Thursday, November 26, 2015

What Are You Going To Do About It?

It has become an annual tradition of mine to write a blog post on or near my favorite holiday.  Last year's post is going to be a hard one to top and, even though I wrote it, I still recommend that you all go read it.  Part I is here and Part II is here.

I often start writing the Thanksgiving post whenever I am feeling like I need to exercise my gratitude muscles. This year, I started uploading pictures on November 13 after I learned about the bombing in Beirut.  But, I didn't get very far.  It can be difficult to think about good things when you have bad news on your mind.  Then, the Paris attacks occurred and I thought maybe I should say something after that.  But what?  Then, I watched - horrified - while people used these terrible events to belittle and demonize others because they didn't hold the same opinion or have the same religion or have the same cultural background.  This is a time when the good people on this earth should be in mourning and thinking about how we could help each other.  This is a time when we should all find the common ground regardless of race, religion, orientation, creed or stance on *fill in the blank hot topic*.  This is a time where we should be trying HARDER to understand people different than we are and trying less hard to determine if we can categorize them as with us or against us.

So, what can I do about it?

This is a farm blog with limited readership.  One post may be read by as few as one person (the farmer) or as many as one hundred - if you give it a year or so with lots of references to the post.  I can shout into the ether all I want, but it isn't likely to make a difference in the grand scheme of things.  What a terrible feeling that is - to have the desire to help and to feel that you are impotent and unable to do so.

So, what AM I going to do about it?

I'm going to remind myself (and you) that there is always a chance to make a difference.
I am going to practice gratitude and thankfulness.  And, while I am doing that, I am going to work to do positive things in situations where I have some influence.  I can exercise my abilities to be as understanding, caring, positive, supportive and merciful as I am able.  And, when that is not enough, I will work even harder at it in hopes that one day, it will be enough.
And, when I don't feel strong, I will let others help me to stand again.
And, when they don't feel strong, I will do what I can to prop them up.  And, when none of us feels strong, we will gain strength by leaning on each other.  I will do what I can to remember that the person next to me could be the one who makes a difference for me, just as I might be the one who could make the difference for them.

And when today is over, I'll prepare to do my best again tomorrow
I can take a moment and appreciate the beauty in nature.  I can take a little bit more time and see if I can capture at least a little of that beauty with an image that can be shared with others.  By sharing, I can hope that at least one other person gains something positive by seeing it.

Columbine are an under-appreciated flower, in my opinion.
I can remind myself that bigger things often come from small things.  Planting seeds can provide us with food later on.  And, perhaps, planting seeds of gratitude can lead to positive food for thought later on.

It is incredible how small some of our plants are when they first start.
Many things that are worth doing seem impossible when you look at them as a single task.  But, when you start to break them down into a series of actions, you can be surprised by how far you can go.

Those trays represent the potential for over 3200 plants and require at least that many actions.
And, when you get good people to join you in your tasks, the combined energy and effort can result in results that you can look back on with pride.

Yes, we did plant that whole field today!
Sometimes, as a group, we can push to exceed what we might have thought what was possible - or perhaps - we can exceed what should have been possible.
A tired, but pleased construction crew.
The farm reminds me often of two sayings.

1. Good things come to those that wait
I am reminded to be patient, but be ready for the moment when the time is right (or ripe).  If you want to herd your chickens, you can't rush them.  And, if you want a ripe tomato, you should just let it ripen.

2. There is no substitute for hard work
Record harvests of snow peas for our share holders didn't happen entirely of their own accord.  There was a fair amount of effort put into them by the farmers and those who joined us to work on the farm this year.  If we think something is worth achieving, then some real effort on our part is required.  If you think it is optional, then you will be disappointed with the results.

We don't want to live with disappointment and neither should you
Certainly, things won't always go the way we want them to - even when we work hard.  In fact, things go wrong sometimes even when we do everything "right."  That's when we re-frame how we look at things.
And we find there is actually more to the harvest than we thought
And, I remind myself often that I am not perfect.  I do not know the answer for every question and I sometimes wonder if I know the answer to any question.  It is good to recognize that I am not always able to determine the best answers.  It helps me to understand that, perhaps, someone I disagree with has the right of it.  Or perhaps, neither of us is entirely correct. 

