Friday, December 27, 2019

Veggies to Look Forward To in 2020

We've committed ourselves to growing veggies again in 2020, but we have also committed ourselves towards focusing on a much smaller set of crops as we do things like ... oh... raise the growing areas on our farm to address continued/increased wet conditions.  We announced the types of crops we are anticipating growing next year and we expect to continue to follow up on the details of what we are going to do in 2020 in this blog.  If there is something you would like us to address on these pages, please let us know.

Bunte Forellenschus
We have a commitment from the kitchens at Jorgensen Plaza for our lettuce in 2020, so we are going to pull out the stops on trying to have lettuce for as many weeks as are possible on our farm in the coming season.  This is great news for heirloom lettuce lovers in the area because that means we should have extra lettuce to provide to those that sign up for our program for much of the year AND for those who just want some fresh, local AND certified organic lettuce, but are not signed up with us.

Bunte Forellenschus is one of our favorite butterhead types to grow and eat.  We've found that it slots in very nicely for the mid Spring to early summer slot and again in the mid-Fall slot.  Leaves display much more of the red coloration in cooler weather, but the taste stays fairly constant regardless of the season.  When this lettuce is going well, the farmer can be caught humming as he pulls a tub of these in for cleaning and distribution.

Onions have done pretty well for us each of the last five or six seasons and we see no reason to stop what has become a good thing.  The biggest issue with onions is that they need to go in pretty early.  If things are too wet early, when do you put them in?  Well, like this past season, you just find ways to get it done - even if it isn't exactly the way you want to do it.

We prefer White Wing for our early season white onions, though we also grow Gladstone and Sierra Blanca (sometimes).  The white onion harvest is actually very pleasant because, in a very real way, they always feel a bit like a surprise to us.  Why?

Well, white onions usually start sizing up in July and the speed with which they put on the bulk can be a amazing.  We typically walk our fields every day just to keep up on everything - and they still manage to sneak up on us.  The process of white onion harvest is usually a quick walk of the bed, taking stock of how many are ready to be pulled (and how many we need for CSA or other orders).  The walk back allows me to simply bend down and pull up the onions that are ready.  Usually I can hold 20 to 30 in each hand (grasped by the stem/leaves) before I have to put them in a container.  First harvests are particularly pleasant because there are usually so many onions remaining in the bed that it barely looks like I've brought anything in!

It is Winter, so an heirloom tomato is bound to make the post simply because people miss a good tasting, fresh tomato about this time of year.  Shown above is a variety called Black Sea Man - a new trial in 2019.  Will it return in 2020?  We'll put it this way, if we have seed remaining in our inventory - yes.  If not, we'll focus on our Black Krim and Paul Robeson plants for tomatoes that fall into this class.  

We love putting the 'black/purple' tomatoes in the high tunnels since that is where they perform best for us.  Typically we put them in our white nest/stack trays - never more than two deep to avoid bruising or damage.  Usually, we get to eat fruit that will not transport well.  Hey!  These are heirloom tomatoes, there will always be some that won't go to market - fresh tomatoes on sandwiches and fresh pico for the farmers.  Good deal.

 The butternut squash have a history of doing fairly well for us most seasons (just not 2019).  We plan on growing about as many row feet as we have in prior years, but we also plan on doing more things to protect this crop in an effort to avoid some of the issues we have seen in 2018 and 2019. 

The butternut harvest is not usually one of my favorite events, nor is it among those I dread.  However, the display of quality butternut squash just after harvest?  That's something I love to see and photograph.  Butternuts are a long season crop and require effort throughout the year.  So, a nice harvest neatly set out represents a significant yearly accomplishment.
And, yes, we will grow Wapsipinicon Peach tomatoes this coming year.  The positive thing about the new system of CSA this year?  People who love them will be able to get MORE of them.  Just remember to catch that juice before it lands on your new shirt.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

What Have You Got Yourself Into? Files Part II

 In our prior post we mentioned the siding project that is ongoing at the Genuine Faux Farm farmhouse and we thought people might enjoy seeing some of the "progress." 

 The East side is the first side to get torn off of the house.  As we mentioned, there is an asphalt and particle board shingle-type siding that was placed over lap siding.  The outer layer has been taking on moisture and has to go.  It is far easier to take that stuff off first, so we strip what we can of that off, often being able to just pull it off with much help from tools.

And in case you want to know - yes, my shoulders are now sore.

 There was some thought that the cedar lap siding might be in reasonable shape.  There were patches that were pretty good, but far too many patches like this.  Other areas had badly cupped siding and yet other area had other problems.  That means our decision to strip it down to the underlayment was a good one.  Also, the timing was right to address the problem.  Too many more years as it was and we would have many much bigger problems to deal with.

And here we are on the East side with no lap siding on everything we could reach with the scaffolding in its current position.  There were, in fact, a few places that needed repair under the windows and at the corner on the left.  Otherwise, the underlayment was in pretty good shape. 

That is a huge relief!  So far, this has also held true for the North side of the house as well, with even smaller areas needing repair.  We do not hold out the same hope for the South side - but we shall see.

And here is a sample of what is to come.  Tammy and I get to do the tear off and Duncan Home Services get to do the making it look nice part.  Here's hoping the weather allows us to keep plugging along on it as we enter the new year!

