Sunday, September 25, 2022

Planting A Seed - Postal History Sunday

Welcome to Postal History Sunday, featured weekly on the Genuine Faux Farm blog and the GFF Postal History blog.  If you take this link, you can view every edition of Postal History Sunday, starting with this one (the most recent always shows up at the top).

This week, you're all going to get a peek at another side of my life.  A place where pieces of postal history connect with our small-scale, diversified farm (the Genuine Faux Farm).  This time around, Postal History Sunday will focus more on the illustrations on the covers, than we will the postal markings.

It was not that long ago, in the grand scheme of things, that multiple seed houses could be found in every state in the US.  Most seed houses had their own breeding programs and might tout some of their best varieties in their advertising.  

Wide Range of Breeding Programs

The Faxon Squash is listed in the Biodiversity Heritage Library as being introduced in 1894.  And here we have an advertising cover mailed in December of 1893 featuring that squash.  This item was mailed from Saugus, Massachusetts - the home of M.B. Faxon Company to a Miss Marion Faxon, who must have traveled to Aiken, South Carolina for an unknown (to us) reason.  While this was probably a use of an advertising cover between members of family, we can still be grateful that they were willing to use (and then keep) these envelopes so we can see what they look like today.

Shown above is a page from their 1894 catalogue that is made available by the Biodiversity Heritage Library.  The catalogue itself certainly features some of the varieties they specialized in, but they also offered seeds from other companies, such as Burpee.  This was a pretty common practice.  A seed company would focus on producing particular seed varieties (which this company referred to as "Faxon's specialties) and they might also work on breeding programs.  To provide a broader seed offering to their customers, seed companies like this one would often would rely on other seed producers.

If you read the text for the catalogue introduction of the Faxon Squash (shown below), this was apparently their first success at developing their own squash variety that they felt was worth marketing.

The M.B. Faxon Company had a fairly widespread distribution of their catalogs in the late 1800s - so we should not make the assumption that a this seed house only sold locally.  However, the sheer number of seed houses throughout the world meant there were many more locations and organizations seeking to select for varieties that did well under regional growing conditions.  From our own experience, we can provide you with anecdotes where a variety that went by the same name from one seed house did poorly at our farm while that same variety from another seed house did well.  In fact, we often find that seed produced in our own region (if we can find it) is better adapted to our farm.

Perhaps a short side-bar would be of interest right now?  If a seed producer desires to grow seed of a known variety, they will plant a crop with that seed and go through a process called selection as that crop progresses.  Any plant that does not look "true to type" is removed, as are weaker plants.  The idea is to select seed from those plants that are the strongest and exhibit the best qualities of the vegetable variety being grown.  Faxon was selecting seed for their "specialty varieties."

The Faxon Squash was a different matter.  This seed company was developing a hybrid by carefully cross-pollinating existing squash varieties.  This process can be a major undertaking because the pollination process is often done by hand - and multiple trials usually have to occur at the same time to see which results in the kind of fruit/plant that is desired.  Then, you have to hope that the seeds from these crosses would come back true to type, thus creating a new variety of squash.

The very nature of growing to produce seed implies careful attention to how the plants grow and how hybrid crosses pan out as they are developed.  Can you imagine how many different breeding and selection projects were running concurrently in the United States with multiple seed houses in most states?

As far as I have been able to tell, the M.B. Faxon company seems to have stopped publishing catalogues in the early 1900s and I am not sure if any strains of the "Faxon Squash" might survive today.  On the other hand, I CAN show you that we do grow several varieties on our farm that have a long history.  They are often referred to as heirloom and heritage seed.  Shown above is the Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato squash, which is a type of acorn squash. 

A.H.Ansley and Sons Hits the 'Big-time'

Shown above is another illustrated envelope with two cents of postage paying the internal letter mail rate in 1893.  This item was sent to the Perkins Wind Mill Company in Mishawaka, Indiana, by the seed company in Milo Centre, New York.  A pencil notation on the side reads, "I want a mill with graphic bearings." This would seem to indicate that this was not an offer to sell seed, but rather a request to purchase equipment.

As mentioned earlier, there were many more seed houses and they came in all sorts of sizes with many kinds of specialty crops.  Some of the smaller, more local seed producers, such as A.H. Ansley and Sons might concentrate on developing and growing out particular crops for seed.  Every so often, these companies might hit on a winner.

The smaller, local producers wouldn't necessarily have the publicity to push a particular strain, but there were certainly larger concerns, such as W. Atlee Burpee & Co that might be willing to purchase the rights to introduce it to the public at large.  Some things may be no different then that they are now, as I suspect Burpee introduced the "Perfection Wax" without giving any direct praise to Ansley.

There is evidence, however, that Ansley & Son was still in business in 1900 and they were still focusing on wax and pole beans.  The following was in the US Department of Agriculture - Division of Entomology, Bulletin No. 33 prepared F. H. Chittendon and published in 1902.

June 18, 1900, we again received specimens of beetles... with report that they were injurious to several acres of white pole beans at Milo Center, N. Y. Our correspondent, Mr. A. H. Ansley, stated that nearly one- fourth of the plants above ground at the time of writing were riddled by the insects. Attack was first noticed June 16. when only an occa- sional plant was being eaten, but at the date of writing many more of the beetles were seen, and the first plants infested were dried and crisp except a young center leaf just budding out. Sweet corn and other plants in the vicinity appeared to be exempt from attack.

The report above was in reference to the Smartweed Flea Beetle.  It's just a reminder that pests, weeds and diseases are not a new thing and it is also a reminder that nature tends to have its way with monocrop (single crop type) systems.

