Thursday, April 30, 2009

You Say Tomaytoh and I Say Tomahtoe!

We are proud to say that we only have four flats of tomatoes left to transplant. No, we haven't started transplanting the eggplant or the peppers, or anything else....

We're slackers, we've only transplanted 1039 tomatoes over two days. We'll pick up the pace, we promise.

Jeepers! Peepers!

Well, it has begun. We have baby chicks on the farm.

We have ten Bourbon Red Turkeys and 100 Black Broiler Chickens that we just picked up from the Decorah Chick Hatchery today.

It's always a bit of a chore and a wee bit of a shock when we get to the point in the Spring where the birds arrive. Rooms in the barn have to be cleaned up - this ALWAYS seems to wait until the week of their impending arrival. We have to move in the temporary boxes, get new bulbs for the heat lamps, pick up feed, bedding and any equipment that needs to be replaced. Then we get to write the check for the chicks. Now, we realize the hatcheries need to make their money - so we aren't complaining - but there is a little bit of sticker shock when you realize each turkey cost us $8.75. Oy.

On the plus side, these little turks seem to have a laid back, yet curious, attitude that we both already like. We'll try and get a picture out on the blog as soon as we are able.

The Bronze turkeys are due next week and the Freedom Ranger chickens are due tomorrow. When it rains poultry - it pours! Or, perhaps we just don't go paltry on the poultry.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

late April farm report

It was suggested to us in one public comment and some private comments that this blog is enjoyed by some as a window into how things get done on the farm. So - here is a short farm report for the end of April.

* Garlic took a hit this winter and did not winter well. We're not sure how much you'll get this year, but the year is young and the rain might perk some of them up yet.
* We often get overwintered leeks, onions and other items - this winter wasn't kind to our low tunnel covers or to plants that occasionally overwinter. So, never mind.
* No signs from the asparagus yet. But, we expect them to start popping up around May 4.
* Rhubarb! The rhubarb plants that we transplanted to the farm last season appear to have made it with a 90% survival rate. Not sure what we'll harvest from them in their first full year hear, but they look like they'll do just fine.
* Daffodils! The daffodils are finally blooming and the Virginia bluebells are starting. the rain did help alot of those plants out.
* We have added another part time worker for the farm and Brenda has already started to work with us in April. We intend to parlay this into more available CSA shares to meet the wait list demand.
* Perennials. We have a bunch of them in a very weedy area and we want to move them to a new area. The fact that our beloved iris and perennials have been overrun by weeds the last few years has caused us a goodly amount of consternation - and no, I'm not being facetious (this time). We're hoping to prepare a new area and maybe get a little help with the transplanting. Any takers?
* Pork buy - has been completed, with all persons receiving their share.
* Seedlings. Tomatoes are ready to be transplanted. Peppers are entering the four-leaf stage. Onions and leeks are ready to go into the ground. the first batch of lettuce is coming up in trays, as is basil and other spices.
* Field clean-up. We got the corn stubble out and have a good start on the brassica remains and the tomato remains. Still plenty to do, but we're in decent shape on this front.
* Fencing - we've got alot of fencing to put up in the next few weeks.
* Chicks! The chicks are coming! The chicks are coming! later this week.
* TSD #1 is coming up in early May - check it out.
* The newsletter for April will be put out in the next 24 hours. Promise. It'll be a shorter one so we can give you a better May newsletter.

And there you have it in a nutshell.

Monday, April 27, 2009

except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms

"except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms" as quoted from the forecast for Wednesday night found at NOAA.

We have come to dislike this phrase because what it REALLY means is "you're going to get very very damp."

It's starting to look like we will not have time to dry out from the latest drenching (4 inches over a *roughly* 48 hour period). The forecast calls for some rain on Wednesday night with the wonderful catch phrase at the bottom.

"except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms"

Of course, t-storms have a way of hitting one place with something and missing another place not five miles away. So, we can't complain about NOAA's use of the phrase - because it is true. However, last year is still fresh in our minds. It was exactly one year ago that the rains really got going that led to the eventual record flood levels.

This is not a scare tactic, we don't think we're going to get a repeat of last year, so you can all calm down. However, it is similar enough that we can still hear the weather radio voice listing practically every county in Iowa as having flooding, flash flooding, heavy downpours and nasty t-storms. Perhaps we listen and watch the weather more than some people - but it was draining, demoralizing and just downright difficult to deal with last year's weather (how's that for alliteration?). So, any echo or hint of more of the same is enough to make us a little uncomfortable.

We need moisture in the soil - so rain is not frowned on at all. It just makes it a little harder to work when everything is thoroughly soaked. Moist - ok. A few puddles here and there - fine. One continuous puddle? Not so nice.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pickin' them up and puttin' them down...

We knew it was coming. The forecast was pretty adamant about the coming wet weekend, with a possible start of the 'festivities' on Friday, later in the day.

We put in a respectable day of hard work on Thursday and then put in a longer and more respectable day of work on Friday. In short, we were kind of tired once quitting time hit around 7 pm or so. Ok, we were probably a bit tired before that, who's keeping track?

