look forward to being outside for longer periods of time and being warmer while we're doing it (sometimes much warmer).

And, yes, there is ambition.  It is there, even if we might have trouble focusing that ambition on the new season that is coming.  Is it possible to be reluctantly ambitious?  If it is, I think that might be right where we are.

CSA Promotion
We need CSA members and we are kicking off our 2018 Spring Campaign: #PathstoProduce2018.  We would like you to join us this year.  For those of you who have already signed up or who have contacted us, thank you!  We will be sending information as we approach the season and we will keep you informed.  This year we are trying to be more flexible with payments to help everyone out with their budgets.  At the same time, we have expense we need to pay - so let's get the sign ups going!

Our next post will introduce the blog post/Facebook post promotion theme for 2018.  Above is a sneak peak!

Need to know what the CSA options are: Here they are!

Picture of the Month/Weather Whythards
Winter decided that we didn't need most of our snow until we reached the month of March this year.  The farm received somewhere around 17 inches of wet snow on the 23rd and 24th of the month.  Of all things, Rob and Tammy were away for that weekend, which left poor Caleb to deal with the farm in the immediate aftermath.  Happily, he was able to dig his little car out and get back home.

The snow melted fairly quickly, though we still have a little bit here and there on the farm as of April 2.  The good news about "warmer" temperatures and lots of cooler moisture?  Well, you end up with a nice hoarfrost most times that happens.  The fog/clouds didn't leave until mid-afternoon, so I had a few opportunities to try to catch some neat pictures of the farm.

Highest wind gust for March: 35 mph
Highest temp for March: 54
Lowest temp for March: 12
Snowfall: 17 inches (est)
Rainfall: .15 inches

Farm News Shorts and Announcements

  • We have had one Wartburg Service Trip group at the farm in March and may have one or two more at the farm this month.  The first group helped us cut down some brush, pick up trimmings from our fruit tree pruning and lay down plastic on what will be a new veggie plot.  Tune in next month when we report on the other group efforts.
  • The hen chicks are now on the farm!  About sixty (or so) little ladies arrived in the mail last Thursday and, of course, the weather went and got really cold on us!  This appears to be a tradition for us.  Get chicks, weather gets cold.  The birds are in the brooder room where they get plenty of heat to stay healthy.
  • The first batch of broiler chicks will arrive in a week and a half.
  • Speaking of broilers - last year's broilers are now sold out!  We have a few stewing hens available.  But, until we process batch #1 of broilers at the end of June, we will have no more broilers for sale.
  • Plant starts - do you want some?  If you want some, you need to speak up so we know to start them for you.  As per our decision last year, we will not be holding general plants sales.  However, if you are one of the people who has relied on us for plants over the years, you need to say something if you want us to start them.
  • Our plant starting shelves hold peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, kale, broccoli, flowers, tatsoi, komatsuna and various other items.  We have a huge planting list to start in a about one week.  And, Valhalla has tubs with started lettuce, spinach and onions.  It has begun.
There be tubs of spinach, lettuce and onions in that building!
April Calendar
You may notice that the first item on our list is a Flash Veg and Egg Sale.  We anticipate that this will be during the first week.  We have some greens that will need to be harvested, but we have to respond to the weather.  Tuesday does not look like a good options.  But, hey!  This is the nature of a "Flash" sale - it happens when it happens.

  • April 5 (Thus) - Flash Veg and Egg Sale
  • April 12 (Thus) -  Egg sales Waverly and Cedar Falls
  • April 24 (Tue) - Egg sales Waverly and Cedar Falls

Song of the Month
Here we are, on the cusp of a new growing season.  It only seems right to have a song titled "the Precipice" by the Classic Crime as our song of the month:

Time to Have Pun
We've noticed in the past that there are a number of characteristics different potatoes exhibit.

For example, there is the potato that makes all the other potatoes do what it wants.  That's a dic-tater...
Every once in a while, we get one that seems to be tainted by the negative side of the force - also known as - Darth Tater
We also find some that are very helpful, we call them facili-taters.
The common-taters just keep talking, but you can find them everywhere you look. 
Once in a while, we find a potato that was cut by the potato digging tool.  Depending on how badly it destroyed the potato in question, you might say it was a decapi-tater or an ampu-tater.
If potatoes could talk - would they yell "Im-a-Tater!"  And, if they did, would you assume that they were trying to act like someone else?
The medi-taters always seem thoughtful and others balk at being pulled up out of the ground. Silly hesi-taters!
And, finally, all of the little ones that we find when we dig up the rows - they must be speck-taters.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

About Our 2018 Promo Campaign

Welcome to 2018 and another year of the Genuine Faux Farm Community Supported Agriculture Program!

<insert clip of hundreds of fans cheering and clamoring for fresh produce>

Our theme for 2018 is "Paths to Produce" and we hope you will join us as we travel down the various pathways, both familiar and unexpected, that this growing season will bring to us.  If you use Facebook, you will find the hashtag #PathstoProduce2018 will bring up many of our posts on the subject.

The inspiration for this year's theme would be the photo shown at the right.  The pathway in the snow was created by our Farm Managers (the outdoor cats) as they find their way to different locations on our farm.  In the background, you will see the area that is to become our new washing station/packing area in 2018.

