Thursday, December 16, 2010

Picture This

The last "picture this" had some positive response outside of the blog - so I assume a few more pictures might be appreciated.

What things looked like in the high tunnel in October.  Pretty amazing, if I do say so myself.  You get an idea of size, etc if you look and see T in the back right corner.

One of the small projects I'd like to accomplish someday is to take decent pictures of some of the varieties we grow.  This may not fit the description of decent... but - it is Grandpa Admires lettuce.  Really good stuff.

And, just to brighten your day.  We did have days with sunshine and flowers that reflected that light.  We will have them again.

And a view the other direction down the tunnel. 

And a quick look back at what these plants looked like when we seeded them and the tunnel was over the other plot. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Burning Calories

If you live in Iowa (and many who read this do), you were given the opportunity to observe an honest to goodness blizzard.  This is, of course, followed by some very cold temperatures.  And, weather on the extremes lead to some interesting occurrences on the farm.

First - the good news - we were able to harvest lettuce, pok choi, spinach, arugula, kohlrabi, mustard greens and swiss chard.  In December.  With temps near zero.  And winds howling from the northwest.  Tammy even tasted a carrot or two - they're still a bit small and we will harvest these in March/April (at a guess).  So, the high tunnel is doing its job and we continue to get fresh greens.

And now, for the sidelight to the good news.

It doesn't matter how used to active work you are, working in this sort of weather makes you feel like you sit behind a desk all day, every day.  Both Tammy and I are feeling more tired than we think we should after the amount of visible work is assessed.  But, it's the unproductive additional labor we go through that burns the calories and makes the muscles tired.

Consider first, the numerous layers of extra clothing.  It just takes more effort to move.  And some of the more 'efficient' movements aren't possible anymore when you are bundled up.  Just turning to look to your left (or right) requires a full torso movement because turning your head results in seeing the inside of a hood/scarf. 

Then, there is the extra effort trying to slog through snow to get to the high tunnel.  When you add super cold winds that seem to suck the air out of your lungs, you can feel very much like you have been running the whole way.  Then, you attempt to carry a couple of containers with produce at the same time.  Remember - it is REALLY cold out there.  You don't want lettuce to be out in the elements for long.  So, next thing you know, you ARE actually attempting to run back to the house.  The result is usually just a faster than normal slog....and a few moments of catching your breath.  In fact, it is probably more efficient to walk the normal pace.  But, we feel better if we try to hurry at least once.

Of course, there are always additional tasks that become bigger in this sort of weather.  For example, every east facing door was iced shut after the storm.  The main door we use for the high tunnel faces.... we'll give you three guesses and a hint (guess east).  Well done!  You guessed it!

Another issue is the limited working time the high tunnel provides on a very cold day.  The sun was out, so temperatures in the tunnel reached 40 or so.  This can be quite nice given the contrast outside (and no wind inside).  However, the temperature rapidly drops as soon as the sun moves from the peak angle for solar gain.  As a result, we find ourselves trying to work quicker so everything can get done in the short window given to us.

And, finally, we begin to appreciate row spacing even more when we are bundled up, tired and cold.  we are definitely going to work on better spacing so there are better work areas in the tunnel for the next batch.  It's nothing we can't work around this time.  But, now that we have some experience with it, I think we can optimize space use and still create a layout that makes moving around and harvesting easier for us.

Now that we've shared our adventures in winter high tunnel picking - we'll regale you with our adventures in attempting to dig out the monster drift in our drive.

After a nap.  

Saturday, December 11, 2010


 In response to a number of requests for kitten pictures.

Here they are - introducing


Hob Nob

Also known as our little nibsters.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Stuck on you

Ah.... we learn new things every day.  Tuesday, I learned that high tunnels are different animals when it comes to working 'outside' in Winter.

The Scenario:
Temps are low single digits (Fahrenheit).  Not much wind - a blessing.  Sun is out.  Another blessing.  Rob has to pick for the extended season CSA shares and the crops are in the unheated high tunnel.

With the sun out, the temps were above 40 by 11:00 AM.  It made it to as high as 58 (for a very brief time).

Rob wears a black coat.  The end walls of the high tunnel have metal.  The walls are much cooler than the air in the high tunnel.

The Event:
Rob does a few things outside and gets a little snow on him.  Then carries tubs and tools to the high tunnel to pick.  He picks for an hour or so.  Then stretches his back and happens to touch the metal on the end wall of the high tunnel with the back of his coat.  His coat is, at that moment, damp from melted snow.  The end wall is still below freezing.  The coat adheres to the metal.

The Thought Process:
Hmmmmm.  I appear to be stuck to the metal on the end wall.   I'm glad that wasn't my tongue....or my hand.  You know what?  I appear to be really stuck to this wall.  Why was my back so wet?  Oh yeah, snow melted.   You know, I should give it a bit more of a tug.  Oy, that's on there good.  I hope I don't rip the coat.  Maybe I should just unzip the coat and worm out of it?  You know, it might be a bit silly if my coat has to stay on this wall until warmer weather.  But, it could be sillier still if I just stayed here....

The Result:
After a quick internal debate, I determined that I had the best leverage for pulling the coat off if I just left it on and yanked myself free.  It worked.  The coat is fine.  And... new knowledge that I can choose to file away and re learn later (if necessary - but actually unlikely).

Monday, December 6, 2010


Once again, Winter is a time where I familiarize myself with new weather and climate prediction tools that noaa puts on the web.  I found this one to be instructive.

Tammy and I were discussing how it seemed like the last few Winters (this one included so far) have started with some pretty serious cold weather in December.  And, so, I wondered what the forecast for average temps were for the coming months - and the result is above.

In short, we have equal chances of it being below, above or at averages for Dec-Feb months based on a 40 year average.  In other words - average temps between 16.7 and 20.7 degrees Fahrenheit.  I'll write more on that later.

The interesting part of the chart above shows that each of the last TWO winters (Dec-Feb) were well below this average range (under 15 degrees).  2006-2007 was on the upper edge of average.  Then, the two years prior to that were well ABOVE average.

The table at this web page shows temperature forecasts for the upcoming year.  Including a likelihood for above average temperatures next winter (Dec-Feb).  But, if you look at the percentage chances closely, you'll find there is nothing there above 36% chance (and the categories are split into three).

Then, there is this:

The blue, of course, indicates likelihood for below average temperatures and the orange indicates the likelihood for above average temperatures.

