Saturday, March 30, 2019

Old Man Winter

The old man looked at me through cracked, ice-rimmed glasses and wheezed, "I ain't done yet, or my name ain't Winter."

We wrote this and posted it on our Facebook page on March 9 along with a picture of Valhalla (our 'newer' high tunnel) and lots of snow.  With some seasonal temperatures, we have seen a significant reduction in the snow pack at our farm since then.  But, we still have some snow where the largest drifts collected this year.

It doesn't look like much in this picture, but trust me, there's lots of snow there.
The most significant drifting was along the North bush line on our farm.  I took a walk out there with a camera on March 26 (Tuesday) wondering if I got out there a bit late to record exactly how tall the drifts got out there.  While it is true that they had gone down a fair bit, there was plenty of snow mass out there.

I decided to climb up onto the drift, figuring it would do a bit more to illustrate how tall they were.  The snow was well-packed, so I wasn't worried about sinking in.  But, I was in for a treat in new perspectives on our farm.

You might need a little bit of information to fully appreciate what you are seeing in these pictures.  The bush line at the left consists of Wild Plum and Highbush Cranberry.  The bush line towards the back of the picture is Ninebark.  All of these were planted in 2006 and are well-established by now.  At a guess, the Ninebark are 8-10 feet tall.  The Wild Plum are probably 15-20 feet tall and the Highbush Cranberries...

Well, you can't see most of them here.  Because they are mostly under the snow.  And, they are easily as tall or taller than the Ninebark.  Huh.

As I walked down the drift to the East, I found many Highbush Cranberry bushes sticking out of the drift, bent over by the weight of the snow.  A few have finally been released and were slowly snapping back to a mostly vertical orientation.

Yep, these were some serious drifts.  Ok, they still ARE serious drifts.  

I turned around for a few pictures facing West and found that I was being escorted by the Inspector and Soup.  It is early Spring and they are both hungry for more human time than they've been getting for much of the Winter.  They will soon get their fill of us and will go back to mostly ignoring us when we're outside, as cats are wont to do.

This picture doesn't really give you an idea of how tall the drifts are.  In fact, if you do not know what you are seeing, you might be tempted to say that the bushes are only four to five feet tall and the ground is not so far down from our perch.  So, I made sure to get some other pictures that might give you more of an idea as to what is going on here.

Yeah.  My head was higher than the top of the high tunnel.
I mentioned a new perspective?  Well, here it is.  A view from a location that lets me see the top of our high tunnel.  This is NOT a normal occurrence.  I mean - yes, we have drifts out here every year.  And, yes, they often get quite sizable.  But, this year was truly exceptional.  Remember, this drift has been melting down for a while.  After all, you can see there is plenty of bare ground out there.
The oddest feeling was looking DOWN on the Ninebark hedge to the East.  This is also not my normal perspective as it pertains to life on the farm.   We are also not entirely used to seeing the bushes at the right buried entirely by the snow.
So, for those of you who are thinking Old Man Winter is done for the season.  He's still holding on.  But his grip is getting a bit more tenuous. 

Except where the drifts live at the Genuine Faux Farm.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Ghosts of Harvests Past and Future

A spinach crop from a few years back. Mmmmmm!
The month of March is often when we start to dream just a bit harder about the crops we hope to have success with in the coming year.  It's too early to harvest now - especially when we had a rougher Winter that did terminate the majority of our high tunnel crops we were attempting to over-Winter.  Nope, the rosemary did not make it this time around.  We might have somewhere from 50 to 80 lettuce plants remaining of the 1000 or so we planted late last Fall to over-Winter.  The spinach we seeded late last Fall is just now germinating and the tatsoi and komatsuna have poked a few scout seedlings out of the ground.

But, we have pictures of prior year harvests that show us what we could be looking at again as we progress through the growing season.

We're getting the onions and some of the earlier greens planted into trays right now.  Soon, the trays are going to expand so that they will require much more space than they are taking now.  We can tell you that once you get a whole bunch of trays that look good like the ones at the left, it can bring about a whole lot of optimism for their future!