As of today (Dec 26), there is siding about halfway up the East side.  We have taken off the two layers of siding more than halfway up the North side and the outer layer of siding halfway up the West side.  It is actually nice to be able to expend some energy fixing up our dwelling.  But, never fear!  We did some farm work today too!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

What Have You Gotten Yourself Into? Files

One of our earliest pictures of the farm house at the Genuine Faux Farm
It has been said that home ownership is a surefire way to get rid of any extra money or time you might have.  It has also been said that you can do the same if you farm.  As a good friend has reminded me (more than once) - I told me so.

Tammy and I have gone through the home ownership process more than once and, each time, the house was 'older' and needed some attention.  When we moved to the current farmstead in 2004, we were aware that there were going to be some things that would need attention and we thought we knew what those things would be.  Of course, we were wrong.  But, that's a story for yet another day.

Over the last couple of years, things have really come to a head with respect to home repair.  If you have read the blog, you know about the kitchen project because it shows up here and there.  That project is well on its way to being done.  Except that... it's not done.  We still have one more cabinet to put up, a floor to put down, some lights to put in and some finish work to do.  But, it functions better than it has for years... and we aren't afraid we'll step through the floor and visit the basement.

It's all good.

The current focus is on the siding.  You see, there is this shingle-like siding on the house that was put over standard cedar, lap siding.  The siding was actually one of the things we identified when we first moved here as needing attention at some point.  Well, it's 2019 going on 2020 and the siding is getting attention. We'll put some new pictures up in the next week or so.  It is already much different than it was! 

Friday, December 20, 2019

Too Easy to Forget

The gravel roads throughout the state of Iowa took a beating last Fall, Winter and Spring.  The biggest culprit?  Record levels of rain in the Fall and snow in the Winter, followed up by a fairly damp Spring.  Our little Honda sat in our drive, unused, for most of the first half of 2019 for fear that it would be sucked into one or another of the sloppy areas that could be found on every section of road between us and paved thoroughfares.  As it was, Chumley, our 4-wheel drive work truck, had a few adventures that had us wondering.

We were forced to admit that the roads were not in sufficient repair to host a couple of busloads of Waterloo kindergartners as was planned.  Not only that, but the farm was probably a bit too wet as well.  We're happy to help with education, but we aren't equipped to extricate a bus-load of children from the morass that was our road.

The road crews had their hands full and their budgets had to be strapped.  Remember the record snowfall?  That means the snowplows had to be out more than usual.  Add in some flooding that washed out roads and the pervasive condition issues with all gravels and you must have had a nightmare set of conditions for those who were trying to manage maintenance and repair.

But, it is too easy to forget that there were people working at a disadvantage as they try to keep our rural roads passable.  More than one time, I was struck by a comment from someone who just "didn't understand why the crews couldn't just fix the roads."  Sometimes, these comments included a little bit of abuse aimed at the very people who were fighting against conditions that were created by record-setting precipitation.  I hope I did my best each time to remind people of the weather conditions that contributed to the current situation, but I am sure I'll never know if it made a difference.  After all, we're so very comfortable with placing blame on others for our discomforts without taking time to connect a few dots and considering the causes. 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Enough to Raise the Bed?

Our Foresight 2020 Campaign continues with a post exploring some of the major changes we will endeavor in the next season of growing at the Genuine Faux Farm.  One of the first things on our minds is looking for ways to deal with the excessive moisture that has made it increasingly difficult for us to succeed.  So, in this blog post we ask:

Is it enough to raise the bed?

Note the growing areas that are not under water.

The problem is this.  We've had numerous seasons of late where we have had above average precipitation.  In fact, we set some all-time records for rain and snowfall in 2018/2019.  Our ground is flat, the soil is heavy and the water table is typically on the higher side.  The number of times we have experienced "100 year storms," "500 year storms" and "1000 year storms" has far exceeded the 1%, 0.2% and 0.1% chances they are supposed to have for likelihood of occurrence.  I think we outline the issues we have to deal with when things get really wet on our farm in this year's post titled: Clueless No More

Basil and tomatoes looking fairly good in August.
Our Spring planting was delayed by four to five weeks this season because our soils were simply too wet to work.  Even with that delay, we still had some decent looking crops as we went into August.  Not all of the crops looked good, mind you, but there were hints that we might still know a thing or two about horticulture.  There were also numerous hints that our land still has some capacity to cap.

September - how we rue you!
But, we got into September again this year and our entire Fall has been fairly damp.  It's a notch or two below 2018, but considering Iowa averages show ever decreasing rainfall amounts as you go into the Fall months, the slight reduction isn't much of a consolation.

So, what are we going to do?  We're cutting back the number of crops we are growing in 2020.  We are hopeful that by reducing the number of crops and the amount of space we cultivate, we can spend some time adapting our farm to wetter (and probably warmer on average) conditions.  In short, we're going to become earth movers.

This worked in prior wet years.
We have had a couple of raised beds on the farm for a few years now and they are a place we can plant most of the time.  It is a bit of pain that we have to irrigate these more often, but the alternative (unwatering the plants when it rains too much) really isn't possible.  The soil surface for these beds are about twelve inches above the surrounding area, so the plants and their entire root zone are unlikely to be saturated even during some of the most difficult rainy conditions.

The problem is that this space is very limited and we can't raise bigger areas this much.  In fact, we wouldn't want to do too much of this because we know there will still be dry periods and we don't want to pull up that much ground water to irrigate.

Raised growing areas in Eden.
We actually dug out the paths in one of our high tunnels and added soil to the growing areas this past year.  Why?  Well, we've had so much moisture that water was actually seeping into the tunnel via the high water table.  The plants needed a few more inches of soil so they could stay healthy.  Happily, this worked for us in 2019 and Eden was again a happy growing place.