Time for an 'office pool.'  My money is on 19.8 degrees F for the average Dec-Feb temperature. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Catch you up

I was reviewing recent posts and realized that there may be a number of things that might feel like we left you dangling.  Since we 'hate dangling...' (see Lion King)  here are some things that *may* provide closure or a cathartic release:

Waverly Harvest Market
We did, in fact, have the Waverly Harvest Market in Waverly on Saturday.  There was very little snow in Waverly itself, but we did have 4-5 inches on the farm.  Several vendors canceled and we had a small group at the Waverly Community Center from 8:30-11:30.  Even with the small group, the number of vendors usually outnumbered the number of customers.  Ah well, that's what we feared might happen.  The good (?) news is the fact that we could not pick anything from the high tunnel for the market.  So, we arrived with jam, scones, eggs, garlic, cotton bags with our logo and a few cookbooks.  Not much at all for us, but we felt it necessary to be there.  Many thanks to those who took the time to be a vendor or stop by the market!  Reference: This Could Be Interesting

High Tunnel and cold weather
Not much sun until Saturday afternoon.  We're hoping the poor plants in the high tunnel soak up some sun now.  We were unable to pick anything for market because everything was frozen.  We are rapidly learning that you have to pick on the sunny days and try to store produce if you want to deliver it at a certain time.  We hope things perk up.  But, if they don't - it's been a good learning experience.  Reference: HI! Tunnel

Iowa Organics Conference
We did successfully present at the Iowa Organics Conference and enjoyed it very much.  It's always nice to have people interested in what you have to say.  I was also lucky enough to speak to an Environmental Biology class this week.  'Tis the season to hold forth with wise and witty sayings.  Wish I could manage it! Reference: Late night stuff

Durnik Does Work
With the frost reaching the soil, the time for using Durnik in the field (our tractor) is done for this season.  But, we were able to break up some serious hard pan in many areas of our fields.  We are anxious to see how this translates into our growing season.  Reference: Durnik at Work

The Nations Cup tournament for Ticket to Ride is continuing.  But, USA Team II lost out in the quarterfinals of the knock out round to Germany I.  It was enjoyable to play some very good players.  Yours truly was able to muster a 3-3 match record.  For a first appearance, I'll consider it a success.  Reference: Wait! This isn't farm related!


I have noticed an interesting pattern that made itself known to us almost immediately after we dubbed our farm the Genuine Faux Farm.

People seem to think we work on more than one farm.

Now, before anyone thinks I'm really upset with them, let me assure you that I am not.  Don't take this personally.  However, please note that we are only one farm.  We are not the Faux Farms, the Genuine Faux Farms or whatever other variation that might come up that involves the plural.

So - why even mention it?  It made me start thinking.... a dangerous pastime  (all together.... I know!)

The plural is, in my opinion, another symptom that illustrates the distance FROM the farm, from the land and from connections to our food that has grown by leaps and bounds since 1950.  It's also a symptom of the ever increasing "number of hats" a farmer has to wear in order to maintain a farm business.

Distancing ourselves from the farm

As the number of farmers decrease, the likelihood that an individual actually knows someone who produces food goes down.  As a result, any knowledge about what it takes to raise food becomes increasingly generalized for most of the populace.  As a result, most of us know only what we are told on the packaging and signage at the stores in which we purchase food.

And, what do we see in the store?  "xxxx Farms" on the label.  A label that sports a chicken.  Or a silo.  Or a red barn.  The use of the word "farm" and these pictures hint at a wholesome way of raising food that still tickles our subconscious.  But, the very manner most of what is produced, distributed and sold makes it nearly impossible for any individual to really know where the food came from, how it was really produced and who had something to do with its production.

Hats on the farmer's head

We've been in the business long enough now to be fully aware of the number of jobs that must be filled in order to have a successful farm operation.  There are promotional, sales, billing, purchasing, research, data management, strategic planning, tax accounting, building maintenance, mechanical maintenance, animal health, distribution management, ecology and communications jobs on the farm.  Oh, and we forgot to mention all of the jobs that have to do with actually growing produce and raising livestock.

It's really no wonder that small farms often look for ways to off-load some of the effort by consolidating and becoming more than one farm under one marketing entity.  Hence, the birth of "so and so" Farms.  It's not necessarily a bad thing.  Especially when there is transparency, traceability and truth in marketing a product.  But, it begs the question - are there ways to simplify so the 'family farm' is once again viable?

Bigger is Better?

And then there is this.

We all seem to have trouble recognizing what an optimal size is.  We can't quite identify for ourselves what an optimal income might be.  And, so the obvious response is that if what we have is good - then more is better. 

For example, marketing students are often introduced to techniques to 'open up' new markets and expand sales opportunity.  It's all about growth of a business and creating more demand for its product(s).  As a result, you have farms entering larger markets.  Markets they cannot manage as a single, small farm.  Markets that demand higher quantities, more uniformity and less flexibility (in all sorts of ways) lead a farm to look for ways to grow.  And, the easiest way to do that is to consolidate.  Once again, we have "farms."

Just a few thoughts.   Where do these thoughts take you?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

This could be interesting.

We have a Harvest Market scheduled in Waverly this Saturday, December 4.  It is indoors (the community center) from 8:30-11:30.  So, what will be interesting about it?

The Winter Storm Watch we a currently under.   Farmers' Market.  Winter Storm.  Farmers' Market.  Winter Storm.  hmmmmmmmmmm.

This is a totally new concept for us.  There is also the issue of figuring out when/how we can pick for this market.  We don't want to pick the lettuce when it is frozen. But, it will be cold and there will NOT be sunshine.  so, the tunnel will not warm up tomorrow.  This gives us two very real possibilities.

1. We won't be able to pick anything for the market - so we will have nothing to sell.  But, we still have to open up the building and be there to close it down.
2. We'll manage to get things picked, but the winter storm might shut down the market OR it might keep us from getting to the market.

Sorry, but my normal farmers' market mentality has done nothing to prepare me for this.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

HI! Tunnel

The extended season CSA is well underway.  Actually, we are delivering week 5 produce today!

Our plan is to deliver for eight weeks.  But, since we have never done this before - we take each week as it comes.

One thing that is nice about it.  I picked produce in the tunnel for a few hours yesterday.  It was raining.  Temps were in the low 40's.  It was breezy.

And I was working in all of that.  But, I was dry and relatively warm.  What a nice benefit.

I could type much more on this - but instead, I will copy an email I sent out to the members of this extended season CSA:

Status of crops in the tunnel:
   We are learning a good deal as we go.  One moment, we are certain we'll get to eight weeks, the next we aren't so sure.  Last week's weather was a challenge to the whole system as temps made single digits on the farm and it did not go above freezing for several days.  The X-factor is the presence of sunshine.  One of those very cold days saw temps rise in the tunnel to 50 degrees with some sun.  Other days have easily reached 60.

We have noted that some of the quality of certain lettuce varieties, etc may not be as high as we would like because things DO freeze in the high tunnel.   And, when we say that, we are not indicating that the quality of taste is low.  We are largely referring to the way the produce looks. You'll find some singed edges and a few spots that clearly froze.  If we have a choice, we'd prefer to give you greens with minimal blemishes. But, we are also NOT going to waste perfectly good food.

So, if we get a long stretch with no sun and very cold weather, we will likely have very little left to give.  However, we have added an additional layer of remay (a white gauze cover) on the crops during this next cold, cloudy stretch.  This helps to insulate the crops and keep them warmer for longer.  When the sun comes back out, we'll remove the remay so the soil can serve as a solar collector.

We are noticing that things are growing *very* slowly at this point.  This was expected.  But, it does mean that some things may not continue to appear at the rate you have received them up to this week (week 5). Collards and kale are not growing new leaves at a speed that is conducive to cutting.