We had warm, windy weather and were reminded how much the wind can take out of you when you're working outside. But, I think the thing that stuck with me is how focused we can get when we are faced with a deadline - and I don't mean a self-imposed deadline.

I mean a deadline like that line of clouds to the west that says - "You are going to get wet if you don't get a move on." and/or "Stay out here if you want to learn how a lightning rod feels."

We were working hard and doing our best to get a good list of things done before that line of clouds was noticed by T. You should see how fast we can plant onions and move things around after we notice a line of clouds like that one.

So, yes - we got three 'rows' of onions in. To give everyone out there an idea of what a 'row' means to us. They are 60 foot long. We plant the onion plants three wide at 3 to 4 inches apart. Do the math - that's about 1600 onion plants in. That's a GOOD thing. Only ten or so more rows of onions to go and 5 or so rows of leeks after that. Piece o' cake.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Filatelic Phaux

After taking a bit of ribbing about having a secret blog that no one could access regarding my alter ego as a philatelist (if you don't know what THAT is, read on), I decided I throw a post out there about that very subject.

Yes, I grow veg, I throw tomatoes to turkeys, I carry shingles in carts that have been thrown off a roof and

I collect used postage stamps and postal history.

Ya, I'm a bit different - but you knew that already.

If this helps any, there are items in postal history that can mesh nicely with what we do. For example, we do use wheel hoes on the farm that are fairly close in design to the Planet Junior. These are an excellent tool for cultivating close to rows of veg. The picture shows an offset system with two wheels and two saddle hoe cultivators behind them so that a person can walk the row and cultivate both sides of the row at the same time. I can tell you that your rows had better be straight!

I have long favored a series issued in the US for postage in the 1860's. One of my favorite stamps is here. The 5 cent stamp was typically used in conjunction with other denominations to pay for mail that went overseas to France or some of the German States.

But, if you really want to get into the nitty gritty of what I pay attention to - I collect the 24 cent stamp of that 1860's issue on postal history pieces, such as this envelope that shows five of the 24 cent stamps on it. That's $1.20 in postage in the 1860's! What's worse, this envelope was marked for 6 schillings ($1.44) to be collected by the addressee in Scotland. At the time it was sent, if you underpaid the amount due, it was treated as if you paid NOTHING. I suspect the recipient may have been a little less than appreciative. The content of this envelope had to be good - we can hope.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


It must be Spring - well at least it's beginning to feel and look like it.
The garlic is coming up. The picture was taken prior to the weekend's rains - which these plants are going to appreciate. The residue of last year's eggplant are to the left.

And the onions are looking good in their trays. About ready to go into the garden, I'd say. But, for now, they get rolled around in carts.

But, the tomatoes are getting tall enough to begin thinking about transplanting. That means we'll need the carts for them. Beginning to wonder if our fleet of carts needs expanding!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

100 pounds of snow is heavier than 100 pounds of ?

We thought it was ok to store our cages out in the field. Really...we did. We made a mistake in that. Some of the cages were closer to the bush line on the north. The snow drift there was, of course, substantial. Reaching about 10 feet in depth in places. The result? Bowed cages under the drift.

If you look carefully, you'll realize that the legs actually were PUSHED into the ground - which too the attached cross bar with it, until they pulled apart.

Not sure how we'll fix these. Another fun spring project!

Wind Energy

We have a bit of wind on the farm now and again. In earlier posts I alluded to the wind when the roof was being worked on . We are having another such day today. Enough of a wind that I literally was blown off of our back steps as I tried to enter the house. It wasn't just me. DB (one of our outdoor cats) was also blown off of the bench he was standing on. I did, at least, catch my hat before it got away.

In any event, the picture below is of a piece of backing plastic from the roofing that took off as the ice and water barrier was being put down. It went over our mature oak trees and got snagged by the top of the electrical pole. It served as a wind sock (of a sort) for a few trees before coming down.

It is windy enough out here that we have considered wind energy. With the biggest issue being that most personal wind energy systems requiring repairs a little too frequently to pay off (according to a few sources we have consulted). So, we are looking at solar generation of electricity for the farm.

Until then - we will capture wind and solar energy with some simple tools. I think you might appreciate one of our clever 'inventions' below. Perhaps some of you could try it as well! (insert smiley face here)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Roof Revisited

We now have a roof. What a nice thing.

The whole thing started inauspiciously with snow on the ground, cool weather and lots of wind. It got progressively nicer - thankfully.

At the beginning of day 2, Gingerich Construction had tar paper and ice/water barrier around 2/3rds of the house. Part of his crew was working on morphing the old roof into a mess on the ground.

And, at the end of day 2, there was metal on two-thirds of the roof and the remaining one-third was wrapped in ice/water barrier and tar paper. The mess on the ground was substantial...of course.

Two and three-quarters days later - we had a full roof. Looks pretty darn good.

The picture above was taken a few days later after the mess was cleaned up and we had begin working on other spring projects. Coolers and containers needed cleaning, plant seedlings are getting some sun (at right) and the 4-tier portable 'greenhouses' got cleaned up and ready for use.