Tammy and I have been growing produce on this farm since 2004 and we officially started the Genuine Faux Farm in 2005.  We know that each season will bring its trials and its rewards and it is our job to negotiate these pathways to bring you delicious and fresh produce, eggs and poultry.  We have the experience to find our way with a good chance for success, but we still need one more thing if we are going to make this growing season a good one for the farm.

We need you.
We would like you to join us by participating in our farm shares.  If you want to see what options are available and the pricing of those options, we recommend you go to this page on our blog.  If you are interested in what you see, please send us an email and we will work with you to make your membership a reality.

About the Stamp:
The stamp that we have modified was created for United States postage in 1975 as part of the Bicentennial celebration.  At the time, the postage rate was 8 cents.

The stamp features Sybil Ludington on her ride to warn U.S. militia in the area about an impending attack by the British on Danbury, Connecticut.  Her ride covered about 40 miles on the night of April 26, 1777 and could be compared to similar rides that are known to have occurred that were taken by William Dawes, Jack Jouett and Paul Revere.  Sybil was sixteen years old at the time of her ride. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

When Your Calendar's a Day Late

Welcome to the month of April.  This year, the month sneaks up on us by hiding behind a combination of an early Easter and cold weather.  We thought we would take the time to thrill you with various news of the farm in this post - since it has been a while since we posted!

New Approach to Fencing - Living in a Gated Community?
The biggest issue with fences on the farm is that once you put a fence in, it doesn't move easily.  Those of you who know our farm will realize that one solution has been to use portable electric netting to surround areas of pasture where our chickens reside.  But, we'd like to use fencing to prevent deer from getting to produce and the turkeys are really not as deterred by the electric fence as they are by something sturdier.
We've decided we may have the solution right here on the farm in the form of several old gates.  We figure if we plan it all just right, we can have a flexible pasture by simply making each "fence line" out of a series of gates.  When they are oriented one way, they create one set of fields.  If you "open" them up, you get a different configuration of fields.  We could get really fancy and even have stakes set up so we could run a diagonally situated field!  Now, if we could only find a way to get a whole bunch of stakes inexpensively.

Virtual Skritching Becomes the Rage at GFF
For those of you who might be fans of Snoopy - or if you've known us for some time - we bring you the 'skritch.'  Some pets like to be 'scratched,' but ours prefer to be skritched.  For those moments at the end of the day when you see a cat that needs a little bit of a skritch, we bring you the virtual skritch.  See below.
You can click on the picture to see a larger, more detailed version.

Dyed Water to Get Colored Eggs
Our farm participates in many research projects.  Some of them are of our own making, and this year is no exception.  We have noticed that the composition of the eggs laid by our hens can change depending on what the birds ingest.  For example, you might notice that the eggs become a richer yellow as they spend more outdoor time on green pastures and they fade a bit during the Winter.  In fact, we've noticed a definite orange tinge to the yolks when we feed them squash.  If you need more evidence, let me point something out.  What happens when you eat red beets?  I rest my case.

After the recent egg sales for Easter, we realized we may have missed the boat on an opportunity here.  Therefore, this Summer, we will segregate a small batch of chickens and put colored dye into their water.  Can you imagine how convenient it would be for all of you to celebrate Easter with pre-dyed eggs?   Our next step will be to figure out how to pre-hardboil the eggs.  We're not sure the chickens are going to enjoy that experiment as much.

Who Knew - Stakes are like Potatoes?
The Genuine Faux Farm is always looking for ways to develop new products or reduce supply expenses and we believe we may have found one such opportunity.  We've planted various stakes over the years and have never seen any of them produce fruit successfully.  Well, it turns out that they grow more like potatoes and they put their fruit BELOW the ground.  Now we know - we need to mark the planting locations so we can dig for the harvest.  Please take note - new stakes have a skin that isn't tough enough for standard use.  Stakes are better when they reach full maturity.
Oh look!  White stakes this time!

Farmers Taking Disco Classes
Both Tammy and Rob like to think of themselves as life-long learners.  Every Winter, we try to learn something new.

Apparently, this year it was Disco?
Star Wars has it Right
Wheels?  Who needs them?  We have decided that wheels are over-rated and we're looking at new ways to move things about the farm.  Rob is working on a 'hover-craft' of sorts and has already identified the payload - the old flair box shown in the picture below:
A thousand and one uses....
Thus far, efforts have met with mixed (at best) success.  The first effort with a series of shop-vacs pumping air out the bottom resulted in some lift, but there was no room left for anything else because it took too many vacuums to get it to go.  For all of you I borrowed shop vacs from - I'll get back to you (see below).

The second effort seemed to work better.  I put the shop vacs on another wheeled cart and then had the vacuums suspend this box over the cart.  It looked neat until I realized I was still relying on wheels.  In disgust, I cut off the power to the shop vacs.  So.... about those shop vacs I borrowed.

My next effort was an attempt to get electromagnetic suspension to work.  Using maglev suspension methods that are used for some trains as a model, it seemed like I could be in business.  The parts only cost a little bit.  Well, ok, let's just say I owe more than I'll ever earn in my lifetime.  The whole project hit a snag when I realized I needed to lay rails everywhere I wanted to go on the farm to make this thing work.  Since I didn't want it to be limited to only certain areas, I decided to lay track "on the fly."  As the thing moved forward, I picked up the rails that were behind it and moved them to the front.  It's not hard to move them with the loader on the tractor.  Did you spot the problem with this solution?