The Myth of Perfect Veggies Has Long Tradition

Here is an 1898 envelope featuring carrots offered by the Lohrman Seed Company in Detroit, Michigan.  You might want to note that Lohrman touts themselves as "Seed Growers and Merchants," making it clear that they both grow out seed and sell that seed to the public.  Not all seed producers created catalogs with the intent of selling to the public.  Some might, perhaps, simply grow out plants to produce seed under contract for other companies who would then sell the seed.

It is true that a grower of produce wishes that a significant portion of the crop looks like the perfect picture that is always shown in the catalog (or in this case, the perfect carrots on the envelope).  But, perfect looks have never guaranteed satisfactory taste.  Nonetheless, it is clear that consumers have always had a problem accepting that a tasty carrot just might not have that perfect wedge shape.

Lohrman's 1922 catalogue features a carrot type (Chantenay) that might well have been the model for the advertising design on our envelope.  The introduction to that catalog touts their forty years of experience, which clearly confirms their existence at the time this letter was mailed.

The letter was mailed to Cuddy-Falls Company in Amherstburg, Ontario (Canada).  According to the 1899 Essex County Business Directory, Cuddy-Falls were bankers.  Maybe the bankers wanted to grow some carrots? Perhaps they wanted to invest in their own health and well-being.


We came in Saturday evening after completing our farm chores and reflected on the squash harvest (butternut in this case) we had just pulled in earlier in the day.  My mind was on the farm and on growing produce, so it should not be a surprise that I should fall back on this topic when faced with the reality that Sunday was only a few hours away.

I hope you enjoyed today's installment of Postal History Sunday.  Have a good remainder of your day and a fine week to come!

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato Squash

We featured Orangeglo watermelon a few weeks ago and received some positive feedback.  And, you know how that goes.  Give the farmer a little positive energy and he suddenly wants to do something to show that it is a good thing

Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato squash

During our first few years at the Genuine Faux Farm, longer season squash were difficult to grow primarily because of the insect pressure.  But, we stuck with our plans for developing a more balanced habitat (among other things) and now we are reasonably successful with our squash crops.  Some of the easier squash to grow are in the family C. pepo, which include zucchini, summer squash and acorn squash.  Shorter season crops reduce the odds that they will be exposed to hazards, such as pests, disease and weather, and the members of this family mature earlier than those in C.moschata (butternut for example) or C.maxima (buttercup are an example of these).

In general, acorn squash can be very productive, producing many one to two pound fruits.  The most popular acorn squashes look like the traditional variety Table Queen, which was apparently introduced by the Iowa Seed Company in 1913.  You can see some Table Queens at the bottom left of this picture from our farm in 2006 or 2007.

Now, I have to admit that I tend to prefer the taste and texture of buttercup and butternut type squashes.  So, I can be a bit more picky about the taste of an acorn squash.  Well, it turned out that Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato has a less grainy texture and a better taste than Table Queen and all of the hybrids that have followed it.  So, if we're going to grow acorn squash, Thelma has won every trial at our farm.

Thelma is an heirloom variety that was shared with Seed Savers and they have consistently offered the seed.  Their full description can be found here, but I give some of the highlights below:

(C. pepo)  Originally from Thelma Sanders of Kirksville, Missouri. Wonderful cream-colored acorn squash. Sweet chestnut flavor, enormously productive. Thelma described this good keeper as ‘better than sweet potatoes.’ 85-90 days.

While I don't pretend that these squash are "better than" sweet potatoes - because sweet potatoes are sweet potatoes - I will state that Thelma Sanders squash are the best tasting acorn type squash I have had and they grow very well at the Genuine Faux Farm.  With our cultivation practices and soils, Thelma has outperformed each green acorn squash we have tried.  These plants seem to handle a wider range of seasonal conditions, produce more fruit per row foot and have a larger average fruit size.

We typically get two marketable fruit per row foot for a poor to average growing year and might get more during an excellent year.  But, the real difference between a poor and excellent year is typically fruit size.  This past year was a bit dry and we did not irrigate, so the fruit averaged 1.8 pounds. We have had really good years where fruit size is closer to 2.3 pounds on average, which is quite large for acorn squash.

The best way to make sure you can fail with Thelma Sanders is to let the weeds near the root zone out-compete the vines.  Don't get me wrong.  These plants are tough enough that you don't have to have a perfect, weed-free environment.  But, if you let grasses, in particular, get a foothold near the roots of Thelma Sanders' vines, then you won't get much for squash.

The other way to fail?  Have so much rain that the plants are in standing water for days on end.  Yup - they aren't a good pond plant, I guess.

Otherwise, Thelma Sanders works well with bare soil or mulched ground.  Their vines are moderate in length.  So, unlike some vines that can really wander, Thelma Sanders tends to stay (mostly) in the area you provide them.  A good hedge of zinnias or borage will definitely head them off and keep them in their appointed space.  We even had a row of calendula hold the line one year - though that was a near thing.

Thelmas ready to harvest in 2022

Here is, perhaps, the best endorsement I can give this particular variety.  We were asked if we would be willing to grow acorn squash in 2022 as part of our limited repertoire.  We only said "yes" on the condition that they would allow us to grow THIS variety.  We were aware that the prospective customer might not accept this because most people believe acorn squash MUST have dark green skin.  Once we got past that hurdle, we entered the season with high confidence that we could produce what was needed using Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato squash.

Are there any disadvantages to this particular variety?  

