Friday, August 31, 2018

Running With Scissors

One of the most common topics of conversation for veggie growers other than the weather is weed control.  We have attended numerous farming events over the years and there has yet to be one such conference that does not address this topic in at least one session.  And, before someone tells me it is my fault for "being organic," let me assure you that it has so much more to do with the diverse crops we grow than the organic certification.  If you are unwilling to subscribe to a monoculture and/or you wish to grow a crop that is sensitive to most herbicides, then you have to consider other methods of weed control.  It is merely a fact of growing.  Mother Nature prefers a diverse set of plants covering the soil (at least at our farm, she does) and she isn't really on board with a farmer's plan to have 'clean rows' where one can only see the crop being grown.

Onions - mostly clean?
 One of the tools we very much appreciate is the Williams Tool Bar, which is a flex tine harrow.  We can attach some squash knives or other cultivating attachments as needed.  You can actually see some of our earlier work with onions on this blog post from 2014.   The onions you see above were approaching harvest stage a the point the picture was taken.  We had, in fact, run the flex tine on this bed twice much earlier in the season.  We got one pass in during May and somehow snuck in another one in June.  The second is amazing given how much rain we had, but it was earlier in the month before things got silly.  So, considering this bed (four rows of onions per tractor bed) had not been cultivated since early June and this photo was taken in late July, it was doing pretty well.

Uh oh.
 Despite the successful use of various tools, we still "run with scissors" every year on our farm.  The scissors I allude to is the weed pressure in our fields.  Typically, there are some fields that are much easier to control and others that we still have not unlocked the most efficient processes to handle all of the variables that get thrown at us from year to year.  For example, a drier year tends to result in cleaner fields because there is less persistence in weed germination.  The moisture delivered to the field comes from our drip tape irrigation, which severely limits the areas weeds might germinate.  A wetter than average year tends to have an opposite effect, encouraging more flushes of weed germination while making it harder to get out in the field with our cultivation tools to eradicate them.

Failure to control weeds one season can lead to weed issues in future seasons if you allow the weeds to go to seed and replenish the 'seed bank' in your fields.  All it takes is one fall with the scissors and you can be wounded with five to ten years of increased weed pressure.  We are still fighting the weed bank left behind in 2008 and 2010 when we had significant issues with wet fields combined with very few tools to deal with them.  To give you perspective, we did not own a tractor on our farm until 2010 and it didn't really help us much until 2012.

I have heard the argument that if you have problems with weeds, you are doing something very wrong.  A couple of sources suggest that you have over-extended yourself if you can't keep up.  Others make the claim that you need to make better investments in tools.  Yet others suggest that a weedy field needs to be taken out of production and put into alfalfa or something else for two to three years.  And, of course, every one of these suggestions have merit.  In short, they aren't wrong.  But, they aren't always right either.

This year, we have been losing the overall battle against the weeds.  The net result is that we're stuck with some of the more drastic weed control efforts (such as mowing things down) in an effort to prevent them from going to seed.  Sometimes that means giving up on a crop.  You could say that part of the reason for our problems is that we ARE stretching what we are able to do with the number of worker hours and tools that we have.  But, if you aren't pushing the edges a bit you aren't really trying.

The main reason we're fighting the weeds more this year than most?  We had twice the normal rainfall our area gets in June, which is our most important month for cultivation and getting ahead of the weeds for the season.  We fought hard to catch up in July when things dried out a bit (we ran about 1/2 inch below normal).  But, now we have had an August that has twice the normal rainfall for the month - and we still have a few days to go as of this writing. 

Could we have done some things different?  Yes.  Should we have?  Yes, in retrospect, we could have made some different decisions that would have given better results.  But, need I pull out that trite saying about hindsight and 20/20 vision?  Oh, I did already?  Never mind.

So, here we are, running on uneven ground with a scissors in our hand.  Or perhaps it's a butcher's knife or some other sharp object Mom would strongly recommend against our running while we are holding it.  Let's just see if we can't keep the pointy end away from us this time around.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Looking for Beauty

Tammy and I have had the good fortune to have been able to travel to some beautiful places during our lives together and we have been able to do so with a nice digital camera in tow for many of those trips.  We love to try our hands at capturing what we see with the full knowledge that some of these places make it impossible to take a truly 'bad' photograph.  And, of course, with a digital camera, you can try a WHOLE 'buncha' times and it doesn't cost you anything more than your personal effort focusing and taking the picture.

When we take pictures at the farm, we often focus on flowers because, just like some of the gorgeous places we have visited, flowers dress up real nice.  If it isn't flowers, then we are taking pictures to record what is going on at the farm.  Only occasionally do we specifically look for a shot that stands out for its 'beauty.'  And yet, if we look for it, we can find beauty in all sorts of farm pictures.

Stealing a Look at Nature at Work
Sometimes, we take a picture to document one thing and we get another.  The photo below was an effort to just record what the flowers on the Swamp Milkweed looked like on this, their first full-year at the farm. 

 We just happened to capture a honey bee flying just to the left of the flower.  Once we saw that, we took a few more photos of the bee crawling around on the flowers.  While this picture will NOT win any awards (not even from me) it respresents a beauty I look for daily during the growing months.  The beauty of pollinators going about their labors collecting food from plants and, in turn, pollinating those plants.  There is a simple beauty to nature's method of successfully matching needs so that each participant comes away the better for that meeting.