Yep, the chickens kept getting in the way.

Speaking of chickens, my latest idea is to strap a whole bunch of chickens to the bottom of this thing and get them to fly.  What could possibly go wrong?

Next Year's Project: Rear-Discharge Lawn Mower

Genuine Faux Farm Kickstopper Campaign - FAILURE
Last year's Kickstopper campaign that was created in an effort to STOP ROB FROM POSTING these things that always seem to appear around April 1.  It was an abysmal failure.  You only have yourselves to blame for this post.  If you'd only supported the Kickstopper Campaign when you had a chance, you would have gone on with your lives not thinking about chickens, beets and disco-dancing farmers.

Would you like us to start another Kickstopper Campaign?  We're willing to give it a go.

If you'd like to see prior year installments, here they are!
2017 April Fool Post
2016 April Fool Post
2015 April Fool Post
2014 April Fool Post
2013 April Fool Post
2012 April Fool Post

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Breathing In A Chemical Haze

[editor's note: This post was started in July of 2017 after a particularly difficult day on the farm.  Sometimes, I feel it is better to get away from the situation to consider carefully what is to be said - if anything.  I started work on it again this Winter when I realized it may just be that something needs to be said often enough to encourage change.  As a testament to how hard the subject can be to talk about, I had to take it up again in March.  So, here goes something.]

It's the end of July and the air is heavy and warm.  The sun is part way towards the horizon in the West as it tries to burn through a chemical haze.  The breeze doesn't want to come out to play this evening and I wouldn't blame it if it were more interested in an ice-cold lemonade while it sits on the porch.  However, I am certain that it would not opt to sit outside tonight if it could choose.

This evening had the potential to be a beautiful Summer evening.  While the day was warm, it was not oppressively so.  The sun was bright, but not blinding.  Since it was Friday, there were no additional workers on the farm.  That meant we could more easily run a couple of errands during the hottest part of the day and use the cooler hours in the evening to work in the fields.  There is something relaxing about the knowledge that you have a fair amount of work to do, but week-long stresses of working AND managing the work of others can be eased away by taking a productive walk behind a wheel hoe.

Unfortunately, it is "Spray Season" in Iowa.  Eighty-five percent of the land in this state is farmed in some fashion (30.5 million of 35.7 million acres according to USDA 2016 numbers).  Of the acres that are farmed, 23.4 million were dedicated to corn and soybeans (76.7%).  Another 2 million acres were planted to hay and alfalfa and about 170,000 were in small grains.  It would be safe to make the observation that nearly all of the corn/soybean acreage is farmed using herbicide, fungicide and pesticide applications as their most common tool.  And, everyone is frantically trying to get the pesticide and fungicide applications done in Bremer and the surrounding counties during a ten-day period.  But, this Friday was the peak.  Everyone wanted to spray and they wanted to spray NOW.

The buzz of airplane engines started  just before 7 AM and were still going at 7 PM.  The whine of high-boy spray rigs rushing down the road at their top speeds gave an unwelcome counterpoint, though I have to admit there were certainly fewer of those since aerial spray seems to be the thing to do.  If there were birds singing - and I actually doubt that they were - you couldn't hear them.  In fact, I found myself hoping that the birds and other critters we like had found good places to hide.  Unfortunately, with the human tendency to tear out every brushy area or stand of trees because it is "not productive land" I doubt there were many places they could go to find sanctuary.  In just five years, as a response to high corn and soybean prices, 97,000 acres of woodland in Iowa were cleared (from 2009 to 2013).  Three quarters of these losses are due to agricultural operations and Iowa now has 100 million trees fewer than we did in 2010.

 Agri-chemicals are to commodity crops what pharmaceuticals are to the health industry.  We all want to a take a pill or spray a chemical and make the problem go away.  The case study of bifenthrin, which was registered for use in 1985, illustrates the expansion of use for many chemicals in agriculture.  You can find similar maps and view them to your heart's (dis)content at the United States Geological Survey site.

While it is true that not every chemical shows the same trend as bifenthrin, you should take note of the state that is most often completely covered to show heavy use for a wide range of herbicides, pesticides and fungicides.  Why, yes, that is our state - Iowa.  To further make the point, I suggest that you go to the survey site linked above and check out Atrazine, Trifloxystrobin, Glyphosate (Round up) and whatever else you are curious about.  If you wish to see these maps better, click on them to see a larger image.

A new hatching of dragonflies were zipping around the East fields of our farm this morning and I took pleasure in watching them go from hovering in one spot to hovering in another after a quick movement in what seemed like an impossible direction.  Then, I found myself apologizing about all of the pesticides that were certain to be added to every surface of the county over the next few days.  I muttered something about 'bad timing' and 'I hope you all survive this.'  What a strange thing to say to a creature that has ancestors that were on this earth 300 million years ago.  A dragonfly is a fantastic predator (if a bit indiscriminate) to have on our farm since it will eat any number of pests that might cause problems with our vegetables.  The adults can live for several weeks to a couple of months if a bird or other larger predator doesn't take them.  This batch was seen on our farm for two days.  Fill in the blanks.  We may work to provide habitat and a safe haven on our farm that these critters favor, but they don't see borders the same way we do. 