But, I will not stop trying to figure things out and I will not stop learning.
And sometimes, things work out.  The choices we made, the hard work and all of the other variables lead to success.  Suddenly, you find yourself wondering how to graciously accept the gift that comes in the form of positive results.

When onions do well, it is a beautiful thing.
It can be so easy to continue to find the cracks and the faults.  What about that one bed of onions we never did get to cultivating?  We lost the entire bed, you know.  It would not be hard to create an extremely long list of failures for the season that was this season.  I am all for reviewing things that didn't quite go as planned so we can learn from them.  But, dwelling on it would not show gratitude for the good things that happened this year - especially if it overshadows them.

We did our part to encourage our pollinator workers in 2015.
So, I took the time to think hard about the things that went well this past season and I let myself ignore all of the qualifiers for the time being.  I told myself that it was time to recognize the positives and give thanks for them.  By giving thanks for the good things, I am reminded of their value and worth.  These are the things that can be part of what sustains me when times are difficult.

Each day, we try to take a little time to recognize something that makes us see value in our surroundings.  Rainbows.  Friendly and extremely "helpful" cats.  A droplet of water on a broccoli leaf.  A few moments with family.  Another five pounds of spinach.  A note from someone telling us they appreciated something we did.  An opportunity to go help someone with a task of some sort.  A beautiful piece of music.  Or a flower.  Or some time with our best friend.

So, once again, we celebrate Thanksgiving at the Genuine Faux Farm.  We are grateful for all of those who have supported us over the years in so many wonderful ways and we look forward to more adventures.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Scents of Humor

While it is evident that we can get a whiff of my sense of humor (such as it is) during the Summer months, as can be seen by our first and second posts regarding our pea crops.  But, it becomes clear to me that humor during the peak of the growing season is more often embedded in more serious topics most of the time.  On the other hand, once we get to November - all bets are off!  Suddenly he writes about cats rolling up fences and unknown authority figures inspecting okra.

But, what you all might not know (or maybe you do) is that Tammy and I will often share a humorous observance with each other (often as we are traveling from one place to another).  Many of those show up in our blog posts.  Most of them are forgotten (sometimes this is good, often it is kind of sad).  And, some few are remembered, but we struggle to find places or times to share them.

So, today we share a couple of our odd or mildly humorous observations from the past year.  Please remember, farm humor can sometimes seem a little less kind, but it does reflect certain realities that we witness and deal with that many other people do not.

The Fork of Damocles
This one came up as we were observing to each other that we only had a week or so left for one of our batches of broiler chickens this year.  Just to fill you in briefly, broiler chickens are cute when they are chicks and can be mildly fun to watch as they grow.  But, the bigger they get, the less fun they become as far as we're concerned.  They eat more.  They drink more.  They tear up pasture more, so they have to get moved more.  And, they just get more irritating and less amusing.  So, by the time we hit the last week or so of their time on the farm, we're ready for them to go.
the 'Nuggets' in and around their trailer home
We strongly considered fashioning a large fork and hanging it over their trailer and call it the "Fork of Damocles."  We'd do that just as a reminder that the cushy existence they live in at our farm always has that constant threat of being ON the dinner table rather than next to it.  After all, we can just stick a fork in them when they're done!

But, upon review, we determined that the humor would be lost on them.  That, and fashioning a large fork and hanging it securely seemed a bit too much like it would resemble work before we completed the project.

Sometimes, just building a picture in your head is enough.

The First Squinny of... Oh
First, we should fill you in on what a Squinny is.  You can certainly go with the recent Des Moines Register article that claims it is a term used primarily in Des Moines, Iowa.  And, since I grew up in Newton (just 30 miles away) you could argue that my use of it came by me honestly by virtue of my residence in the region at that time.  Tammy, on the other hand, had to learn to use the term properly since she grew up elsewhere.
13 lined ground squirrel = SQUINNY
Squinnies are fairly common in roadside ditches throughout Iowa and they usually start appearing in April after sitting out the Winter months.  These critters do burrow and they do cause some problems on our farm with root crops.  They can (and do) burrow down a carrot row and eat the roots from the bottom up.  It can be pretty disappointing to pull a batch of carrots that look good and find most them shortened significantly or hollowed out.