What to expect for the remaining three weeks:
   You will receive garlic every week.  We are fairly confident in the lettuce.  There may be one more cutting of collards and kale left in them.  Mustard and arugula probably will continue to be involved and we think another chard cutting can happen.  The broccoli will not set, so that experiment was only a success in that we learned better timing for them.  The kohlrabi *may* be big enough to cut, but they'll be on the smaller side.  The spinach is sneaky and seems to keep growing, so it
looks like a good option for continuing.  And, we have enough large pok choi for 2 of 3 weeks.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Favorite Holiday

Every year, I am reminded that Thanksgiving truly is my favorite holiday.  It's foci are friends, family, food and (because I can't think of another word to maintain the alliterative style) the blessings of living.

Once again, we had the big farm-raised turkey.  We happily consumed fresh rolls, fresh greens from the high tunnel and lots of other good stuff.  All of our parents and my sister joined us for the day.  And, the two little "nibsters" (the kittens) behaved and actually slept and looked cute through most of the celebration.  Good conversations were had and a game was played and everyone seemed content to be together for a time.  Even the laying hens were given special treats to eat! 

Thank you to our families for being supportive and loving throughout the year.  There are so many things that would not happen on this farm if you weren't involved in some way. 

Thank you to our friends, who are willing to wade through our comments about lettuce and wheel hoes only to find out we are actually serious about these things.  And, yet, you still let us hang out with you.

Thank you to all of our CSA members past and present.  The CSA model is a good thing.  The small, local farm is a good thing.  Neither could be more than nice concepts without the people who make the effort to do the work worthwhile.

Thank you to all who buy from our farmers' market.  Thank you to the buyers for institutions and organizations that support local farms such as our own.  We're all learning and getting better at this every year.

Thank you to our peers who also try to make small, local, organic, sustainable agriculture work.  We commiserated during some difficult growing seasons.  Let's remember to celebrate together when things go well.

Thank you to fine organizations that support the things we do.  The conferences, gatherings, learning, research and opportunities to connect with others in our field (no - not THAT field, the OTHER one) are of great value to us.

It's good to be alive.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

You know you've worked on the farm too long when ...

  • see the words "harrowing experience" for a Halloween advertising and you immediately think of a using a farming implement.  
  • ...someone asks you how you are doing and you say, "the lettuce looks good."
  • know there are cobwebs on your hat from the barn.  You've had people point it out to you.  And, you still haven't cleaned them off.
  •'d like to CHUCK the wood at the woodchuck.
  • ... there is a small jolt of surprise when you meet someone who doesn't know what kale is...or kohlrabi, bok choi, etc (sorry, had to stick with k's).
  • ... there are six or more shovels in your possession and you wonder if you should buy a *few* more.
  • ... you strain your neck trying to look behind farm buildings and in the tall grasses by farmsteads for tools that might be useful to you.
  • ... someone asks you what you've been doing lately and you are tempted to say, "Lemme, there is too much.  Lemme sum up."  (See Princess Bride)
  • ... you edit your comments regarding other peoples' response or opinions about the weather.
  • ... you editorialize about the weather to whomever will listen (or appears to listen)
  • ... all of your analogies seem to refer to farming, vegetables, poultry or the weather.
  • ... most of the catalogs on the end table have pictures of drip irrigation, greenhouse heaters, chickens, tractors or tomatoes on them.
  • ... the back entry has six or more pairs of shoes/boots for two people.  
  • ... every shoe on the back entry seems to have poo on the bottom of it when you need one that does not.
  • ... someone asks if you like tomatoes and you reply with a diatribe about heirloom versus hybrids, the relative merits of trellising techniques and the yield levels of three of your favorite varieties.
  • ... a picture promoting a cross country team makes you wonder if you could convince them to train on the farm by either fetching the needed tools, taking the harvested produce back to the packing are or (worse yet) you consider hitching them up to plows or cultivators.
  • ... you appreciate Winter for the physical break it gives.
  • ... your biggest gripe about Winter has less to do with cold, wind, snow or ice and MORE to do with the lack of daylight hours so you can do work outside.
  • ... the line between 'just enough farm talk' and 'too much farm talk' in casual conversation is too readily crossed.
  • ... your dreams include giant turkeys chasing you with a wheel hoe.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Late night stuff

In an effort to get farm news out there we throw out a late night set of blurbs in list format:

  • The turkeys are sold out at this time.  But, we have been able to link people up with some other sources.  Thank you to all who ordered birds this year and worked with us to get them delivered.  It is appreciated.
  • The kittens are growing and getting into more and more things.  The training of the humans is going forward despite some bumps in the road.
  • After the start of the season - especially June, we couldn't make ourselves believe we would be happy to see rain.  But, after many weeks with absolutely no rain - we're happy to get some.  But, it sure is hard to get used to working in cold, wet conditions.
  • Things in the high tunnel are nice and green.  It has been a pleasure working in there on cooler days.
  • The big maple tree that has been growing out of the foundation of one of our buildings is now down.  This is good.  But, now there is a big mess to clean up.
  • We are slowly, but surely, catching up with all of the paperwork that never seems to get done in late summer -early fall.  
  • We will be taking a trip to Ames on Nov 22 to present at the Iowa Organics Conference.  Should be fun.
  • We are taking deposits of $25 to hold a spot in next year's CSA.  We anticipate that next year's production will be very different from this year's.  Take that in whatever way you wish!  Suffice it to say,we are taking measures to improve production on the farm and become more resilient to adverse weather conditions.  

    Monday, November 1, 2010

    Busy Week/End

    Things have really been hopping on the farm the last several days.  Hopping and hindered - to be more precise.

    First - for those who are looking for email contact from us at the farm - there has been a bit of a problem.  It seems that I am too proficient with my group email typing and sending.  We went over a limit of emails to be sent in an hour and had a block put on us so we could not send out email.  We could receive them, but nothing was outgoing.  Webmail is painful with the rural connection. So.... for those of you who DO read the blog - this is why we haven't responded to emails in a timely fashion.  For those who don't - well - why aren't you reading this?  You'd know why we haven't responded to your emails now!

    On to funner things...

    CSA - the CSA ended last week with our last set of distributions.  While we remain disappointed with the absence of long season crops such as winter squash and potatoes, we are quite pleased with our effort at providing produce through a series of short season crops.  Some surprises from the summer high tunnel planting didn't hurt during the last couple of weeks either.

    Extended season - we are running an extended season CSA.  At present we have five subscribers and will make our first delivery on Tuesday.  We have space enough for 20.

    Winter Market - there will be a Winter Market on November 6 from 8:30 to 11:30 and the Waverly Community Center.  We will be there with high tunnel produce at the ready.  The first Saturday in December will see another harvest market in Waverly.  

    Kittens - Yes, Hobnob and Bree are good little kittens.  They find ways to force the humans to waste time.  This is why we waited until fall to get kittens.  Smart move, that.  At present, they are confined to the kitchen.  But, the problem with this is that the only exits from the house are through the kitchen.  I think you have ideas as to where this is going.