But, then again, airborne spray doesn't see borders like we do either.  And, let's be honest, the sheer volume of pesticides being dumped on acre after acre of land in Iowa results in coverage that is not limited to just the target crops.  We all know this, we just don't want to think about.  In fact, we are so adverse to thinking about the possibility that we are willingly poisoning our world that we aren't even doing much research to either prove or disprove this.  It's a good deal like avoiding seeing the dentist about the tooth that hurts because you are afraid that she'll say you have a cavity.  The sheer volume of spraying going on during the end of July helped to make the air heavy and difficult to breath.  A quick look to the skies reminded me of smog we had witnessed during visits to certain larger cities.  And, it didn't just look that way on our farm.  It looked and felt that way when were in Tripoli... and Sumner... and Waverly, as we ran errands during the heat of the day.

So, what does that mean for us as we consider the 200 foot rows of broccoli and onions that need a pass with the wheel hoe?  Are we supposed to go shut the windows of our 100+ year-old farmhouse and hide?  Does that mean we are supposed to stay inside for this ten to fourteen day period?  How are we supposed to do the work that we do if we shouldn't be outside?  What about all of the other people who work outdoors in the Summer months?  Is it okay that their bodies have contact with all of this stuff during spray season?  Are all of the outdoor enthusiasts supposed to stay in?  Should the bike paths, swimming pools and tire swings stay empty at this time?  And what about all of the creatures on this earth that have no 'inside' to go to?  Are we just supposed to deal with it since it is the cost of living in Iowa?

My answer depends on the moment.

On bad days, I DO want to run and hide.  It hurts too much to witness this.  It worries me every time we enter each Spray Season - and it isn't just the July season - we worry during the Spring herbicide spray season too.  I wonder if I should tell our young workers who are often high school and college age that they should go home and not work during Spray season.  We have pulled them from fields before, maybe they should just never go out during that time?  And, what about us?  What sorts of physical issues are we creating for ourselves because we chose to do the work that we do?

On better days, I get angry and I want to see change.  I want to see more meadowlarks and tiger swallowtails.  I want to see the skill and art of farming return with the use of a bigger toolbox than the one provided by application from a sprayer boom.  I want to see dragonflies darting around me as I walk behind a wheel hoe amid the broccoli and onion rows.

What do you want?

Sunday, March 11, 2018

An Appreciation for Cultivation

I have taken on a side project for my postal history hobby that allows me to write about the hobby without necessarily inflicting it on persons who are looking for farming related posts.  I hope to periodically put things out on my own postal history blog (with concentration in winter months - I wonder why?).   The intent is to give me a forum to collect my thoughts on what I know (or think I know) and work on arranging them in a way that I like.  The following was in response to an interesting idea another philatelist suggested.  I felt that it actually might give insight to some of the things I like when I work outside on our farm.  The base text was written in December of 2017 and it has since been edited.
The wind came howling through Iowa today and I decided it was not a good day to be working outside.  While I am glad that I am entering the 'off-season' on the farm, there are days when I actually miss walking behind the wheel hoe.

For those who do not know, a wheel hoe is a two-handled tool that has some sort of cultivating blade.  The back of the top cover shows five people using two-wheeled wheel hoes to cultivate on either side of a crop.  The front of the cover shows a farmer with a seeder that has a similar configuration to the wheel hoes.  The lower cover shows a 'walk-behind' tractor.  We actually use both types of cultivation tools on the farm.  The machine powered tool certainly has its uses, but it's a combustion engine, so it makes its share of noise.  And, before you start thinking the powered tool is easier to use, I can tell you that it will work a fair share of your muscles.  If you would like to view these items more closely, you can click on the picture below.

Some of my best days on the farm have been those where the weather was not too windy and the soil was JUST RIGHT for cultivation.  If you pick up the right amount of speed, the soil just rolls over the top of the cultivating blade, easily exposing the roots of the weeds I am targeting.  Wheel hoe work can be mildly strenuous, but not so much that it can't also be pleasant.   You can listen to nature - or listen to music - or just be alone with your thoughts.  All the while, you're getting real work done.

The soil and steel have a sound and a feel on days like this that is soothing.  That sound confirms that progress is being made without drowning out the goldfinches exclaiming over the gift of sunflower seeds ("For meeeee?!")  Sometimes you walk close enough to the crop that your leg brushes against its leaves.  If you're lucky, that crop is basil (ok, you're lucky if you LIKE the smell of basil).  Maybe a butterfly will land on the bill of your cap.  The iced tea in the thermos tastes especially good when you stop at the end of a row and a little bit of sweat tells you that you're earning your keep.

The wheel hoe is your companion as you take a tour of the world that is the Genuine Faux Farm fields.  The 'cucumber frog' jumps out just in time to startle you a little bit and you notice a new hatching of lady beetles.  You remind yourself to trust that they will find enough of the aphids to make a difference for your peas and lettuce.  It looks like one of the tomatoes was broken by the storm a few days ago and it is not going to make it.  Well, that happens.  The other three hundred plants in this field look pretty good.

The sunlight's angle this time of day allows you to see the world in a different way, with the contrast of light and shadow.  The zinnia flowers can still dazzle, but the cool blue flowers on the borage love the way the light shows off their beauty this time of day.  A light evening breeze actually reminds you that the weather isn't always as hot as it was just a little while ago.

