Tuesday, December 27, 2016

So, It's Not Monday...

We take pictures with the digital camera during the farming season, but they don't always get the appreciation they deserve until the end of the year.  Or, perhaps the NEXT year.  Or, maybe the one AFTER that.  We're going to follow our 'Picture This' format and let the pictures help me figure out what to say this time.

For those who can't read this picture:
"We like Mondays
Mondays are good
Some don't like them
Like maybe we should
Today is Monday
We work on a farm
Do a good job
It's good for the karm...a"

I include this picture in our blog just to show everyone that we do our best to maintain a sense of humor during the growing season.  It also shows that we use a chalkboard (and a chalk door) to communicate with our workers during the Summer.  The good news for all of you?  It's not Monday.  Unless you wait until next Monday to read this blog post.  Then it is.

Surfing the web?
This picture may have made an earlier appearance in our blog, but it is cool enough to include again.  Freezing fog find a way to highlight things that we might normally miss - like spider webs in the corner of a door frame.  Apologies to those of you who really have a problem with spiders - but you can just think of it as silly string.

Sunrise is obtainable
The sun comes up so darned late right now that it isn't actually that big of a deal to see it.  Come May and June, that's a different matter.  Neither of us are actually morning people, but we do tend to get up earlier during the growing season so we can try to get everything done that needs doing.  So, yes, we do see sunrises other times of year.  But, that's part of the reason why sunrise in December is mildly disconcerting.  You get up, have some breakfast, do some chores, do a few other things and then you look East and see the sunrise.

Wait.  Wait a minute here.  Isn't that how my day is supposed to START?  Aren't we getting ready for lunch now?

Veggie farmers find themselves doing odd things
Odd things like drilling holes into brand new containers upon their arrival.  We ordered these bussing trays from a restaurant supplier so we could start lettuce and onions in them.  Of course, we have to have drainage holes so the water doesn't build up in them, right?  There is a still a part of me that says this is wrong - even if it is right.

This only produced whine.
The old thing about stomping on grapes to produce wine stuck with me as I climbed into a flair box to stomp down sunflower and okra stalks we were picking up this past Spring (early Spring).  I seem to recall being a bit sore after that day.  So, you could say my efforts only resulted in whine.

This NEEDS a caption contest
Inspector was an odd little kitten.  This picture should probably get set up for a caption (or cat-tion) contest.  What do you all think?
He actually works?
This past year I had a person who looked at some of our June produce and was incredulous.
"You didn't grow this?!?"
"Yes ma'am, I did grow this."
"How could you have?  You didn't grow this!"
"I'm sorry, but what do you mean?  I assure you, we grew this on our farm."
"But, it looks so good!"
"Um..... thank you?"

I'm still not sure what to think of that exchange.  But, they did buy something.

We love our goldenrod
If I could encourage the growth of more goldenrod on our farm I would (and I will as I figure out more ways to do so).  They bloom at a time when so many other things are fading.  The pollinators love them.  They don't, contrary to myth, cause allergy problems because the pollen is pretty heavy, so it doesn't become as airborn as things like giant ragweed.  I'm not sure what type of solidago this one is, but it was growing happily near one of our paths this Fall.
It still feels good to get positive support
I can still remember how good it felt to get that plastic put on our older high tunnel (Eden).  But, what made it feel even better was the support we received to get it done.

Apricots and Maples and Crazy Ol' Maurice?
We've been trying to add some shelter to our poultry pastures in the Northwest over the past few years.  And, we both like apricots, so some of the shelter has come in the form of fruit trees.  In the foreground, you see one of our apricots and another apricot is immediately behind it.  The maple tree is to the right and back.  What you don't see is the weeping willow that is now called Crazy Ol' Maurice.  I'm sure Maurice will show up in later blogs.

