Thursday, June 25, 2009

Xtreme Multitasking

Yes, it is mid/late June and the weather has warmed up. The implication for us on the farm is that it stretches our multitasking abilities to their limits.

June is still heavy planting time for us, it ushers in the beginning of harvesting and distribution, chickens and turkeys aren't all chicks anymore, deer and other pests are figuring out that we run a smorgasbord AND the weeds begin to grow with a vengeance. In short - everything needs to be done/dealt with yesterday (or maybe last week). Add in weather that throws a few hurdles in front of field work and you have a neat maze of tasks to navigate.

Here is a quick farm report for the idly curious, mildly interested and/or intensely absorbed in the doings of the Genuine Faux Farm:

  • We're a few square (9 bundles) of shingles away from finishing the last side of the roof on one of our outbuildings. The goal is to finish before July 4 - which would be the one-year anniversary after starting this project. Actually, we're getting up tomorrow to see how far we can get. Here's hoping.
  • Crop damage. We'll know better in a couple more days. In general, plants survived the maelstrom. Any pea flowers that were set are gone and the plants are working on recovery right now. Most pepper/eggplant/tomato plants are standing back up. The Thursday CSA members can attest that the lettuce didn't look as bad as we first reported they might look. However, they didn't see the worst of them that we left in the field to grow through the damaged outer leaves. They should work it out just fine.
  • We're still finding odd pieces of things in weird places on the farm after the heavy winds on Tuesday. Found a clothes pin halfway to the barn (probably 100 feet from its origin). Pouuff!
  • Things you may not know you can do - like freeze melon. Cube the melon, throw in a freezer bag and bring it out for smoothies later. Works great. Lemonade with melon is tonight's treat. yum. Yes, we do grow melon for the CSA. Here's hoping for a fantabulous crop.
  • All but seven rows of tomatoes are caged. The remaining seven rows will be trellised in other fashions. yep, on the to do list for the next couple days. Along with trellising the climbing peas before they get too big to tame.
  • We've been using a stainless steal sink/counter and a pop up tent to provide us with a more efficient packing area. It speeds the process of cleaning and prepping immensely and makes everyone working on the product a bit happier - always a good thing. Dad F also helped put the 16 foot stainless counter with drain up near another building to help in cleaning the upcoming cucumber, summer squash and zucchini crops.
  • We need Dad Z to come back down and mow the yard again! Ok, ok. We'll do it. But thanks for mowing last week!
  • The flower beds around the house look far better than they did prior to a makeover started by Mom Z's weeding. The truckload of mulch we picked up and spread didn't go nearly as far as we might have liked. But, we were aware it wouldn't be enough.
  • Swiss chard and beets. Write this down. They are looking good! Potatoes were looking good prior to the storm and appear to have bounced back after. So, they are fine. Now, name three crops that had a bad year with us last year....what? You don't know? Reread this bullet point and guess again!
  • Arugula and spinach are done until fall. We will till the current rows under since they are simply going to bolt after this last cutting due to the warm weather. If you don't like either of these and are in the CSA - I'm sure you are celebrating. But, before you go to far - we'll replant them for a fall crop to be harvested in late September and October!
  • Lettuce progression: The first lettuce of the year has been the Crispmint romaine. T suggests that Crispmint just tastes better and better as you work toward the center. The next lettuce to mature has been Bronze Arrowhead - a leaf lettuce. This one works well with summer fruits. It has a much softer texture and a mild taste. People with T's palate will love Crispmint. If they have R's palate they will like the Bronze Arrowhead better. Up next will be Amish Dear Tongue - a crisphead type. Going in soon are Grandpa Admire's, Forellenschus and Reine des Glaces.
And there it is - far more information than you ever wanted! Enjoy.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Oh, that explains it!

Monday is often a day where R works by himself on the farm. T is at school and the work crew works Tuesday/Thursday typically.

I've been berating myself internally for not working harder this Monday. But, I just kept running out of steam because there was a bit too much of it (steam, that is). So, I'd work for an hour and break for half an hour. In fact, I was wondering how I'd gotten so wimpy! I was taking it as a bad sign for the rest of the season.

I feel better now that I looked at the weather history for Monday. High was 99 deg F. Temps were in the 90's from 11:30 to 7:30. It's not that I can't work in temps like that - I can, I have, and I will again! But, usually we run into these temps in July and August - so we usually have some time to get used to it.

Still wished I could have gotten more done. But, I'll get over blaming myself on this one!

And, oddly enough, Tuesday went much better for me - and I noticed everyone else in the work crew going through what I did on Monday.

Happiness will be temps in the 80's!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Xtreme Weather Games

Today's weather was, shall we say.....interesting. Note: this is the "Iowa" interesting. If you do not know what that means - let's just say a blog entry could be made regarding its definition - so you may have to wait a while.