If you look at this picture carefully, you'll see there is plenty of green grass and green leaves in the background.  So, clearly, this picture is later in the season (probably May).  That might seem oh so far away to you if you are getting anxious to see warmer weather.  But, believe us when we tell you - this is NOT so far away.  This is especially true for those of us who are growers.  It is amazing how quickly you can go from 'being on schedule' to 'being hopelessly behind.'

One of the earlier long season crops that comes out of the ground is the garlic.  We call them a long season crop because we actually plant them the prior Fall and then harvest in mid-July.  In fact, we usually harvest the scapes starting in early June.

The big deal about harvesting garlic is that it is one of those crops where you go from having lots of plants in the ground to having empty beds after harvest.  The visual change can be jarring, to say the least.  After all, we usually have been seeing green in those beds since April and there was straw mulch indicating where we planted the garlic since late October or early November.

Normally, the garlic harvest is a full day with four to five people working on the project.  We pull the garlic plants and stack the good heads in bundles of 25.  The questionable heads go into separate piles.  Once the field is cleared of garlic plants, they are brought in to be bundled and hung in one of our buildings to be cured.  We then clean the beds up that the garlic was planted in so we can put in a cover crop or late flowers of some sort.  It's a very busy day, but the satisfaction levels at the end are usually very high at the farm.

The early cucumbers usually appear in early July.  We could push the season a bit earlier if we spent some high tunnel space on them.  But, frankly, the demand isn't what it needs to be for us to do that.  And, usually our field cucumbers over-produce for what we typically need.  The good news about cucumber over-production?  The chickens and turkeys LIKE cucumbers and the farmers and farm-workers enjoy throwing some of the culls and excess to the birds.  So, here's to another year where we get as much as we need out of our cucumber crop and then some!

The White Wing onions start sizing up in July and we can start pulling them for our CSA and other customers as that month progresses.  The yellow and red onions won't normally be ready for us until mid to late August (and sometimes later depending on planting dates), so we ride the white onions for quite a while.  Frankly, this is not a hardship since the white onions have a nice, mildly sweet flavor.  The size of these onions can vary a fair amount, but that seems to fit our customers well enough.

Oh... wait.  We don't grow THOSE do we?
The zucchini get going - sometimes as early as late June.  Rob kind of likes the zucchini harvest because you usually have some level of reward every time you go out to pick.  Along with the cucumbers, zucchini and summer squash provide a little 'bulk' to the produce that is usually dominated by lettuce and other leafy veggies up to this point.  We also tend to see zucchini as a sign that 'grilling season' is truly begun!

We often see cucumbers, green beans and zucchini as the harbingers of Summer.  But, most people probably equate a nice red tomato with the warmer months of the year.  We certainly will not argue if you tell us you enjoy a nice, vine ripened heirloom tomato from our farm in the month of August.  After all, WE like a nice, vine ripened heirloom tomato from our farm in August as well.  We hereby designate that period of time as Sandwich Season because sandwiches become so much more interesting (and tasty) when you add heirloom lettuce, tomatoes, peppers to whatever else you like between two pieces of bread.  Lunches never tasted so good.

As you get deeper into the year, the melons and watermelons make their appearance (usually August into September).  We celebrate by digging into the first Minnesota Midget out of one of our high tunnels.  Sorry folks, this is one of those times where we do NOT let our customers get the first pick.  That first ripe melon is OURS.  But, never fear, there are usually a few dozen more right behind that first harvest.  So, usually, we only get a sneak peak by a day or two.

Sadly, the watermelon harvests are much less reliable than some crops on our farm.  But, when they are good, they are very good and we have plenty of photographic evidence that successful watermelon crops are not foreign to our farm.  Typically, the issue has to do with priorities.  Watermelons take up more space than many crops, so we don't plant as many of them as we might like.  The other issue is that the more valuable (to us) crops get priority when it comes to farm labor.  If conditions prevent us from getting everything done, it is the watermelons that often lose out.

So, if you want to have a measurement for how well your farmers are staying on top of things at the farm - look at how many watermelons show up when deliveries are made.  Our best watermelon year was 2012, which was the year we also harvested a nice batch of sweet corn.  That was also the season that we had a spray plane fly over the Western half of our farm - so maybe that isn't such a good measurement?  Oh well.