Fall harvest clutter
We spent more time yesterday continuing to re-organize after the Fall harvest blitz.  Things tend to get moved alot when the potatoes, squash, root crops and all sorts of other things are pulled in before it gets too cold in the fields.  Essentially, we harvest and we haul it back to the truck barn and find anyplace to put it so we can go harvest more and haul more.  Once it gets too dark to harvest, we do our best to put things away.  Except, of course, there is often not enough "away" space to put it all.  The result is that we make lots more "away" space to put everything.  We're working on it.  It gets better every year.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Healing for the Hurting

There have been many moments this year - and especially this Fall - that it seemed like we are all simply too good at being bad to each other.  Gun violence against church goers, gun violence against school children, gun violence against the police, gun violence by the police. Children, non-combatants and soldiers being killed in Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Cameroon, Iraq, Chad, Niger and elsewhere.  People with more money than they could ever need and they complain that they need more while others struggle to feed themselves.  People running for office behaving with no integrity or respect for the citizens of their country.  Citizens deciding that the only thing you need to know is whether a person is "liberal" or "conservative."  And, if you know that, you have a 50/50 chance of being able to hate them without any real reason to do so.  It feels like we are now in a world where it is ok to taunt others when you win and to change the rules if you lose.

My point is that we ARE better than this. But, it is so hard sometimes to feel like better is possible.  Yet here we are, Christmas day.  It's a day that's supposed to be magical, peaceful and full of love.  Perhaps it is not the same for you if your faith or beliefs lead you elsewhere.  But, I suspect you have your celebrations, rituals, places and/or times that you feel are supposed to symbolize all that is good.  Maybe you wonder if you can feel the way you did when you were a child when that time came along?

Music is one of the things that helps me see beauty in the world once again and I am grateful to have access to so much variety provided by people with talent and a willingness to share.

Let's close our eyes and make believe,
In all the ways we used to see,
A magic world of fantasy,
When we were kids on Christmas morning

- House of Heroes 

The snow was coming down on Friday.  Big, huge, wet flakes that rapidly covered everything that had gotten a little bit dirty and ugly looking.  Someone mentioned that they felt like they had been placed in a snow globe.  I could hear the snowflakes hitting the bill of my cap.  I could hear Chickadees in the brush nearby.  I realized that I was starting to feel - just a bit - like there was still beauty and peace in this world.

Underneath white birches
Our faces toward the sky
We will make snow angels
With our white horse standing by
- Over the Rhine
What is beauty?  What is joy?  Is it a gift or is it something you work for?  Could it be both?  Perhaps the gift is that we should want to work for peace and the wellness of our world.  Maybe kindness and understanding are gifts you have to give if you wish to receive them.

If you listen to this version of Riu Riu Chiu by Sixpence None the Richer, you'll find one of my favorite moments in a Christmas album recording.  The cameo of a bird adding it's abilities to the song.  Something as simple as birdsong can change how I feel so quickly - as long as I let it do so.  Maybe that is part of what we need right now?  Do we need to allow ourselves to accept gifts that are good for us? 

Lonely hearts strung across the land
They’ve been waiting long for a healing hand.
My heart was there and I felt the chill
Love came down and the earth stood still
- Future of Forestry

I can't fix everything.  Maybe I can't fix anything.  But, I will do my best to try.  I will do my best to give the gifts of kindness and understanding.  I will find ways to do what is right and step up when others need my support.  I will encourage myself to look for new perspectives and new reserves of strength so I am able to give and receive with grace.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

Rob & Tammy
at the Genuine Faux Farm

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Symptoms of a Whole

I had someone send me a Facebook post with this item that included a link to a TV news interview.  I didn't have much time to look at things, but I read the quote and felt that I should take a further look at a later point in time.  So, I clipped and saved the picture.

Since that time, I've done a little search for Mike Callicrate and found the website linked on his name.  Clearly, he has decided to be an advocate for issues he feels are very important and it seems that he is very active.

The quote below seems consistent with what I've read about Mike Callicrate.

And there it is folks.  The monstrous disconnect that we have in the United States between the traditional "farm" that we all see on Christmas card scenes and the way much of our "farms" are run now.

No, this is not a case of idealizing the way farming USED to be.  This is a discussion about how farming SHOULD be NOW.  For that matter, it's the way farming should have been then.  History is full of examples of bad farming with different technologies just as our present day is with all of our modern tools.

Sadly, there are many examples of businesses that can claim the 'family farm' label, yet fall into the industrial model mentioned by Mr. Callicrate.   And, don't get me wrong here!  I am not saying every farm business that falls into the industrial model has a black hat wearing, mustache twirling, tie the girl to the railroad tracks person who runs that farm.  This is not about evil people doing evil things.  Instead, it is about priorities that are out of order and people who feel that they are able to justify what they do well enough that they don't see anything wrong with it.  Or perhaps it is about people who are risk averse.  Or maybe it is about a lack of creativity to break from the herd?  (and perhaps there is a mustache twirler or two as well)

Or maybe, this is about all of us.

