Monday, June 30, 2014

You live in Iowa - so deal with it

I may have heard this one too many times.  A person tells me about the day they were outside at the edge of X town in Iowa and then they smell the chemicals from a nearby field.  Then they say, "Well, it's rural Iowa, I guess you have to expect it."

I've heard people say this even if they witness droplets hitting their windshields as they drive down the road.  Or when they rush their children into the house and then spend time emptying and cleaning the pool before they let the kids get back into it after an aerial application on nearby fields.  I've heard people say this after they witness an applicator ground spraying on a day when the wind is blowing their way at 30 miles per hour.  "Well, it's Iowa, I guess you have to expect it."

I am tired of hearing this.  It is just an excuse.  No, we do NOT have to expect it.  Nor should we accept it.  It is time for us to dispense with the excuse that "we live in Iowa, so you have to expect drift from chemical applications." 

As an Iowan, I was raised to understand that part of being a good citizen was to take care of the things you need to do efficiently and effectively without infringing on the rights of others in the process.  I believe that there are practical approaches and solutions that we, as Iowans, can embrace that will effectively address the problems of chemical drift and misapplication.  But, first, we have to admit there is a problem and part of that process is to learn how to report misapplication issues so we can get a sense of the extent of the problem and the possible causes.

As an Iowan, I was also raised to prize practical approaches and common sense.  Chemical drift and misapplication defies both practicality and common sense.  Ignoring use labels, weather conditions, spray rates and potential to volatilize is a disservice to the farmer who has contracted the application as well as to those adjacent to the land where the application is to made.  In our annual rush to complete all of our application tasks, short cuts are taken and mistakes are made.  These mistakes result in contaminated rivers (that much of our state uses as drinking water), specialty crop losses from farms that are working to diversify Iowa's economic landscape, a reduction in pollinators that are important for many of our crops and medical issues for our people that we are only now beginning to learn more about.

We are better than this.  We are capable and innovative.   Now we just have to be willing to admit there is a problem and address it.

Friday, June 27, 2014

News of the Farm

It's time for a quick "News of the Farm" blog post.  We hope this is useful, amusing or, at the least, not annoying for everyone to read!

Broilers soon to be available!
It is time for you to get reservations in for our Spring batch of broiler chickens!  There will be 80 to 90 birds available this time around.  Cost will remain at $3.25 per pound with an average size around 4 1/2 to 5 pounds. 
Process date is JULY 11.  We'd love to have people pick as many up as possible on that date before we freeze them.  It reduces our costs - much of which ends up  coming in the form of time and effort moving them around.  Some of it comes from paying the local locker to flash freeze the birds.  Trying to freeze 90-100 birds on our own freezers is very hard on them.

Our Fall batch of broilers are now on the farm (chicks) and will be processed in the early Fall.
The day to "Go to the Park" is nye!
Weather Wizards?  
 Well, if we are, we are not very good ones.  We needed at least one more day before the rain caught up to us again.  But, we didn't get it.  That's the way of the farm, so we'll deal with it. 

We happily admit that temperatures have been moderate - making it much easier to work.  But, we have not been able to plant and weed the way we would like since the last batch of rain.  The current batch moved in before we could take full advantage of soil getting workable again.

Manic Planting Mode 
However, Tammy says that Rob went into "manic planting mode" on Wednesday and Thursday this week.  And, we had some pretty intense weeding sessions as well.

400 feet of garlic were hand weeded - which is always a big deal.  We put in  another 800 feet of summer squash and zucchini and 200 feet of butternut squash.  600 feet of cucumbers managed to go in the ground as did 500 feet of combined pok choi, chinese cabbage and kohlrabi.

Fruit Trees and Other Stuff

We don't advertise that we do tree or bush fruit for various reasons.  First, we don't have enough of some plants to get too serious about.  Second, our apple trees are still youngish and we still aren't sure what they are capable of.  Third, many of the can fruits ripen at a point in time when we can't afford the labor to pick, clean and pack it would take.  But, all of that doesn't mean we don't have some raspberries, mulberries and other fruits on the farm. 