And, like many small critters that live by the side of the road, they will dart across the gravel (or pavement) every once in a while.

This April, while Tammy and I were going down our gravel road, we took note of a squinny.  The conversation went something like this:

Tammy: Oh, look!  The first squinny of....
***squinny darts across the road and directly under one of the truck tires***
Tammy: Oh.

Let's just say that the lines on that particular squinny got a bit wider and it was a bit shorter than it had been.... and a lot less active. 

But, the thing that made this so humorous for us was the tone of voice Tammy used.  She started with the normal tone you might hear from anyone who observes a sign of Spring for the first time each year.  She was mildly excited to take note of a critter we hadn't seen since October (or thereabout) and was brightly pointing it out to me.  But, when the little critter made the fateful decision to direct itself - with perfect timing - into the path of Chumley the truck, her toned changed to the normal "Oh.  Never mind" tone that people use

Perhaps you had to be there.  But, if you hear us reference the "First Squinny of Spring," you now know the reference.

Have a great Tuesday!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

November - A Quality Month

One should never underestimate November.  November is full of all kinds of good things.  For example, someone I like very much was born in November.  We'll let you make your guesses as to who that is. 

But, if you don't give November its due, it might do something like have a storm with multiple tornadoes and lots of wind and stuff like that.  Apparently this year, we underestimated November.

Blue Gate Farm had an unwanted surprise in November
We are grateful that we did not have to deal with much more than some inconvenient rain and wind at our farm.  The normal stuff happened.  You know... a few things moved from where they were supposed to be to somewhere else on the farm.  Several other things fell over.  A this or that needed a small repair.  But, really, nothing broken and no real harm down.  But, some of our friends had to deal with some real damage from the recent storms.  Blue Gate Farm found one of their two high tunnel buildings destroyed when they got up in the morning.  We feel bad because we'd talked on the phone about the weather with them the night before.  I suspect we'll avoid saying "I'm sure everything will be fine" the next time Jill tells us she is worried about the wind.  I'm sure the following 48 hours added insult to injury with the continuous howling winds.  I know I wasn't amused as I tried to do some work outside.  I think I spent most of that time chasing my hat.

Marina di Chioggia winter squash
Personal Squash Plants?
One of the things Tammy and I associate with November is our first meals with winter squash. 

Rob's favorite winter squash is Marina di Chioggia.  We equate it with a very large buttercup-type squash.  The vines usually don't produce all that many fruit, but we're willing to grow them anyway.  The flesh is usually dry and flaky, like most buttercups, and the taste is rich, making it an excellent comfort food.

Sadly, Marina has been an inconsistent grower for us over the years, so we usually don't have any to share.  In fact, it has been a couple of years since we've had one ourselves.  But, as you can see, we got a few this year - and no - we aren't sharing.  Farmers' prerogative.  Of course, we planted a limited number of these this year.  So, you might consider them our personal squash plants and leave it at that.

Root For Me!
Misato Rose watermelon radish
November is a great time for us to bring in the root crops.  We admit that we aren't always that big on root crops on our farm due to the heavier soils and the issues we have with timing.  The best time to plant some of these things is when we simply don't have many moments that we can string together in order to prep a bed and plant the seeds.  The other issue for us is storage space.  It's something we have plans to address.  But, only so many things can happen at a time.

This year, we managed to hit the timing pretty well with turnips, watermelon radish and daikon radish.  The Fall beet crop had the right timing, but so did the deer.  I guess we'll take 3 of 4 and call it a win.

Purple Top White Globe turnip
The watermelon radish have been around for a while, but they might qualify as a 'fad' vegetable since I've been reading about them for the past couple of years as an item "alot of growers" are putting on their production list.  I don't usually like to follow 'everyone' else, but when I do, I seem to do it obliquely.

Now, that's a word I think has alot going for it - "obliquely."  But, I probably shouldn't talk about it directly - it might be offended.