Maybe we all just need to be a bit more sensitive about how others are treated, how animals are treated and how the environment is treated?  Perhaps we care a little too much about monetary profit and possessions and not enough about these other things?

If current trends in farming bother you, then you need to look at the whole of our society since these trends are a symptom of the whole.  Are we showing our concern for other people?  Are we showing concern for other living beings?  Are we showing concern for the environment?

Let's answer those questions honestly for ourselves and then make some changes in our priorities. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Learning is Inefficient

I've been doing some thinking lately - which we all know is... a DANGEROUS PASTIME!

In a prior life, I spent significant time researching and developing my own philosophies of teaching and learning.  This task was a part of my doctoral program and is an exercise that I have never regretted doing.  I came to realize more fully than ever how personal learning is and that it is a continuous process.  And, I gained an appreciation for inefficiencies in learning.

Learning often is a result of struggle.  It happens when we make mistakes or when things go wrong even when we seem to have done everything correctly.  When you go through the processes of learning on a farm such as ours you can successfully argue that learning is not an efficient farming process.

I think I can also persuade you that failure to learn is far more inefficient.  And, I suspect you will also agree that learning can lead to greater efficiency on the farm once understanding is reached.

Failure Overcoming Discomfort
I am absolutely certain that most people will understand me when I say that we may resist learning something new because it is not always a comfortable process.  Learning takes effort that we may not want to expend.  Learning moves us from what we know now to something else and we don't always embrace change.  But, when failure begins to force the issue, we suddenly become much more willing to learn and perhaps reluctantly embrace the changes it might bring.

Trays ready for onion seeds
We have both the benefit and the misfortune of having years of gardening experience prior to our starting the Genuine Faux Farm.  I suspect you will understand the 'benefit' portion easily enough - but the 'misfortune?'  Maybe that's a bit harder to understand.

Growing techniques that worked for us as gardeners have rarely worked without significant modification as professional growers.  But, I have to admit it took several poor to marginal onion growing seasons before we let go of all of what we thought we knew so we could overhaul the process.  In this case, our discomfort with change might have been better classified as stubbornness.

Failure was necessary to prepare us for the learning.  It might have been much more "efficient" if we had just swallowed our pride and adopted new systems over sooner.  But, I don't necessarily think we would have learned what worked and why nearly so well if we hadn't actually had some "inefficiencies" in the process.

Experience and Reflection Take Time

Constructivism is the view that each person's understanding and knowledge of the world comes through experience and the reflection on those experiences.  An important point here is that there MUST be reflection on the experience for there to be learning.

Ready for potatoes in late April
Our potato field might be a good example that we can use to clarify what I mean.  There are certainly many well-documented processes and sets of tools that exist out there to successfully grow potatoes.  We could certainly take one outlined method and gather the tools and follow instructions.  We might have success doing that, or we might not.  If we immediately have success, you could say that we were efficient and we learned.  But, do we have any idea as to why the system worked?  What happens when conditions change and the process you blindly adopted no longer works?

Exposure over time provides a person with more circumstances that require actions or reactions to adjust if there is going to be continued success.  The time spent considering the why and how things work or fail help us to prepare options for the future. If it weren't for the 'inefficiency' of the experience/reflection cycle, we don't learn to adapt to a changing world and changing seasons.

Treasuring Those Preconceived Notions
I admit it.  There have been (and still are) numerous ideas in my head that I just can't let go of - even if the experience and reflection periods I have had since I started the farm all point to them being wrong.

We like dandelions - now.
Case in point?  The dandelion.  Most of us were taught that the dandelion was a noxious weed.  How many of us spent hours as a kid with the dandelion fork yanking them out of our family's yard?  Or did you grow up in a home where you had to stay off the lawn after it was sprayed?  I remember diligently pulling dandelions in our gardens and the tendency to want to keep them out of our fields was still there when we started the farm.

Over time, I've observed the pollinator activity on dandelions.  I've noticed how easy it is to remove them from areas in our fields when we need to remove them.  This is especially true when I compare them to other weeds we have problems with.  Have you noticed how much more earthworm activity there is in an area where there have been dandelions?  I have a new understanding of dandelions that has led me to appreciation, rather than irritation.