Many think of winter squash as the end of the season, but that misses all of the late root crops and greens that are still growing even into November (and sometimes later).  The farmers, however, find hayracks covered with squash to be highly rewarding.  Squash harvest has some similarities to the garlic harvest in that we typically pull all of the quality fruit at one time.  The difference is that we usually don't clean out the vines at the same time.

Here's to a good growing season where we can make the photo records of the past be recreated once again.  And, if we're lucky, perhaps we can replace many of these pictures with new ones!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Not Any More

I was asked for a couple of particular photos by one person, then I was asked for a photo that depicted something else by another.  You know how this thing goes - we all INTEND to organize all of our electronic (and physical) photos so we can find what we want quickly - but it never happens.

There is a benefit to that problem.  When you go looking for one thing, you get to enjoy seeing other things that you have not seen for a while.  I found myself saying things like, "Wow, it's been a while since..."  and "We don't do that anymore.."   Needless to say, that got my brain to consider the idea of a blog post.  So here we are!

Boule d'Or melons
The Genuine Faux Farm has long been known for trying to grow a wide variety of produce, with many of the cultivars being heirloom or open-pollinated.  The upside of being willing to go with these types of things is that we avoid directly competing with other food outlets.  The downsides?  Well, if you don't grow what people know, they don't usually want it.... so you have to convince them to want it.  And, of course, you're not going to have success with many of the varieties you try.

As I scrolled through the pictures, I recognized a wide range of produce pictures that showed varieties of years past that we have found ourselves no longer growing for a host of reasons.  Not productive enough.  Didn't taste as good as we thought it should.  Too big.  Too small.  Doesn't like wet years.  Seed no longer available.  We had too many with similar characteristics.  Etc etc.  While Tammy and I will remember most of those varieties, we wonder if any one else would.  Who remembers Boule d'Or melons from our farm?

Gone, but not forgotten.
Was it really Fall of 2012 when we had two small, four-legged critters join our farm and encourage bowling for kittens when the snow finally fell?  Yes, Mrranda and the Sandman were pretty darned cute and they knew it.  After a few good years of 'farmer surfing,' being 'cooler than us,' helping to roll up electric fences and imparting wisdom, both of these fine felines moved on to wherever cats go when they die.  In the picture above, they were both interested in helping us paint the side of this building.  The Sandman already had this coloring, so it didn't show so much.  But, Mrranda did have a little spot on here that was not her natural coloring.

I know we had these set up there at one time, but...
Perhaps one of the oddest things to see are pictures of things when our traffic patterns on the farm were EXTREMELY different than they are now.  There was a time when all of our plant starts surrounded the garage and the truck barn.  I know we had things set up this way and I know it worked well enough.  But, it just doesn't seem right anymore....

Where on the farm was this?
 Ok, I KNOW where it is, but I can barely recognize it.  So, this is a photo for those days when we feel like we are marking no progress on our farm.  Some of the changes include permanent fencing for the hen pasture, multiple trees and bushes that would now be visible in this area and a couple of compost piles. 

We do still use the electric netting for the birds, but both of the portable buildings you see here are no longer in service for poultry.  The white building on the back finally fell apart and the metal frame in the front is being adapted to another purpose.
Can you list the things that have changed here?
 Perhaps you can't, but I can.  First, the garage is now that nice wheat color you saw in the other picture.  The cleaning station is no longer in this area.  We don't use that type of container anymore for cleaning.  The blue in the background at left is our previous truck and the barn was still in use and actually has siding and a working door.

How long ago was this?  Surely it was AGES ago?  How about 2011?  Seven and one half years ago.  Enough time for a lot of change apparently.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Why Say "Thank You?"

I am guessing many people who read this blog come from families where writing "Thank You" notes was something parents pushed children to do after someone gave a gift or did something particularly nice.  Yes, I wrote notes after graduation in response to gifts and/or attendance at the traditional gathering.  Yes, we wrote notes to everyone who was kind enough to provide any sort of evidence that they attended our wedding.  And, yes, we try to remember to send notes even now.  But, like so many other people - it doesn't always make the top of a long "to do" list.  Does it count if we feel really guilty about it when we fail to do what we mean to do?
Do chickens say 'thank you?'

It's also fairly common, I think, for families to train their children to be polite and say "thank you."  Sometimes, the "thank you" you get from a child who is being prompted can be less than genuine - but that's part of the learning process and you take it as it comes.  The hope is that eventually each person will learn to show gratitude to others and actually mean it.  Both Tammy and I are very well trained - at least I think we are. 