A crop that we've grown for many years, but usually as a Spring/early Summer crop would be turnips.  In fact, there have been relatively few seasons where the Purple Top White Globe turnips haven't made an appearance at some point or another in our CSA shares.  Only one such season comes to mind - and the more I think about, the more I doubt that we went that whole year without any turnips.  After last year's experiment with Fall turnips, we decided we like the results for Purple Top.  They certainly do fine early in the year too.  But, there is something about the quality and beauty of the roots in the Fall that far exceed the Spring/Summer crop.  We also think they taste better in the Fall.  But, that might simply be because we are ready for turnips in November.  In June, our taste buds are all about peas.

Aren't You Sweet?
Golden Treasure (yellow) and Jimmy Nardello's (red)
Many of the peppers we grow are sweet peppers, but they aren't bell peppers.  We have to admit that Jimmy Nardello's Frying Pepper does look a bit like a big cayenne, so we don't blame people if they ask.  But, Golden Treasure, Chervena Chushka and Marconi Red are all great sweet peppers with excellent taste and we don't think they look all that much like a hot pepper. 

We've found that Golden Treasure, in particular, tends to take its time to ripen its fruit.  Often, we get our first Golden Treasure from the field in September. 

Well, we have this second high tunnel and we planted some peppers in late June this year.  The result?  Sweet peppers in November.  Granted, we shouldn't get used to this because we have had very mild weather.  But still, how neat is it to get a fresh Golden Treasure off the plant on November 10?

And, the flock reductions continue...
As the days get colder and the daylight ours are reduced, our poultry chores become more of a... well... chore.  Colder weather forces us to work around frozen water issues.  The hose that once could be pulled to the waterers is no longer available and sometimes the water in buckets if frozen just enough to make pouring an issue.  We are also interested in protecting the birds from the elements.  And, the pastures are no longer growing quickly, so we have to protect them from overuse. 

Muscovey ducks on the farm
Happily, part of the overall plan each year is for us to continue to complete the cycle with all but the laying hen flock and a few ducks.  Our last batch of broiler chickens went in last week (we have many still available - come and get them!).  This week, we take our second batch of ducks and our stewing hens in.  That will leave us with the laying flock and our small flock of ducks that will over-winter with us.

It's at this point that I fully begin to realize exactly how much effort goes into handling all of these animals each season.  At one point this season, we had to feed and water six different flocks of birds.  Two is going to feel a bit like a vacation - until that first day I can't open a waterer because the heater got unplugged by one of our laying hens. 

For an animal without an opposable thumb, it is amazing how many times they can manage to catch the cord "just so" in order to unplug the heater we use to keep the water free for them to drink.  I'm glad I remember this so I can go get the back up waterer and bring it inside the house now.  Why?  Well, what do you do when one waterer is frozen shut?  You bring it into the house to thaw.  But, you need a waterer with unfrozen waterer for the birds.  That's why you keep one in the house. 

And now you know!  Have a good November.

Monday, November 16, 2015

How to Roll Up an Electric Fence

The following is a public service blog post for all of those people who have always wanted to know how to roll up the electric poultry netting that is commonly used by producers on small, diversified farms.  The following is done by professionals, do not attempt at home without a good sense of humor and a friendly cat.

The following TEN STEP PROCESS was compiled by Farm Supervisor Mrranda.

1. Let the human gather the fence and place it on the ground for rolling up.  This is the easy part and is not in need of illustration.

The remaining steps will each have a corresponding illustration.  Please observe carefully.  A badly rolled fence can reflect poorly on a good farm supervisor (cat).

2. Place yourself squarely in the center of the fencing.

3. Demand appropriate attention from the human.

4. Stretch out to cover more surface area on the fence

5. Make sure paws are clear of the roll of fencing as it moves toward you.
6. Retract claws and hold feet up to avoid snagging

7. Allow fence roll to push you onto your other side

8. Remove yourself prior to completion of the roll

9. Help pack the roll down in the center
10. Step forward to help roll the fence up the rest of the way
Well done, you've just rolled up an electric poultry netting fence!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Harvest Calendar

I spent a little time reviewing the photographs we took this season and came to realize that we didn't take as many pictures this year of the actual harvest as we have in prior years.  We're not entirely sure of why that is, but it seemed like an interesting post to show a representative pictures of something harvested for each month of the growing season in 2015.

