Monday, February 16, 2015

Lessons in Farming VI - Dept of Redundancy

Part 1 - Every Morning is the Dawn of a New Error
Part 2 -  I Don't Have a Solution, but I Admire the Problem

Part 3 - If at First You DO Succeed
Part 4 - Synchronized Swimming
Part 5 - Look Out for Number 1 and Don't Step in Number 2 Either!

We hope you have enjoyed this series of posts.  This is the final post of the series that is planned at this time.  But, don't be surprised if we resurrect it in the future!

Office of the Department of Redundancy Department

Some of you might remember that Rob studied computer science.  And, if you didn't remember, I am reminding you now.  I studied computer science.  Pretty effective method of reminding you, no?

One of the main concepts that I bought to bear as a software engineer was the idea that redundant systems are an excellent way to insure less downtime for an automated system.  And, not surprisingly, I believe the same to be true with our set up at our farm.  Of course, some of the methods to achieve redundancy have been learned over time.  We certainly did not operate in the same fashion in 2005 that we will in 2015.  But, then again, I don't think we'd be operating at all if we didn't learn and make adjustments.  That's part of the beauty and much of the challenge of doing what we do.

How many redundancies are there in this picture?
Succession Planting
One of the simplest ways to get redundancies on our farm is to plant more than one succession of a given crop.  In other words, we don't plant all of one type of vegetable at the same time.  If all of the successions do well, that's great.  The result is more crop over a longer period of time.  With a CSA, we can certainly use this to our advantage.  However, the point of redundancies are to be prepared for failures so that the overall system continues to succeed.  The picture above shows our second succession of summer squash and zucchini, which did pretty well in 2014.  The first succession is not easy to see on the left.  It did not do particularly well this year.  But, our CSA program certainly had plenty of summer squash and zucchini.

Splitting Crop Locations
If you plant all of one type of crop in the lowlands during a wet season, you are pretty much guaranteed to get nothing of that crop that year.  However, if you split the production of that crop between a couple of locations, you reduce the chances that a location based disaster will destroy your entire crop.  Tammy is planting Waltham butternut squash in the row at the right.  This is a row that was planted separate from our other winter squash field.  That field was very wet in 2014, so the squash we got came from this planting.

Diversity of Crops
Another way to provide redundancy on a farm is to grow a wide range of crops that provide the overall income for the farm.  Some years just aren't good for certain crops, no matter how many successions or locations you plant them in.  If that is the only crop you grow, you are certain to have a bad year.  But, if you grow many types of crops, you create your own insurance program.  The field above shows garlic, summer squash, zucchini and winter squash.  Not visible are lettuce (already harvested) and turnips.

Diversity Within a Crop
We also prefer to grow more than one variety of most crops on the farm.  For example, the picture above features two types of garlic (Music and Northern White) and many types of zucchini and summer squash.  Different cultivars respond to weather extremes differently.  Of course, if you have a perfect growing season, they should all do well.  But, since the perfect growing season seems to be a myth, we'd much rather have a range of plants that can handle the diverse weather we can experience.  The net result?  You should get some of most every crop in nearly every season if you select the proper set of varieties for your farm.

We showed them there weeds!
Redundant Labor Resources
This one is a bit harder for us to accomplish on our farm.  Of course, we have some people who come and work on the farm during the summer.  And, yes, Rob and Tammy work on the farm.  Sometimes people will volunteer for a while or we will hire some college students to do a weeding task.  And, we also have cultivated (oh no! a pun!) relationships with other growers in Bremer county and in Iowa.  When push comes to shove, we can help each other.  For example, Tammy, Rob, Denis and Kieran all joined Jeff Sage at his place to help weed the green beans.  Jeff was feeling pretty overwhelmed at the time, but things were certainly looking up after he got a little help!

Tool Options
We've learned that tools break.  And, if you only have one option to do a certain task, a broken tool will effectively stop all progress on that task.  One way we can combat the problem is to have two of everything on the farm.  That may be feasible with shovels, hoes and other hand tools.  But, I'm not sure having two disk harrows is a good idea for us.  However, some of the work done by a disk harrow might be accomplished with an S tine cultivator.  It's not the same, but we might be able to make it work in a pinch.  The real key is knowing your options and how they might fall short in a substitution situation.  Knowing where they fall short allows you to make proper adjustments.

Contingency Plans
And, finally, there is the dread "Plan B" (or C, D, E, ... Z if you must).  No growing season will go as planned.  In fact, if it goes as planned, you didn't try hard enough to do good things.  Even if the plan is not written down, it helps to know your options.

We hope you enjoyed this post and have a great day.  Failing that, we hope you have a nice day and that you think this post was pretty good.  And, of course, we hope that you enjoyed reading this and that you have an enjoyable remainder of your day.

from the Department of Redundancy Department

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