    Silver maple - The giant silver maple that has been growing right next to the foundation of the garage is now horizontal by design.  The skyline looks mighty strange with it down.  The yard area looks like a big clean up job now.  We really would have preferred to keep the tree.  But, when it is threatening to one of your few buildings that is in very good repair...  We did buy a sunburst locust tree that might find its way out there.

    High tunnel - The high tunnel was moved from the west position to its east position on Saturday.  Many thanks to Jeff, Ben and Sam for the help.  Five seems to be the perfect number of people to execute the move.  Two people pushing, two keeping roll bars up and one in the tunnel making sure nothing needs attention (wheels on track, tbars obstructing wheels, etc).  There were also some repairs made to minor damage from high winds during the week.  Just one more thing to repair and it's back to where it was (and better).

    Brrrrr - The weather got really cold on us Thursday night.  Of course, the high tunnel had not yet been moved over the crops in that patch, so we needed to get them covered.  The problem?  Lots and lots of high wind.  Can't cover things with that.  Oh, and the last Thursday CSA distribution required our attention first.  So, we were putting covers on plants that already had frost on them at about 10pm at night.  Plants actually handled the cold better than the wind.  Not too surprising.

    Freaky Friday - We got up very early to take turkeys to the processor.  Came back and did the things we have to do after that.  Got a surprise visit from the people who took our tree down.  Picked up turkeys, delivered some, took others to rented locker space until delivery - etc. 

    New computer - I am finally at a point where MOST of my work can be done on the new computer.  Transitions to a new computer can be a problem when your old machine is seven years old.  Little surprises - like no PCMCIA slot - can result in extra time spent trying to get things to go.  Guess I timed this one just right for the phase out of that technology.

    Monday, October 25, 2010

    Variety is the Veg of Life

    Towards the end of the growing season, it is always nice to look at how our seed and plant selections did for the year.  Here are a few varieties we are pleased with that were on trial this season:

    Red Zebra tomato
    Recommended by Mark Q at Scattergood, this one made him look *really* good.  We already grow Green Zebra.  Red Zebra is the perfect compliment in both looks and taste.  CSA members enjoyed having a chance to have a couple/few salad sized tomatoes every week during tomato peak thanks to these two.  I suspect we'll increase production of these a bit more to give everyone a few more to snack on.

    Tiger Eye dry/shell bean
    The lima beans we have tried around here in the past are very much hit or miss.  Tiger Eye is not exactly a lima, but it can be shelled while green, or it can be left to be a dry bean.  This is true for lima beans as well.  Tiger Eye seed tends to be a bit pricier than some, but the shorter season and high crop level paid off.  This year, we tried some during the normal growing season and got a half-hearted crop (June, say no more).  We also planted several rows late in the year, hoping for a long fall.  We got the fall AND we got a chance to try the shelling bean side.  We liked them enough to add them to our plan for 2011.  Not sure how much it will require in order to add this to the CSA.  That will require more experimentation.

    White Egg turnip
    We've relied on Purple Top White Globe and Golden turnips.  But, we were looking for shorter season turnips that can help us out in the fall if we are unable to get other turnips in the ground.  White Egg responded both in the spring and in the fall.  Once things warmed up, White Egg became rather unhappy and mealy.  So, it is clearly a cooler weather turnip.  But, that's entirely fine with us.  Purple Top and golden hold pretty well in warmer weather, so we can plan around these strengths.

    Wautoma cucumber
    Ok, it's true.  Nearly every cucumber we planted did well this season.  But, some did better than others.  Wautoma gets the nod over Boothby's Blonde, Poinsett 97 and others we trialed this year.  In particular, Wautoma impressed with the long season of production.  We suspect we will like this cultivar better if we trellis it since it crawled all the way from the farm to the town of Fredricka and back.  It also had more of a tendency to have fruit issues if they were on the soil during wet weather.  Other cucumbers did not exhibit this problem as much.  On the other hand, this one will give us loads of smaller cucumbers if we can keep it picked.  We didn't keep up and they still produced for 11 weeks.  If we can trellis, maybe we can keep up?
    Ha'ogen melon

    Tromboncino summer squash
    This one is a winner even though it didn't produce like one this year.  Why?  We planted it in a late succession and it would do better in a prime season planting. (2nd succession of summer squash).  These long, curly squash with a bulb on the end can be harvested early as summer squash or allowed to mature and be used as winter squash.  However, if the taste this year was any indicator, it is unlikely any of these will be allowed to become a winter squash.  Fabulous on the grill, we'll do more with them next year.

    Costata Romanesco zucchini
    Production levels are lower than a hybrid by a long ways.  The vines crawl more than hybrids do.  The fruit are striped and often have a thin middle.  In other words, many of the things that would drive a commercial grower nuts.  On the other hand, you have to taste it.  It's worth growing a row of these so that CSA members have a chance to put these in a special dish that calls for zucchini.  And, if I were selling to a fine restaurant looking for 'gourmet,'  I would chose this zucchini first.  We'll grow lower producing plants if they taste this good.  And, while they didn't produce huge numbers, they produced for a long time and were fairly consistent.  I could count on the number of fruit I would get in the trial row each picking.

    Green Wave mustard
    I have to admit that I snuck mustard into our grow list - Tammy didn't know we had it until I planted it.  These were held in reserve for fall to late fall.  And, they are paying off.  The plants look beautiful and the leaves are a nice light green with frilly edges.  Like all mustards, they have some bite/warmth when eaten raw.  And, many people love that taste.  When cooked, they sweeten appreciably and add a nice taste to a stir fry.  In fact, we found it worked well in combination with arugula and kale.  These plants are easy to grow and easy to pick.  Remember, mustard, once it goes to seed, will remain in your garden for years to come.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    In with the new

    There have been a number of things happening on the farm that are requiring adjustments or additional work.  And, since I am not feeling creative - we'll just report and forego the usual silliness that accompanies.  Ok, I probably won't - it's in my nature.

    • After seven years, we finally have purchased a new computer.  It is six months later than originally budgeted, but that is how it goes.  Of course, the machine still needs to be set up, etc.  So, this represents *more* work to do.  Doesn't that figure?
    • We couldn't see ourselves without a pair of indoor cats - something we have had most of our married lives.  So, we now have two kittens in the kitchen.  We believe in introducing the house in small(ish) portions.  It's good for the kittens - and better for us.  I foresee MORE cleaning coming up before the next expansion of territory.  Names of the cats?  Hobnob and Bree.  Ah, more LOTR references (our previous cats were Eowyn and Strider).  And, yes, I have already stepped on one.  Yes, it made an awful noise.  Yes, the human came out on the worse side of the encounter.
    • The high tunnel has produced some fruits from our late summer planting.  We have had a couple of melons, some tomatoes, green beans and a couple of peppers.  All in all, we have to be happy with getting something/anything from this planting.  
    • Durnik is slated for a bit more work today.  I am rapidly getting accustomed to the tractor - a good thing.
    • The tiller attachment for the lawn tractor is still in pieces.  Not sure when I'll get to that one.  But, I will.
    • A recent scouting expedition found broccoli heads the size of a quarter.  We are on pins and needles as to whether these will fill out.  If they don't, I suppose that is too bad.  It certainly has been worth the try.
    • The meat birds and the ducks have been processed.  The turkeys go in at the end of the month.  Already, the amount of required chore work for the birds is far saner.  It will be even better once all of the processed birds are delivered!
    • The feed transport system developed by our friend Jeff S has had its trial run.  It made it up to Frantzen Farms and back safely and with 1000lbs of feed for the hens.  So far so good.
    • We're still trying to find the mental energy and time to figure out how we will do the season extension shares we intend to do.  I suspect our time has run out, so something will be done about it asap.
    • Team USA II is 3-1 in clashes and in the middle of the last clash of the round robin stage of the Nation's Cup Ticket to Ride tournament.  Looks like we qualify to go into the 'knockout' phase (single elimination tournament).  Hurray for us!
    • Rob and maybe Tammy will be speaking at the Iowa Organic Conference on Nov 22. 
    • It seems to me that there is much more going on at this time.  But, I lack the brain waves to figure it out.  But, I guess that's why the blog is here and it allows me to edit!