A Beautiful Crop Just Before Harvest
Good friend and fellow grower, Mark Quee, said what I was thinking one day when he mentioned how beautiful a crop can look in the days just prior to harvest. 

Typically, the plants have filled out and are at their healthiest before first harvest.  Usually, the weeds are under some level of control and the color, shape and size of the plants rarely improve much beyond that point.  This is especially true for single harvest crops like lettuce.   Once the harvest begins, you can never go back to the beauty that once was.  Even if you do not pick every head from a row, there are now open spots with a stump in its place.  Usually there are a few stray leaves that were rejected that are left next to the row, wilting in the sun.  At the very least, the gaps break the harmony that had once been a solid row of lettuce.

Looking at the Common in a New Way
It's just a handle for the sliding door on the granary.  That's all it is.  The door is losing paint.  The handle isn't particularly attractive.  But, it has a bit of frost on it in this picture (no... it is not a recent picture).

 When you work around something every day, it is very easy to ignore details.  It's even easier to miss the simple beauty of an item that you use every single day.  This handle does not represent complex technology as we might know it, but it is impressive nonetheless.  Combined with the track and rollers at the top of the door, I can open a 12 foot tall by 6 foot wide door with one hand.

Beauty in Little Things
It is one thing to see the beauty in a mountain or a canyon or the ocean.  It's another to slow down and look at a single cluster of crocus.
 Crocus have the advantage of being one of the only things trying to bloom while there is still some snow on the ground.  So, of course, humans are more likely to notice them for that.  But, they are also sometimes inclined to start bloom while being partially covered by leaf litter or other debris from the Fall.  Yet, they still put on their best clothes and give us a smile in April or May at our farm.  Every year we tell ourselves we should put LOTS more of them in the ground in the Fall.  Every Fall comes and we don't get to it.  Maybe this year?

Representational Beauty
I like to occasionally use a bigger word to impress myself with my own vocabu... vocabu...   what is that word again?
 We do not take frequent pictures of the farm's chalk door.  We just keep reusing the same ones whenever we want them for a blog or some such thing.  So, that's why this has a May 30 date on it.  The beauty here is in what all of the crossed off words represent!  To the Genuine Faux Farm, crossed off words represent progress.  And... progress can be beautiful.

The Beauty of Progress
When things get done at the farm, we can have pictures like the one below:
An early New Year's Resolution for 2019?  We're going to take more pictures just after completing farm tasks.  We tend to just go out and do a picture taking spree every so often and other pictures are meant to document for research or other projects.  But, I think Tammy and I get some benefit in seeing pictures like the one above. 

Yes, there are some flowers.  The plants look healthy.  The beds are weeded.  There is diversity.  The beauty of hard work showing progress towards the goal of tasty food.  That's a pretty good picture.

Sunday, August 26, 2018


Last October, I wrote a post called Point of View where I showed a series of pictures taken from one area of the farm.  Yes, it took a bit more of a philosophic bent than some of our posts, but I think it turned out pretty well.  So, if you want something a bit more general - go to that post.  This one focuses on the perspectives relating to one particular building on our property.

I can't believe I have never actually gone over and looked up through this cage before.  We've lived on the farm since the Summer of 2004 and I just walk on by without really looking.  Suddenly, I found myself with the camera in hand in July of this year and I said, "hmmmmm."  I say "hmmmmm" fairly often on the farm, actually.  The humming birds have threatened to sue me because I keep using their catch-phrase, but they failed to copyright it, so I think I'm still in the clear.

I believe I can be forgiven for not exploring the Harvestore any more closely than I have in the past.  First of all, we have no use for the building.  We don't have the type of livestock or land where we would produce and use silage.  Essentially, this is a big, blue 'thingy' on our farm that just sits there.  You can't ignore it, yet we do - every day.  In fact, of all of the pictures Rob took for the 2016 GFF Summer Festival Photo Treasure Hunt, the one below was the ONLY one Tammy could not find.  It's just the side of the Harvestore...

These blue, low-oxygen tower silos were a new technology in the 1970's that prevented or reduced the contact of oxygen with the silage.  Oxygen is one culprit that is responsible for the degradation of the feed quality of the silage.  However, as silage ages and breaks down, it creates other gasses (such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide).  While I am not a chemist and I will not pretend to be able to accurately depict all of that can happen with the development of dangerous gasses in these silos, I can tell you that I am very aware that there are too many farm deaths form accidents relating to silos/silage.  A fairly easy read to get an idea as to how these things can happen can be found in this article for the Hay and Forage Grower.

Prior to this point, I'd only had this vague sense that a silo is dangerous.  Not necessarily this particular silo, but, I have heard about or read about farm deaths and injuries nearly every year of my life that features either a silo or some sort of grain bin storage unit.  Since I don't have a use for it AND since I am not a person inclined to enjoy heights, there has been no reason to explore or do more than look at it and wonder if anything could/should be done with it.

On the other hand, the Harvestore clearly provides us with an interesting focal or contrasting point when we take pictures on the farm.  It is also an easy to describe landmark to provide for persons who might be coming to visit that have never been to the Genuine Faux Farm before.  We have briefly considered putting some sort of decoration on it for the Holiday Season, but... you know, time, energy, and that heights thing, right?