Bloomsdale Spinach

French Breakfast radish

Northern White garlic scapes

Harvesting green beans

the great Onion harvest of 2015

Tasty melons

Winter Luxury pie pumpkins

Purple Top White Globe turnip

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Crop Report Update

We put out a post in September that showed some of our progress with respect to our crop goals for the year.  Once again, we know we're more interested in these numbers than most of you are.  But, even the idly curious appreciate updates - or so we believe.  The numbers sections and the intro paragraph are pretty much the same.  We have changed the following paragraphs to reflect how things are different just a month and a half later.

We tend to set two goals for ourselves.   The first is a number we think is reasonable AND should provide us with plenty to meet obligations (CSA, etc) and provide additional sales opportunities.  The second is a goal we think we really have to get in order to just meet obligations.  Additional sales would be minimal in that case.
All numbers with * are subject to change as the season continues.
Numbers last updated on December 2, 2015

Green Beans
   goal - 800 pounds                                                   minimum goal - 650 pounds
   2015: 888.5 pounds                                                    2014: 812 pounds
   goal - 500 pounds                                                     minimum goal - 400 pounds
   2015: 424.6 pounds                                                 2014: 674.4 pounds
   goal - 4000 fruit                                                        minimum goal - 3000 fruit
   2015: 2898 fruit                                                        2014: 2142 fruit
   goal - 3000 head                                                       minimum goal - 2000 head
   2015: 3393 head                                                       2014: 3153 head
Bell and Sweet Peppers
   goal - 4000 fruit                                                       minimum goal - 3000 fruit
   2015: 4418 fruit                                                       2014: 4405 fruit
   goal - 1400 fruit                                                       minimum goal - 1000 fruit
   2015: 936 fruit                                                         2014: 1318 fruit
   goal -  750 pounds                                                   minimum goal -  500 pounds 
   2015 -  349.5 pounds                                              2014 -  457.1 pounds
   goal - 500 fruit                                                        min goal - 300 fruit
   2015 - 644 fruit                                                      2014 - 385 fruit
   goal - 2000 bulbs                                                    min goal - 1500 bulbs
   2015 - 3598 bulbs                                                  2014 - 2298 bulbs 
Winter Squash
   goal - 1000 fruit                                                     min goal - 500 fruit
   2015 - 643 fruit                                                     2014 - 64 fruit
Snow Peas
   goal - 250 pounds                                                  min goal - 100 pounds
   2015 - 445.4 pounds                                            2014 - 66 pounds
   goal - 2500 pounds                                               min goal - 1000 pounds
   2015 - 1139.7 pounds                                           2014 - 416.4 pounds
   goal - 600 pounds                                                min goal - 400 pounds
   2015 - 544.8 pounds    *                                       2014 - 36.5 pounds
   goal - 300 pounds                                                min goal - 250 pounds
   2015 - 419.9 pounds    *                                       2014 - 287.2 pounds
Pok Choi
   goal - 400 pounds                                                min goal - 300 pounds
   2015 - 349.0 pounds    *                                       2014 - 628.2 pounds
   goal - 100 pounds                                                min goal - 75 pounds
   2015 - 137.7 pounds    *                                       2014 - 63.5 pounds
Snack Tomato
   goal - 2000 fruit                                                  min goal - 1500 fruit
   2015 - 3332 fruit                                                 2014 - 1925 fruit

What's With All of the * ?
We continue to get a bit better with extending our Fall crops in high tunnels and out in the field.  Granted, the warm Fall has helped us a great deal and we haven't had to do too much other than irrigate to keep some of these crops going well.  But, there are a few things that are surprising to see the asterisk.  Who would have thought we'd continue to harvest tomatoes and peppers in early November.  These ARE from the high tunnel, but if you take a look, they aren't just ugly little wanna-be's.
November 4, 2015 from Valhalla (new high tunnel)
 We don't expect to get much more than one more harvest of these things out of the high tunnel, but we're really quite ok with that.  It is time to move on and prepare that high tunnel for some overwintered items and for the early Spring/later Winter planned plantings.  But, it sure is great to extend the season on these this year.