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    Durnik at Work

    It's been a week of learning and change with respect to our tractor.

    Thanks to our good friend, Steve, time was spent changing oil, etc on the Ford 8n and it gave me the excuse to look more closely at the machine and to get familiar with it.  Manuals have been ordered and are still 'in transit.'  But, a great deal of progress has been made nonetheless.  Perhaps the most interesting thing would be the discovery that this tractor is NOT exactly a Ford 8n.  It is a Ford 8.5n.  The chassis is clearly a 9n and the engine is a 1948 8n.  We can speculate all we want about how this came about - but, it doesn't matter to me so long as the tractor helps us do our work.

    With the help of the superhero Band Saw Man (thank you Jeff!), we now have a subsoiler that works with a category 1 three point hitch.  Ok, if you don't know what that means - suffice it to say - it works with the tractor.  And, since Jeff is also very good working with metal, he was able to do the repairs to the discovered subsoiler so that it functional.

    I was able to get the implement out of the truck and onto the tractor today.  Sorry, no picture of that yet.  And, of course, I had to try it out.  Aside from the normal 'getting used to the tool' issues, it appears to work very well with the tractor.  I've long since learned that no tool is the 'silver bullet' and every tool needs a learning curve to find its optimal use patterns.  So, most of one of our plots (E1) has had the subsoiler run through it.  I had other work to do, so had to stop learning how to use the tool.

    This was the second job assigned to the tractor on the farm.  The first was helping us to move the Duck N Cover out to a different field for the meat chickens.  That mission was also accomplished.

    Also accomplished - a name for the tractor.  It has been dubbed 'Durnik.'  Again, we thank Steve for the insight.  If you have read any of the David Eddings fantasy books, you will appreciate the name selection.  If you have not, you'll just have to take our word for it.  The name describes exactly what we hope to get out of the tractor.  Solid, reliable and efficient work.

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    Farm Report

    October 11 farm report

    • A group of UNI MBA students are putting together a survey for the GFF CSA.  We have received a draft and they will be sending this survey out to our members very soon.  We are hopeful that we can gather some information that will help us to continue to improve what we do.
    • Ducks are now processed and available.  Chickens go in on the 18th of October.  Turkeys on October 29.  We have more to sell - so contact us if you want them.  Also, we don't have freezer space to store them indefinitely, so we encourage people to find freezer space for their birds!
    • We intend to run the CSA through the end of October.  So, unless something happens, the last dates will be Oct 25 (Mon at farm), Oct 26 (Tue at Waverly), Oct 28 (Thu at Roots)
    • There will be a Harvest Market in Waverly this year.  It will be Saturday Nov 6 from 8:30 - 11:30 and Saturday December 4 during the same time slot.  At the community center (indoors).  We will be attending with some of our high tunnel produce.
    • Weather has been warm and dry.  Thus, there will be some irrigating going on this week.
    • Summer crops are being cleaned up (summer squash, cucumber, etc) as the frosts ended useful harvests from these.  There are a few sneaky eggplant that are growing since only the top half of these plants were singed.  But, anything we get from crops such as this will be minimal.  Perhaps there will be enough to make a miscellaneous box at distribution.
    • Fall/winter crops look healthy.  The broccoli looks beautiful but is making us nervous as it fails to set heads for harvesting.  Kohlrabi is on pace for a harvest.  Kale is wonderful.  The next batch of lettuce is growing.  All in all - pretty successful.
    • We continue to look for implements to use on our new tractor.  We have, however determined that we do not exactly have a Ford 8n.  We are calling it a Ford 8.5n.  The chassis is a 9n and the engine is an 8n.  In other equipment news, the tiller for the JD lawn tractor is going to need an overhaul.  The earlier report of a break in the shielding for the chain must be expanded to a broken chain and a few other things.  I think it is done for the season.
    • If you are a current CSA member and you wish to return for the 2011 season, the time to sign up and reserve a spot (before we open it up to anyone on a first come first served basis) is upon us.  Once again, you reserve a spot with a $25 deposit.  We will hold the price the same as this season for all returning CSA members. 

    Friday, October 8, 2010

    Picture This ... and That!

    Being mildly introspective (and needing to review some pictures for presentations this winter).  I thought I'd share a few pictures - some of which have already seen time on the blog.  But, rather than linking you to them -here they are.

    The winter had moments of sheer beauty - complete with some beautiful hoar frost.  We should have known.  The last time we saw this much hoar frost was the Winter of 2007-2008.  Hmmmm.

    And, there were bee hives on the farm for the first time.  There is still significant activity by these hives in October.  In fact, September and October have been the best months of the season for the bees.

    And, the building that just won't go away -went away more early in the season.  Still more to do on it, but isn't that always the way of things on the farm?

     The temporary green cold frames only lasted for two seasons at most.  And, they have a tendency to break loose and fly away in a strong wind.  So, new cold frames from reused windows and wood began to appear.

    The driveway became a good place to harden plants off.  This way, we weren't killing off any grass, water was nearby and we could keep an eye on things.   The problem was - we had all of this stuff to plant - and no place to plant them!

    The garlic did reasonably well this year.  They survived the winter fine and looked good in early June.

    But, the first signs that there were troubles came in late May and early June.  When it rained, it rained hard - crusting the soil over and inhibiting germination of early crops.

    Then, the rains really came.  Only five days in the month of June saw no rain at all.  Many rainfalls were, shall we say, a bit excessive.   The first picture shows our peppers in June.  The second shows them on (get ready for this)...Labor Day.  As you can see, we did cultivate - so you can't blame the weeds.

    In early July, we held a two day field day and put up a moving high tunnel.  We had several attendees and the tunnel was mostly up by the end of Friday.

    And, in September - we have melons, tomatoes, peppers and green beans growing happily. We have harvested a few green beans and peppers.  The melons may still yet give one or two, as may the tomatoes.  It was an experiment - successful in that we learned some things about growing in the tunnel.  We knew the planting was late and expected little production.

    And, so, fall plantings are where it is at this year.  The loss of some crops allowed us to spend a bit more time keeping the fall crops weeded and mulched.