Learning Is Often Courtesy of a Negative Event
If learning were 'efficient' in terms of our farm's progress and well-being, then we wouldn't learn so often as a result of a problem.  However, if you think about the times in your life when you made the biggest strides in your own understanding it is typically as a result of the reflections you have with respect to an event that you would not characterize as a good one.

Fence those peppers!
A few years ago, we lost nearly all of our outdoor pepper crop (the indoor crop did fine).  Apparently, we put them in a field that was a favorite for the rabbits, woodchucks and deer.  Inside of 48 hours of transplant, 85% of the plants were gone.  That's a bitter pill to swallow after you and your crew spent time prepping the beds, putting transplants in and setting up the drip irrigation. 

This did lead us to some new preventative measures with portable electric fencing and other things.  In short, we learned some new techniques to deal with young plants and the critters that might find them tasty.  Clearly, we weren't doing enough to learn these lessons when there wasn't enough pressure to get our notice.  So, this event taught us to be more pro-active for possible predation problems in addition to being better prepared to react when pressures increase. 

Incremental Progress is Not a Bad Thing
Every farm is different.  You can not just 'cookie cutter' a successful farm onto another one because there are too many variables.  When you have a farm like ours, the variables are greater because we grow so many crops.

Love those collapsible cages!
But, let's pretend it would be more 'efficient' to just copy someone else's techniques, tools (and whatever else) onto one of our crops.  Let's say we do that for... oh... tomatoes.  And then, our crop fails.  Now what?

We have no experience to make adjustments.  If we've grown any tomatoes before in our lives we likely forsook all of those processes for this new 'fool-proof' method.  We've changed so much, there will be no way to isolate any one thing that might need changing.  Because we had little or no experience in the implementation of the new method, we can not even determine if the crop failure was user error or system error (or some of each).'

In other words, sometimes the best way to learn is by working things out in steps until our understanding is sufficient to take bigger leaps.

Learning How to Learn from Others
I suppose some of you might be wondering at this point if I am really as foolish as to say that prior knowledge and understanding collected by others is not useful if you really want to learn.  In fact, I would say just the opposite.  You can make your learning more efficient if you DO look at how others have done what you want to do. 

A mat of cucumber vines
Except the learner rarely starts at the same place of understanding as the teacher/expert/professional who has a system you might want to use.  Sometimes, the answer lies in knowledge that has been around for decades or centuries, but we have somehow managed to set that knowledge aside collectively.  In other situations, the answer is a variation on a well-known theme. 

The hard part isn't in seeing that something works or could be made to work.  It isn't in the understanding how it might work either.  The difficulty is in integrating this knowledge into what we already understand.

Transport yourself back to the last time you were in a classroom.  Pick a subject that wasn't inherently easy for you, but not necessarily impossible.  Do you remember the instructor giving you an example of how to do something (like solving an algebraic equation) and it seemed to make sense?
 "Yes, I think I could do that," you say. 
And then, the teacher gives you another problem and tells you to use that process.
And you struggle.

Assuming you do not give up after one try, you get several opportunities to try again.  After a while, you are able to use that technique to solve a certain type of problem.  And then, the teacher tells you to use the same technique for a different sort of problem.
And you struggle again.
But the struggles begin to lessen as you gain experience and you think about why things are working or not working.
And suddenly, you are helping others to learn.

Maybe learning isn't inefficient.

Maybe it's just necessary.

Friday, December 16, 2016

November Beans and Other Good Things

Way back in 2010...

Ok, that's not really 'way back' in the grand scheme of things.  But, 2010 - in terms of our farm seems like a very long time ago.

That was the year we came within a whisker of pulling the plug on the Genuine Faux Farm.  In fact, this post titled "Whupped" pretty much summed up how we were both feeling for much of that season.  It was more than difficult - it was completely demoralizing.

But, in that same season, some very important events occurred to counter the negative things.

We built a high tunnel.
And we learned the value of meeting with valued peers in farming.

Of course, the 2010 story is even more complex than I'm making it sound.  Clearly, we survived.  But, more importantly, some of the struggles of that season led us to doing some things that bring us to this.
Green beans and tomatoes on November 11
The struggles during the main part of the growing season in 2010 encouraged us to push the Fall season as deep as we were able at the time.  The high tunnel provided us with another tool in our arsenal and it gave us the motivation we needed to see if we could still make things work.