To give only a sample of the magnitude of cleaning that had to be done - here's a picture of one particularly nasty pile after the roof tear off was completed.

Most of the cleanup was R's job. T helped when she wasn't busy handling finals week at the same UOC that Dr. Ben work's at... T's parents helped to finalize the cleaning - so it all over except for the crying. And the wayward shingle/cedar shake.... Oh, and the nails. The magnet sounds like it's popping popcorn when we run it over some of these areas.

R is still not sure how to feel about all of this. Every other home we have owned that we have roofed (most) we have done ourselves (with help, of course). But, the reminder of how tough it can be just to clean up was probably sufficient to cure him of that thought.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fave Rave

Ok, it's time to get a little feedback on the blog.

1. What post in the last two months (March/April) is your favorite?
2. What kinds of things would you like to see on the blog?

The general intent of the blog from OUR perspective was to give us a tool to provide farm updates on a more immediate basis than our newsletter. The other purpose was to give us a forum to expound on various (typically) farm related topics that don't always fit in the newsletter.

What think ye?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What's up at the farm - early April edition

Since the newsletter isn't going to be published for another week, I thought it was time for another farm report to keep everyone up to date!

  • The new metal roof is completed. The construction crew had the 2 layers of asphalt+1 layer of cedar shakes off and the new metal roof on in just over 2 and half days. Wow.
  • The clean-up crew (mostly R, with some help from Dad and T) is still muddling along. Actually, there is just one area that has a pile left over. And, of course, there are plenty of nails looking for tires to deflate.
  • The pork buy is largely distributed - it's always a relief to complete those.
  • Taxes have been (and still are) taxing R as he works to complete them - that's why he's typing a blog post - got to do something different for a few minutes.
  • We are finding that we have outgrown the number of coolers and containers we have (again). Yikes.
  • The tomatoes range from 2 inches to 4 inches in height right now - approaching transplant stage in many cases.
  • The peppers and eggplant are just getting started. Rosemary are cute little things - and always so slow to get going.
  • Found a little bit of spinach that did overwinter. But, the wind did a number on most of the covers this year. That's the way it is sometimes.
  • We were shocked to discover that we only had 10 packages of frozen veggies left in our freezer from last year's efforts to store up. Hm.
  • Rain might be nice about now. Now is the time when we might like a little rain to store up for later. But, if prior weather patterns are any indication, we'll start getting it when we want to be in the fields more.
  • We are contemplating trying to put together a Tom Sawyer Day that doubles as a fund raiser for the Food Shelf. Stay tuned (and feel free to weigh in with suggestions for dates, etc)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Roof or DiMaggio?

The old talking dog trick. What's over your head in a house? Roof. Who's the best ball-player of all time? Roof.
And, if you go to the Loony Tunes version - after getting kicked out of the audition, the dog asks, "Maybe I should have said DiMaggio?"

Dan Gingerich and his crew showed up today to begin work on the .... roof. Faux real.

All I can say is this - it is NO FUN working in the kind of wind we had out here today. It started out difficult and ended at levels that were well beyond difficult. I've got to hand it to them, they stuck it out - even if it was a battle just to get the ice and water barrier and tar paper down.

My job is to clean up the tear off. It's a tedious and wearing job at best. Today - it was at its worst. There were two layers of asphalt and one layer of cedar shakes up there. The asphalt is not so hard to work with. The cedar shakes mixed in make it impossible with the wind blowing as hard as it was. Even if I DID manage to clear up an area, the wind made sure that shakes got spread into those locations later.

Typically, the wind calms down in the evening (though the weather forecast says it will calm down to gusts of 25 mph..hmm). But, I'm too tired to consider taking advantage of these 'calm' breezes.

I sure hope it calms down tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Season of Discontent

You know, I 've been thinking.... Pre-Spring is a dangerous time on the farm. I just can't bring myself to describe the recent weather as Spring just yet. Even though temps get above freezing every day (and sometimes don't dip below freezing at night) and the robins have been singing.

We're not in farming 'shape' physically or mentally. Ok, yes, we always do work on the farm - but there is far more desk work and less work that involves moving around during the Winter. And, whether this should be the case or not, the urgency level is much lower. It takes a completely different mental approach to handle growing season than it does 'planning season.'

We have the least information regarding how things will grow and how our production will fare. So, that leads to the highest levels of uncertainty. Things usually work out in the end. But, there is always a nagging doubt in the earliest stages.

The college school term is approaching its end - with all of its incumbent pressures. While R is not teaching this term, the school calendar still impacts him through T. We should be used to this sort of thing by now - but it always seems to sneak up us (well, maybe just R).

And, everything we set up now becomes a foundation for the rest of the growing season. No pressure there. :)

As a result, we end up with two people who will be fighting physical and mental fatigue. It always seems to get better as the season progresses. But, that may be because we have no time to analyze how we are feeling? But, more likely it is because we are of one mind once the season truly gets going. Right now, we are anxious to get moving - yet hoping for a bit more delay before we get moving - all at the same time. It's a feeling that ranks right up there with fingernails on the blackboard - ick.