Apples looking good again this season!
 If our trees are any indicator, this looks like it could be another good year for apple producers in the area!  We like our apples, so we consider this good news.  It is actually possible that our trees will exceed our normal levels of consumption.  Hmmm.  We'll see what we want to do IF and when that happens.

We lost one peach tree and the other will likely be bare this year.  On the other hand, we may have some plums and maybe some pears.  Even our little cherry tree looks like it wants to give us three or four cherries.  Ok, we'll take it.

We Can Do It!
We asked for some input for a name for the new tractor.  Our choices we submitted are below:
1. Justin  (Tammy thought it would be fun to call it Justin - as in - Justin Case)
2. Jude  (this one, sadly, is Rob's....  Hey Jude!  Hey Jude Law!  Hey Jude lawsuit.  Hey Jude law suitcase. (Ha!  There's CASE)  Hey Jude law suit casestudy.  Hey Jude law suit case studyhall...... I can go on and on and....
3. Rosie (if we say "We Can Do It!"  Do you know where it is coming from?  Would you be riveted?)
4. Mighty Mouse (Here I come to save the day!)
5. Oil Can Harry (He's a villain.  He knows it, but it's a lot of fun... see Mighty Mouse for the reference)

It may help to know this is a Case Farmall 45 tractor.

In the end, we (and most of those who responded) liked Rosie the best.   There were also suggestions for Rosebud, Casey and Colt.  We'll let you draw the parallels for each!

It doesn't rivet, but with Rosie's help, We Can Do It!
Duck Dodging
We have two flocks of ducks this year.  One Muscovey flock and one Appleyard flock.  And, right on schedule, the Muscovey's started picking on each other.  We're not always sure how it starts, but we understand why.  Once the wing feathers come in, it seems that birds start pulling on the feathers (their own and others').  Next thing you know, there are lacerations and blood, so they pick more.  We, of course, watch for this and respond to it to prevent further problems.  But, it always happens on a day when we really can't afford to spend time dealing with it.

We think they must read our schedule or something.

Give a duck a cell phone.  It'll be at its Beak and Call..... 
Wheels within Wheels
Some days were meant to be complicated.  Thursday was such a day for us this week.

We had the Cedar Falls distribution, we had to pick up the strawberries from Grinnell Heritage Farm.  We also needed to receive lettuce from G It's Fresh.  We had 100 broilers come in the mail, which meant we had to run down to Waterloo post office to get them.  And, we had 100 broilers at the Hoover Hatchery in Rudd.  So, we had to drive up there as well.  Meanwhile, we were frantically trying to take advantage of soil that had just entered the 'nice and workable' stage.

By the time we returned from Cedar Falls, we still had to put the new chicks into their brooders.  Essentially, this includes setting up a 'box' with the proper bedding, food and water and a heat source.  Then, the birds need to be transferred - dipping each bird's beak into water before setting them in their new home.  Tammy drew that job.

Rob, on the other hand, was putting up an electric fence to prevent rabbits from destroying Thursday's planting. 

And, of course, we had to do chores.

For those of you that have ever run distances - either because you run or because you ran as a part of training for another sport - you can relate to what each of us were mumbling to ourselves under our breath.

"You can do it.  Keep moving.  This isn't that hard."

And, it was the truth.  Each of our tasks were not that difficult.  And, we did just fine.  It was just one way to measure the complexity of the day that we found ourselves needing to make self-motivating statements as if we were running a marathon.

If you didn't know the source of the name Rosie, now you do.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Game of Pepper

We enjoy giving updates with pictures and text to those who have interest.  The difficulty is in how we can feed these to you without overwhelming AND how we can keep them up to date and timely.  For example, the pictures you will see below will show how things looked around June 10.  This post is being written a week later and it will post about a week after that.  If we can manage it - we may add an updated picture to the post prior to the point it goes live.  But, hey - sometimes you have to go with the weather and what you have time to do.  That's why we often write clusters of blog posts and either schedule them OR we start them and then edit them later (publishing them once the edit is done).