    And then, there is the Poultry Palace - or Poultry Pavilion...  There is now a nice room in there for turkeys and plans for two more rooms for critters.

    And, the turkeys enjoy their new pasture and seem to be respecting the new fenceline.

    And, then, there were sunsets like this one.  Reminding us to slow down and enjoy our lives and the place we now live.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    Wait! This isn't farm related!

    We've been asked every so often what we do to relax. 

    Since not everyone believes me when I say we weed, we thought we'd bring up the Ticket to Ride thing again.  Tammy and I both still enjoy these games and we are beginning to play more often now that the daylight goes away earlier.  We do still tend to play these games cooperatively when we play each other.  But, it is a different matter when Rob plays online.

    In fact, I was given the opportunity to play for one of three US teams in the Nation's Cup tournament that is going on now.   All games are head to head (two players, one from each team).  Players are matched up to play a best of five match.  There are five players from each team to make a 'clash.'  It is set up similar to many soccer style tournaments - so we are in the round robin phase right now.

    Thus far, USA Team II has won two clashes and lost one.  The loss versus Germany's Team II and the wins versus Italy and Switzerland.  I have played two matches and gotten two wins for the team. 

    Here's hoping my luck (and concentration) holds out! 

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    Fall Farm Pictures

    The following are pictures that were taken primarily in September.  We intended to post them at that time.  I only missed by a day....

    Ok. Ok.  They were taken around September 6.   Remember, you can click on a picture to see a larger version.

    Below is a picture of our southwest plot, looking towards the high tunnel and granary.  In the foreground are our late planting of green beans.  They produced in time for everyone to get one last blast of green beans before the expected frost the Saturday.  Now, that's timing!

    The turkeys were given a new home in the 'Poultry Palace' and a new pasture this summer.  We're now working on fencing in a second paddock to rotate the fields a little bit.

    It has been a year where we've had to mow....alot.  When life makes you cut the lawn, use mulch.  This is some of our late plantings of lettuce, broccoli, kohlrabi, etc from about Sep 8.  And, yes, it does take a while to spread that much mulch.
     The above plot was originally supposed to be melons and watermelons.  But, by now, those who read the blog know we couldn't get into the field in time to put them in.  So, we made some adjustments.  The field that was originally to be sweet corn and pumpkins became....

    Dry beans and summer squash/zucchini.  ssq/zukes are on the left.  This was planting #4 of summer squash and zucchini.  CSA members, Waverly Child Care and Bartels Retirement Center all got to partake of the fruits from those plants!  This is a good thing.

    Back to the brassicae.  We just keep plugging along getting things weeded and mulched out there.  Here's hoping they produce.  So far, we can say we will get kale, pok choi, lettuce and kohlrabi from this field.  Still not sure about other things.  But, we'll keep working on it.

    Wednesday, September 29, 2010


    No, this is not a reference to 'Talk Like a Pirate' day..or week..or whatever it is.

    The season for doing alot of tilling is past - 'tis true. However, there is still tilling to do for some late season crops and some cover crops.

    So, of course, the tiller attachment on the lawn tractor just seized up on me. hmmmm. I have never seen this, nor did I expect to see it. But, the housing that covers the chain has a puncture *through* it, from the outside (the metal is curved inward). I really didn't think the metal would be that thin to allow this to happen.

    I still haven't identified what went through it. It could have been an ironworm (a buried metal part in the field). It likely was not a rock with this sort of puncture.

    Guess I'll have to figure out how to fix it.... so, fix it fast, Faux.

    Tuesday, September 28, 2010

    What's A Cuke Worth?

    Once again - we have a number crunching post.  For those who don't get much out of these, you can scroll to the end and see what conclusions we make for the farm.  For those who do like them - enjoy.

    One of the questions we get to ask ourselves is "What is this veg worth?" It is important to figure these things out in order to inform our pricing for the CSA, direct sales and for market prices.  Clearly, none of this is perfect and precise. But, the exercise of getting the numbers lined up is informative and useful to us.

    This year, we have harvested 7200 cucumbers (all numbers are approximations)
    • 4200  have gone to the CSA
    • 50 have sold at market
    • 400 have been sold to other outlets
    • 1400 have been donated to various locations
    • 1100 been used on the farm to feed birds or for events, promotional usages, etc
    If we assign values
    • We sell cucumbers for 75 cents at market
    • We assign 50 cent values to cucumbers given to CSA or donated. We figure in these cases that there is a discount because of the ability to move bulk amounts.
    • We sell to other outlets in bulk at 40 cents.
    • We assign 5 cent value to things used on the farm. There is still value - even if it is used to feed birds (or even compost).
    That gives us a value so far of $2900 for this one crop.
    This works out to about $4.32 per row foot assigned to cucumbers.

    Working at it from the other direction, we ask ourselves what the costs are for this crop:
    • Seed cost isn't terrible. $62
    • We direct seed these (into the ground, no starting in pots or soil blocks)
    • typically we only irrigate to get them started. However, a dry year will require more irrigation.
    • Labor includes early cultivation before plants crawl and two weedings once they crawl.
    • and, of course, labor to clean, pack and distribution. Packing and distribution is often a portion of overhead cost for all crops. Cleaning is only really necessary after a rain makes fruit muddy.
    • But, the real labor cost is in the picking.  
    Estimate of person hours labor spent on this crop = 160 hours.
    Assign a value of $10/hour and you have a labor cost of $1600
    For a net value of $1238 from the crop, not including overhead expense splits.

    And, what does this exercise tell me about this crop and our farm?
    • We could increase our direct sales to increase the value of this crop (realizing that marketing does add some labor hours - so it may be a matter of finding the time).  
    • Labor cost in this crop is relatively high during picking.  It has physical costs as well since we allow cucumbers to crawl over the ground.  Picking vining cucumbers requires a fair amount of stretching and bending with this set up.  We could look into trellising to see if there is a net labor savings.
    • We did not "lose money" on this crop in 2010.  Since most of our produce goes to the CSA - you might consider this a moot point.  However, we have to balance crops that are loss leaders (such as green beans) with crops that have a profit margin (such as cucumbers and tomatoes). 
    • We do not need to increase production of this crop, nor do we need to consider a reduction at this point.  A fairly small portion of the crop was not utilized in a fashion that was best for the farm.

    Monday, September 27, 2010

    Gut Check

    We took a trip to northwest Iowa this past weekend to help my brother and family move into a new home.  And, as many of you may have noted, there has been some heavy rain in southern Minnesota, northern Iowa and Wisconsin over the last week.  The farm got a total of 1 inch of rain from these systems - which is quite nice.  But, even areas such as our that got less can have troubles because of the rain upriver!  A quick look at the Cedar River in Waverly confirms that. 

    However, the thing that got both of us really thinking was what we saw up by Estherville.  There was a sizable pumpkin patch with a large number of ripe pumpkins.  This patch was going under water when we drove up - and was fully under water when we drove back.  Even worse, there were nearly 2 dozen bee hives that had been washed or floated down towards the river.  Very clearly, the hives were finished.  In either case, the bee keeper is out the bee colonies as they either drowned or swarmed (if they were lucky bees).  And, of course, the hives and all of the investment in them was likely lost.