Our chickens, on the other hand, rarely show gratitude - unless you think laying an egg is the same as giving thanks.  I know we are grateful for the eggs and we DO say 'thank you' to the birds on a regular basis (believe it or not).  And, yes, we do mean it.

But, this got me to thinking (a dangerous pastime).  What, exactly is the purpose of showing evidence of gratitude to others?  Is it only because we want to be polite?  I took note of it recently at a small, local restaurant as we had dinner (have a mentioned that our kitchen is still in destruction mode?).  The server took our orders and brought drinks - so we thanked her for that.  She arrived with our food and we thanked her again.  She checked on us to see if everything was alright and our reply was "yes, thank you."  Would we like more to drink?  "No, thank you."  I think you get the picture.

Did we mean something when we said those two words?  I think I can speak for both of us when I say that we did, in fact, mean to express gratitude for this person's service and appropriate (but not overbearing) attentiveness.  We also said 'thanks' with a tip, but that might be beside the point I am trying to make.

On the other side of things, I realize that I, in particular, am less comfortable receiving thanks from others.  I will certainly do what I should to be gracious and polite.  But, I do tend to deflect it when I receive it.  On the other hand, when I do not receive a 'thank you' in certain situations, I feel its lack.  If I am slightly uncomfortable with praise or gratitude, shouldn't I be relieved of the responsibility for dealing with it when it is not offered?

Upon reflection, I guess I see a thank you as a combination of gratitude and recognition.  When I say 'recognition' I don't mean it in the sense that it is a 'reward.'  Instead, it is simply an acknowledgement that something was done or received and the recipient is aware that it was done.  If you don't get the 'thank you,' you find yourself wondering if  the other person ever got that gift, or that report... or whatever it was.

I am now coming to the conclusion that the chickens may, in fact, say 'thank you,' but I'm not sure if there is an element of gratitude.  It's more of a "yep, got it" response rather than a "oh, it was so nice of you to do that/bring that" reply.  If we give them new straw, they love to kick it around and they do make interested noises.  And, they don't wait to do it.  "Yep, we got this!  New straw to kick around and explore."  They respond rapidly to the presentation of food or scraps as well.  However, we're pretty certain the resulting frenzy is not actually directed at us to reflect thanks or provide an indication that they recognize that we brought it to them.  It's more of a "let me eat this before that other hen eats it" kind of thing.

Now I am hopeful that we, as humans, can do more than the 'thank you' as acknowledgement - unless we think it might be easier to lay an egg.  Given the contortions I've seen some people go through before they offer gratitude, it might require about as much straining and effort to say 'thank you' as it does for a chicken to lay an egg.

So, human, get to the point already.  I, the Sandman, have spoken!
As I wrote this, I found myself wondering if I have neglected offering some 'thank you's' and figure that it is most likely that I have.  So, if I have failed to provide you evidence of my gratitude - please accept my apologies.  And, if you hadn't really noticed, let me thank you anyway!

Thank you for reading this blog and giving useful feedback.
Thank you for supporting our farm and the things we try to do.
Thank you for being willing to consider things that could be done to make this world a better place and then actually acting on them.
Thank you for kind words.
Thank you for shared ideas.
Thank you for doing your best at your job.
Thank you for caring enough to try to do the right thing - whatever that might be - and then thank you for thinking hard about what the right thing is - and THEN - thank you for reconsidering what is right when you find yourself getting too certain that you know it all.
And thank you for being patient when I fail.  I do appreciate the hand up and I'll do what I can to acknowledge it...

with gratitude.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Reasons for Optimism

I had a conversation this Winter with an individual who was very aware of our weather struggles last year and is also aware that changes will likely result in difficult conditions on a fairly frequent basis in the future.  After some discussion, they asked me, "So what makes you think this coming year will be any different from last year for you?"

The easy first answer is that we have to believe this coming growing season WILL be different than the last.  Otherwise, what would be the point of even trying?  Even if the weather gives us a similar level of challenge to last season, our farm WILL change how it does things in an effort to persevere regardless of those conditions.