One that comes to mind is that lighter skin shows blemishes far more readily than the dark black/green skin of other acorn squash.  So, if appearance is a key factor for marketing, that could play against it.  Also, the range of sizes and shapes might be a bit inconsistent if you compare it to some of the modern acorn squash hybrids that concern themselves with uniformity.  Also, if you are concerned that the stems stay on the squash, you will find that they tend to pop off of these fruit pretty easily at harvest time.  I actually find that to be a plus for processing, but it may provide an opportunity for a breach in storage that might reduce the length of time that it keeps its eating quality.

Still, storage is fine, usually getting us into January.  Typically, we don't look for any of the C.pepo fruits to last all that long anyway.

But, we're in it for the taste, texture and reliability.  Something you don't always find with open pollinated varieties.  But, you do get it with this one.

Have a great day everyone!

Friday, September 23, 2022

Giving Gifts


There is one person in particular (other than myself) who must carry much of the burden of hearing my unedited self.  This person often hears the words that escape my lips before I recapture them and turn them over a time or two before either reconsidering their worth or giving them the freedom of my voice or the recognition of their appearance on paper or electronic screen.

You see, when you read things on this blog, they have been considered.  They have been prodded and poked.  They have been filtered and sorted.  And many, many more words have been rejected as well.  

There are far more words on the editing floor than there ever will be in the blog posts or other writings I have produced or ever will produce in my lifetime.

And, even with all of that process, words and thoughts are expressed that I am sometimes less than proud of having, much less sharing.  Which makes me consider all of the words on the "cutting room floor" and those times when the editing machine is broken, or unplugged, or otherwise ignored.

So, in honor of a personal anniversary, I offer the gift of gratitude to all who are willing to deal with my unedited self.  But, in particular, I honor Tammy, my partner in life, who hears me the most when I am less than my best.

For the willingness to share in the process of refining and editing the words and the thoughts, I give thanks and gratitude.  That's a gift I continue to treasure.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Blessings of Poo

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

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

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

Portable Poo Factories on the job.

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

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

The irony of that statement is that, now that we've scaled back, we could probably do more of this sort of thing (move land to pasture and move land out of pasture).  It's just going to take some thought and planning to figure out how to make it work from a labor perspective.

Going back to the topic at hand, in 2016 - 2018, we were realizing that we needed to try and get more growing space moved to the interior of the farm (because of chemical drift issues among other things). So, we purposely started putting chickens in this area to build up fertility using the Portable Poo Factories.  After all, if they'll spread it for us AND give us eggs?  

Well, it sounds like a good deal to me.

early March 2018

This area actually had a bit more history since we had to dig a fairly deep trench in the Spring of 2015 to run frost-free water lines out to Valhalla (the high tunnel on the right in this picture).  You might actually be able to see some of the path this trench took if you look carefully and you can definitely still see the remnants of a dirt pile that has yet to be redistributed to better locations in the center.  We were actually gearing up to do some work in this area in March until...

Late March 2018
We did manage to put some plastic down roughly where we wanted to add a new growing plot before the white stuff started to fall on the farm.  If you don't recall, we got most of our snow from March 20 to April 20 in 2017/2018.  

April 2018

This really put us a bit in doubt as to whether we would have time to work up the new plot.  First of all, the plot did have a bit of a dip in the middle that was wetter than the rest.  We were thinking we might try to raise that up a bit.  Second, we are encroaching a bit on "old farmstead" area where old foundations (among other things) might be encountered.  We knew there was good soil there as well, but any time you try to work new ground, you have to expect some surprises (both good and bad).

June 2018

Our old approach to work this ground would have been to use the two-bottom plow and follow up with the tandem disk to smooth it out.  But, we had put plastic down, so we pulled it and mowed things as close as we could.  Then, we used Vince (our power harrow) because we were curious as to what it could do AND we were running short on time.  At issue is that we do not want to overwork the soil and lose all the good Poo Byproduct (aka added fertility) that should be in this area.  The result was what you see above. 

We did find more rocks than we usually do on the farm, but things worked up pretty well.  Unfortunately, the delays put us into the period of time where everything was wet.  So, we ended up having to work the field before we should have and the soil structure is now a bit rough and pebbly for the season.

late July
Even though these tomato plants went in later than we wanted, they were catching up to the normal schedule fairly quickly.  It was be interesting to see how they compared to similar plants put into another area of the farm in plots that have been worked for a few years (and are closer to the edges of the farm).
The net result was that we had much better health and production from these plants.  Part of it had to do with the Portable Poo Factories.  Part of it might have been a bit more protection from some of the chemicals flying around.  This plot became one of our more productive areas from 2018 to 2021 - and we let it rest in 2022.  And, perhaps, I'll move the hens on to this plot for a little while again this Fall?  

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


Much of this post was originally written in August 2018 and is part of our Throwback series.  It has been edited and expanded on in places to bring it to the current day.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Three Weeks

It was just three weeks ago that we entered the month of September, and I've only just gotten used to the idea that we are actually residing in that month.  I am still startled to notice that schools are in session and that Tammy is now fully into the semester at the college.  I am both dismayed and a bit alarmed that the sun comes up later each day and goes down sooner.  There are tasks that I told myself should be easy to get done during the month that I have not even started and there are changes I promised I would make that are still promises - but not reality.

Three weeks.  It doesn't seem like much time at all - yet it can be all the time in the world.

The first days of April this year brought snowfall to the Genuine Faux Farm.  The big, fluffy flakes floated down from above and drew me outside with the camera to see if I could capture a pleasing image or two.  Even if they weren't the nicest pictures in the world, they served as an excellent reminder of what was at that time.  