Here we are in 2016 and we harvested a tote full of green beans on November 11.  The green beans were NOT grown in a high tunnel, but we did use a remay cover to keep them going until we had a harvest.  The great thing about this?  Green beans are one of our favorite veggies.  We didn't really have enough to share with our Fall CSA members.  But, sometimes, keeping the farmers happy with a veggie treat is going to actually result in more good things for the CSA.

Speaking of good things - how about some tasty Black Krim and Italian Heirloom tomatoes on November 11?  These ARE courtesy of our high tunnels and it is a wonderful treat to be able to offer fresh, quality tomatoes this late in the season.

There is no way we could have known in 2010 how some of these things would have progressed, we could only guess that our perseverance would pay off.  And this is why I share this particular post.  It is a reminder to me and to others that some struggles actually help us to become better at what we do.  I am certainly not anxious to repeat 2010 ever again.  But, I can sincerely say that we wouldn't have advanced to where we are now without those struggles.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Cooler Than You?

The Sandman has a superiority complex, as you have all figured out by now.  Of course, he IS superior to everyone else, so we figure it is well-earned.  So, it should be no surprise when he says,

"I, the Sandman, am cooler than you."

What Could Possibly Rival the Sandman for Cool?

We will abstain from even bothering the Sandman for his opinion on this subject.  We already know his response.  Instead, we will focus on something on the farm that is SUPPOSED to be cool (except when it isn't supposed to be). 

We begin with exhibit A.

Exhibit A: Lotsa garlic in the truck barn

This picture comes courtesy of the 2014 growing season with some very nice garlic freshly hung in the rafters.  After we pull the garlic in mid-July, we will let it dry a little on hayracks for a couple of days (unless it rains) and then we hang them in bundles of 25 from the rafters to cure.  After two to three weeks, we start cutting them down so we can include them in CSA shares.

But, that's not actually why I put this picture in this blog post.  I put it here because things are VERY different in this building right now.  If you focus on the right side of the picture, you might see some white panels towards the back of the building.  That, my friends, is what our walk-in cooler looked like right up until this Fall.

Exhibit B(efore)
As I was typing the paragraph prior to this one, I remembered that we took a picture of the walk-in cooler panels soon after we unloaded them a couple of years ago.  These panels were salvaged from a Hy-Vee cooler that was being deconstructed in Ames.  Our friend, Jeff Sage, had a contact who let him know that we could take what we wanted and this is part of what we picked up.

Exhibit B - panels for a walk-in cooler.
I think the scariest thing about this picture (other than the fact that it was taken in 2013) is how clean this building looks at this point.  I just don't recall it ever being quite that empty.  On the other hand, I also know how easy it is to make things look cleaner by carefully selecting the camera angle.  I distinctly remember how much stuff I had to move in order to get this hayrack in far enough so the truck could also get into the building.  What you do NOT see is the pile of stuff just to the left of the trash can.

Perhaps Bryan is as Cool as the Sandman?
I can't tell you how many times we moved things around and started to consider what it would take to put the walk-in cooler up in the following months.  Starting in 2013, "Put Up Walk-in Cooler" was a high priority for major farm projects every season - right up until this year.  It went something like this:

2013 - Wow, we have walk-in cooler panels, we should put them up.
2014 - No, really.  A walk-in cooler would be a very useful thing, we really should put them up.
2015 - Look.  We need this walk-in cooler thing to be a go.  It's going to happen this year. Seriously.
2016 - We're too embarrassed to put this on the list.  We both KNOW it's on the MUST DO list anyway.

We won't bore you with all of the things that happened each season instead of the walk-in cooler construction.  Suffice it to say, the cooler delay wasn't because we were sitting on our hands.  Just, other things always seemed to sneak their way ahead of it.  Honestly, some of it was because neither of us had any experience with this sort of construction.

Enter Bryan Golay...

Would You Like to Build a Walk-in?
It is only mildly tempting to grab the lyrics from a song with a similar title from Frozen and adapt them.  But, I think I'll leave that for someone else. 