From a more considered angle, I tend to think of these blue Harvestore buildings as a symbol of the farm crisis in the 1980s (here is a link to an Iowa Public Television production on this topic).  This interesting article in Successful Farming hearkens back to 1985 and links to current day issues.  A Harvestore this size cost around $50,000 versus $16,000 for a stave silo and $4000 for a bunker silo in 1975.  In short, it was a big investment for a new technology that was advertised to provide lower loss levels and a better return.  Unfortunately, the loading/unloading rates were slow and there were issues where the technology failed to work as represented by salespeople, as seen in this Minnesota Supreme Court case in 1994

It's an age-old story.  Conditions were right in the 1970s for profitable farming.  Farmers were encouraged to take more risks and take on debt based on future expected performance.  The Harvestore was just one such infrastructure investment.  Once some of the conditions changed and prices (and profitability) declined, there were numerous farmers left with a debt-load that could not be supported by the new income levels.  While I do not equate our farm with the farms of the 1970s and 80s or the large row crop operations today, we can still learn from these events.  There is a fine line between being innovative/forward-thinking and reckless/irresponsible.  It is not always so clear where that line lies as we look at investments on our farm.

Perhaps the Harvestore silo isn't ignored as much on our farm as I said it was earlier in this post.  It stands on the farm and reminds us to be mindful of safety as we work.  It is all too easy to get injured if we are distracted and fail to pay attention to what we are doing.  The silo towers over other buildings and reminds us of the necessary balance between caution and innovation as we make decisions for the future as stewards of our farm.

Otherwise, we still don't have any practical use for it.  But, it can provide us with excellent photo opportunities.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Meal-time Humor

We are approaching the end of August and most of the farm crew and one of the farmers find themselves heading back to school.  That leaves Rob and Caleb working on the farm (with Tammy working on weekends and when she can in the mornings or evenings).  Emma and Sophie are done with the farm for the Summer (and perhaps they are happy with that?).

Last week, we took the crew to Rudy's Tacos for a 'thank you' dinner and to give us a chance to freak them out by all of the marionettes hanging from the ceiling there!  We have periodically had lunches together at the farm as well, so I think they knew what they were getting into.  When this group gets together, you're going to have to expect some odd topics of conversation.  Or, at the least, interesting detours to the conversation.

An analysis of Chinjuries
Caleb and Rob discuss avoiding weed chinjuries
When there is an opportunity for word play, this group of people cannot leave it alone.  Caleb told us the story about how he has cut his chin more than once and Sophie just HAD to decide that these were 'chinjuries.'  Oh, great.  This conversation is going to go all kinds of places, isn't it?  When it was revealed that one such chinjury was caused by the trim on some object I started humming a familiar tune to myself.

Trim chinjury, trim chinjury, trim chin cheroooooo!

Ok, the creators of the Mary Poppins musical were right to never listen to my ideas on this sort of thing.  Did I share this with the others at the time?  Well, um, no.  I've already been shot down more than once when two (or three) of them look at me blankly and say something like, "Mary Who?  Was that supposed to be funny?"

Egg Laying Encouragement
In some ways, coming up with unique, if unreasonable, ways to encourage hens to lay eggs is just too easy.  But, then again, the level of creativity (and absurdity) reaches dizzying heights with regards to this topic.  So, we just can't not report on them.

It usually starts with something like a suggestion that we pick up the hens and give them a little squeeze to get the egg to pop out.  That is usually followed by reminders to hold the hen the right direction for various reasons.  You do NOT want to have the delivery end pointing at you because you can't be sure if you will get an egg... or maybe some poo...  Ideally, you point the business end of the bird at a nice nest of straw so the egg has a nice soft landing.  If you point the egg duct upwards, you might say that you could have an egg 'over easy,' but you have to be sure to give a gentle squeeze if you want that.

Oh... hang on.  We weren't done yet.

Want scrambled eggs?  Shake the chicken prior to squeezing.  Not scrambled enough?  Put the bird in a massage chair and put that on high.  Then, give it a little squeeze and the egg should be plenty scrambled.  Do you prefer a soft-boiled egg?  Put the bird in a jacuzzi.  If you turn the jets on too high you might get a combination scrambled/soft boiled egg.  But, that's your fault for not adjusting the levels properly.

Cow Yoga and Poodle Extensions
I don't quite recall how we got to "cow yoga" and maybe one of the participants in the conversation will remember and can help me recreate where that came from.  But, the poodle hair extensions thing was created when there was a comment about a pet grooming and hair parlor (for humans) that is visible from Rudy's.  It is not clear when you look at the building if this is one or two businesses nor is it clear how they might be separated from each other.  We were wondering if some people might need to clarify which service they were looking for when they entered the door.

Identities hidden to protect the guilty!  These two shall remain nameless so you can't blame them for all of the silliness in this post.  Right Sophie and Emma?
This, of course, led from one thing to another until we decided they might make wigs or hair extensions from the clippings (both human and pet).  Now, your poodle could get 'hair extensions' to tie on that little bob they often shape for the top of the head.  And, of course, if you wanted a really curly hair extension, poodle hair just might do the trick.  Just make sure the rest of the dog is not still attached - that could get a bit uncomfortable.  And, we understand some poodles are pretty excitable.