There was a moment, as I stood outside and the flakes landed on my hands and head (well, hat actually), that time felt like it stopped.  There was silence - except for the sound a snowflake makes when it lands.

But, then I blinked.

And three weeks had passed.  There was no snow.  The grass had greened.  Some of the earliest plants were starting to show interest in waking and displaying their greenery.

The sun woke us up earlier each and every day - unless it was shy and hid behind the clouds.  And, that same sun found more to see in our landscape, so it stuck around a bit longer into the evening - painting the sky as it finally admitted it had seen enough this time around.

Three weeks and the world had changed enough that a stranger might not recognize that they were in the same place that had existed just twenty-one days ago.

Three weeks is about how long it takes for a Barn Swallow chick to hatch and grow big enough for it to take its first flight.  In three days more, it has likely left the nest for good.  In three weeks, we can see the first German-bearded Iris bloom and, sometimes the last for the season.  It's a special bloom season when we see them for four weeks.  We often transplant lettuce seedlings we started in trays after a little more than three weeks.  

Going back to our Barn Swallow friends, they are currently migrating, typically leaving our farm in September (we usually see the last of them on September 15, but many leave September 1st).  They travel an average of 55 miles a day, so in three weeks they will have covered approximately 1,155 miles.  That is approximately the distance from our farm to Galveston, Texas. 

Three weeks.  So little time - and so much.  I can either allow myself to be upset that so much has changed, but I have not accomplished what I wanted OR I can be encouraged and I can think about what I will be able to do in the next three weeks.

Because a lot can change over that period of time.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Miss it - Sort of

Just a few years ago, we were still doing the Farm Share CSA program.  That meant that I had shares to deliver twice a week for 36 to 38 weeks of the year.  In addition, there were egg and other sales the rest of the season. That meant that it was typical for me, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, to hook up a cart to Rosie, the tractor, grab a batch of harvest containers, some tunes, a clipboard and a scale - and go out to harvest whatever was ready (and needed).

Of course, Fall usually meant there were additional harvest tasks that had to occur on the other days.  So, nearly every September day had some sort of harvesting going on.

Like all things of this nature, there was a certain amount of stress that came along for the ride.  Would there be enough of each crop so everyone could get a nice share of it?  Will the quality be up to my standards so I could feel good about what I was providing?  Could I get it all done so that I could clean, pack, load and go - in time?  The answer there was that we were often late during September because my helpers had all gone to their various schools.

The days are getting significantly shorter, but the work could still fill a July day's sunlit hours.

Over the last couple of years, I find that I am having trouble just finding time and energy to do farm things.  But, when I do, I am reminded that I do enjoy the harvest.  Especially, of course, if it is a reasonably good one.

But, I am also pretty sure that I don't have the desire to go back to the way it was either.

So, here we are again.  Looking for balance.  How much of this can I set myself up to do in the future so I can still enjoy the harvest... until I cross the line into being stressed by having too much of a good thing?

This year, we had a nice acorn squash, watermelon and pumpkin harvest.  Several other things have done fine.  And others - not so good.  But we do have more data to consider so we can keep working on finding the answer to the eternal Genuine Faux Farm question.

How much is the right amount of "much?"  

Well, we know one thing for certain.  Next year will be different.


Monday, September 19, 2022

Ripples on the Pond

I was out doing some morning farm work when I looked and saw a significant smoke trail on the horizon.  It is certainly not the first time I've seen a smoke trail, but this one struck me because it had fooled me when I glanced out the window earlier in the morning into thinking the day was going to be very hazy.  Well, it was a little bit hazy, I suppose, but really it was more clear than anything.  

Now, before I go much further, let me assure you that this was not a house or barn fire - there appeared to be no emergency in progress.  Instead, it was a deliberate burn and I will give no more details than that - because that's not the point.

The point is this:

How often do we take an action and either fail to consider how it will impact others or simply decide to ignore the ripples that result when we throw a stone into the pond?

Just look how far that smoke had traveled from this single point.  It's a great example of what a temperature inversion (warmer air acting as a cap for cooler air and preventing smoke from rising further off the ground).

Tammy and I like to have our windows open, especially at night.  Unfortunately, there have been many times we have been awoken to the smell of smoke that causes one of us to get up to investigate in case we have a problem.  Usually, the smoke is from someone's fire miles away that has been capped by just such an inversion.  And, I am pretty certain that those who lit that little fire to burn their trash (or whatever) did not consider who else might be affected by what they were doing at that moment. 

But, this is not a rant about people burning things on days where there is a temperature inversion.  After all, where does that smoke go when there isn't a warm-air cap?  It goes higher into the atmosphere - along with so many other things we like to spew out into the air.  Eventually, it comes down in rain.  So, it's not as if it disappears.  It's still there.  And there is no telling where it will eventually land.

The point is this.  The things one person puts into the air (smoke from fires, pesticides, vehicle emissions - you name it) can impact places that are far away.  The ripples each of us make on the pond can make a difference in the lives of other people, places and things.

And we seem to have a difficult time taking that reality seriously.


What you are seeing now is a close-up picture of one of our ash trees that died after the Emerald Ash Borer came and infested all of the ash trees in our area.  The borer larvae essentially burrow (and eat) their way through the part of the tree just under the outer bark, where water and nutrients are transported to the branches and leaves.  The net result is that the tree dies.  This has been devastating in our area because there were a significant number of ashes on farmsteads and woods.