After moving to the area, Bryan was looking for some things to do and had some background with growers in other areas.  In specific, he had knowledge of walk-in coolers.
And.. Look what happened!
Yes, that's the same corner that had a hayrack of panels in it during the Spring of 2013.  And, yes, there is garlic hanging to its left.  No - that is not garlic from 2014.  That's 2016 garlic, thank you!  And, yes, it is down now.  Sheeesh.  Tell you about one project that took longer than we wanted and you make assumptions!

Inside the Walk-in 2016
The great thing about this project is that Bryan enjoys doing this sort of work and liked having autonomy for the project.  Rob, on the other hand, had a full schedule just doing the harvest and everything else on the farm.  It was just darned nice to know this project was moving forward without sacrificing anything from our growing season to do it.  After all, the only other option was to wait until everything was harvested in... um... December.  When the temps went below zero...

Welcome to Our Walk-In Warmer
Once the walk-in was done, we were actually at a point in time where we were wanting a place to keep things ABOVE freezing without taking them into the house.  Last year, Rob carried a couple of tons of produce down to our basement.  And, no, the stairs to the basement in our old house are NOT intended for a person to carry that much produce up and down it.  They are sturdy enough, but the stair is an uncomfortable width and the steps tend to get slippery.

The irony of all of this is that we actually run a space heater in this room right now to keep temps above freezing.  In fact, Rob has been working INSIDE the cooler because it is warmer there than most anywhere else on the farm (except the house).  Who knew?

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Hot Time in Tripoli

We look at the weather sites on the internet frequently.  It's just part of our job to try to get some idea as to what might be coming in terms of the weather.  So, we rely on sites like Wunderground and NOAA to give us information and we hope that what we see has a certain level of accuracy.

We looked at Wunderground on November 27 of this past year and we saw this....  Do you see why I might have been a bit concerned?

If you have not seen it yet, look down in this area.

I think I would have remembered November 26 as an exceptional day if that high temperature were accurate.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

A Choice of Litany

Miriam Webster's Definitions of "litanya resonant or repetitive chant

What is the litany you recite to yourself on a daily basis?  Is it a litany of doubt?  A litany of friendship?  A litany of fear?  A litany of success?

Perhaps the litany you sing or chant to yourself changes from moment to moment.  Maybe you are someone who doesn't recognize that you do this.  Perhaps you don't do this at all?   

"Why do you ask?" says the peanut gallery.

What do YOU see here?

I'll start with this picture from our farm.  We all can make a choice on what we focus on in a picture like this and I'm curious what others might see at first glance.  Do you see the Fall colors in some of the trees in the background?  What about that roll of drip tape next to the fence posts?  The clover in the path in the foreground?  The fence posts themselves?  How about the shells of cucumbers behind those posts?  Maybe you see the dead foxtail grasses or the green of broccoli plants a little further back.  Perhaps you see the blue sky or the brown corn stubble in the field beyond our property.

You see, you can make a choice on what you put your focus on as you look at this picture, as can I.  But, because I live in this world, my choice of what I see at any given time is a reflection of the many litanies that are going on in my head as I walk that field.

Valhalla in October this year - what song is it singing?

There are many moments on the farm where a 'fly on the wall' (or on the bill of my cap) would hear me talking to myself.   

"You can do this.  Keep moving.  You can get this done.  It's ok.  Just keep getting things done and it will be fine." 

In fact, this has been happening frequently over the last few weeks.  When it is clear the weather is finally going to turn, a very long list of things need to get done to prepare for Winter and the white stuff.  Some of these things happen every year.  Some of them are unique to a given season.  And, some of them are simply things that just keep falling off of each daily list until finally... yes finally... we realize that there is no longer a choice.  It has to get done NOW or it will not get done at all.

The daylight hours have grown terribly short.  The weather isn't as friendly for working outside as it was just a week ago.  It would be so much nicer to go indoors and read a book.  But, things need to get done.  So, I chant the litany of determination.  A litany that reminds me that I can accomplish those things that need doing.  A litany of encouragement to myself that these are things that are worth doing and I will be the one who will do them.

"You can do this.  Keep moving.  You can get this done.  It's ok.  Just keep getting things done and it will be fine."
And it works for me.  Even when the wind is blowing, temperatures are just above freezing and there is a light rain hitting me in the face as I do what needs to be done.