The issue is that this approach does not completely solve the problem in the field. 
Look again at our first picture.
If you take a second look at the first picture in the blog, you can see that we DID have raised areas for our plants.  The wheel tracks for our tractor remained lower.  The problem is that the root zone remained saturated to a point that the plants suffered and many died.

Our proposed solution is to mirror the approach we had for Valahalla, our second high tunnel. 
Prior to putting up this structure, we had two ditches dug along the long sides and we used that dirt to raise the pad for the building.  In the end, it is only a two to three inch difference.  But, it seems to be enough.  Even the field that was NOT covered by the high tunnel in 2019 did reasonably well.  So, our plan is to have 18' to 20' wide growing areas flanked by 6' to 8' swales.  This is going to require significant time and effort on our part and the earth moving will have to occur at times when it is dry enough to move the soil successfully.  Hence, some of the reason we are paring down our growing plans and adjusting how we deliver our produce to everyone.

The good news?

If this is successful, we hope that we can see more consistent success with our crops once again.  But, we also see this as an opportunity to provide more natural habitat within our farm AND a chance to deal with the water without passing it all downstream to become someone else's problem.  We feel good about all of this in principle.  We are asking for your support and best wishes as we work to get better.  We'll keep you informed on the process in our blog and elsewhere as we find out...

Is it enough to raise the bed?

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Are We Amused Yet?

Our indoor supervisors, Bree and Hobnob are getting a bit tired of me trying out jokes and puns on them.  They told me by simply giving the look you see below that I need to find a new audience.  Guess what?  YOU are the new audience.  Aren't you lucky?  You'll be really lucky if you get to the end of this post (which is highly recommended if you can stand it).

Actually, I thought I would share some things that were sent my way that I found amusing.  If it inspires me to further silliness, then that is price of doing business.  Or at least, it the price of reading the Genuine Faux Farm blog.  To get started, let us all assess our moods.  

Unfortunately, I am a farmer, so I really have a hard time trying to figure out where I fall on the scale of cat.  After all, according to the graphic below, it changes from moment to moment.  Let's just say I follow a progressions from 1 to 9 most days - although I might move 7 to the end.

We've also been discussing the legal structure of the Genuine Faux Farm.  We are thinking that we should create a new position simply because I want to be able to put these initials at the end of my name:

Our next trick is to determine what CIEIO stands for.  Some thoughts include:

Chief Informal Executive Involving Onions
Credible Information Exists In Observation
Crumpled Iguana Ears Ignore Owls

I'd love a few more ideas - so have at it in the comments!

The Sandman used to always let me try out jokes on him.  He usually encouraged me to keep them to myself.   Regardless, the following illustration made me think of the Sandman.  I wonder if he really was a dragon using an illusion spell?  I wouldn't have put it past him.

But, the real motivation for this post is in the following:

I nabbed this from a facebook post being shared by a group of farmers and I just could NOT help myself.

I decided I should milk this for all it was worth!  Gather around like cattle and ye shall be HERD!

Dear diary,
  Today I went to the farm to ruminate about ruminants.   I thought they might have a beef with me, but it turns out this was the udder kind of bovine.  I met a cow and gave it the nick-name "Cuddles," but it turns out that this reference turned the cow's stomachs.  I tried to cross the field without touching the ground by leaping from the back of one young cow to another.  After that, I took stock of the situation and realized my calves were sore.  Now THEY had a beef with me.  I guess it was time to moove on.

I was wondering how farmers select a bull to mate with a cow and figured they must have gone to a meet market of some kind.  One guy tried to tell me that he had a batch of chicks and some young calves that shared a pasture.  After a while one young rooster took a liking to one of the bullocks, riding on its back from place to place.  He said they went everywhere together, including the county fair.  I decided that had to be a cock and bull story.

I realize that many people have not been exposed to the story about the cow that got a foot caught in a trap and had to have its hoof removed.  Removing a hoof is the equivalent of taking off ones toes, it has to be difficult to adapt to.  It was made worse by the fact that the other cows ostracized the hoofless cow.  Apparently, they were lack toes intolerant.  Yes, that's the untoed story.

So, now I HAVE milked this for all it's worth.  Why?
Because you have just experienced "deja moo" - the feeling that you have heard this cow pun before.

Now, go take a nap.  It's pasture bedtime.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

GFF 2020 Crops Revealed (First Draft)

The surveys are in and we have had additional time to research other outlets for product and lay out or initial farm plans for 2020.  There is still much more for us to figure out and plenty to share as we set up our 2020 growing season.  This post will focus on two things.

We Will Grow Food For You in 2020
We intend to raise veggies, poultry and some flowers in 2020.  Our products will be made available to you using pre-purchased credits.  Consider it a flexible CSA share that easily works around your travel schedule and allows you to spend your money on any of our products in whatever volume suits you.  We will flesh this out in future posts.

We can't quit - when would we get photo-ops like this one?

Our First Draft of Our 2020 Grow List
We have our first draft of the crops we intend to grow in 2020 and here they are!