The day started out with high humidity and temps hitting 90 degrees F by 8:30 am. We're guessing we got to 95 or so. T and I got all of our produce needed for the afternoon picked by 8:30 - at which time our work crew arrived. Everyone did their best to get some weeding done - but as the time rolled around to 11:30 - it was clear we all needed a break/cool down. Assuming that we'd be able to come back out in the PM, we instructed everyone to leave tools in the paths for the time being.

After lunch, we worked at cleaning and preparing the produce for the CSA distribution AND managed to get it done efficiently. Good job crew! T & I were on our way on time to Waverly to the market.... But, as we drove there we noted the increased clouds and the formations that can only mean t-storms. Sure enough, as we pulled into Waverly, we heard about possible severe storms heading into the area by about - oh - 4:00. Not good since the distribution runs from 3:30-6:00.

To make a potentially long story less long. The front edge of the storm arrived at 4:10 in Waverly. R held onto the pop-up tent while T helped the other vendors pack up. We pulled ours down just prior to winds that would have been interested in flying our popup to some place other than where we were at that moment. The initial poofs of wind were pretty intense and we ended up with eye-fulls of dust and debris, etc. There was a bit of a calm where a few more people picked up their shares - then the horizontal rains hit. Neat.

We spent some time in the cab of the pickup - yes, the pickup did move around a bit in winds we estimated to be around 60-65mph. Fun.

Happily, after a few phone calls to remind a few people that we were still there with our produce, we were able to leave at 6pm with all but two shares picked up. Neat and fun!

Our return to the farm showed us that the storm had hit there as well. One of our cold frames was out by the barn. No, that's NOT where it was when we left. The clothes line was down and most of the clothes pins had been stripped off of it. R found one clothes pin about 50 feet from the line. One of our plant covers rolled about 100 feet (over some of our crops, of course). And, yes, R had to go and pick up all the tools he instructed people to leave in the path. He was already wet. But, it probably serves him right. You get the basic idea.... oh, and we left the car windows open - so if you see us get out of the car and our backsides are wet at any point in the next week or so - you know why!

The jury is still out regarding crop damage on the farm. The peas that were looking pretty good in the AM were flat and bruised. The lettuce was pretty beat up - as were most of our crops. Not likely permanent losses - but they'll have to grow out of the damage before we get much from them.

And there you have it - interesting weather.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

How to Make a Farmer Happy

First, you have to grant us one thing - the weather can change a farmer's attitude as quick as, well, the weather can change. Raccoons come a close second for us. Or maybe deer that eat the produce the night prior to the planned pick. Otherwise, we're generally pretty level headed about all of this. There are days when we are more tired than others and some where we might like to change what we do. Otherwise, we do fine.

But, if you want to make our day, tell us (honestly) that you liked something we provided for you.

No, we are not fishing for compliments. No, we don't need you to stretch to find compliments when you don' t really think they're warranted. But, we do value feedback. And an honest compliment for some of our produce can provide a week's worth of energy.

What brought this on?

We just came back from the week 2 Thursday CSA distribution and received feedback from several people regarding the quality of produce - which was positive. Our thanks to all of you for your comments, they are useful. It was on the truck ride back to the farm that we realized just how much we appreciated hearing that the produce in our shares was truly enjoyed by those who participate in our CSA. But, why is it so helpful to us?

1. Believe it or not - we really do want our CSA members to be happy with their shares. If we get positive feedback, we get feedback that shows us that we are, indeed, achieving that goal.

2. The process of farming, for us, is a dynamic process. We are always learning, always trying to improve and always building off of prior successes and trying to avoid prior failures. The positive (and negative) comments help us to assess these approaches and hone our approach. The result, of course, is even more yummy produce for everyone involved!

3. We're human and when we are given positive reinforcement, we tend to react - well - positively.

4. As I have told students in classes I have taught - if you don't tell us what you like, you run the risk of losing those things because we don't know that it is something you want!

Some examples of things we are doing more now because of this feedback:

a. growing Crispmint Lettuce - a romaine type lettuce that is an heirloom variety. This grows well for us - especially if started in trays and transplanted. typically earlier spring and later fall, but they hold reasonably well in warmer weather too. The first batch received excellent reviews from many CSA members last year. So, we came back with more of it this year - again with positive results. Excellent production, great looking, great tasting, well-liked by many and tends to be resistent to problems. We have a winner.

b. hydro-cooling - conferences provide us with a number of ideas and a myriad of information on processes for growing, processing, marketing and farm management. One such idea was the concept of cooling greens by submersing them in well (very cold) water to get the 'field heat' out of the plant tissues. This shuts down the processes that would reduce how long the produce will last. Rapid cooling has provided us with greens that look better, taste better AND are cleaner for our CSA members. If you don't believe me, ask a few of our veteran CSA members who can remember greens from a few years ago. They were good - but not this good!