But, there are other choices of litany that are echoing in my brain, trying to get my attention.  One of them sounds like this:
"There is too much to do.  There is always too much to do.  You can not catch up.  You can't get it all done.  There is too much.  Why do you even try?  Too much.  Too much... "
And another one says:
"Stop.  Listen to the rain.  Feel the wind.  Observe.  Watch.  Feel.  See.  Be still.  You're moving too much.  You need to listen.  You need to feel.  Stop."
And yet another:
"You messed that up.  Why didn't you do that earlier?  That's not the way that should have been.  That's not right.  You need to fix it.  It's wrong.  It's all wrong..."
And one more (of so many other themes and counter themes, along with all of their variations):
"Oh, look at that, we could do more of that!  And, that looks good, we can do that over here too.  Just a little bit more of this.  A little more of that.  Maybe we should do that as well?  A little more... Just a little more..."
I work very hard to avoid letting the litanies with the overpowering negative vibes take the center stage.   Which is why I often revert to the theme that has the driving rhythm:
"You can do this.  Keep moving.  You can get this done.  It's ok."
And I live for the days when these litanies actually work together to form a song that has balance and meaning for me - and maybe for others I can share it with.


Here is the first picture again.

What do I see here?

"There is too much to do.  There is always too much to do."
I've got to get those fences and poles down.  The drip tape needs to be gathered.  I need to be sure to get that broccoli harvested on time.  It would be best if I cleaned up the cucumber residue and got the foxtail out of there.  How can I get all of this done before the soil freezes?  And that's only one field!

"You can do this.  Keep moving.  You can get this done.  It's ok."
Pulling drip tape isn't hard, it just takes some time and energy.  If you keep moving, the fences will be down before you know it....
"That's not right.  You need to fix it.  It's wrong."
Just a bit more time a few months ago and there wouldn't be so many cucumbers that went bad in the field.  We could have run that field one more time to get those weeds out.  You promised yourself you'd get the cover crops into that rotation this time, so much for that promise.
"Just a little bit more of this.  A little more of that."
This is where we grew those Gold of Bacau romano beans, we certainly could do more of those.  And there are a couple of great opportunities for more flowers in that plot's plan for next year! Why not an annual climbing flower to divide the bean types?  Wouldn't that be neat?
"Observe.  Watch.  Feel.  See.  Be still."
There is a beautiful blue sky with the sun highlighting the colors in the landscape.  The dry grasses make a gentle, relaxing sound in a light breeze.  The four-leaf clovers in the path are calling my name.  The soil is ever so slightly warmer in the top inch as it absorbs the light and it is mellow.  I pick up a fist full of dirt and it crumbles easily in my hand.  I let it filter through my fingers as I listen to the song sparrow tell me about the day as it sits on a fence post.

This last melody wins for a moment in time.  It pushes the others down until they are quiet harmonies and counterpoints.  And it reminds me that I can choose which litanies I will give voice to.  And it reminds me that the whole song just might require that I acknowledge each one of them as the music unfolds.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Variety Show - Marketmore 76

Every year, we put out a top veggie variety list and give some reasons why that variety is in our top 15 (previously top 10).  Sometimes we are asked for more detail on these varieties, so we thought we'd put some short blog posts out during the Winter months.  Eventually, these details will go onto our website as an update to what is found there.

Marketmore 76 

marketmore cucumber
Marketmore is an excellent market gardener's slicing cucumber.  Marketmore has been a part of our operation longer than any other cucumber and we don't foresee removing it in the future.  During excellent growing years, you could be overwhelmed by the production levels. Large fruit at 8-10 inches (and sometimes larger) are still excellent quality.  Our average harvest size is around 3/4 pound and we expect no less than 4 marketable fruit per row foot, usually get much more (9 to 12).  We realize our plants produce more prolifically than we report, but we usually fall behind on keeping cukes picked as other veggies clamor for our attention.

A late May planting typically takes 59 days to reach the peak harvest with first fruits trickling in as early as two weeks prior.  Pushing the planting back to early June shortens days to peak harvest to 51 days, with first fruits often hard to distinguish from the peak harvest.  We like to grow two (sometimes three) successions of cucumbers and still find ourselves getting caught planting the later succession too close to the first succession.  The net result is that we have far too many cucumbers at one point in time for our business model.