Choi, spinach, kohlrabi, daikons, watermelon radish and kale in the field
We've still got a number of things in the field that are either growing a bit or are being 'stored' in the field as we slowly bring them in.  For example, our carrots remain in the field since they really won't go bad in the ground.  We harvest as much as we need for the next Fall share distribution each week at this time.  But, we are fully aware that we need to pull the rest in soon.  They, and other root crops could be stored in the field for quite a while if we take certain steps, but frankly, we're more willing to pull them in and store them just prior to the ground freezing.  We usually target Thanksgiving as the time when the ground freezes and working of the soil stops for us (unless it is in a high tunnel).

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Poultry Clean Up Crew

 We've always wanted to do a bit more with poultry in fields that were done producing for the season.  There is a myriad of reasons why we haven't really gone after this really hard in that past.  But, the biggest reasons have been a combination of available time and good shelter options.

The Hen "Retirement Mobile Home"
Well, the time thing can still be an issue, but we have addressed shelter at some level.  And, we also decided to try a late broiler batch this year (speaking of which, we still have about 100 of those broilers available for sale!  spread the word.)  We use a flair box for our retiree hens.  They just hop into it every night and lay their eggs in there.  They can go into or under the wagon for shelter if it is a bit rainy or windy and they have lots of straw mulch and old tomato plants to forage in.

We use the electric fences to keep predators out and we try to move the fence and the flair box as often as we are able.  Sometimes it doesn't happen as soon as we would like, but we try to provide them with everything they might need on a daily basis.  There are about thirty hens in this group and they still give us 6 to 10 eggs a day.  Not bad considering they aren't getting supplementary light.

The Poultry Clean Up Crew WUZ HERE!
The broilers (often referred to as the "boyus" or "nuggets") have an old horse trailer that we move around.  By the time they are half way to adult size, half of them start to decide to shelter UNDER the trailer at night.  It's not our first choice for them, but it seems to be their pattern and it makes them happy I guess.  We just try to make sure they are all UNDER and not BESIDE the trailer.  We don't really want to make them a target for owls.

This batch had 150 birds in it and we also put them in the same fields as the hens, taking the Western 2/3rds of each field.  We moved them gradually to the North as we felt they had exhausted what they could forage in the prior areas.

Just prior to moving them to the new area at left.
We weren't always happy with the conditions for the birds considering the wind we often get in October that coincides with cooler temperatures.  On the other hand, the birds did fine.  We bought 150 chicks and we processed 150 birds.  And... we found one we missed the next day.  Yes, folks, we had 151 of 150 birds survive to processing day.  That is too good to pass up, so we'll have another blog post on that topic another day.

Back on topic!  Yep, I can't allow myself to get distracted like that.  Ok, I can.  It's our blog and I can get distracted when I want....  Oh, uh.  Sorry.

In any event, we realized more shelter was a good idea for the birds, so we left sections of tomato cages up to help provide some shelter.  There is a hedge of zinnia plants on the North that we ran the fence along so they could find even more protection from the elements.  And, at the end, we even brought another building for shelter.  We feel like we've done a pretty good job of protecting the birds and giving them a good opportunity to forage and just be birds.  And just think of all of the great manure they spread for us on these fields!
The little horse trailer that could...

Now we need to spend some time evaluating how this went and whether we can manage to do this again.  And, if we do, how can we manage the process better?  Clearly, it would be nice if we could move them a bit more often.  But, then there is the issue of trying to work around crops that are still going.  We can't get them too close for food safety reasons and we can't always get things out of the way in time for an easy move.

Then, there is the water and food issue.  The fields are further way from both resources than if they were in the pastures.  But, on the other hand, pastures stop growing much this time of year.  Having birds on them doesn't necessarily help them much.

Tune in this Winter for probable poultry posts providing potential preparations to provide premium products.

You're welcome and have a nice day!