The Emerald Ash Borer originated in Russia and northern China and was first identified in the US in 2002.  The likely vector for travel was wood used in cargo ships for packing and crating consumer goods.  Now - 20 years later - we're lucky to find any ash trees that aren't dead or dying in Iowa.

The ripples on the pond have reached our shores.

How did it happen?  I'm sure we'll never know. And it isn't important that we pinpoint who made the decisions or made the mistakes that led to the use of infested wood for packaging.

Someone took a shortcut to get a job done that they were being pressured to do.  Someone decided that expending more effort, time or resources to make sure lumber was not infested was not worthwhile.  Someone wasn't even aware Emerald Ash Borers were a thing.  Or maybe someone decided it wasn't worthwhile to read through all of the restrictions for packing materials (that might have alerted them to the problem) because it was annoying and infringed on their rights to just get things done the way they wanted to do it.

After all, people don't often see these far flung results - the ripples that wash ashore somewhere else to become someone else's problems.  Besides, they're probably too busy being worried and bothered by the waves someone else has created that are flooding their own lives.

Happily, not all ripples in the pond are unwelcome.

I've noticed that some of the ditches on the gravel roads in our area have been exhibiting more flowers over the past several years.  A neighbor a half mile down the road put in many acres of pollinator habitat that includes these flowers.  It appears that one unintended (and welcome) consequence is that these flowers are showing up in ditches around us.

This is the great equalizer that we desperately need to remind ourselves of.  If you, or I, or someone else does something with forethought, wisdom and good intent, those ripples can also find their way to distant and unknown shores.

When we take the time to consider the consequences, both negative and positive, and we act on the positives - there is no telling how many lives and places may benefit in the end.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Oh, The Places You Can Go - Postal History Sunday

Welcome to Postal History Sunday, featured weekly on the Genuine Faux Farm blog and the GFF Postal History blog.  If you take this link, you can view every edition of Postal History Sunday, starting with this one (the most recent always shows up at the top).

The title of this week's entry might make you think of Dr. Seuss and the his final publication, Oh, The Places You'll Go - and that would be intentional on my part.  For that matter, if you are needing a little bit more Dr. Seuss in your life, the link I provided in the prior sentence goes to a Youtube reading of that particular book.  There's even an activity at the end!

Once you've had the chance to have Oh, The Places You'll Go read to you, maybe you'll remember to come back and finish reading this week's Postal History Sunday.  This week, I wanted to have a little fun and explore the places we can go (virtually) when we look at a piece of postal history.

You can go to Peru if you want to

I recognize that not everyone is willing or able to physically travel around the globe to visit the wonders that exist out there.  Yet, if we want, we can explore the world and its history virtually by looking at, studying, and researching pieces of postal history.  And, it's not even required that these pieces be expensive collector's items, though some certainly are.  An inexpensive item can capture your imagination and you can find yourself transported to a different time and a different place.

This first item was mailed in San Francisco on October 3, 1865 where it boarded a steamship to Panama.  From there, the letter took another steamship under British contract that made several stops on the South American coastline.  The postage rate for mail from the US to Peru was 22 cents per 1/2 ounce (Dec 1856 - Sep 1867), so the 24 cent stamp was clearly a convenience over-payment.  The red "12" at the top left indicates that 12 cents of the postage was due to the British for their efforts.

Actually, this particular cover allows us to travel back to a time when Peru, San Francisco and Italy intersected.  According to the paper referenced as "the Cerruti report" (1st page shown above), Nicola Larco was a prominent Italian in San Francisco beginning in 1849 - during the Gold Rush.  Larco was born in Genoa, Italy in 1818 and initially emigrated to Peru before coming to San Francisco.  For a period of almost two decades, Larco and Domenico Ghirardelli were the prominent leaders of the Italian community in San Francisco.  And, yes, I do mean the Ghirardelli that led to the present day chocolate company.

Wow, we went from saying we'd talk about Peru to chocolate all of a sudden.  It might be that kind of Postal History Sunday.  Who knows what places we will go with this next?  Not me! I'm just along for the ride that the stories take me on!

The Peru connection with Nicola Larco is fairly obvious if you look at the address, a business that must have been headed by a relative.  In fact, Larco served as the consul for Chile in San Francisco at this time.  It was not uncommon for a person with business connections to serve as a consul for another nation in larger cities.  For example, the US might have a foreign consul in cities like Cairo, Paris, and, yes, Lima to represent their business interests in those cities.

But, why did Larco go to Chile in the first place?  What sets up the scenario where he would be doing business with a relative that remained in Lima while he was based in San Francisco?  

Well, it turns out that there were centuries of connection between Peru and Italy, specifically Genoa, where Larco was born.  According to Fare l’America ou apprendre à y vivre ? L’immigration italienne au Pérou by Mario Pera:

The first Italians to arrive in Peru came with the Spanish army of conquest in the 16th century as a result of an alliance between the Kingdom of Spain and the Republic of Genoa. This is the reason why the first Italian immigrants to Peru came from Liguria (the region around Genoa), and predominantly from Genoa, birthplace of the expert sailors recruited by the Catholic Monarchs who captained the Spanish ships bound for America.

Well.  I could stop this Postal History Sunday right there because I just learned not one, but a few new things! But, I am still curious what other places we can go today.

You could ride a camel in the Sudan

I am hopeful that those who read this blog, but feel like postal history is a hobby beyond their reach, might reconsider as I share this next envelope sent from Sudan to the United States.  This particular item cost me a couple of dollars to purchase and I expect if I were to sell it that it would not get much more in return.  However, I have gotten a significant amount of entertainment and learning value out of it.