A Quick GFF Pepper History
Ok - maybe not a full history.  We'll just give a few pertinent facts.  In 2012 - we had a fabulous pepper crop.  But, it was in the area that was sprayed.  Thus, we were forced to pick, then compost, all of the fruit that year.  That meant that we (and our CSA members) were not able to consume a single one of those peppers.  (Sigh).  Last year (2013), planted our peppers into a field that was still pretty wet, but we had to push just to get anything in.  Inside of a couple of nights, we had lost 70% of the peppers to rabbits and deer (along with normal losses for various other reasons).  Luckily, we had some peppers from the high tunnel, so everyone got some, but it wasn't what we really wanted either.  For that matter - we had a complete crop failure of peppers in 2010 because of the excessive rains.
Something must be up - the yellow cart is out!
And, a number of Adjustments for 2014
By now, most of you who read our blog realize that we don't keep doing things the same way if there is a problem.  For that matter, we make changes even on things that appear to be going well.  Clearly, we needed to do something to address the problems that caused the losses in each of the prior years.
Peppers in pots - awaiting the ultimate repotting!
Plant Peppers in Multiple Locations

One of our adjustments has been to split our pepper crop into three locations.  We have done more of this each year with most of our crops in an effort to avoid complete crop failures.  For example, the spraying issue hit the Western half of our farm, while the East was fine.  All of the peppers were in that Western half, thus we were unable to provide any from our farm.  In 2010, all of our peppers were in a particular field.  And, it just so happened that field had the worst issues with the excess rain (not that others were in perfect shape).  By splitting the crop, we hedge our bets a bit. 

On the down side, it does make management more difficult.   But, we'll keep fine tuning until it works reasonably well.

They always look better when they are IN the pots.

The Rabbit Fence
Deer are an issue, but not as much as the rabbits were last year.  So, we invested in some electric netting that runs off a solar charger to discourage the critters this year.  The portability of these fences are a big plus for us since we can move it from this location to protect another sensitive crop once the peppers are big enough to hold their own.

Gotta like the solar charger
A solar charger for an electric fence is appealing for many reasons.  You might like it because it is a renewable energy source - and perhaps that is a good thing.  But, we like it even more for the flexibility this gives us.  We can set up these fences anywhere there is some sunshine.  That's pretty much near any of our fields. 

Only 2 sections of fence for the entire area.

Most of our fields can be surrounded by three sections of fence.  Or, more accurately, 2 and a half sections.  And, they are easy to move once you learn how.

Wasn't that cart full a little bit ago?

Looking forward to this

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Night Lights

There was a gorgeous full moon on Friday the 13th (Rob's Dad's lucky day!).  And, since we were still out working, Tammy thought she'd try to take a picture of two.  The results are interesting.

The settings caused the camera to record a 'shadow' moon onto the picture.  The colors are great and they are fun pictures, so we thought we'd share.

Looks like we live on Tatooine - but too many trees!
We had heard rain in the forecast and we've been trying to get everything done prior to the rain.  We had just secured access to a tractor with lights and we wanted to finish the chisel work in hopes that the next steps would complete soon.  Tammy snapped the picture below while Rob was zipping around.  Headlights do help if you want to work after the sun goes down.

Pictures don't always have to make sense, do they?
Our new addition to the farm is below:

Suggestions for a name?
We finally bit the bullet and applied for financing to acquire a newer tractor.  We'll probably post on it more later.  But, it was becoming apparent that the old Ford 8n was struggling with some of the tasks we were asking it to do.

For those who want to know are might ask, yes, a bucket for this tractor is part of the package.  That was another part of the attraction for this unit.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Now That's How You Weed the Onions!

One of the tasks on the farm that can take a VERY long time is weeding the onions (or the carrots).  Last year, we purchased a tool for a tractor that was intended to make onion weeding much easier.  We trialed it last year, but couldn't claim success simply because we were unable to get onions in the ground in time to get any real crop form them.

This year, they have been in for a while.  Long enough to get some weeds started. 

Setting up to run the flex tine on onions

Now that's just purdy!

And it worked on this row as well!
Of course, it did pull a few of the onions, but not very many.  With set up and a slow start to be sure we knew what we were doing, it probably only took 30 minutes to weed 600 feet of onions planted in triple rows.  Next time it will go even faster.