It looks like the green beans will have their first picking by next week - our favorite veggie.  Lightly steamed with some real butter.  The sun is telling me it must be about time for a break to have dinner.  Maybe we'll just pick a pot full of beans, even if they're a little small, and go cook them up now.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Break Week

It is March and Professor Tammy gets to be on the farm during Winter Break week!  While she still has to be Professor Tammy and do lots of grading and plenty of other school related things, she also has been able to put on her "Farmer Tammy" hat.  It's always amazing how much more work gets done on the farm when there are two farmers running around and finding ways to look busy.

Sunday, Sunny Sunday (and Saturday too!)
The week started with warmer than usual weather and lots of sunshine.  Our initial plan was for Tammy to try to get school work done early during break so it wouldn't be weighing on her during the rest of the time she had "off."  But, one look at the forecast and we were sold on revising that plan.  The only downside?  It was a bit windy.
Garfield by Jim Davis
We started the day out with the mundane task of putting fresh straw into the hen room after we let the birds out.  It's always easier to do that on a nice day and most of the birds aren't in the way.  However, there are always a few that just HAVE to see what you're doing.  We don't mind it too much - but we'd love it if they would WAIT until we leave the room before they start kicking the straw OUT of the laying boxes when we worked so hard to put that same straw IN to the laying boxes.
But we LOVE to kick straw around!
There were all sorts of 'treats' for us on Saturday.  It was warm enough to hang laundry outside - something we prefer to do rather than use the dryer.  And, we'd had a couple of long weeks and the laundry got backed up, so there was plenty of it to wash and hang.  We were able to work in Valhalla and begin prepping the ground in that building for early Spring planting.  While it was windy outside, the high tunnel provides us with some protection.  The only negative here is how ridiculously noisy it is in that building on a very windy day.  Sunday was even windier than Saturday (but still nice) so we did some tree pruning.
We're hoping to get MORE than one pear this season.
Weather took a turn on Monday, so we made it a 'paperwork' day.  Tammy put on her "Professor Tammy" hat and Rob was still wearing his "Farmer Rob" hat.  Speaking of which... when does Rob wear any other hat than the "Farmer Rob" hat?  Inquiring minds want to know!  Rather than regale you with all of the exciting paperwork we did, I will move on to Tuesday afternoon for this fine telling of farmer tales of daring do - hopefully without too many incidences of doodoo.

Perhaps some of you have read here or elsewhere that we are trying to fix the kitchen in our old farmhouse.  (Imagine that!  The farmers live in a farmhouse!  Who woulda thunk it?)  Anyone who has done this sort of work while living in the house knows what that means.  And, if you don't know, I'll tell you.  It means you have to find ways to move your kitchen around in stages so you can go about your normal daily business.  That was a good bit of Tuesday.  And now you know.

Wednesday we became the 'Traveling Farmers' as we ran errands all over northeast Iowa.  While some of the errands might make us sound normal (going to the bank, the pharmacy, recycling, dropping some neat things at Trinkets and Togs, etc) there were others that clearly identified us as 'different.'  A trip to Nolt's to pick up drip tape, plant starting soil and other supplies made sure to make the trip up with Chumley, our truck, worthwhile.  But, perhaps the most disturbing thing about Wednesday is that we left the farm after chores at about 6:20 am and we returned about 12 hours later.  Look, when errands take you to places near Waverly, Charles City, Protivin and Sumner, there's going to be some serious road time.
The farmers even paid attention to the Supervisory crew!
As far as Thursday has been concerned - do you remember that kitchen project?  Well, there are now fewer cabinets in the kitchen.  We got one set of them down and once another set is down, we can start fixing the walls and ceiling.  We're a bit out of practice for this sort of thing, but it is coming back to us quickly.  We even found time to do *more* school/farm paperwork, participate in an interview AND take a tom cat that has taken to hanging around in to the vet so that certain parts of him wouldn't continue hanging around - if you know what I mean.

Tomorrow's big task?  Lots and LOTS of seeding!  Hang on to your hats kids, this is going to be fun!

Just keep your eyes open for clouds that look like a cow.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

March Newsletter

Mud Season
Every person I know that actively farms refers to "Mud Season."  For those people who do not farm, you can probably guess exactly what we are referring to, but I suspect you might have a difficult time fully appreciating the significance Mud Season has for those of us who farm.  There is no getting away from the mud and you can't just stop doing farm chores and wait for it to dry up.

Mud Season starts when it decides to start and ends when it is finished.  Sometimes, you can get a reprieve from Mud Season only to have a recurrence of Mud Season and you can get reminders of Mud Season at times that are not actually Mud Season.  Mud Season is a time to give up on keeping the entryway clean in the house, keeping the car or truck clean is a hopeless task and a trip outside without the muck boots is NOT advised.  A farmer might think that she has managed to go form point A to point B on the farm without getting muddy only to realize hours later that there are mud spatters on the back of her pants leg as she stands in front of students in the classroom (yay for Tammy!).

On our farm, Mud Season could begin any time there is a thaw after the frost has really set in the ground.  But, it normally starts in earnest in late February into early March.  There is still plenty of frost in the ground, but the top couple of inches have thawed out due to warmer temperatures and stronger sunshine.  The combination of snow melt (assuming there was snow) with a little bit of rain can get Mud Season going in earnest.