Now where exactly could this conversation go from there?  I guess it will have to wait until the next meal with this bunch.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Look in the Mirror

Looking at older photos can be just as informative as it is nostalgic for me.  Of course we can't help but go through the 'remember when' process that happens when we view a photo from an earlier point in time.   But, we also see these pictures as useful records that can help us make future decisions.  And, at the very least, they provide us with a combination of encouragement that we can effect the changes we want with a significant dose of humility as we realize the changes we envisioned always seem to be different than what we actually achieve.

A building that could have been useful - if only.
 When we first moved to the farm, there were more buildings - but they were all in need of repair.  The sad thing is that the building you see in this photo was probably the right size for us to find it useful.  Unfortunately, we weren't in a position to repair it in time to prevent its collapse in 2007.  The night we had a strong wind gust take it down was the very night we decided to park the truck just to the South of the building.  "Just this once."  Ooops.

It took quite some time and numerous helpers to get this building cleaned up.  The process helped us figure out how to work with college or high school students who wanted to make a few dollars doing a task or two for us at the farm.  We also learned to accept that the poultry and plants on the farm always take precedence over projects such as this one. 

Ok.  We also learned that we should LEARN to accept that the poultry and plants on the farm always take precedence over projects such as this one.  But, we also learned the best way to get something like this done is to find a way to link the project to the success of the rest of the farm. 

The photo at the left is from 2007 or 2008 and it is jarring to me to see how small (and how few) the trees are just North (behind) the building.  Since the time of this picture, we have cleared out all of the lumber, there have been cold frames just this side of the slab and we now have a cleaning station on the slab itself.  There is a bush line and three raised beds in front of the slab and all of that is bound to change yet again. 

The barn has undergone changes as well.  It was functional, but in desperate need of renovation when we moved in.  We did our due diligence and found the price of a new roof to be prohibitive.  So, it was with regret that we let the building go.  We did use it for a time to provide housing for chickens and turkeys, but it rapidly became obvious that it would not be safe to use for much longer.  And, like all good farm buildings, it doesn't want to come down the rest of the way.  It's just the way it goes.  A building that probably has a set up that fits what we want to do won't stay up and one that doesn't, won't come down.

This picture holds two lessons in particular for us and our farm.  First, we can't get everything that we want and we have to let go of some ideas when it becomes apparent the goal isn't reasonable.  Sure, we would have liked to have an old, functional barn on the property.  For that matter, we would even like a newer, functional barn.  But, the time and place that the barn needed repair was not the time or place that we could provide those repairs.  Second, every decision has unintended consequences.  If you look at the electrical lines in the picture at the right, you will see that there is a host of barn swallows on that line.  As the barn has declined, so has the swallow population.  We still have several families, but they are far fewer than we used to have.  Perhaps it is largely because of the reduced nesting space?  There certainly could be other reasons because we do have other locations on the farm they could use (and the barn is not entirely gone).  

We have tried many solutions to many problems during our tenure as farmers at the Genuine Faux Farm.  Some of these solutions worked very well and others did not work so well. 

The bushes you see at the top of the picture at the right went in during 2006 and are now quite thick and much taller.   When I look at this picture, I am amazed by how exposed I would feel now if I were in that field.  I am also a bit surprised by how far these bushes have pushed our fields back towards the center of the farm.  That's not a bad thing, just an observation.

The other interesting thing is to note that even in 2008 (when this picture was taken), we were trying to push the tail end of the season as much as we could.  We have had to admit defeat many times each season when a crop doesn't quite get to the point of harvest before it gets too cold for them.  But, we also believe that seed is inexpensive as compared to the relative benefit we get when we have a nice crop of some sort of veggie when no one else in the area has it! 

 The red cages were our first effort to find ways to exclude varmints that wanted to get into our crops.  While weeds and insects are less of an issue from September through October, the varmints are more of an issue.  Fewer things are green and tasty during that time of year.  So, of course, if you provide green and tasty, the varmints will come and visit you.

We also learned of the power of snow pack and the ability of even young, short bushes to cause drifting.  We left the cages out over the Winter and the cages closest to the bush line were buried in snow.  Um... Ooops.

The biggest lesson I take from this is that there is knowing of a thing and then there is knowing.  Tammy and I aren't stupid.  We knew that bushes caused drifts.  We also knew that a sufficient volume of snow can be heavy.  But, that did not equate to an ability to connect that knowledge with the possibility that it will crush an exclusion cage if it is a bit too close to the bushes.  I am pleased to say that we do not make similar mistakes anymore because of a lack of knowing.  Instead, we make mistakes with drifting and snow pack because we can't always do everything and things sometimes fall through the cracks.  We know some things won't get done every season.  But, that doesn't always mean we forgive ourselves when we discover unwanted problems because we didn't get to it.  I guess that is the next lesson to learn.

There are some things I think we both wish we could still do because we liked the results when we could accomplish it.  The picture above shows the process of mulching peppers with grass clippings.  First, I would like to say that grass clippings are probably the wrong mulch for peppers early in the season because it cools the soil and slows the growth of the peppers significantly.  But, grass clippings were the mulch of choice for our green bean plantings.  It also worked well for tomatoes and some other crops.  