Is it perfect?  Of course not.  We didn't get out there early enough to catch all of the weeds before they got too big, so there are a few spots that will need hand weeding.  And, the Canada Thistle won't pull with this cultivator either.  But, when the option is spending hours with a crew of people pulling every little weed by hand and trying NOT to pull the onions - this is great!
It's nice when a tool works

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

June Picture This

Here we are - mid-June.  And we haven't done a picture this for June.  So, here we go!

Clover and Bumbebees
We have a fair amount of clover on the farm and we try to leave some of it taller and let it flower.  If you look at the first picture, you should see one reason why.

Do you see it?
Bumblebees are some of our best workers on the farm.  Despite their size and the buzzing sound that they make, these are non-threatening critters that provide alot of pollinating services to various plants on our farm.  In general, if you don't swat at a bumblebee, step on them, etc, they will not bother you.  After all - what would you do if someone hit you or stepped on you?

Oh! There you are!
This is why we seeded clover into many of the paths around our fields several years ago.  We wanted to provide food for our pollinators.  This is also why we aren't upset by the plethora of dandelions we usually have in the Spring.  Like all critters, the pollinators need to eat - and early Spring can get pretty sparse.

Soapbox Warning!
And this is one reason why we want people to reconsider the need to have a perfect lawn with no clover and no dandelions.  It'll be cheaper if you just cover your yard with astroturf if that's what you really want (no we don't like that idea either).  We are creating lifeless, grass deserts in our cities and towns that are no better for our earth than acres of monocrops (corn, soybeans, etc).

Paper Mulch
We've managed to get the melon/watermelon planting in.  This is part of a SARE grant funded study to explore the role paper mulch might have in helping with the survival of heirloom melons.  We'll take some more pictures and keep you up to date on it throughout the season.
I think we missed a spot there
Fruit Trees
At some point during the early Spring we posted some pictures that showed rabbit damage to some of our fruit trees.  So, we thought we had better follow up on that a little.
Well, it's not quite dead.
We lost one small apple tree that was likely on its way out.  And, another is now relegated to 'bush' status.  Essentially, the snow was deep enough to allow the rabbits access OVER the fence.  They girdled the tree over the lower branches.  So, those leafed out while everything above it did not.

The peach trees fared less well.  The new tree only has one branch that is living.  The other is better off, but not as happy as we would like.  But - what did we expect?  Peach trees in our area are always a gamble.
The leaning apple tree of GFF
We may want to consider staking a few of the trees.  Prevailing winds have been working on them over the years.  But, the really good news is that most of the apples made it through the winter, the flowering started later so they weren't impacted by frost.  So, a good fruit set has started!


We thought you might want a gratuitous garlic crop picture for the year so far.  They are looking VERY good.

Garlic next to young summer squash and zucchini plants.

They are getting bigger and more annoying.  That's a good sign.  It means they are healthy and exercising their ...uh... broilerness. 
It's good to see them out and about.
The Silvery Fir Tree Tomato
Every year we mean to keep track of some extra this or that and put it in the blog regularly.  Does it happen?  Well....sometimes.
There's a tomato already started in that mass of foliage!
And, we also planted a Nebraska Wedding in another pot.  This pot is bigger because we expect this plant to get bigger.
Nebraska Wedding with basil surrounding it.
June 16 Storm
Many of you already know that a twister was sighted West of Tripoli last night.  So, to answer the immediate question - the farm was not in its path.  We did get heavy rains, wind and a little hail.  We've been outside and found minimal damage in general.  Most plants should find a way to pull themselves back out of the mud.

Both of us were getting increasingly agitated as the day wore on because we could sense the potential for difficult weather.  Once we sent our crew home (and after all of the melons and watermelons were in the ground) we worked to get things under cover and put anything that could become a projectile in wind into better situations if possible.  Rob did spot the tornado to our Southwest and we barreled on down to the basement for a time.

The twister hit the corner of Hwy 93 and 63.  The car dealership there took a direct hit.  It looks like it skirted most of the homes in the area and the path ran SouthEast for over a mile.  It was probably no more than an EF1 tornado and maybe not that - but it still made a mess of things.