In other words, if we focus on what we can control, rather than the things we cannot, there should be plenty of reason to be optimistic for the 2019 growing season.  Now that I have your interest, shall I give you some examples?

Vince Knows His Place
A full season with a tool that responds to a bottle neck in our labor stream.  That alone should be enough to provide a reason for optimism.  The power harrow (which we have named Vince) will be with us the entire season and that alone is reason for some celebration.

Our windows for soil preparation have always been on the smaller side, but they have gotten smaller over the past several years.  Vince gets rid of some extra steps and actually will result in less tillage (which is better for healthier soil) despite the fact that it is a bit of a beast.  In the past, we have found ourselves using a combination of tools to prepare beds for planting.  The tool depended on the crop, the location, the soil conditions and a few other variables.  In the end, while we didn't want to, we often found ourselves over-using Barty with his roto-tiller attachment.  That's not great for the soil, but if you get backed into a corner, you sometimes find yourself doing the less than optimal thing.

Here we are with the very first FULL growing season with Vince at the farm.  We have enough experience to now know how he works and what he is best at.  Knowing your tools and feeling confident about how best to use them is one good reason to feel some optimism.

Happier Plantlings
Last year featured a disastrous foray into a soil starting medium that caused us no end of problems.  The medium itself was probably fine in other circumstances, but it did not fit our operational procedures at all well.  The net result was that we had some poor quality plant starts for some of our key crops.  The onions, for example, just didn't put on bulk.  In fact, very few of the onions we started made it to harvest.  But, we were lucky enough to be able to pick up extras from our friends at Grinnell Heritage Farm last Spring.

The photo at left shows one of our onion beds just after it was weeded by our flex tine weeder.  The bed looks pretty clean and the plants look fine, even after they got beat up by the weeder.  We had a decent onion crop - even if we had half of the plants we were planning on putting in.  Many did not store as well as they normally did because of the late, wet conditions.  But, we still had high quality onions in reasonable numbers.  If this years starts are anywhere near our normal quality and conditions are the same or better than they were last season, those onions are going to be great!

Yes, I know it is dangerous to count chickens before they hatch, onion starts before they germinate and season results in March.  But, this blog post IS titled "Reasons for Optimism."  We need some optimism so we can get into this year with a good will to make our hopes reality.  This does not mean we fully expect everything to go exactly as we planned, nor does it mean our mental pictures of success will align perfectly with the reality that will be the 2019 growing season.  It would be foolish to expect the Winter time mental picture of perfection to be a daily reality for us in June (or pick a month).  We are realistic enough to have a picture of 'reasonable success' that resides super-imposed over both the 'perfect success' and 'imminent failure' that are in our mental files.

Raised (Bed) Expectations
There are other techniques we have used in the past that have had some success to combat very wet weather and we expect to use them even more going foward.

Last season, we raised the planting area for more of our crops than ever before.  However, if you will recall, we mentioned that planting bed preparation has been a labor bottleneck that we needed to address.  That leaves us in a bit of a quandry.  Many of our crops survived the wet simply because we DID raise the planting area.  So, you could argue that we're adding time back onto that bottleneck and we won't have made any real progress.

Well, argue all you want.  We're still going to raise all of the beds on our farm for next years crops.  You could argue some of our shorter season crops might not need it, but we can't predict when (or if) we will get excess rains that could cause us problems.  Heavy rain events are not just for Spring anymore, so we need to be prepared with all of our annual crops.  The great news is that Vince can help us with this by preparing the soil a bit more evenly for hilling.  And, our other processes have been adapted fairly well to these raised planting areas.  It should work out just fine!

Keeping Up With the Weeds
The last couple of wet seasons have shown us that we cannot keep up with the weeds with things the way we are.  We've got good cultivation tools now and we know how to use them.  But, if it stays too wet to use them, the weeds don't wait for you to cultivate.

We've been trying paper mulch (Weedguard Plus) at some level or another for several seasons now.  The product has shown marked improvement and we are getting better with adapting our systems to the use of paper mulch.

Last year, we focused on paper mulch in the field tomatoes and were were duly impressed with the results.  We have used straw mulch every season prior to this and found the amount of labor to be significantly less with the paper mulch.  In fact, our workers generally do not care for spreading the straw anyway, so they aren't crying about this change.