The problem?  The process of collecting and spreading grass mulch was terribly time intensive.  And, what happens if you don't get rain?  Then, there is no grass mulch.  Still, I look at this picture and realize that some of the old processes might be reasonable again some time in the future.  Perhaps we have a new set of tools (or can get a new set) that will allow us to make the process more efficient in some way, shape or form?  This is where looking at the old farm photos give me the most value for the future.  They provide a check for the truth I have built in my head about the way things used to be AND they remind me of tools that I might have set aside for the time being.

That, and I get to see that we have accomplished a fair bit since we moved to the Genuine Faux Farm in 2004.

Monday, August 20, 2018

What It Looks Like When

The "Farm Supervisors" have been a significant part of the Genuine Faux Farm since day one.  In fact, some of our supervisors were on the job even before we started farming.  These fine felines often teach us things we need to learn and sometimes teach us things we didn't need to know.  But, that's the way of a cat.  They'll let you know what they're thinking when it suits them and IF it feels like the right thing to do from their perspective.

Over the past few weeks and into the foreseeable future, we will share some of the kitty wisdom we have been graced with over the years.  You can see new ones using the hashtag #GFFWhatItLooksLikeWhen on Facebook.  OR, you can just wait until we summarize a group every so often on our blog.

This is what it looks like when you have your own ideas on how things should be done.
Mrranda was with us for far too short of a time.  But, when she was with us, she was very much the free spirit of the group.  That's saying something when you are referring to a cat.  She was fond of farmer surfing (as was the Sandman).  Farmer surfing is when the farmer is crawling to plant garlic (or some other such thing) and the farmer's back is clearly going to be far more comfortable than the cold soil.  Mrranda was actually found ON TOP of one of our high tunnels at one point in time.  That was one event the farmers weren't terribly happy about - but it does make for a story.
This is what it looks like when you've had enough and you're just daring someone to cross that line one more time.
Bree is one of our Indoor Farm Supervisors and she claims Rob as her primary human.  As a result, she is subject to hearing more puns and bad jokes than all of the other farm supervisory staff combined.  On the other hand, she also gets far more skritches per diem than most of the other felines as well.  We are hopeful that this balances out, though we do watch her closely for signs of rebellion.

This is what it looks like when you can find happiness right where you are.
 The Sandman got the most press because, of course, he was the Sandman.  When the Sandman spoke, you had to listen.  That, and, he was incredibly photogenic, finding ways to place himself in front of the camera lens.  He was probably the most willing to attempt to teach the humans what it means to live a good life and had more patience than most cats.  Which means he would look at us for a second to wait for us to show signs of enlightenment before he went about his business.
This is what it looks like when you are secure with who you are and what you are doing.
Cubby came to us as a "veteran" and managed to beat the odds by living to age fifteen or so as an outdoor cat.  Cubby did not really care what anyone thought about her.  If she wanted attention, she asked for it (and usually got it).  If she drooled while she was getting attention, she didn't care.  After all, it was YOUR problem if you didn't like the sleeve of your shirt soaked through.  In the end, she did what she wanted and she did it her way.
This is what it looks like when you're pretty sure everyone is making a bigger deal out of everything than they need to.
All of our farm supervisors have been extremely good at reminding us of our place in the greater scheme of things.  Our place is somewhere beneath them.  Unless it is time for food.  Or skritches.  Then we rise to the level of 'necessary, but requiring tolerance.'

This is what it looks like when you got what you wanted and you KNOW there is nothing anyone can do about it.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Summer Festival Past and Present

 Our annual Summer Festival is just around the corner - literally.  As in, it is tomorrow, August 18!  Our 2017 blog post advertising the event is pretty accurate for this year's version as well.  We've even added a Google form for people to RSVP!  Once again, this year's event starts at 4pm with food service beginning around 5pm.  It IS a potluck event and you are encouraged to bring your own table service and lawn chairs.  We will be roasting a turkey and providing buns, water, lemonade and some cut up fresh veggies as well.  There will be children's activities and a chance to see the farm and view the farmers in their natural habitat.  If you are family, a customer or a friend of the farm, you are invited to join us.
2008 - my how things have changed
The picture above is actually from our first Practical Farmers of Iowa field day in 2008.  It landed during the typical Summer Festival month (August), so we feel like it sort of qualifies.  It's interesting to note that we were in process of re-roofing the truck barn (we got that finished the day before Thanksgiving... ugh) and the big Silver Maple was still looming over the garage it was attempting to destroy.

2011 - the Turkey Feed!
 One of the issues with events at our farm is that we are often so busy hosting that we forget to take pictures.  Sometimes, we remember to give the camera to someone else and other times we are gifted some pictures by a person who took them.  Either way, that means we don't always have the photos to show for every event we have hosted at the Genuine Faux Farm.  Nonetheless, we do have some good ones.

For example, the 2011 pictures of the kids taking treats to the turkeys.  At that time, there was no hen pasture in the way, so anyone could walk right up to the turkey pasture.  This year's flock is every bit as friendly as the flock of 2011.  We just have to walk further to get that close to them.

2013 - and Durnik gets some love.
In 2013 we were made aware that there was at least ONE young tractor aficionado who would attend.   He even got to sit in the driver's seat.  Just don't tell him I had the key in my pocket!  As Summer Festivals got bigger we backed away from running the tractor(s).  So many young folks running all over the place made it less safe than we wanted.  But, the green carts still get their fair share of attention.