Tier One - Yes, we're growing these!
When we put our survey out, we had already selected crops that we felt would be a sound basis for the 2020 season.  We selected these for several reasons.  In general, these are crops that typically either grow very well on our farm, are easy for us to sell and/or are crops we really enjoy raising.  In other words, if our situation forced us to grow only these vegetables, we think we could do fine.

asparagus, green beans, broccoli, carrot, cauliflower, garlic, lettuce, onion, bell pepper, sweet pepper, curly kale, tomato, snack tomato, cherry tomato, butternut squash, tan acorn squash, zucchini, potato (red and blue flesh)

Also, not on the list, but going to happen at some level in 2020 - poultry (eggs and meat).  And, we do have various fruit (mulberry, black raspberry, raspberry, wild plum, apple) that depend entirely on the year and our inclination to harvest and offer.  These are perennial plants already on the farm, so they are harvested as opportunity allows.

We can talk about these more in a later post, but suffice it to say, this list has not changed, though the amounts of each are yet to be determined.  We do intend to grow a sizable amount of onions, lettuce, squash and tomatoes.  There will be varying amounts of the others.  Our broccoli and cauliflower, while they grow very well for us, will be cut down to about 40% of last year's plans to line up with the demand levels we are experiencing.  But, it seems wrong to give up on a crop that likes our farm and soil as much as they do.

Tier Two - We'll grow some of these.
Before I go too far here, we would like to remind all of you, but especially those of you who participated in the survey, that this is NOT a democracy.  It was a chance for you to convince us to change our minds and some of your voting did, in fact, influence us.  But, even if there was relatively strong voting for a particular crop, we may not have found it to be convincing enough to keep it on the grow list.  We are, of course, sorry if you are unhappy with these choices.  I suppose I could tell you we are growing them and then just inform you there was a crop failure later?  No?  Ok, let's take the high road here and unveil those that made the cut and those that did not.

1. We're good at these AND people want them

  • Spinach selected by 75% respondents
  • Snow Pea 56%
  • Cucumber 56%
  • Beets 52%
Spinach and peas were in question because they can be labor intensive with the harvest.  But, we are pretty good at growing these AND people seem to select them when we have them.  By reducing some of the other crops from our grow list, we should be able to absorb the additional labor to do these well.  Snap peas were separate from snow peas and received a slightly lower vote count.  We have space in our growing plan for one - snow peas it is.

Cucumbers are a special case.  They usually grow very well for us.  The problem has been finding homes for all of the cucumbers AND keeping them picked is also labor intensive.  Frost rarely kills these plants - it's the fact that we can't keep them picked, so they terminate with fruit that has gone to seed before the frost has a chance.  We also received feedback that we might be able to have a bit more of an outlet for our cucumbers beyond CSA members, that helps it get to the grow list.

Beets?  Well, there were some who wanted gold, some who wanted striped and some who wanted red.  We'll grow some beets because they help balance out our crop rotation and they can be stored.  A crop that stores allows us to take a lower demand and spread it out over time.  They are easier to clean than many root crops as well, so it suits our needs.

2. Never Mind

  • Buttercup squash 20%
  • Tatsoi .04%
  • Romanesco 12%
  • Lima Beans .08%
  • White flesh potatoes  28%
Rob loves limas, but if we're growing them, they belong to him and only him!  Bwa ha haaaaa!  We also love our buttercup squash, but they fail nearly every season.  There isn't enough interest to fight the battle, so we'll take the frustration off of our grow list.  Tatsoi grows just fine - but if no one wants it - and we do not need it to fill a share - then it is off the list.  Romanesco can be a bit testy some years and the seed costs more than most, so we're not crying here either.

The white fleshed potatoes have not been as happy with us since Rio Grande disappeared and became unavailable.  Again, we gain something by removing an item with insufficient support to encourage us to take on the struggle.  Maybe sometime in the future they could return.

3. We'll have that because there are other reasons to grow it

  • Basil 40%
  • Herbs 24%
We love having basil as a companion crop and for pollinator attraction on our farm.  We'll be planting basil and it isn't so hard to pick a few stems when people want them.  If no one asks for them, we still grow them because they smell great!

The herbs fall into the same boat and many of them are perennial plants that are already established.  We'll have them.  What we should do, it seems, is offer them to people a bit more often.  Maybe it will work better to offer them and the people who love them can get all they want through the new program.  It's a different ballgame than when we felt we had to have a bundle for every share (not knowing who really wanted them and who knew what to do with them).  

4. We want to grow a few and if there are extra, you can have some

*****IN - ish, OUT - ish***** 
  • Watermelon 12%
  • Pie Pumpkin 16%
  • Papricka pepper 16%
  • Romano Beans 20%
  • Roma tomatoes 32%
  • Hot peppers 16%
These are probably mostly *OUT* for all intents and purposes.  If we have space and inclination, we'll plant some.  If time is short and something has to go, these will go or we will only plant enough plants to satisfy our own needs.  Most likely to survive in that instance are the Romano beans and the Papricka peppers. 

5. Reduced Availability

*************IN (reduced availability)************ 
  • Eggplant 24%
  • Yellow flesh potatoes 40%
  • Melon 44%
  • Napa Cabbage 42%
  • Summer squash 24%
  • Komatsuna 16%
The Minnesota Midget melons from the high tunnel are consistently good producers and they rarely go begging for attention, but the days of growing an additional 800=1600 row feet of melons are over.  We'll grow a few of our favorite field varieties in the field and share as they are available.  Summer squash have some other demand other than individuals in the CSA, but we don't see a reason to be pushing quite so many of them at people.   Komatsuna stays because it provides an opportunity for something green when there is very little else, but we won't push its season outside of that window as we have in the past.