In fact, this February 7, 2021 PHS entry focuses on this particular cover - and I encourage you to read it if you want to learn more.  The cover was mailed in Khartoum in 1939 and went via Egypt to get to the United States.  The postage stamp design catches your imagination in a new way - perhaps even transporting you to that place along the Nile River where a postman might actually ride a camel to deliver the mail.

The story of the creation of this design, according to the Stanley Gibbons firm, was that the designer, Captain E.A. Stanton, saw the arrival of the regimental post via camel, instead of the normal riverboat delivery.  This inspired him to create this proposed design for the new stamps of Sudan to be used as the English asserted their control in that region. 

feel free to click on the map for a larger version

But, it isn't just the camels, it's the allure and history of the Nile River, which this cover likely traveled next to and probably ON during some of its voyage!

Ride a Viking ship in Estonia

I prefer to focus on the pre-UPU period (before 1875) of postal history and I really pay the most attention to the 1860's.  That doesn't mean I won't appreciate other items - especially when there is an opportunity to learn something new and maybe take a virtual trip at the same time!

My postal history hobby has its roots in stamp collecting (philately) and I can be influenced by certain stamp designs that got my attention at an earlier point in my life.   The Viking ship issue of 1919-1920 from Estonia is one such stamp.  So, when I found this item being offered for less than my lunch was going to cost, I decided it was okay to take it home with me.

The issue with things like this is that I am not knowledgeable about the rates and routes for this area during the early 1900s.   However, I was fortunate to find a very useful website compiled by Sijtze Reurich that provides all of the Estonian rates for this period. 

image from the Nordic Estonia site

Before you visit this site, let me prepare you a bit.  It contains a LOT of raw postage rate data and represents a great deal of effort.  If you want to go there to just read and enjoy, this is not the site for you.  It IS the site for you if you are wondering specifically about postage rates that include a period of hyper-inflation - where postage rates were changing over a period of days, rather than years!  In short, this is very much a reference site - and a good one at that.

According to the tables I found there, this cover was a proper payment (10 marka) for a simple letter weighing no more than 20 grams (Apr 10, 1921 - Oct 31, 1922). 

Vikings are usually associated with the coastal regions of Norway, Sweden and Finland.  For that matter, I suspect many people simply think of coastal Norway as the place where the Vikings hopped on ships to do their plundering and pillaging of surrounding coastal regions.  Well, the Estonian Vikings play an important role in the history of the whole.

According to the Nordic Estonia site, the people from the largest Estonian island were known as Oeselians and were referred to in Norse Icelandic sagas as "vikings from Estonia" or  "Víkingr frá Esthland."  The piratica was a warship that featured a high prow with a dragon or snake head and a four-sided sail and is featured on the postage stamps used to pay the postage to mail this letter.

Ice in India

The places we can go and the things we will see might include visiting an ice house in, of all places, Calcutta, India, in 1861.  The folded letter shown above was mailed in Boston late January and arrived in London on February 6th.  It took another month to find its way to Calcutta.

The postage paid was five cents, represented by the brown postage stamp at top right and the remainder of the postage was paid by Caleb Ladd.  This is a case where the "open mail" provision of the United States / United Kingdom agreement was used.  The sender in the US only had to pay for the portion of the postage that was under the US Postal Office's control.  In this case, the letter entered the control of the British Post at the point it boarded the ship named "America" in Boston.  This meant Mr. Ladd had to pay the postage for all of the services from the point the letter boarded the boat in Boston to the point it was placed in his hand.  

engraving from the Graphic, Nov 1880

Caleb Ladd was the agent for the Tudor Ice Company from 1837 into the 1860s, when the ice trade reached its peak.  Ice was harvested from Massachusetts and shipped to India.  One of the first such ships sent by Tudor started with 180 tons of ice and arrived with only 100 tons (due to melting, of course), but the trip was still quite profitable.

This interesting article by David Dickason discusses some of the reasons for the decline of this trade in the late 1860s into the 1870s.  Among the causes was the a trend towards less severe winters in the areas where ice was being harvested.  Another direct contributor to this decline, cited by Dickason, was the introduction of technologies that could manufacture ice.  Why ship a bunch of blocks of ice when you have a piece of equipment that will make what you want? 

The decline was precipitous enough that the ice house referenced on this cover was dismantled in 1882, according to the Calcutta Review.

If you would like a more complete summary of ice houses in India, this link to the Heritage Lab might be of interest to you.


There you are!  A few examples of how postal history artifacts can lead us to interesting stories that have to do with the people, places and times that surrounds each item.  Certainly, the process of collecting ice from a lake not far from Boston and sending it to Calcutta is not necessary to discuss the postal history of the letter to India.  It doesn't really matter horribly much that we know anything about Estonian Vikings or camel riders in Khartoum or Genoans in Lima, Peru if we only want to look at the postal history aspects of the first three items.  We can still look at these pieces of old mail and learn about the postage rates, regulations and processes without these extra pieces of information.

But, when we do take the time to explore the stories outside and around postal history, we do two things:

  1. We add color, depth, and interest to each item.  Suddenly, a person does not have to be deeply interested in postage rates, or things like - "which ship did this sail on?" to be interested.  Instead, the postal details are a part of a larger, more interesting whole that can attract more people to the story.
  2. We provide evidence that can support our observations regarding the postal history particulars of a given item.  For example, it makes sense that the Peruvian consul in San Francisco might be willing to overpay the postage once in a while because it is a convenience. Because, surely one letter out of many is not going to be that much of a financial strain because it is a cost of doing business.