Tomato tasting 2014
 In years when the festival is later in August and the tomatoes agree to participate, we have held an heirloom tomato tasting.  In 2014, we introduced Black Cherry tomatoes to the farm and, even though they weren't an official entrant, they won with the most votes.  Go figure!

2015 - paint everywhere
 It sounded like a good idea at the time.  We tried to keep everyone informed.  And, the kids really did have fun painting.  We're just not sure all of the parents were enamored with the activity once they realized their children were anxious to paint, but the clothing selection was not appropriate for it.  We still enjoy the results and we usually bring them out for display during festival time.  But, we've moved to using colored sidewalk chalk for some of the art activities.
One of the 2016 Photo Treasure Hunt items
I don't recall exactly which year was the first GFF Photo Treasure Hunt, but it has been a good way to get people of all ages involved.  It also encourages everyone to look at their surroundings carefully.  The hardest part of setting it up is that things change on the farm every day.  That leaves Rob to take pictures on Saturday morning to print them out for the afternoon.  Even then, we end up moving things around - which can result in one of the pictures being 'unfindable.'  Despite that, we muddle through!
The 2017 drive way greeting
Sometimes we have helpers before the event that can do all sorts of things to make the event welcoming.  Last year, one of our flair boxes was decorated and placed in a prominent place.  I wonder what will happen in 2018?  Only one way to find out.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Blessings of Poo

The really great thing about the word "Poo?"  It got you to read past the title, didn't it?!?  Ha!  I knew it!

I'm going to start putting "poo" into every blog title to get people to read more of our blog posts.  I can see that this is a fool-proof plan.  This is especially true if I'm the fool and a single post with "poo" in the title constitutes "proof."  And, now that I have your attention, let me bring you back to the topic at hand.

Really, the topic IS at least partially about poo.  Seriously.  Well, ok.  Since I am supposed to be a professional farmer, I should use the word "manure."  If you want to sound professional and evasive at the same time, you can refer to it as "soil amendments" or "added fertility."  But, since I am ALSO a person who is amused by wordplay and general silliness, we're still going to use the word "poo" just because... it's our blog and I CAN.

Portable Poo Factories on the job.
For a couple of seasons, we have been using an area just East of the hen pasture to pasture the henlets and/or some of our broiler chickens.  As evidenced above, the area was cordoned off by electric poultry netting and a portable building was provided for shelter.  Meanwhile, several Carbon-based Portable Poo Factories roamed freely in this area.  This section of land on our farm has not been anything other than pasture since we've been here.  Well, ok, the first several years it was mostly ragweed and foxtail, so I don't think that really counts.

We have tried to include pastured poultry in our rotation as often as we are able, but this would be the first time we turned a pasture area into a growing area.  Frankly, it would be nice if we had a bit more tillable space to do this more often (put things into and take them out of pasture).  But, we work with what we have.

In this case, we knew we had another area that we wanted to put birds in this year and we were realizing that we need to try and get more growing space moved to the interior of the farm (because of chemical drift issues among other things). We got this idea a few years ago and purposely started putting chickens out there to build up fertility using Portable Poo Factories.  After all, if they'll spread it for us AND give us eggs?  Sounds like a good deal to me.
early March 2018
This area actually has a bit more history since we had to dig a fairly deep trench in the Spring of 2015 to run frost-free water lines out to Valhalla (the high tunnel on the right in this picture).  You might actually be able to see some of the path this trench took if you look carefully and you can definitely still see the remnants of a dirt pile that has yet to be redistributed to better locations in the center.  We were actually gearing up to do some work in this area in March until...
Late March 2018
We did manage to put some plastic down roughly where we wanted to add a new growing plot before the white stuff started to fall on the farm.  If you don't recall, we got most of our snow from March 20 to April 20 this past Winter.  

April 2018
This really put us a bit in doubt as to whether we would have time to work up the new plot.  First of all, the plot does have a bit of a dip in the middle that is wetter than the rest.  We were thinking we might try to raise that up a bit.  Second, we are encroaching a bit on "old farmstead" area where old foundations (among other things) might be encountered.  We knew there was good soil there as well, but any time you try to work new ground, you have to expect some surprises (both good and bad).
June 2018
Our normal approach to work this ground would have been to use the two-bottom plow and follow up with the tandem disk to smooth it out.  But, we had put plastic down, so we pulled it and mowed things as close as we could.  Then, we used Vince (our power harrow) because we were curious as to what it could do AND we were running short on time.  At issue is that we do not want to overwork the soil and lose all the good Poo Byproduct (aka added fertility) that should be in this area.  The result is what you see above. 

We did find more rocks than we usually do on the farm, but things worked up pretty well.  Unfortunately, the delays put us into the period of time where everything was wet.  So, we ended up having to work the field before we should have and the soil structure is now a bit rough and pebbly for the season.
late July
Even though these tomato plants went in later than we wanted, they are catching up to the normal schedule fairly quickly.  It will be interesting to see how they compare to similar plants put into another area of the farm in plots that have been worked for a few years (and are closer to the edges of the farm).

All I can say is that it's all good because of the poo.  You're welcome and come back again soon!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Sunshine and Smiles

 August is, oddly enough, one of our favorites on the farm on many levels.  But, the biggest positive has to do with the number of annual flowers that put on their best clothes during the month.