We're grateful for the concern people showed for us and relieved that we are not participating in clean up at the farm this morning.  On the other hand - we can say that the fields are now very wet and we hope Mother Nature sees fit to allow for moderation in this area!
GFF was a couple miles away, no worries!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Iris Festival

We've had a decent showing of iris over the past couple of weeks and we thought some of you might enjoy seeing some of them.  Where I could recall the name of the iris, I included.  In a few cases, I just can't remember it as I type this.  In other cases, the name is potentially lost to us for various reasons.  But, we still like them all!

Taught By Masters

Spouting Horn

Stairway to Heaven

Blenheim Royal

Anything Goes

Davy Jones' Locker

Rare Treat

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Tired Farmer's Almanac

Welcome to the Tired Farmers' Almanac.  Our sponsors are the months of May and June.  Brought to you by the Earth's axial tilt and the relative position of the planet in its orbit around the sun.

It is entirely possible that some of these pictures and some of the things I'll write in this post appear in one of the posts just below this one.  But, it is a measure of how much energy I have when I decide I don't have what it takes to open another tab in the browser and check it out.  Very sad.  Someone tell the farmer to go to bed.

A tandem disk harrow
 We acquired a new tool for Durnik, the tractor.  It is called a tandem disk harrow.  We'll tell you more about it, but we decided first that we should be silly.  We posted on facebook and got the following:

June 2 Facebook post
New tool on the farm this year. For those who do not know - it is called a tandem disk harrow. Now we can have a 'real' harrowing experience. You're welcome.

     Har har har...oh
     You're my harrow!  I want one too.
     And it's off!
     ugh, "har row" can you go?
The offical GFF replies:
     I am detecting a case or two of harrow-worship going on here
     I was going to show "dat" harrow, but instead I showed you "disk" one.

A disk harrow
So, here is the rest of the story.  The disk above was purchased in 2011 and was used extensively on the farm in 2012 and 2013.  But, there were some issues with it that we knew a tandem disk could solve.  There were also some impending issues with the older disk that were going to require repairs.

After some research, we felt the new tandem disk shown above should be ok for our tractor (Durnik).  However, after some use, we are finding that you really have to nurse that poor old tractor along to use it.  This gets us to the comment that says "And it's off!"

We decided to see if a new tractor would be a good idea since there are some very good financing options right now.  The dealership wanted us to try the tractor out to be sure it fit our farm's needs.  Well, we put the tandem disk on the new tractor and figured out how to make it go for a little while.  Until the tractor got stuck in the 'UP' position.  Essentially, the tractor held our disk hostage for a couple of days until they could come fix it.

Let's just say that this was not a very good introduction to this particular brand/type of tractor.But, it was a good reminder that every tool has its pros and cons.  Every tool can break.  Every tool must be learned before it truly becomes productive on the farm.

So, we are still looking at new tractor options.  This is a sizable farm decision that really has four points to it. 
a) stick with what we have and know - limitations and all - and just keep working around it.
b) borrow a tractor for a short period of time to address the very specific current problem - and then deal with the status quo
c) buy another old (but newer) tractor with a bit more power and a few of the other limitations removed, but others still present for some money - but a relatively small amount of money.
d) buy a new tractor with a warranty and on-farm service for repairs that addresses current and expected future issues for a lot more money (and a financing package).

All the normal pros and cons apply....  never a completely correct answer - until you make a decision.  Then, that's as correct as it is going to be because you have to make it work!

The little horse trailer that could
 The boyus (broiler chickens) are still loving their horse trailer home.  It provides some protection from the terrible gnats we're having again this season.  They can choose to sit under or in this thing - whichever helps them most.  The great thing is that they truly believe this is home since they've been raised in their since they were couple day old chicks.  So, as long as we're patient and wait until about 9:30pm, we can just close the doors on them.  The waiting for that after a long day can be difficult, but it's better than herding them or picking them up and putting them in the trailer.
These people tolerate the guy with a red hat!
 We're looking forward to the Gang of Four visit to GFF in a little over a week.  The cardboard tube became the source of a game with a tennis ball at some point at Grinnell Heritage Farm in May.

Who knows what fun we will have on our farm?  But, I bet there will be good food.