    From the looks of the patch, the worst thing the patch owner might have been dealing with was the fact that the pumpkins looked to be fully ripe at the end of September - a little early for sales - but salvageable from a business perspective.  I suspect they may also have been bemoaning a poor honey year.

    And now?

    It is doubtful that they will save any colonies of bees.  It is likely they will only salvage a fraction of the hives.  It is only possible that things will dry out to allow them to harvest at least some of the pumpkins.  And, we'll wager a bet that there is no insurance involved to cover the cost of the hives, the colonies or the lost income from this event. 

    If there is one thing we've learned over the course of a few growing seasons - it's empathy for fellow growers.  Whoever put the work into those hives and fields, we wish for the best possible outcomes.

    Sunday, September 19, 2010

    Sept Farm Report

    Farm Report for Sept 19:

    • The cooler evenings spell the end (or at least a weak last gasp) for some of our summer friends. The cucumbers will be lucky to give us a couple of dozen fruit at best. This is, of course, normal - and we are not surprised by it at all.
    • The summer squash and zucchini slow down dramatically, but the 3rd planting looks fairly healthy. We have not been out to check on the fruit this weekend, so we don't know what they will do for us.
    • Lettuce is looking good and we may get lucky and have our successions mature at just the right speed. We are certainly hoping this will be the case.
    • The main feature for a time will be greens. The swiss chard looks healthy. The older kale that survived June/July can be picked, but the number of plants are limited. There are a few volunteer arugula plants that will be harvested.
    • Tomatoes are winding down, but we expect a few this week for everyone. We'll pick the rest of the basil with the belief that they will not survive much longer.
    • We will see how some of our root crops are doing. There MAY be some carrots, turnips, beets and parsnips this week. But, as is always the case with these, it is hard to tell what you've got until you dig them.
    • Green beans? That is always the question. We never know until the rows are picked. It could be a long 'fruitless' task - or we could be pleased. And, we'll be starting the potato hunt. Let's hope the surviving plants did well for us! It is possible the potatoes in a compost pile will produce the best. We made sure not to turn the pile over these plants once we recognized the losses in June and July.
    • Ducks will go to the processor (park) in the beginning of October. Chickens on October 18 and turkeys at the end of the month of October. So, it is time to consider ordering birds.
    • The CSA is planned for six more weeks. We will inform everyone if this plan must change.
    • Late season crops are growing well in the fields. We have broccoli, kohlrabi, cabbage, collards, lettuce, onions (which we hope to harvest as green onions), kale, pok choi, radish, daikon, etc. There may be a gap between the summer crops and the late season crops. And, of course, there is always the possibility that nature will step in and reduce these crops to nothing. But, for now, suffice it to say that we are keeping these crops weeded, mulched and are doing what we can for them.
    • High Tunnel crops are two-fold. The melons, tomatoes, peppers and beans inside the tunnel right now are intended as a trial. And, any resulting fruit may be a part of the CSA. The melons are borderline successful at this point. It is clear that we missed the start by about 2 weeks. But, the tunnel didn't exist prior to that, so we can't really be upset by that. It is possible we'll get all of one or two melons. In that case, we call dibs. It is also possible there will be more. In that case, we will share as we can!
    • High Tunnel part 2. In case you forgot, the high tunnel moves. The winter crops are planted in the east plot. We intend to move the high tunnel over these crops in early October. But, we'll react to the weather as we feel we must. We'd like to give the current crops as much time as we can afford. But, the winter crops are an important part of paying off the high tunnel! Currently in this plot are lettuce, pok choi, broccoli, kohlrabi, arugula, carrots, spinach, chard, mustard, collards, amaranth, cabbage. We expect to add some onions, leeks and brussels to the mess. This is our first try at this, so we are trying a few more crops than we might otherwise (some more than others). Contents of the high tunnel will not be ready for the current CSA season. However, we would like to implement a winter CSA season for 20-30 interested persons. If you are interested, let us know.
    • We have identified and are now looking for implements for the Ford 8n. At present, our goal is to acquire a chisel plow to deal with some soil compaction issues. A disc harrow is likely up next. Here's hoping.
    • Building modifications and improvements are going way up the list right now. There is only so much time before much of this work becomes difficult due to the colder weather. The difficulty is in finding the contiguous chunks of time to tackle each problem - as we are still planting, weeding, mowing, mulching, harvesting...
    • And then there is the paperwork. One item is recording problems, results, etc from this year. We need to get this down so we don't forget when we have more time to plan for next year! And, of course, there is lots of learning to do! Neither of us has worked with implements like we will dealing with on the Ford. Neither of us has grown veg in a high tunnel. And, there are things like an effort to write a grant to add a solar array next season and a walk in cooler.
    Feeling overwhelmed yet? Don't worry, we do too. But, we'll figure it out anyway - and enjoy the ride as we do our best to accomplish it all.

    Friday, September 17, 2010

    So...What's the Cause?

    I started thinking while I was in the field today. Then I wanted to look at the information. So, I came in and worked on a few numbers.

    The question: "We blame the growing season's weather anomalies for crop problems. But, is it possible there are sizable chunks of it that have to do with fertility or farmer error?"

    Obviously, the answer is that these two things likely play a part in it. BUT..

    Check this out:

    Mulipik Summer Squash by Foot by Planting Succession

    p1 July p1 Aug p1 Sep p2 July p2 Aug p2 Sep p3 Aug P3 Sep
    2007 7.5 3.9 0.3
    2 0.5

    2008 0.9 3.6 0.1
    2.4 4.2

    2009 2.2 2 1 1.3 2.9 0.8
    2010 0.6 3.9 0.3
    2.9 1.9 1.2 1.3

    We remove the variable that it has to do with the variety of summer squash by only looking at our productive straight neck (Multipik). We remove changes in how many feet we plant each time by figuring by the foot production. Weed control was pretty similar each year. Each year, rows were diligently picked. No significant infestation or disease specific to these plants took anything other than the normal toll each season. We always have some cucumber beetles, squash bugs, borers, powdery mildew, etc...

    The only variable that may play a role here is that succession planting dates do not line up perfectly. Planting 3 was planted too late in 2009 (for example).

    The results? I can point to weather or weather events that correspond with the numbers in all cases. Hmmmm.

    2007 started with beautiful growing weather - but we got torrential rains in late August and well into September - result ridiculous July numbers, getting progressively poorer.
    2008 was disastrously cold through most of the year, but gave us a gloriously long fall. Result, very poor early with surprising September production.
    2009 evenly cool, making it difficult for warm season crops, but not impossible. A cool start resulted in poor germination in succession 1, so we start #2 earlier. But, this explains a poor per foot number set in planting 1 - they took the same number of row feet, but fewer plants per row.
    2010 very wet early, drying out later with normal temperature ranges. Result is a disastrous early season and a normal appearing August and September (still some picking to do)

    What might we expect for a normal year?
    Planting 1 would give us 4 per foot through both July and August and be pulled in before September is very old.
    Planting 2 would give us 3 per foot in August and 2.5 in September
    Planting 3 would give us 1 per foot in both August and September

    But, what we really see here is that a crop that is not full season can be reasonably successful even in a poor year if we have succession plantings in an effort to "capture" weather that works for the crop.