 We try to plant more zinnias every year, but it never seems like we put as many in as we really wanted.  Perhaps we're just greedy?  This year, we've actually put plantings in throughout the season.  Why?  Well, it's not really a succession thing.  It has more to do with not giving up. 

 The flowers you see here were both in the planting in our tomato field.  This one went in on time and germinated well.  It also got weeded!  Needless to say, it is successful and very enjoyable to see.  There is another planting of zinnias in another plot that went in much later, but we expect them to start blooming at the tail end of August.  We might have preferred to have put them in earlier, but life didn't allow it.  Instead of accepting that we didn't get the zinnias in at the planned on time, we planted them anyway.  The plants look healthy and are rapidly growing now.  Maybe we should make this a succession thing?

We have a nice hedge of sunflowers in another vegetable crop.  In fact, this plot is adjacent to the plot with the nice zinnia planting, so the path between the two is going to be wonderful to walk.

This hedge started blooming a week or so ago.  And, just to the south is our last succession of summer squash and zucchini.  They look awfully small when you compare them to their lofty neighbors.

Sunflowers attract larger bumblebees and small birds along with some butterflies.  On Tuesday, Rob observed Mrs Bunting and offspring and some Eastern Goldfinches in the sunflower hedge.

We're not entirely sure if the sunflowers will do much to attract pollinators for our squash plants, though we are certain they won't hurt in that endeavor.  Perhaps the biggest thing is that the sunflower hedge provides a fence of a sort.  We'd been having deer traffic through this area that has since been diverted by this planting.  Happily, deer are more easily diverted on our farm than they might be for people living closer to a metropolitan area.  That doesn't mean we don't have to do other things to protect our crops - but the sunflowers do play a part in the whole strategy.  Think of it as a part of our IPM (Integrated Pest Management).

So, what could possibly go wrong with using sunflowers as a hedge next to another crop?  Well, you do need to consider the competition for water and nutrients.  You don't want the sunflowers to steal away what the squash plants need.  So, we've been fairly careful with spacing.  Our crops are to the South of the sunflowers, so our squash plants should get plenty of sun.  The only issues we can think of include the possibility that we would attract birds and other critters that cause problems with our crop OR a strong North wind could lay all of the sunflowers down.  They are tall enough that they would reach that first row of summer squash.

But, it's pretty hard not to like the beautiful flowers that show up and survey the goings-on of our farm.  The birds like them and they don't really care much for the squash, so we aren't seeing much of a problem there either.  But, the real winner is the fact that it is VERY difficult to frown and think negative thoughts when you look at them.

When you choose to run the type of farm we run, it can be pretty easy to get overwhelmed.  It isn't all that hard to be disappointed in things that don't go exactly as you wanted them - and there are soooo many opportunities for things to go awry that it's actually a bit of a surprise when something does go EXACTLY as you planned.  It doesn't necessarily help that we set the bar pretty high - and then raise it every season.

The solution?  Plant more sunflowers.  Plant more zinnias.  And smile a bit more often as you look at them.

We'll take it.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Farm Tour

I heard that you haven't visited the farm before, so I thought you might enjoy a bit of a tour.

What?  I didn't know you lived in a "gated community!"
Well, actually, I cheated a little bit there.  I thought a gate might be a nice symbolic way to indicate that we were entering the Genuine Faux Farm.  But, that's really just the bigger gate into the hen pasture.  From the hen's perspective, I suppose it IS the entry to the Genuine Faux Farm.

From your perspective, this might be a more likely entry to the farm.  You might be able to see this from the road - or at least near enough to it.  We ordered up some special blue sky and fluffy clouds to help dress it up nice for you.

Apparently, we have a penchant for red roofs that stand out well against the blue skies. We've had some decent rains through July and into August so the grass is still nice and green and you might be able to see the splashes of color the daylilies, helianthus, phlox and other flowering plants provide up by the house. 

Yes, the granary could probably be painted the REST of the way up, but we never seem to get that towards the top of our "to-do" lists.  

If we walk past the house and the buildings to the Western portion of the farm, you can see Eden, the smaller of our two high tunnel buildings.  The big blue harvestore silo towers over the rest of the farm, but it does little else than stand there and look important.  More important are the flowers you see in the picture.  Yes, the yellows and reds at the right are a flower planting of daylilies and other nice perennials.  But, it's the white and purple you see straight ahead.  That's an area of lawn we let go with some nice clover.  The Queen Anne's Lace is getting a bit too prominent, so we'll mow it down soon (just like we did some of the area in the foreground).  Hopefully, this will encourage a second, later bloom by the clover.

We've got a couple of peach trees.  They aren't the prettiest trees you will ever see, but we're a bit far North to expect them to thrive.  Instead, we're just happy they have lived as long as they have.  Maybe this year, we'll get to these peaches BEFORE the Japanese Beetles do.  Last year, our trees had the nicest and biggest peaches we've ever seen them produce, but the beetles got there exactly when the peaches were ripe.  We got to eat a little bit of them, but it was pretty disappointing.

We've got apple trees in two areas of the farm and we have some pears, plums and other fruit trees.  There are fruiting bushes and canes/vines as well.  Some of these things we leave for the wildlife, others we harvest for ourselves.  Sometimes, we have enough to share with others either through our CSA or with a few small direct sales. 