Eggplant are an odd case.  Those who love them want a nice batch of them on a semi-regular basis.  It's not so hard to put 30 plants in the ground to cover that demand.  We also have heard that the longer "pintung' style eggplants are favored, so we will drop the larger Italian style purple eggplant from the grow list and stick with the variety people have said they prefer.

Then, there are the Napa cabbages (Chinese cabbage/Korean cabbage, etc).  They grow fairly well for us and they store for a long time in the cooler.  When you consider there is a devoted group of people who want Napas, you have to consider keeping them in.  In fact, this might be one crop that will increase over the past year's production numbers, but they are unlikely to reach the heights of three to four years ago.

Tier Three - Chopping Block List
We presented this list as those items we were inclined to drop unless we were swayed otherwise.  Items appeared here for various reasons including the possibility that our farm is not all that good at growing them.  Another option is that we felt as if the labor demanded for the crop in question was more than we could expend unless demand were much higher.

1. Okay, okay... we'll THINK about it.. Maybe someday, but not today 

  • Brussels sprouts 28%
  • Delicata squash 24%
We weren't overwhelmed by the responses here, so we aren't growing them next season.  For our production system, Brussels are a bit of a pain.  Not only that, when we did grow them, we were left with an awful lot that did not go to homes.  We can't eat that much Brussels sprouts.  Delicatas seem like we could grow them, except they just don't produce well enough for the space they take.  If the response were higher, we would investigate a way to improve production by trialing cultivars to see which ones like us the most.  But, it wasn't.  So, we won't!

2. Done thinking... just no

***********OUT, OUT, OUT, OUT************ 
  •  Bunching onions, arugula, leeks, dinosaur kale, rutabega, spaghetti squash, okra, flat-leaf kale, pok choi, radish, turnip, mustard greens, parsnip, collard, daikon
None of these even came close enough to make us consider changing our minds.  Our apologies to those who did select them.  But, here is the interesting thing - EVERY veggie listed got at LEAST one vote.  The other interesting thing?  We HAVE grown every item on this list at some point during our career.  Some, like parsnips and rutabega, have been off for a while with no complaints that we know of.  Parsnips are hard to grow on our farm and rutabegas were hard to find homes for.  Each of the other items have been grown as recently as 2018/2019.  Some, like the radish and arugula, take more labor than we can afford to spend on them for the limited reward they might bring.  Others, like pok choi, bunching onions, flat-leaf kale, turnips and mustard greens, are useful for making sure we can provide CSA shares with enough quality items for the entire season.  We know they are not people's absolute favorite, but they gave us all something fresh during times of the year when other items just weren't available.  Leeks take forever to clean for sale/distribution.  Okra have given a rash to other harvesters other than Rob and Rob has too much else to harvest that is more popular.  Etc. etc.

In short, they all have good reasons for being off the grow-list.  

3. They might appear by accident

*************OUT, unless they aren't************ 
  • cilantro
  • parsley
  • rhubarb
  • swiss chard
  • dry bean
  • watermelon radish 
  • turnip

Mostly out means they're still somewhat in.

It is possible that we will grow some cilantro or parsley as companion and habitat plants and they could show up as an offered 'herb' in the future.   We also use dry beans as a companion or to fix some nitrogen in the soil.  That will be the focus of those plants and any available dry beans will be a side effect of that.

We do have rhubarb plants, but they do not particularly love our soil.  If they recover this Spring and do well, we'll offer rhubarb.  If they die or do poorly?  Oh well.  They will then be entirely out.

We know we said "no" to turnips, but we have a BUNCH of seed.  Maybe we'll plant them out for a Fall batch.  If we do, we'll offer them.  They could be incorporated into a cover crop mix in the Fall where the main purpose is to cover the soil and prevent erosion.  The same might be said for the watermelon radish and Tammy likes to eat one or two of them in the Fall.  Once that seed is gone, we likely won't spend money for more.

We both prefer swiss chard to kale and we'll probably put a couple plants into a high tunnel for the late Fall.  If they exceed expectations, we can offer some.

4. The "Surprise!" group

***************IN - limited************** 
  • Cabbage 20%
  • Kohlrabi 16%
Both are not hard for us to grow.  Both store well.  Both can handle cooler weather.  Now, don't expect us to grow as much of these as we have in the past, but I expect we'll meet the anticipated demand we will have for them without an issue.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Veg Variety Winners 2019

Every year we attempt to identify the top varieties that were grown on the farm during the year.  Criteria include production, quality of fruit, taste and plant health.  Additional factors that may increase the rating for a variety might be performance as compared other varieties of the same type or one that surprised us by doing far better than anticipated.  You might also note that we will give a tie break to a variety that has not been awarded a top slot over one that has.
For those who want to see what has gone before:
About 2019's Growing Season
As part of my pre-writing work for this yearly post, I review the prior year's entry to balance my response to the current year.  The summary for 2018 was among our most difficult that we've experienced at the Genuine Faux Farm.  Unfortunatley, 2019 was more difficult for us than 2018.  We saw it coming.  Record moisture starting in the Fall and continuing into the Winter and Spring resulted in planting dates four to five weeks behind schedule.  The saturated soil prevented plants from getting the nutrients they needed and kept them from putting down much more than surface roots.  The weather encouraged more herbicide use over a longer period of time than normal in the region.  Then, things got wet all over again this September and October.  It hasn't been fun.

And yet - here I am with a list of veggie varieties.  Why?  Because we still have our successes every year - believe it or not.  It gives me hope that perhaps we aren't bad farmers and perhaps there is still hope for things to come back around.