Oh, the places you can go when you pick up a piece of postal history and start to explore it.

Thank you for joining me for Postal History Sunday.  Have a good remainder of your day and a wonderful week to come!

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Soothing Sounds

In the last few months of her life, Hobnob seemed to take more solace with sitting in a paper sack than she did for most of her life up to that point.  She didn't need to be there for long, but when she wanted to be in a sack, she would push it along the floor until she could manage to get it to open up enough so she could crawl in.

I have noticed that Bree has decided making paper sacks make that "paper sack sound" when you step on them to be a good thing now that Hobnob is gone.  I'm not sure if Bree finds that to be soothing, but it's been a thing.

As we approached the new school year (now a couple of weeks prior to this blog posting) Tammy spent increasing amounts of time on the computer, trying to get things ready.  The end of August and beginning of September has traditionally been a stressful time at the Genuine Faux Farm - in large part because it is important for Tammy to start the school year off on the right foot.  And, it also means that the farm gets less and less of her attention - even if she would like to get out there and do some things!

In an effort to help, I created a nice long playlist of songs that I knew Tammy likes.  But not just songs she likes - songs that can be soothing, that might aid concentration, and, perhaps, help us find success in the work we are doing.

It's not a paper sack, but it seems to work for both of us.  So, here are some soothing sounds from that play list.  Maybe you will enjoy a few.  And, yes, this list goes to eleven.

Love is Not the Only Thing - Mark Heard

Lights - Journey

The Color of Dreams - Derry Daugherty

Sing in Portuguese - Randy Stonehill

The Sound of Silence - Disturbed

Benedictus - 2Cellos

The Dreams of Children - Shadowfax

View of the Islands - Iona

I Radio Heaven - Over the Rhine

Dixie Storms - Lone Justice

A Quiet Little Place - 77's

Have a good Saturday - and may you find music that soothes you as well.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Artistry in Nature

Tammy and I were talking together and solving all of the world problems, something the two of us are particularly good at - especially if we are not forced to actually test our solutions in the laboratory that is real life.  But, we do come up with some worthwhile ideas between the two of us.  Sometimes they are things we can actually implement - and sometimes they are ideas that we think might be interesting for others to try.

During our "Brief Escape" that was (gasp) actually a month ago now, we made lots of time to talk about things we don't often discuss during our often full days at the farm and with our off-farm jobs.  One of those topics was inspired by our observations at a Mississippi River overlook.  We were happily looking at the river AND enjoying seeing a couple of birds we don't see at the farm AND observing all of the insect life on some nearby goldenrod.  We also observed a family (with three-generations represented) piling out of their vehicle for the obligatory family photo op.  

Then they piled back in and drove away.

As we watched, we saw the phones coming back out as the kids found their seats - and we both thought it was a missed opportunity.

After all, if people are going to have "phones" attached to them all the time, perhaps we should be finding ways to encourage their use to learn, explore and interact.  What if the parents had challenged the kids to spend fifteen minutes and take different pictures, record different sounds or create a mini-video talking about what they were seeing?  What if, this time around, they all focused on finding SMALL things or looking at things UP CLOSE.  Like the rind of the Orangeglow watermelon I took the picture of (and that is shown at the top of this blog)?

What if - instead of texting friends constantly or watching Youtube, parents helped to set a theme to explore - using those phones as a tool for that exploration.

Today, let's explore color!  Take pictures of the sky during a sunset.  Tomorrow, let's explore textures.  The next day, let's find a new (to us) living creature and take a picture or video it.  Take the time to try to use internet resources to identify what it is and what it eats.  

If that phone has to be ubiquitous, then let's find ways to make it a more positive part of our world.  In fact, it could help us to connect to that world even more.

Tammy and I do not typically use our phones in this way, but we do use our digital camera when we go different places and sometimes when we walk about the farm.  Simply holding the camera in my hand encourages me to slow down and look for different things and different ways of LOOKING AT things.  And when I actually come up with a decent photo or recording, I am often encouraged to learn more about what I am seeing.

Then, after I see some success, I find that I get interested in exploring more and learning more.  Suddenly, I feel like I want to share some of these neat things with others.  And, it just happens we have a farm blog that allows me to do just that.

You know what?  It doesn't matter if the person wielding the phone is a kid or not.  I think we could all benefit from exercising our curiosity for the world around us a bit more.  Get out there with your phones, or cameras, or.... heck, maybe just your eyes and ears.  

Take a look around.  Cultivate your senses of awe and wonder.

And check out the Rudbeckia triloba that is growing wild out by the winter squash.  They're looking pretty good this year!

And if you want to identify some of your plant pictures, you can try using Pl@ntNet Identify or  Candide.  They both appeared to agree on this identification for the photo shown below.  Or, if you really want to use your phone, check out this list.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Keep On Blooming!

Every year we do as much as we are able to extend the bloom season of flowers on the farm.  We make it a goal to provide food for pollinators and other beneficial critters for as much as the season as we are able. 


Well, it seems obvious to us that the surrounding fields of corn and soybean are less than ideal for most of these critters.  There is minimal diversity in habitat in those fields and a very limited bloom season (therefore limited food resources).  When you add the application of chemicals, these fields become even less attractive for diverse life.

We figure if we create attractive habitat on our farm for as much as the season as possible, there will be no reason for our friends to leave us and travel into dangerous territory.