This season, we expect to go back to paper mulch in the vine crops since that was our Achilles last year when it came to keeping crops clean.  The tomatoes will get the same treatment as last year and the peppers will likely join them.  This is not to say that paper mulch solves all of the weed problems, nor is it without risks.  But, we think this is one of the correct responses we can provide that will result in a better season.

Better Blooms
There will be flowers.  Lots of them.

There will be zinnias.
There will be borage.
There will be sunflowers.
There will be marigolds.
There will be nasturtium.
There will be 4 O'Clocks.
There will be calendula.
There will be alyssum.
Lots and lots and lots of flowers.

How can you not have some optimism when you see flowers in your future?  Even last year, there were flowers.  Perhaps they weren't what we were hoping for when the season started, but they were present.  The zinnias bloomed until it got so wet that they drowned.  But, this year, they will be in raised beds.  That should help them.

And, our reasons for optimism are often linked.  If we increase the number of vegetable rows with paper mulch in them, there will be more time to keep the flowers weeded.  Yes, there is still a great deal of work involved, but we are talking about reasons for optimism, not reasons to ignore reality. 

When the Lettuce Was Good It Was Really Good
It felt like everything was a failure at times during the 2018 season.  But, that is actually a long ways from the truth.

Our CSA customers had a pretty good season until we got to the end of October.  We had to pull back from several potential sales to make sure they had product, but that's not the point.  The point is - we had some pretty darned nice produce last year.  It just wasn't what we wanted or needed.

The point here is that we still produced some quality veggies in a year that was among our most difficult.  If I can show you pictures like the one to the left from a year we both feel was a tremendous struggle, then imagine what a year with adjustments (and hopefully less weather extremes) could provide!

Another example of success in a difficult season would be the poultry.  The turkeys and broiler chickens were good sized and high quality all season long.  Other than our first broiler batch, we did not lose very many young birds.  Our laying hens continued to lay consistently all year long despite poor pasture conditions starting in September and cold weather this Winter. 

Despite 2018 being what it was, the Genuine Faux Farm produced some quality food for some wonderful people.  Now, the Genuine Faux Farm farmers have ideas about how to address some of the biggest issues that raised their heads during a difficult year.  They have more tools, even more experience and energy to make it happen.

Will some things go wrong?  Of course they will.  But, we intend on making MORE things go right.

Here's to a positive attitude going in to the 2019 growing season! 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Ides of March (or thereabouts)

You know what they say?  Wait!  You don't?  Well, let me tell you then....

By the way, when a farmer with a blog says something like "you know what they say" you should just respond with "Yes, yes, I know what they say, so you don't need to say it."   It's probably the safest thing and perhaps it will give you an opportunity to keep your sanity.  Failing that, it will at least prevent you from having to hear the farmer tell you EXACTLY what 'they' say!

Now that I've written that introduction and you have bothered to read it, you're probably wondering now.  What WAS it that they say?

I don't know.  I've forgotten what they said because you derailed me from what I was going to say.

You don't say?  Neither do I!
early to mid March 2018
While I attempt to recover the disconnected thread of my thoughts, I will distract you with this picture from last March.  If you will recall, it was a bit warmer and drier in the first half of the month - until it decided to start snowing.  In fact, we got almost all of our snow starting about March 20 and through the month of April.  I think it is safe to say that 2019 is not repeating 2018 in this respect.
mid March 2016
A couple years prior to that, things were pretty warm in March and we were more than happy to go prep some beds in Valhalla, our newer high tunnel.  Using a broadfork is good exercise, but it is hard on my feet.  We're considering adding a stepping boot onto the broadfork to reduce the pressure that tends to focus on a small area of the foot.  We'll see if we get that far this year with all of the projects we have lined up.
mid March 2015
It is this time of year that the solar chargers often come out to play.  We use these for the electric poultry netting that helps to keep our birdy birds safe from critters who might mean them harm.  I get a feeling we won't be putting the chargers on the cart for a little while yet this season.  This will be true even IF all of the snow melts.  First, I doubt the snow will be entirely gone from the farm anytime soon and second, things are going to be pretty mucky for a while.
mid March 2014
Ah!  Finally a mid-March picture that shows that we DO get snow and often have it on the ground in March.  It is NOT an uncommon thing.  The North bush line of Highbush Cranberries and Wild Plum collects a nice drift most years.  If I recall correctly, the drift started out as tall as Tammy before some warmer weather in 2014 brought it down to what you see.
mid March 2013
You might also notice the common 'brown grass' theme for March.  If you look closely, there is some snow in this picture as well.  But, I bet you there is more green in Eden (our older high tunnel) at the time the photo above was taken than there is this season! 
Mar 11, 2019
Then, there is this season.  This is the drift out by the Highbush Cranberries and Wild Plums.  This bush line has five more years of growth on it and the drift is tall enough that you can't see much of the bushes despite their being taller.  In fact, the drift towards the right of the picture goes OVER and completely buries some of the bushes as the line turns to the South.  We've had some branch breakage in that area in years past, but I think we are going to have some flat bushes there this season.