The list this year may have even more significance for the future as we look to reduce the number of varieties and crops we grow in 2020.  It makes no sense to continue as we have, so we'll be making changes.  Stay tuned for more on the future in this blog.

15.  Tasty Evergreen Tomato
I thought I would start this year's list out with a bit of a surprise.  We have had Tasty Evergreen tomatoes on our grow list since about 2008, but we limited the number of plants every season because it is extremely difficult to get nice tomatoes, like the ones you see below, without splitting or other issues.  On the other hand, Tasty Evergreen is one of the best tomatoes if you like a compliment to the taste of real mayo on your sandwiches.  Fruit size starts at medium slicer range and can get as large as 0.8 pound.   The center is, in fact, green when the tomato is ripe and the skin starts to yellow, as you can see below.  The trick is to learn how a ripe tomato FEELS and then you can figure out when to harvest this one.

Tasty Evergreen is quite picky, but we finally found a balance in our high tunnels this year.  We only grew our typical four plants, but we had fantastic production and great taste this year.  Since we actually had a successful season with this tomato, we thought we would honor it with a listing.

14. Scarlet Kale
Scarlet (left) and Vates (right)
We've given kudos to our green curly kale varieties in the past (Dwarf Blue Scotch, Vates and Westlander) and they did fine for us again this season.  But, this year it is time to give one of our red varieties some love.  Scarlet has done well for three years in a row at the Genuine Faux Farm and we intend to continue growing it - even if we are looking at other varieties of red curly kale.

Usually, we don't start with the negatives of a veg variety winner, but that's what we're going to do with this one.  Scarlet plants tend to get fairly tall, but their stems often do not bulk up sufficiently to keep the plants upright late in the season.  There is also a fairly wide variety of characteristics in the strain we grow, so it is not uncommon to get an off-plant or three.  Also, Scarlet really does prefer extra fertility and will under-perform if you don't do some things to keep it happy.  But, if you manage to give it what it needs...

The beautiful color of the leaves run from a deep maroon to a deep green with red tones.  Leaf texture tends to be a bit softer than most green curly kale and the taste is a bit milder which makes it accessible to people who aren't as fond of the stronger taste the harder, green kales have.  I find the plants to be very easy to harvest (until they fall over late in the season) and the leaf stems don't tend to break when bundling.  If there are some flaws from pest or storm damage on the leaves, it tends to hide it better than the greens.  And, pests seem to prefer a variety like Westlander rather than Scarlet.  Scarlet is a heritage variety maintained by Seed Savers and is worth finding a spot in your garden if you would like to add some color to your kale salads.

13. Amazing Cauliflower
Goodman, Amazing, Mardi
We ran a Practical Farmers of Iowa vegetable trial for three varieties of cauliflower this year and were pleased with both Amazing and Goodman.  Mardi, on the other hand, didn't really perform as we hoped.  Goodman has been on our top veggie list before and it continued to provide us with excellent taste, bright coloring and its characteristic slightly fuzzy texture.  Mardi gave us the most bulk, but it had more problems with the wet conditions than the other two.

But the winner was Amazing this year.  The size tended to land between the other two and Amazing handled the late, wet conditions the best of the three varieties.  Amazing features the classic cauliflower taste, so you won't be surprised by what you get from this variety in that area.  But, if you like cauliflower, you will be pleased.  Heads showed no tendency towards ricing or early bolting in our fields.  We do not blanch any of our cauliflower varieties and Amazing does fine without that process.

We are pleased that Amazing is an open pollinated variety, which fits with our farm preferences and farm mission.  If there is a knock on Amazing, it might be that the window for maturity is a bit more diverse than a commercial grower might like.  For example, if I wanted 100 heads to mature during a given week, I might need to plant 75% more to make sure I met that goal.  Don't get me wrong, the window isn't unmanageable since 85% of the crop will be mature in a 14 day period.

12. Nyagous Tomato
You can usually tell what sort of a season we had if the farmer says he doesn't have a picture of something.  I don't have a picture of Nyagous.  Perhaps it is because Nyagous is shy?  Well, we will likely get another chance at catching it in a photo next year because its re-introduction to the farm in 2019 to the high tunnel environment was a complete success. 

Nyagous was first introduced to our farm in 2006 and has the honor of being among the first 'purple/black' heirlooms we grew.  These tend to range in size from large snack/salad size to small slicer, averaging about 1/3 pound.  The deep burgandy color can get a bit darker in warmer periods and the taste is rich and has the tiniest hint of brown sugar to it!  Production levels are not as high as some of our snack tomatoes such as Jaune Flamme and Wapsipinicon Peach, but there are hints that an earlier planting could produce on a level that would exceed this year's production.  Like our other 'purple/black' tomatoes (Black Krim, Paul Robeson, Black Cherry) Nyagous loves the high tunnel environment.  We were able to avoid splitting and other losses for the most part.  We have noted that Nyagous likes a little extra nutrient boost prior to fruit set.

11. Roma II Romano Bean
In the past, we have grown Gold of Bacau, an heirloom pole romano that has fantastic taste and texture.  Unfortunately for us, we often have trouble finding the labor time to set up the trellis for pole beans, leaving us to rely on bush beans for much of our production.  Yes, yes, I know this postpones the labor to the picking end of things, but our labor bottlenecks are NOT the focus of this post!