I'd like to link this one in very clearly. We believed the information in the conferences - of course. We were pretty sure this would help us. However, the deal was sealed when CSA members responded immediately last year by giving us compliments on the improvement in our greens with respect to taste, cleanliness and storing ability. There are other methods for handling greens that we could have selected if the first effort failed. But, in this case, it appears to be a success and we are working on refining rather than replacing the approach.

Our thanks and keep the feedback coming!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

CSA Week 1 Completed!

Once the CSA delivery season begins, we find our time to put things in blogs or to put things on the website declines dramatically. Probably most difficult about it is how QUICKLY time flies.

It seems like it was only moments before that we completed our very first CSA pickup on Thursday of last week. Now we've done two more pickups (Monday and Tuesday) and are staring at the Thursday delivery all over again!

It's good to have lots to do. Even better to like most of what you do. But, it does get a little concerning when you can't quite reconcile how time flew by you so quickly!

Week 1 shares contained typical early garden season fare: lettuce, spinach, radish - plus some arugula, oregano and other spices. Probably more of the same for a while until the warmer weather crops get a little warm weather!

Hopefully we'll have some energy to report a bit more on Wednesday.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Pharm Report early June

A very quick farm report for anyone who might be interested:

  • No more raccoon depradations on the turkeys. We ordered more chicks. Financially, we're hoping to work this into a balanced expense/income situation.
  • Third side of our 4 sided outbuilding is now roofed (Friday & Sunday). That leaves one side open to receive the last 24 hours rains. That's ok - it could have been 1/2 the roof!
  • Before the rains came on Sunday we managed to cultivate the entire tomato plot, 1/2 the bean/potato plot, plant another 100 peppers, plant a bunch of basil and some turnips.
  • Sunday was a surprisingly productive day...
  • I can't remember what we did on Saturday - but we were sure tired by the end of the day - so it must have been productive.
  • Finally, the transfer of a large number of plants was executed - well - at least the plants are gone... One should never underestimate how much time hundreds of potted seedlings will take of your time each and every day.
  • What did we do on Saturday?!?
  • Our first CSA delivery will be this coming Thursday - there are items that NEED distribution prior to the beginning of next week. Look for radish, arugula, spices and maybe lettuce?
  • Potatoes are coming up strong this year. Lettuce, broccoli and spinach are really taking off. The peas needed the rain we just got and should take off now.
  • Germination has been fair, but the rain should make all of that even better. Now we have to get to cultivating and protecting our crops. Oh - and we need to plant more....of course.
  • this Saturday will be our Tom Sawyer Day held to support the Food Pantry. Consider coming on out to support the farm AND the food shelter!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Ugly Bookends

Today has been an incredibly long and difficult day on the farm.

Reminds me of a roller coaster a bit.

We started the day off thinking about the plan for our work day with several of our helpers on site today. The weather looked nice, many things had been going fairly well and some fairly major projects looked like they could get finished.

Then Tammy went to feed the turkeys. Go to bed with 57 turkeys. Wake up with 34 (or so). The devastation had many of the hallmarks of a mink that had gone on a killing spree. Tammy spent a good deal of time trying to plug every small hole in that room she could find. We stopped by the room multiple times during the day. And, of course, we had to build a funeral pyre (so to speak) for the (too small to eat) turkeys. It makes no sense to bury or otherwise dispose of them in ways that attracts more predators to that taste.

Lost a few small trees we just put in to some rabbits - so things are looking just a little dicey. But, we're pretty resilient and we had wonderful the day got better.

K finished cleaning up the shingles from the truck barn roof. 400+ peppers went into the ground (thanks to L and T). We got the irrigation system going for the season (just a few more repairs and it is again fully functional). Five rows of tomatoes got hay mulch and several more were cultivated (thank you D). And, we actually got all of this done with our helpers so that they could all leave right on time. Tammy and I then were able to get some young plants watered *and* get to a movie in Waverly before it started (that was strange - on many levels).

Upon returning home, we dutifully went out (after 9pm) to check on the turkeys. More carnage. We're down to 29 turkeys at this point.

We're also down a masked bandit. We still do not know how it got in (one of tomorrow AM's tasks). But, we've only seen this kind of thing happen before (where a raccoon appears to get a taste for just killing). Usually they take one or two - but normally not more than the family will eat in a day. The normal result is continuous depletion - but more chances to respond to the problem.

But Wait, There's More!

May went out with a bang for us. A good sort of bang at that.

In prior posts, you might note that we have alot to put in this time of year - and that the weather can quickly put work on hold.

Despite Iris Fest on Saturday and a baseball game for R (yes, he plays on a baseball team) in Newton on Sunday, we still accomplished a great deal on the farm. It's a good thing when you can work in non-farm related activities, enjoy them AND still get good work done on the farm.