We have heard that Waterloo is only 4 tenths of an inch away from record snowfall for a season this time around.  We don't know how close we are to Tripoli's record (or if anyone has kept that info), but we are in line with Waterloo's snowfall figures.  At the very least, we can say this has been the snowiest season we have since we came to the farm.

If you look closely at the picture above, you can see the snow up against the long-side of Valhalla.  That's about 100 feet of deep snow "goodness."  And, when I say goodness, I mean "GOODNESS! Look at that!"  If you wonder if your farmer has gotten exercise this Winter, just ask him if he's been shoveling snow off of the high tunnel walls. (hint, the answer is "ow")

And, you know what they say!  Because I certainly don't.

Monday, March 4, 2019

(It Feels Like) February Newsletter

The Difference A Year Makes
There are a host of sayings that humans appear to be fond of that reference the change one can observe between one year and the next.  Sometimes, the saying references hope: "Wait 'til next year!"  Other sayings are meant to be comforting (especially after recognizing the prior one was difficult): "Every year is different."  And still others are meant to recognize a change for the better: "What a difference a year makes!"

March 15, 2018 at the Genuine Faux Farm
This got me to thinking.  What IS different this year and what ISN'T?  This would be enough to usually get me to do a 'dangerous pastime' post, but since we need to do a farm newsletter, you get this as the introduction.

The first obvious difference?  Consider the weather last year at this time.  We got very little for snow until late January last year.  The picture above shows our farm in mid-March.  Do you see any snow?   Nope, neither do I.  But, if you find a picture from mid to late April last year, you'll find snow.  We don't know what's going to happen in March and April this season, but I think we can already say that the year has been different from a weather perspective.

Another difference would be the attitude we have going into the season.  The farmers took a much needed break from the farm in January and that did wonders for our attitudes.  Evidence of this can be seen on this very blog if you are willing to check out the past few months here.

One item that remains the same is the pervasive worry we have every season that we'll work hard to grow produce and raise poultry only to have someone misapply chemicals around our farm.  In case some of you were wondering what happened after last year's misapplication, we can tell you that we received nothing for the crops we pulled out for food safety reasons.  In fact, it is unlikely we will find the energy or time to pursue it any further.  The process and system is stacked against the small grower of "alternative" crops in this state.

Another item that remains the same is the sheer volume of things on our 'to do' lists at the farm coupled with a good bit of 'I don't wanna' that often occurs when we are on the cusp of the season getting started.  Yes, the attitude is better, the energy is better and the outlook is generally better.  Yes, we're getting things done.  But, we're not quite willing to dive all of the way in just yet.  It's not entirely unlike the feeling everyone got when they were kids and there were only two more weeks of Summer before school started.  There's some excitement and anticipation for the new year, of course.  But, there's also a lot of the - 'but I was really getting into this Summer thing, why does it have to end?'

Well, ready or not - here it comes.  A different year.

Weather Wythards
We tried to psych-out Mother Nature in the last newsletter by trying to imply that she had already outdone herself with some truly outrageous weather in January.  She didn't need to do more to exceed 2018's silliness.  She laughed at us and gave us this past February.

February's Report

High Temp: 43
Low Temp: -16
Lowest Windchill: -53
Rain: 0.29"
Wind: 43 mph from West

Snow: somewhere between 28" and 36"

Year Report

High Temp: 49
Low Temp: -29
Lowest Windchill: -53
Rain: 0.57"
Wind: 43 mph from West
Barometer Range: 29.44 - 30.51
Snow: somewhere around 4 feet total.