At present, we are at the stage of mud season where our farm is covered in puddles that have ice chunks floating in them.  You can take one step and sink into the mud about six inches and in the next step the ground is rock hard.  Much of our ground is a soft and slippery 2 inch layer of top soil over the still frozen dirt (at last report our frost line was 3+ feet deep).  The gravel roads around us work hard to pull vehicles into (or out of) the wheel tracks and we are unlikely to drive our tractor anywhere on the farm unless we REALLY need to for fear that the vehicle we need to pull things out will also get stuck.

So, welcome to Mud Season.  See you all on the other side - whenever that is.

Picture of the Month

Just a taste of Mud Season

Farm News Shorts and Announcements

  • Chicken shares are nearly completed for all participants for this round.  We will be taking reservations for the upcoming year's chicken shares as of now.  These will start when our first batch of broilers are processed around July 4th.
  • CSA Shares are now available.  We will be offering the same set of shares as 2017 with the same price structure.  Information is RIGHT HERE on this blog if you are interested.  Don't let the year date stop you if I don't catch all of the 2017's and change them to 2018!
  • Speaking season has come to a close for Rob with his completion of speaking engagements at Wartburg, UNI and Hawkeye Community College.  At this point, we typically change to farm tours with an occasional exception for other speaking opportunities.  Thank you to all who have given him an opportunity to share.
  • The annual Nota Conference is held by the "Gang of Five Farms" every January/February to give us a chance to enjoy each other's company and help each other plan and handle life's challenges on our farms.  It was a bit later than usual this year, but it was every bit as valuable as it has been other seasons.  We're not sure what we would do without our peers' support and kindness.
  • The season of "Service Trip Groups" is beginning at the farm as well.  A high percentage of Wartburg students participate in service trips and they are required to do something to help fund these trips.  Each Spring (and often Fall) we have from one to three groups come out to the farm and do things that many hands can accomplish sooner than just two or four hands.  One example of a group visiting can be seen in this blog post.
February Calendar

  • March 14 (Wed) -  Egg sales Waverly and Cedar Falls
  • March 27 (Tue) - Egg sales Waverly and Cedar Falls
Weather Wythards
Rob is writing this post AWAY from the weather station and the farm.  It is difficult to get the information from it when you can't see it (and it is not internet enabled).

But, if you want a summary.  It was cold for a spell and warm for a spell.  There was rain, snow and ice.  Some days were windy.  Others were calm.  We saw the moon and stars sometimes.  One day, the sun came out and we were happy.

You are welcome!

Song of the Month
King's X is a group that has been a long time favorite of mine.  In my opinion, they've never settled for easy - which gets my respect.  This month's song is Fly - a reminder to me that I don't need everyone to agree with everything I do and say. 

Time to Have Pun
It's been pretty cold the last several months.  Cold enough that we've been forced to use the furnace much later than usual (and much more than usual).  The extremes to which we have gone this Winter (and early Spring) to stay warm are best illustrated by a recent trip a couple of friends took kayaking down the Wapsipinicon River.  In case anyone cares, that river is only a little over a mile away from us. 

In any event, the river was open, but it was pretty cold.  And, of course, they hit a snag and flipped the kayak.  They righted themselves easy enough, but now they were very cold and had a ways to go to get out of the river.  So, they floated close to shore, grabbed some dry twigs and proceeded to start a fire on the kayak to warm up.

Of course, the kayak sank and they had to wade to the bank and hike to the road.

Why am I telling you all of this?

Remember - You can't have your kayak and heat it too.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Genuine Fun Facts

Every once in a while, Tammy and I see something and say, "Hm, that might be interesting for other people to see on the blog."  Sadly, most of the time, we say this when neither of us is prepared to write it down.  As a result, there are a whole bunch of great ideas that fall out of our brains and rattle around on the floor.  So, if you see some of our ideas sitting on the edge of street somewhere, please direct them to us.

Genuine Faux Farm By the Numbers
Many of you already know that Rob likes his numbers.  Sometimes, the numbers actually interest other people as well, so we thought we would share a few that might be enjoyable.

Mr Aubergine wants to know...
 120,297 - the number of eggs our laying hens have produced from 2012 to 2017.  No, it's not the same group of laying hens every year.  We have a great post about the ladies that answers a number of questions about how we raise the birds.  Now is a good time to point you to the Poultry Slam post from 2015.

36,827 - the number of cucumbers harvested on our farm since 2006.  Yep, that's about 3000 a year.  All that time picking cucumbers and wondering when the cucumber frog is going to startle the farmer...

164 and 11.1 - the number of songs a typical GFF month's music play list contains and the number of hours that playlist would normally take to play in its entirety.  Last year's Harvest Festival play list was only 134 songs, so I guess I fell short on that one, but the days were getting shorter, so 8.8 hours was usually pretty good.

250, 350, 400, 500, 600, 800 - the number of dollars it takes to sign up for one of our CSA share programs.  There are many options that may fit you and your family.  Luckily enough for you, we have openings and are now taking reservations!  Prices on the website are current, even if the farmer missed changing the year date on the web.