Quick farm report:
  • All melons and watermelons are now in the ground.
  • 75% of the winter squash are now in.
  • The 3rd green bean planting is in.
  • The sunflower/corn experiment is now in the ground and waiting to germinate
  • All fields have had at least a rough till to start the season
  • Another planting of radish, lettuce, spinach and beets were put in on Saturday
Quick game report: R got two hits and drove in 2. His brother, on the other hand, got two hits and drove in four. Argh!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Welcome to June - and a freeze warning?!?

That might have gotten your attention! No, no freeze warning here. However, I did look at the severe weather listings tonight (May 31) and saw a big batch of white in New England. It seems there is a very large area there that is looking at lows in the lower 30's to upper 20's. That, my friends is scary for people like us. We know there are many market and other garden crop businesses not unlike ours in those areas. And, we wonder what WE would do given the same situation.

All I can say is that I wish them well and hope the forecasters are wrong (to the good).

It's just another reason why we remind ourselves to not get TOO anxious with our planting in the Spring. It may feel good to get ahead of the list and get more things in the ground. But, the reality is that there are time ranges for each crop and we need to hit those ranges and not worry so much about 'completing the task' or trying to beat the competition to the 'first tomato.'

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The 'Way Back' Machine

Ok - we're only in our 6th summer at the farm. So - a 'way back' machine is really a 'not so way back' machine. But, the title is more catchy the way it is...

This post is for persons who might remember some things about our first couple of years of CSA and enjoy saying 'oh yeah - I remember that one...oy!' It also might be enjoyable for those who are new to the CSA or farm to gain some perspective of where we've been.

  • Anyone remember the 3 stall garage? Ok, it's still our garage. But, it now has one garage door and a regular walk in door. But, who remembers the three garage doors that had to be carefully opened/closed for fear they would fall apart? I can think of a couple of people (B.B. is one of them!) who helped rip off some of the old siding and pulled out a lot of birds nest material in the process.
  • Or, what about hand weeding an entire 30x30 area of 3 foot tall grasses - by hand - in 4 hours. MJ might (not so fondly) recall that one.
  • Perhaps C.H. might remember trying to wade through tomatoes pulling 5 foot tall weeds to try and find a few measly onions that were companion planted between them?
  • D.D. & E.W. recall (possibly) responding to a call for help that had something to do with our truck being hit by a building that blew over in the wind. D's truck was kindly gifted until our truck was repaired. And, I seem to recall a goodly number of peppers were gently returned to upright positions in order to make for a record setting pepper crop that year.
  • S.T.P will remember putting in about 100 tiny asparagus roots in hopes that they would some day provide asparagus. Happily, S got to take home some of the bounty after the gathering!
  • Even better - very few will recall what the triangular field looked like when we first claimed it for use in vegetable growing. At the time, we only had a walk behind tiller. Yes, we tilled 1.5 acres with a walk behind tiller that year. (year 2) Was it any wonder that we were having trouble getting everything planted.
  • A few people might even remember our 2nd ever batch of meat chickens. Out of 102 chicks, we had seven make it to the point where they could be processed. Pretty much any creature that think chickens taste like...well...chicken, came and tested our out. I'm not even close to sure how we decided to do chickens again after that one.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Affirmation by Festival

Saturday (the 30th of May) was our annual "Iris Festival" at the farm. Invited were all of our CSA members and other 'honorary' CSA members/farm supporters. For some reason, Iris Fest is probably the least popular of our gatherings - but there are always enough people to make it all worthwhile.

First - we realize that we do live out on a gravel road AND we recognize that we are not in the most convenient of locations for most of the people who might have interest in coming.

Second, many of our CSA members and supporters have not met - meaning that many folks would have to attend with the knowledge that they may not know anyone at the gathering. That can be tough. As an introvert, I can relate.

Third, weather out in the country is usually windier AND cooler than it is in town. If you don't believe me, ask the people who attended the gathering!

After all of that prelude, I just wanted to say this: the people who attend these gatherings always help us to feel like we are doing the right thing on the farm.

The interest that is shown in what we do, combined with the genuine desire to see us do well helps us to overcome the feelings that creep up every year that were outlined in the previous post! Every festival brings someone new to the farm - which means we get to make new friends as well (always a positive). And, we also get a chance to view the farm through the eyes of others - including the eyes of the children who come to the farm and get to throw bread to the chickens - or hold a baby turkey - or visualize the field of pepper plants that is soon to come.

The net result is that we are reminded that our failures are not as big as we think - and our successes are actually a bigger deal than we often let ourselves believe. After a brief conversation with T - we realized that some of our CSA members that have been with us for a few years can tell newer members what our farm was like just a few years ago....

sounds like another blog post!