We actually tried Roma II on a whim this past year.  Tammy and I usually allow ourselves to select two items each that we just want to try and one of my choices was Roma II.  (For the record, one of Tammy's was Nyagous.)  Plants were small, but they were covered with beans making it fairly easy to harvest.  The season did not allow us to observe a second fruit set, but we were quite pleased with a single harvest yield.  The responses for the taste of these beans were overwhelmingly positive.  The hard part was getting some folks to try these flat beans after they'd been enjoying some quality green beans.  

10. Touchstone Gold Beet
Our Chioggia beets did fairly well this year and I thought I might put them on the list for 2019, until I reviewed the numbers and accounted for one planting of Chioggia that failed to germinate - while both Touchstone Gold plantings produced.

Frankly, I am not heartbroken by this.  I like both beets for taste and still credit Chioggia with getting me to actually eat and appreciate beets.  But, I prefer the Touchstone Gold for a taste that is fantastic roasted with a little melted butter.  For those of us who love our green beans, we find Touchstone Gold to be our beet of choice.

Touchstone Gold has performed in the field and in the high tunnel, preferring the finer soils in our Southwest fields and Eden (our smaller high tunnel).  Beets can easily reach a pound each in size and still maintain a pleasing taste and texture.  Inconsistent moisture can result in a few 'Frankenbeets,' but even these maintain a good eating quality (just harder to clean). 

One of the characteristics we are looking for in varieties that will stay on our farm in 2020 (and perhaps beyond) is a track record for success on our farm.  If you look at some of our prior lists, you will find Touchstone Gold.  Another key characteristic will be the ability of the vegetable variety to stand out from typical offerings provided by other growers.  We will happily allow others to grow red beets while we focus on the "specialty" beets like Touchstone Gold.

9. Silver Slicer Cucumber
This was not a good season for cucurbit crops on our farm.  Yet, here we are with a cucumber on the list!  After having an excess of cucumbers with no place for them to go over the past couple of years, we cut down our production numbers significantly and... of course, the season decided to make growing any cucumbers a challenge!  Happily, after a slow start, Silver Slicer and Marketmore 76 picked up the slack and filled our bins with as many as we were able to move.

Silver Slicer has a great fresh-eating taste that makes our local cucumber taste expert (Tammy) very happy.  Silver Slicer seems to be fine with a late season or early season start and doesn't seem to have a tendency to grow the cucumbers too large, having what seems to be a top size at about 8 inches.  We like to harvest them around six inches, but the size doesn't seem to impact the taste or texture too terribly much.  Like many open-pollinated varieties, quality has more to do with age on the vine than actual size of the fruit.  In 2019, a single succession of Silver Slicers produced for the entire season, eliminating the need for planting multiple successions.  We do not expect this every season, but it is a quality for us to assess further.

8. Wapsipinicon Peach Tomato
This season's list is going to be a bit heavy on the heirloom tomatoes that came from our two high tunnels (Eden and Valhalla).  The reasons are fairly simple.  Many of our field crops struggled in 2019 and one of our feature crops in the high tunnels is tomatoes. 

Once again, Wapsipinicon Peach tomatoes make our Vegetable Variety list for the season.   Their taste is extraordinary, but beware the juice!  More than one happy person has had to wear a little Wapsi Peach juice on their shirt after biting into one of these sweet snack tomatoes.  The fruits tend to be softer and have a fuzzy feel.  Many people are tempted to discard these tomatoes as too soft, but when encouraged to try them they find they were mistaken.  What absolutely astounds us is that there are people who have ignored the Wapsi Peaches we offer for years only to try them and tell us they love them.  We don't rave about much, but this is one thing we have been praising for a long time.  We expect to continue to grow them in the future.

7. Jade Green Bean
Here is another repeat selection variety for the Genuine Faux Farm.  Perhaps we are seeing more repeats this year because we were already beginning to focus on fewer crops in 2019 as a response to increasingly difficult growing conditions. 
Jade has the best taste of all of our green beans, though we won't say "no" to a nice pot of steamed Provider or Black Valentines.  Jade has a bit more of a 'gourmet' taste and they have a more continuous production window rather than heavy 'flushes' like the other varieties.  This is perfect for our high tunnel production where we want to maximize what we are able to get in a smaller space.  We tried a single row rather than our traditional double row in the high tunnel this year and we're not sure if we liked it or not.  Production was, of course, lower due to the smaller plant count.  The reason for going single row had more to do with ease of harvest.  I suspect we will go back to double row in 2020.

6.  Bergam's Green Lettuce

Lettuce has a distinct disadvantage in 2019 because our late crops went nowhere while our Spring crops did just fine, thank you.  Since we write this post at the end of the season, it is not uncommon for me to overlook some of the early season successes.  As it was, there were several good lettuce varieties this year and I decided to select one from a batch that included Magenta, Bunte Forellenschus, Bronze Arrowhead, Red Romaine, Crispmint, Paris Island Cos, Nevada, Kirabati Pulse, Forellenschus, Grandpa Admires and others.

Bergam's stood out in large part because of the size and ability to bulk out quite quickly during all types of weather.  There is very little waste on this loose-leaf and the taste holds fairly well, not getting too strong in the warmer months.