Genuine Faux Farm, A History

There WERE Foxes on the Genuine Faux Farm

Take a look at the larger crack in that foundation.
 In 2007/2008, after the old hog building came down, a vixen decided we had the perfect place to raise a few kits.  We were able to get a few pictures and were also able to contact photographer, Kip Ladage.  Kip came out and got some great pictures (one of which is signed and hanging on our kitchen wall).  Once he had captured his photos, we went about our normal business of farming.  This was too much for Mama and she moved the kits away soon after.  Frankly, if they would have entered a contract of not killing all of our chickens, we'd have been happy to have them stay.  But, having us as their neighbors was just a bit too close for comfort from their perspective.

 That Old Barn Was Good for Something
 Those who have been to the farm over the last five or so years, but not prior, have not seen the old barn with a roof and siding.  While was still largely intact it was the perfect nesting space for barn swallows.  There were always two major hatchings of chicks and once they fledged we'd get to see the grand line-up on the electric lines.  Sadly, with fewer nesting spots, we don't get to see this any more.

The Year the Cucumbers Would NOT Grow
Just... pitiful
The farm is full of lessons of humility.  One of our earliest such lessons came in 2008 when we had a year where one of the 'easiest' crops to grow simply wouldn't.  The following year was a bit better, but 2010 was the year of the cucumber.

You Did What When?!?

Young Horticulturalist?
Would you like your plants to get big and healthy this year?  Diligently prune off the flowers just as Tammy did in her family's garden.  Just remember that you won't get any fruit if you take off ALL the flowers.  But, then again, if that's the goal you want....

Deliveries by GFF Started Earlier Than You Think
Officially, the Genuine Faux Farm started operations in 2005.  But, the very first deliveries were made years earlier - even before Rob and Tammy met.  The produce came from the 'garden' Grandpa Faux maintained and he was happy to have a high school baseball player available to run the gauntlet that were essentially 'drive-by vegetablings.'

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Enough is Enough

Every year, the farmer gets big ideas about all of things he will accomplish.  Every year, the farmer gets an enforced "vacation from everything" as he fights some virus or another in the latter part of January or early part of February.  Every year, the farmer has to fight to maintain some level of progress on all of the fronts he has chosen to engage.

And, it doesn't work.  Or at least, according to some measures, it doesn't appear to work.

Then, the farmer takes a moment and finds a picture like the one above.

And the farmer decides.  He can't do it all.  But, he can do enough.  In fact, he can do more than enough.  Sometimes we have to realize that enough is enough.

How's that for an introduction to a blog post?

So, What's Up For February at the Farm?

February is the month where we begin to plant for the new season.  We will be starting our onion plants in trays along with some herbs and a few flowers.  It is likely that we will be seeding some spinach and other early season crops for the high tunnels as well.  There won't be too much planting just yet, but there is enough to keep us involved in the growing process.
Whatcha doin'?

Perhaps the biggest thing to accomplish in February is the purchase of supplies and new equipment for the upcoming season.  The seed orders get made (and paid for).  Plant starting mix, drip tape and numerous other items also are identified and ordered (and paid for).  In short, there is a good deal of research and evaluation of product that is paired with budget projections so we can figure out where a significant portion of our money will go for the season.

Of course, we still have laying hens on the farm, and they require daily attention.  On the colder days, there are many visits out to the hen room to collect eggs before they freeze.  On the warmer days, we try to encourage the hens to run around the pasture more.  Apparently they aren't too keen on aerobics classes, so we'll settle for throwing a few treats out there for them to chase.
I am NOT thrilled about this.

While it is not a 'farm' thing, we are also engaged in trying to get some home repair projects going.  It is true that we might prefer to do some of these things in warmer weather.  But, growing things tends to take up our time in the warmer months.  I guess that leaves January and February for home projects.  

As I write this, I realize how sneaky-busy February is for us at the farm.  We set up research projects, do our taxes, promote the new season's CSA, work to find other outlets for our produce and we continue to sell eggs, chickens and whatever produce remains from last season.  The organic certification paperwork is due and Rob has a few presentations scheduled.
Natural farmer habitat in February?

If that all sounds like too much office work and not enough "real" farm work, then we'll remind you that we also have to do some repairs to the high tunnels and there is still old trellising to take down in one building.  We've got containers to clean and some electrical to run in a couple of the buildings.  That ought to do it!

And now you know what this farmer is doing this February.

Research Agenda 2018

The research agenda for the Genuine Faux Farm in 2018 is very nearly set and, per the norm, it is an ambitious list.  But, before you point me to the Farmer Delusional Syndrome issue that happens every year during the Winter months, please allow us to share the agenda with you.  THEN, you can tell us to go look at our own post regarding Farmer Delusional Syndrome.

Interplanting Flowers in Cucurbits
Part of the reason for the optimism I have this year in our ability to accomplish these research projects is that most of them are built upon prior work, rather than being a complete fresh start on a topic.  We have been sold on the value of putting flowers in many of our crops from the beginning.  We even held a field day for PFI at our farm in 2016 that focused on pollinators on the farm.  While we may be convinced of the value of growing flowers as companions, we'd like to help grow the database of knowledge in this area to encourage others to do the same thing.

The Genuine Faux Farm applied for a two-year Farmer/Researcher grant with SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) to help fund a project where we will attempt to measure the value and/or cost of our preferred growing system versus one devoid of all of the intercropped flowers.