Late March to April
We do have a very healthy dandelion population each year at the Genuine Faux Farm and we are perfectly happy to let them bloom.  I realize there are people out there who are horrified by this.  But, in the grand scheme of things, dandelions are actually not a big deal from a weed perspective.  They have deep roots that pull up micronutrients for other plants to use and the bloom period attracts all sorts of pollinators at a point in time when those who have fruit trees would really like to have them around.

Every Fall about this time, we play with the idea of getting large numbers of crocus and daffodil bulbs with the intent of 'naturalizing' an area with them.  Why don't we?  Well, our plate is usually too full and we just can't find the time to do it.  And, we're not always certain that the bulbs we would be getting would be clear of neonicotinoid insecticides and we just don't always have the time to research that issue.

When you add to that the possibility that those flowers may not be the most wonderful for our pollinators, we typically fall back on our dandelions and our fruit bearing trees and shrubs. 

We are pretty happy to have a number of spring anemone and pasque flowers on the farm.  And we recognize that non-showy flowers are actually very good for pollinators.  For example, Crazy Maurice, the Weeping Willow has numerous small flowers that pollinators are enjoying.

May busts out all over
The month of May heralds a nice mix of flowers, many of which show up in some of our intentionally 'wild' places.  For example, we have some yellow and purple Siberian iris that like to show off.  We've let them spread as they would like and we're happy that they seem to think our place is an ok habitat for them.

And, of course, the German bearded iris start to show on our farm in May.  I have to admit that they seem to take center stage with our picture taking, much to the chagrin of so many flowers appearing on the landscape.  In fact, the iris don't usually show much attractive qualities for the critters we desperately want. 

Clover typically gets going in May and you'll often see painted daisies, anemone, creeping phlox, peonies and other neat flowers showing off.  In fact, we start getting so many flowers that Tammy and I have a difficult time differentiating between May and ...

June - bugs and blooms?
June on the farm is unfortunately known for the bugs that seem to like to snack on farmers at GFF.  The winds are typically not as strong - or at least not as consistent, so the gnats and other biting insects can get pretty thick.  It makes work difficult and it makes enjoying the flowers challenging.  And yet, we have to take it as a sign that there is some health in our ecosystem if there are insects that think we are food (I suppose).

The thing is - we're usually so bugged by the bugs that we don't have time to investigate the bugs we want.  And that bugs me.  You're welcome.

We've got perennial geraniums covered in blooms early in the month and by the end of the month many of our annuals are starting to consider showing what they can do.  Though, it's really the next couple of months that we usually have more annual flower activity.

Clover really start their summer bloom period in June and we do take great pride in having a lot of clover on the farm.  And the great thing about clover is that it will bloom most of the growing season as long as there is enough moisture.  You might find clover flowers drying off in drought conditions.

July is full of smiles
Our big flower highlights tend to be day lilies in July and into early August.  Just as we have noticed with the German bearded iris, these flowers do not tend to be the focus of insect activity.  We suspect that the highly hybridized plants have been selected for so long with consideration for how attractive the flowers are to humans that much of the attractiveness to insect species has been bred out of them. 

And this is why we continue to promote clover on the farm and why we're happy to have ditches with a bunch of ditch daylilies.  Daisies and coneflowers start to appear and many of our perennial spices are begging to show more flowers in late July.

The annual flowers start to carry a heavier load for feeding the pollinators on our far in July too.  The sunflowers on our farm are amazingly good for a fairly wide range of beneficial insects.  Zinnias, marigolds, borage and phacelia do a fine job for us.  And, if we get a nice batch of buckwheat in the ground, we can have an amazing bloom the bees will love.

August sunshine
It feels to me like yellow is the color for August flowers.  The helianthus and heliopsis, along with rudebekia can really put on a show.  And, they're all attractive to our insect workers.  The zinnia, marigold, four o'clock, salvia and other flowers continue to flower and the hyssop, oregano and thyme are often covered with smaller bees and bumblebees.

Then there is the under-rated goldenrod.  Many people still mistakenly believe goldenrod is one of the wildflowers responsible for high pollen counts that make people with allergies miserable as August progresses.  However, goldenrod pollen is too heavy to really cause the issue.  You can blame most of your sneezing on ragweed in Iowa.  Pollen for those plants is quite able to be airborn and travel quite some distance.

September - Yellow turning to blues and whites
There are still some clover blooming in September, though it has a good deal to do with late Summer rain amounts.  This year (2022) we are seeing most of the goldenrod bloom and some excellent helianthus and sneezeweed around our farm.  But, perennials such as sage and thousand flower aster typically begin to show off in September.  Other than the tail end of hibiscus blooming season, it feels like plants that peak at this time focus on LOTS of smaller flowers.

The hummingbirds we often see on the farm check out the hostas, zinnias, phlox and Rob's hat.  The butterflies can be seen in the marigolds, zinnias, clover and other flowers. 

But, perhaps the hardest part for us to remember this season is that many of our insect friends simply need a little shelter.  If the Fall is dry, plants that aren't irrigated are growing very little.  That means each time we do some 'clean up' around the farm, the plants will not fill in nearly so quickly.  In short, that means we sometimes need to consider NOT cleaning something up so there are still good places for our katydids and coneheads to hang out, places for our ladybugs to be and our frogs to stay out of the sun when they want to.  

The good news?  2022 has been a good bloom year on our farm.  We see evidence that many of the beneficial critters are thriving as much as we can expect given the limitations of our surroundings.  And as we travel through September, we're going to keep planning ways to make the next year even better. 


This post was originally shared on the blog Sept 17, 2017 and is this week's Throwback post.  It has been significantly edited to update it, photos have been added and various typos corrected.

Have a good day all!