    Saturday, September 11, 2010

    Laboring on Labor Day

    Our thanks to the IS 101 classes who came out to the farm on Labor Day! There were tours, chances to watch turkeys chase cucumbers, a rainbow of sliced tomatoes and some interesting tasks for all.

    As a tribute to these efforts we submit the following photos:

    The tractor is there for decoration. It's the leaning pole that was sunk all the way to China that was a task for this day.

    Eventually, this building WILL get painted. Much thanks to those who kindly scraped on this side of it to prepare it for further work this month.

    Oh, and now we can keep an eye on the chickens with the tall ragweed down!

    And, the tall weeds along the new poultry palace have been under attack all season. It looks like we may finally be winning the battle!

    And the garlic is cured, so it is time to trim off the stems and the roots so they are ready for the CSA, for seed and for other sales.

    It's always a good thing when you can SEE the swiss chard and the beets. It is especially important to allow for ease of picking the chard. It gets tedious pulling out grass and other weeds when we cut the chard.

    Our poor peppers. They've not had a very good year. But, the weeds were removed so we can do some cover cropping in here.

    And salvaged wood is only good if the old nails are removed. Excellent!

    And, when you want to use a chicken shelter made of wood, a new coat of paint can help make it last.

    And that pole we mentioned at the beginning? The crew would not desist until it succumbed to their combined efforts. The original goal was to take it out in one piece. But, hey - we did mention that the thing went down quite a bit. We contacted BP to tell us how to cap the well we had to dig to get this one out. They had no suggestions that worked. So, we simply filled the hole up with dirt. Seems to be fine now.

    Friday, September 10, 2010

    Focusing on Success

    I realize that I go through an analysis-phase every season. It has something to do with September and the start of school for so many people. I think.

    Also, there is enough of the season completed that it makes sense to evaluate while things are still fresh in our minds. Again, I say this every year - often in newsletters...and now, blog posts.

    And, while it has been a difficult season, it helps our attitude to look at some of the successes we've had this year.

    • Growing Black Krim tomatoes. These have to be some of the best tasting tomatoes we grow. And, over the last few years, CSA members and farmers' market customers have become fans. The problem? Tomatoes in this class are notoriously difficult to keep from going bad before you get them to the customer. Also, the production season of 'marketable' tomatoes is shorter than many other types. So, we tried a couple of things this year and we are seeing success. Black Krim has produced through the entire peak period (Aug 17 to present) this year. The same number of plants have doubled 2008's record production and tripled last year's mark. Part of the strategy - quickly pulling any bad fruit from the plants to prevent spread of any fruit disease. Another strategy is pulling them on the 'front edge' of ripe. Waiting for them to become 'fully ripe' (soft with deep color) only asks for splits and failure to travel. And, happily, they rapidly reach full color in 24-36 hours off the vine and there is no appreciable taste difference. The problem is that this is a developed skill (to recognize the correct stage to pick) that I cannot quite explain. So, it is a task that can not be delegated. It's a good thing I like the task then!
    • Finding better timing on our last summer squash and zucchini planting. (see below post)
    • Weekly emails to CSA members. While we may have missed (see this week's bounced email for Thursday), we've found the weekly email to be a good way to disseminate information and remind everyone of the impending pickup for the week. We've found that 'attendance' (if you can call it that) has been better than last year. And, special situations have been handled much more easily from our perspective. In prior years, we admit to having fallen back on a more generic reminder and/or have completely forgotten to send them out. Part of it is a function of our internet connection (slow) and the other part is a function of the amount of time spent in the office (very little) during the summer and fall. But, it is clearly an important thing to do - so we'll do our best to stick with it!
    • Improving mechanical skills. NOTE: we are not claiming expertise. "Improving" can mean something as small as changing the oil on a tractor. But, the reality is - we are getting better at maintenance, making repairs and using the chewing gum and baling wire fixes and modifications often necessary to keep things going on the farm. In prior years, we would often shy away from these tasks. They are still not the first thing either of us wants to do - but it isn't as scary as it once was. Last year's move to two JD lawn tractors of the same model is a key to this. Consistency is helpful.

    Monday, September 6, 2010

    Summer Squash & Zucchini

    The cucumber analysis was interesting (to me). And, we have enough information to begin doing this work. The question is (of course)..."WHY?"

    The answer is - so we can confirm for ourselves that what we are PLANNING is matching what we INTEND for our farm, the CSA and our fields. We are finally at a point where we have a few years of data, so we can actually see some trends - even if the weather and growing seasons have been odd. We can't let that matter too much since odd might be the new normal.

    It is also important for us to assess what this farm is capable of. We owe it to our CSA members to check and double check that we are doing what we can to give them a fair amount of good produce. We owe it to ourselves to determine what is the best way to maximize our effort on this farm. We can only be sustainable if we are a sound farm business in all senses of the word.

    So, this brought me to looking at summer squash.

    Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week 8 Week 9
    2006 0 30 60 137 112 92 165 138 159
    2007 186 275 480 351 569 390 314 100 79
    2008 0 98 184 329 257 212 337 221 147
    2009 10 83 154 245 330 329 147 193 168
    2010 0 5 31 67 187 269 228 373 496

    We just completed week 9 of our range for summer squash production. Our normal is 11-12 weeks.
    2007 was again an excellent year for this crop UNTIL the heavy rains in August destroyed our late planting. This year is a direct opposite with heavy rains destroying the early crops and the late crops moving in to save the day. Note that the production level steadily increased each week this growing season.
    2008 and 2009 were weak years due to low growing degree days. But, these serve as a baseline for a weak year.

    If we wish to do a reasonable distribution of 4 summer squash for a large and 2 for a standard every week (assuming 20 large shares and 100 standard shares), we need 280 summer squash.

    Zucchini looked like this:

    Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week 8 Week 9
    2006 0 11 30 43 22 22 50 42 63
    2007 281 292 243 444 382 309 144 54 29
    2008 3 126 270 268 172 174 268 112 59
    2009 39 117 336 385 189 195 117 163 61
    2010 0 18 71 51 212 268 201 321 366

    The beauty of these crops is we can combine the two to provide larger numbers and distribution possibilities. And, consistent supply over a few weeks means we can alternate peaks in distribution. Monday/Tuesday gets a larger amount one week and Thursday the following week.

    Once again, the numbers confirm for us that when the crop is right - we have plenty of excess beyond the CSA need. In fact, even in poor years (2008 & 2009) reasonable amounts could be distributed - but little (if any) could be sold as excess. Capacity appears to be yields of 300-400 zucchini from mid July through August (about 7 weeks) with smaller amounts stretching out on either end a week or two. We approached capacity in 2007 with 2200 units. So, there appears to be adequate evidence for us to continue to operate under the assumption that our plan using the existing varieties, planting succession and row foot allotment is not in need of extreme modifications for 2011.