5.  Dolciva Carrot
We have been fans of St Valery for orange carrots and Dragon for the purple carrots for some time.  In recent years, we have had more issues with carrot germination and we were looking for some options.  One of our preferences was to go with an open-pollinated variety if we were able to do so.  Most who grow carrots commercially tend to opt for the F1 hybrids, but we maintain the belief that traditional breeding methods can also create viable strains for production such as ours.
Dolciva in bin closest to the camera
The selling points for trying this carrot were that they are "well-adapted and versatile for bunching or storage."  The versatility is nice because we don't necessarily want to store ALL of our carrots, nor do we want to be forced to move them all at once.  This variety touts both as a possibility.  The 'well-adapted' part implies that while the seed was developed in Europe, it has shown proper resilience and has been productive away from the region of development.  If you take that implication further, it might be read to say that it should grow well in many other conditions/regions.  Since we were looking for carrots that would store to allow us to spread out distribution, this one caught our eye as storing extremely well.  The final selling point?  It came in pelleted seed.  Given the tendency for wet conditions for our farm, pelleting seed expands the window for direct seeding of carrots into our soil.

The good news?  Dolciva grew well for us, though we put it in some of our best field beds.  The carrots grew long and straight and held well, waiting for us to find the time (and weather conditions) to pull them.  They did store well and they had a great flavor (for those who love carrots).  Given the wet soil conditions we have been dealing with, we have not been able to use our 6 row seeder for carrots.  Thus, the pelleted seed provided us with the chance to get the carrots into the field in late April to early May.  We've found that is our best possible field seeding period if we want a reliable carrot stand on our farm.

4. Minnesota Midget
Minnesota Midget melons did well enough in 2018 to win the prize for top honors and were pretty close to a repeat in 2019.  Once again, these were only grown in our high tunnels and they provided us with plenty of melons to fill the demand we had for the season.

Fruit size can be variable, though a consistent watering program can reduce that variability.  The hard part is trying to reduce water prior to ripening so the fruits set more sugars for a better taste.  The net result is that later sets may be smaller in size due to the reduced watering regimen. 

It is important to note that Minnesota Midget has its growing slot for production.  It does not particularly like to be pushed early or pushed late - believe me, I've tried both.  But, they do love their location in our high tunnel.  Plants can be trained to climb on Hortnova trellis and they do not tend to get so large that they can't be contained to that trellis.

3. Tolli Sweet Pepper
Tolli Sweet keeps moving up our list (sitting at number 9 last year) which is a little bit of a surprise for me.  Once again, we put in our normal batch of Tolli Sweet plants into Eden.  We had added a bit of compost prior to this growing season and they apparently liked that extra boost.  Fruit size tended to be a bit larger and more consistent in 2019 than they had in prior years.  However, fruit harvest numbers remained essentially the same. 

Tolli Sweet Peppers are a carrot shaped pepper that is best when it is allowed to turn red.  The fruit size can be variable and the pepper wall is fairly thin.  Persons who have some trouble with digesting peppers may find that Tolli Sweet is much more tolerable to them and they are good for fresh eating, sandwiches, salads and nachos.  The plants are small in stature and prefer not to have wet feet, which makes them perfect for high tunnel production.  Fruit do not hold on the plant particularly well either, so you want to keep them picked at early to mid stages of ripeness.  Waiting too long tends to result in splits or issues with the fruit. 

2. Black Cherry Tomato
If you look at the photo to the right of this text, you will see the walking path between our cherry tomatoes (left) and our snack tomatoes (right).  Sweet alyssum plants can be seen peaking out at the base of these plants.

We had a late start for everything on the farm in 2019, including our high tunnel tomatoes.  Rather than waste time recounting all of our 'woes' lets stick with the positives that led us to put Black Cherry near the top of our 2019 Veg Variety list!

We favor cherry tomatoes that are larger simply because the small varieties are a real pain for us to keep harvested.  Black Cherry is the largest of the 'black/purple' cherries that we have tried and it mixes well with Tommy Toe and Hartmann's Yellow Gooseberry.  It isn't terribly difficult to pick these and get the stems off of them as long as you stay with the harvest on a regular basis.  If fruit get a bit over-ripe you are going to have more difficulties. 

Production levels for Black Cherry plants are typically a bit lower than the red and yellow varieties, but that is easily solved by planting 4 plants for every five of the other types.  These plants are often a little bit smaller and wispier in form, but they are still cherry tomatoes, nearly reaching the top of the high tunnel this season.  But, the real reason we grow them is simple: they taste amazing.

1. Redwing Onion
Redwing onions after cleaning
Oh look!  An onion!

Yes, we did increase our onion production in 2019 with the anticipation that we would expand sales outlets for this crop.  In the process, we tried a couple of other red onion varieties just to make sure we were not missing anything.  It turns out that we were not missing much since Redwing blew the competition out of the water EVEN after it was insulted by being planted later than the rest.  We are sorry Redwing, you showed us, yet again, that you belong among the most honored of veg varieties at the Genuine Faux Farm.

Our Redwings easily averaged a half pound with some coming in just under a pound.  Redwing has shown over time that it likes our soils and it can tolerate the wetter soil conditions we have been experiencing over past several years.  Redwing can tolerate a little weed pressure, but like all onions, it won't size up if you give competing plants an equal footing.

Redwing tends to 'fall-over' within a period of ten days with maybe 1% refusing to fall.  For those who are not as familiar with onion production, we like to wait for the stems to weaken just over the bulb and we consider them ready to harvest when the stems are lying on the ground for 90% of the bed.  Redwings are decent storing onions and they maintain their quality well into January - sometimes February.  We usually don't have any left by the time we get into mid-February so we can't say much more about that.

Thank you!
We appreciate all those who read our blog and consider what we have to say about the things we grow.