Essentially, we will grow one of our 60'x200' fields the way we want to grow melons and winter squash.  We'll add our full rows of borage and zinnia and other flowers to the field.  We'll interplant nasturtium and other flowers in the row with the cucurbit vines (melons and winter squash are cucurbits - in case that flew past you).  Then, we'll do something that neither of us really wants to do.  We'll plant a different 60'x200' field with the other half of our melons and winter squash.  And we will make sure to plant NO intercropped flowers.  This field will be all cucurbits ALL the time.  We'll even keep the border path clover mowed to reduce flower availability.

Why do this?  After all, the way I see it - we're putting half of our crops at risk of failure.  (hint - it's not the field with all of the flowers in it)  But, the reality is this - even growers that I consider to be highly interested in sustainable methods fail to dedicate themselves to diverse planting techniques.  They need more data to encourage change.  Hopefully, we can provide some of that data.

Broccoli Variety Trials
Two years ago, our farm participated in broccoli variety trials sponsored by Practical Farmers of Iowa that compared Belstar, Gypsy and Imperial.  What happened?  Well, we had the worst broccoli crop we had seen in years.  It was just a bad year for broccoli state-wide.  We wanted to run the trial again in 2017, but Imperial was not available.  We still took records of Belstar and Gypsy, which we had done for several years prior to 2016 as well.  But, we really want to run the trial with what we hope will be a "normal" broccoli growing year.   The odds are good, given 2016 was an aberration as compared to all other years of production since 2012.

In fact, last year was a record broccoli production year at the farm.  We'd be happy for average production that can give us a good gauge as to how each of these varieties might fare during most seasons on the farm.

Lettuce Variety Trials
Lettuce can be difficult to grow once we get into the warmer months.  Even so, CSA farms, such as our own, often hope to have lettuce for large percentage of the deliveries we make.  In particular, we hope to have beautiful lettuce during some of the more difficult share weeks in July.  This motivated several PFI cooperator farmers to trial the varieties, Magenta, Muir and Coastal Star last season (we were among those farmers).  The results were favorable for both Magenta and Muir.  On our farm, we were most pleased with Magenta and found Muir to just be acceptable.

This year, we will be trialing Concept, Nevada and Winter Density.  Magenta will return as the "check crop."  For those who might not know, a "check crop" is usually a crop that has an established record (if you can call one year an established record).  If the check crop performs in a fashion that is abnormal, you can guess that the results you are getting from the other crops might not be their normal performance as well.

Fertility Delivery Trials
Once the farm acquired Rosie, the tractor, and her loader/bucket, we became much better at turning compost piles.  The net result is that we have had access to more 'black gold' than we've ever had on the farm.  We will run a randomized/replicated trial in our romanesco planting this year that will test the viability of our own compost versus a purchased product and compare the results with a no-product control.

As is true with most every research project we attempt, we have a pretty good idea as to what we want for a result.  But, the whole point of research is to see what actually DOES happen.

Cherry Tomato Enterprise Budget
We don't tend to grow too many cherry tomatoes on our farm because they are labor intensive during harvest.  However, we have had inquiries as to whether we might be willing to grow more cherry tomatoes for sale.  Add in a PFI project that will help participants to take measurements regarding the costs and returns of the crop and you see an opportunity to learn that shouldn't be passed up.

Heirloom Tomato in the High Tunnel Trial
In prior years, we have watched while other Practical Farmers of Iowa Cooperators have measured results for hybrid high tunnel tomatoes.  Each year, when we hear about the results, we could swear our heirlooms compare reasonably well with the hybrids.  Since we already collect nearly all of the data that is used in this sort of trial, it seemed only natural to offer to run a trial with heirlooms.

The only reason why we hesitate with this one?  Well, there have been 'research trial curses' in the past on our farm.  Crops that have done well for years end up having a down year when we do a research trial.  We really need our high tunnel tomatoes to do well.  So, we wonder - is it worth the risk?    Then, we remind ourselves that we are not superstitious and that a bad (or good) year will happen whether we're running a trial or not.  It's just that you examine the bad year so thoroughly if you're running a trial!

What Makes Us Think We Can Manage All of This?
Please believe me when I say we've asked this question several times of ourselves.  And, the answer is still 'yes.'

Part of the advantage of many of these research projects is that we collect 80% of the data required for these projects in a normal year.  The broccoli, lettuce and heirloom tomato trials require no additional data collection beyond what we already do.  The only difference is that we need to plant them in replicated sections to control for soil and other variables.  The even better news here is that we've done the broccoli and lettuce trials before, so there isn't a learning curve to climb.

The Fertility Delivery Trial adds an early season sample testing of soil and compost (being sent to a lab), which is something we want to do anyway.  Otherwise, we have done these processes before.  Again, no big learning curve to climb.  The Interplanting in Cucurbits is also not changing up our farming practices significantly.  The big deal is taking the time to observe the differences (and similarities) between the two fields.  Since we are highly invested in this one, I see no problem with expending a little extra time on that one.

That leaves us with the Enterprise Budget project.  In this case, I see the extra data being collected as something that will pay us back in the following year.  In short, it's an investment in analyzing a crop for profitability on our farm.  If the numbers are poor, we may decide it's a crop to continue to limit in our production unless we're willing to make big changes.  If the numbers are good, we may decide it would be worthwhile to scale up production.