You might notice the small structures behind the apple trees in the Southeast pasture (just next to the barn that is falling down).  These buildings are portable, though they are heavy enough that moving them is a minor project some days.  We use solar powered chargers to keep the electric netting running.  That keeps the chickens in that pasture area safe from many predators.  It looks like it is time for us to expand their area since the birds have put on a growth spurt recently!

Speaking of birds, we currently have four flocks at the farm and we will soon be adding a fifth.  The main hen flock is in the Northwest in their new portable hen building.  The "henlets" are our younger hens that will be integrated into the main flock this Fall.  They reside in a horse trailer so we can move them around to new pasture every so often.  Hens are notorious for scratching things up, so we have to consider where they are going next to keep pasture areas healthy.

You might notice more of our apple trees in the pasture with the henlets.  We're going to move their pasture soon since a couple of the birds have figured out how to fly into the trees and take stabs at the apples.  We're not growing the apples for them!  They get all kinds of things and we would prefer they left the apples alone. 

We've noticed our birds seem to have a knack for determining just when we don't have the time for an extra job.  That's the moment they press an issue (like getting into apple trees).  After all, if we're so busy doing other things that they are not the top priority, then it is time for them to MAKE themselves more important.  However, what they do not know is that the farm supervisors (the cats) are ALWAYS more important.  I guess it is all relative.  Clearly, the animals are all more important than the farmers since they all get to eat breakfast before the farmers do.

We were talking about some of the areas we do not mow to allow clover and other flowers to do their thing.  YOu can see some evidence in that patch over there where a monarch is checking out a clover flower.  We also have various types of milkweed throughout the farm.  We still don't see as many monarchs (and other butterflies) as we might like for all of the habitat we try to maintain.  But, we are still quite happy to have a monarch floating lazily by as we move from one part of the farm to another. 

Speaking of milkweed, we added some Swamp Milkweed to the ditches by our other high tunnel (which we have called Valhalla).  The ditch is there to control the water that is shed off of the plastic during a rainfall.  These swamp milkweed like to be saturated every so often, so this seems to be a good combination.

If you can't see the swamp milkweed very well, you can walk up closer.  To do that, you just click on the picture and you'll see more details.

The area behind the milkweed has some of the crops we had in Valhalla before we moved the building to its West position.  That's the cool thing about our high tunnels, they are both mobile and we move them once a year.  This allows us to rely on Mother Nature to do some of the soil cleansing that doesn't happen when the ground is covered year around.

We also like to plant zinnias, marigolds, nasturtiums and other flowers throughout the farm.  In particular, we like to put in beds of flowers next to the beds of vegetables we have in our fields.  Perhaps you haven't noticed since we've been looking at buildings, fruit trees, flowers and poultry, but we grow about five acres of vegetables.  That's actually the main focus of the farm and working with these crops takes up the main portion of our time during the growing season.

The zinnias here are actually placed just South of one of our tomato rows.  We do like to increase the pollinators on the tomatoes if we are able.  While tomatoes are self-fertile and do not require a pollinator to set fruit, studies have shown that production increases dramatically with the presence of pollinators.  We also like to have a little vegetative height to the south of the tomatoes as the tilt of the Earth takes the Sun southward.  Fruit that are exposed to the sun too much are subject to sun scald.  The zinnias get tall enough that they can help to reduce that problem.  And... they're pretty.  And... the monarchs love them too.

One of our many crops is the broccoli.  We grow three varieties of broccoli: Gypsy, Imperial and Belstar.  We are running another trial for the Practical Farmers of Iowa Cooperators Program with the broccoli this year.  You will notice there are marigolds every thirty plants in each row.  This indicates a change in variety.  Each of these rows has 180 broccoli plants broken into groups of 30. 

Don't get too worried about the weeds on the left and right.  There are onions in those beds that we are harvesting.  As we harvest, the weeds will go away as well.  Of course, we would prefer to show you perfectly cultivated beds everywhere you look.  But, the reality is that we can't get everything done on the farm that we want to do.  Choices are made, weather happens and things get done as best as we can get them done.  Welcome to life on a real farm.

We added a new plot in the center of the farm that we call Middle Earth.  You can guess one of our favorite authors - especially if we tell you that the seven plots in the East are collectively called the Eastfarthing.  We had chickens on this field for a couple of years and now we're growing tomatoes in this plot.  So far, so good!

You can see the self-important Harvestore at the right and the Poultry Pavilion in front of it.  The granary gets to be in the center underneath the nice blue sky so it can show off its red roof and two-tone front. 

The northwest area of the farm has been slated as pasture area in part because some of it stays too wet for us to hope to grow veggies there.  You can see the portable hen building at the left.  It's red.  Imagine that!  I'm not sure we're that fond of red, yet we paint things that color.  We have put in several trees along the North and West borders and in the pasture areas.  Over time, we hope this provides some shelter for our flocks from some of the harsher elements.  Well, and we also like trees. 

You can see Crazy Ol' Maurice (the Weeping Willow) and Blaize (the tall Maple tree).  At right you can see one of the Bristle Brothers (Blue and Black Hills Spruces) and maybe you can see Gretel (the Austrian Pine) in the center.  Yes, we name our trees.  Or at least some of them. 

What?  You're leaving already?  Was it something I said?  Or does the naming of trees worry you?  I haven't introduced you to Rosie and Durnik, our tractors...