You may notice that we only give snow estimates.  We can only give estimates when we get the wind we get.  It's just the way it is.  However, our measurements are largely corroborated by surrounding measurements.  It just so happens that the Waterloo, IA area set more records for precipitation.  If you take the link, you'll notice this was the snowiest winter (Dec-Feb) on record for Waterloo and the 3rd wettest.  It is particularly striking to notice the top 5 snowfall numbers are all year 2007 and after. 

Veggie Variety of the Month - Alma Papricka Pepper

We're going to stick with a warm weather crop again this month in hopes that it will help us all feel a little bit better about the 'slightly chilly' temperatures we've been experiencing of late. 

We have been growing the Alma Papricka Pepper since 2007 and see no reason to stop at any point in the future.  These plants are smaller than most pepper plants and they very much prefer a dry year as opposed to a wet year.  They do seem to appreciate being in a high tunnel environment for that reason.  You can harvest Alma's when they get the warm yellow color or wait until they turn red (or anywhere in between).  They will change color off the plant.  These have a sweet papricka taste that go well with fish, chicken and cheese.  We like putting them on nachos in August when the first batch of these treats are ready to harvest.

Song of the Month
Here's a song that has some lyrics I've been enjoying hearing for the past couple of months because we all could be so much more than what we are.  Alter Bridge's Before Tomorrow Comes.

Farm News and Announcements 
If you have been staying up with our blog posts or if you follow us on Facebook, you are already aware that Tammy and I held our own "GFF Retreat" about a week ago with the intent of really getting into the nitty gritty of what our farm is going to be this year.  Every year is a pivotal year in some fashion, but this year has an even greater significance.  We are working to create a set of measurable goals for this season that will be the baseline for deciding whether or not the Genuine Faux Farm will continue after this season.

First and foremost - we intend to succeed.  If our statements here have you worried, rest assured that we are not looking for excuses to move on to something else.  If that was how we felt about it, we would simply announce right now that we were done and proceed to the next thing.  What we are doing is trying to move some of the knee-jerk feelings that are inevitable during a growing season.  We're going to get tired, upset and worried.  It's part of the package.  We're also going to have moments where we're going to feel pleased and proud of what we accomplish.  We'll hear some positive comments and some negative ones.  We can't let the feelings of the moment dictate our future direction in isolation.  That's why we're trying to do some sound goal-setting.

Solar energy at the farm?  Adding solar power to the farm has been on our minds since even before the farm existed.  We have gone down this investigative path before and come to a screeching halt each time.  Maybe this time we can figure out the funding and the process? 

Reducing weeding time?  Gardeners everywhere will admit that weeding is actually a therapeutic occupation.  Growers everywhere will tell you that there is a limit to how much therapy is actually healthy.  Every year we make adjustments to our system in hopes that we can keep the labor manageable for the crops we grow.  After a couple of experiments last year, we feel that there has been enough advancement in paper mulch products that we're going to put it in a much more prominent place in 2019.  Many growers rely on plastic mulch and we just cannot see that as being the best solution for us as stewards of the land.  We are lucky that we do not have to rely entirely on our farm for income.  Because of this, Tammy and I can try things that would be difficult for other farms to do.  If we can succeed, perhaps we can encourage other farms to follow suit?

How do we deal with all of the water?  We have had a long-standing battle with heavy rains on this farm and it is fairly well chronicled on our blog.  Last Fall made most of our prior experiences pale by comparison.  Remember, we have some experience now, so it is actually much harder for us to be completely devastated by this sort of weather than it was in 2010 (for example).  And yet, 2018 chewed us up and spit us out.

Simply put, we have to put more measures in place to help us deal with wet weather extremes.  We suspect there is very little that can be done if we get an exact copy of September 2018, but are certainly taking that as a learning experience and we'll see if we can model a solution that helps us be more resilient in 2019.

Flowers - More Flowers:  Yep, I said that in the February newsletter to.  It's still our blog, so I can repeat myself.  Ha!

Thank you for reading our newsletter.  Stay tuned on the blog, our website and email during the next two months as we unveil our 2019 season.

Rob and Tammy
the Genuine Faux Farm