We try to wait to pick fruit until they have "filled out." You might notice that many cucumbers are a bit more ridged when they are smaller. If you have a Marketmore fruit that has deeper ridging and is on the smaller side, you should let them go a bit more if you are looking to eat it fresh. Their flavor is better after that point.  On the other hand, we have had good reports from those who like to pickle Marketmore 76 when they are smaller.

In 2012, we opted to plant one succession as transplants and the other as a direct seeding. The results of this trial alone illustrated for us the benefits of starting the plants in trays and then transplanting it. Production in the direct seed rows was less than half that of the transplant rows. This does not indicate lower production from surviving plants, but it does reflect a smaller number of plants due to early seedling death (cucumber beetle girdling typically).  At this point, we transplant all of our cucumbers.

There are three or more releases of Marketmore that we have seen and we have found Marketmore 76 to be reliable, disease resistent and productive.  This variety outperformed Marketmore 98 on our farm several years ago and we don't see 98 offered in any of the seed catalogs we receive at this time.   Essentially, that tells us that we are not the only ones who favor Marketmore 76.  We find the strain that High Mowing maintains shows consistently superior qualities over seed we have purchased from other suppliers.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Around the World

The month of December makes it official, Rob is allowed to revisit his postal history hobby at least a little bit.  I realize many people who do read this blog have very little interest in this topic - but I do try to keep it light.  And, after all, this is a reminder to me and to everyone who reads this blog that each of us is more complex than the box we are normally placed into.  Many of you know me as "Farmer Rob," but the farmer does have other things he likes to do other than farm!

I enjoy postal history that illustrates mail in the 1800's that crosses national borders. It's a combination of the use of postage stamps, the markings placed on the envelopes, the modes and routes of transportation, the agreements between countries and sometimes, the content and addressees of the mail.

We start our journey in Austria.  No reason why, other than the fact that I have this item from Graz in the southern part of the country.  Graz is currently the second largest city in Austria after Vienna and has Slovene origins.  Sadly, whoever sent this item to the United States didn't put enough postage on it!
Austria to the U.S. 1884
Since I focus more on items that originate in the United States, it is easier for me to find something from here that goes elsewhere.  Perhaps we should go visit the scene of Romeo and Juliet in Verona?  This letter was sent 'Registered' which increased the tracking of the mail's progress.  It cost 15 cents at the time, so this must have been important!
U.S. to Italy 1889
While in Italy, we can run on down to Tuscany and visit the city of Firenze (Florence to you and me).  While we are there, we could look at works by Botticelli, da Vinci and Michelangelo.  Next stop, Amsterdam!
Italy to the Netherlands 1868
For some reason, I've always enjoyed the stamps of the Netherlands.  And, I have a fondness for postal history in the 1860's.   So, of course, I was more than pleased when this item came my way.  You might notice that many of these letters have private company markings (see bottom left on this one).  Much of the postal history people like me collect have survived because of company archives that were eventually released for sale to collectors.
the Netherlands to England 1865
Cross the channel going North and now we go back across the Channel to the South.  It is possible that the highest volumes of mail on the planet at this time crossed the channel at some point between England and France.
England to France 1868
Part of my motivation for doing this was a recent trip to Chicago for Chicagopex, which gave me opportunities to find and purchase a few items of interest to me.  I do not get to do this very often, so I was very pleased to have the opportunity.  A couple of these items were purchased there.  None of them are incredibly rare or expensive, but I enjoy them - and that is enough.

So, we return across the Atlantic on a French ship that leaves from the French port of St Nazaire, arriving eventually in Mexico.  We'll just have to find a way to cross the border on our own since I do not have anything that goes from Mexico to the United States right now.
France to Mexico 1869
I hope you enjoyed this quick trip around the world.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Veg Variety Winners for 2016

Every year we attempt to identify the top varieties that were grown on the farm during the year.  Criteria include production, quality of fruit, taste and plant health.  Additional factors that may increase the rating for a variety might be performance as compared other varieties of the same type or one that surprised us by doing far better than anticipated.  You might also note that we will give a tie break to a variety that has not been awarded a top slot over one that has.

 For those who want to see what has gone before:
About 2016's Growing Season
We had a reasonably good start to our growing season, but wetter than usual conditions starting in late July, through August and into the Fall challenged many of our crops.  If you spent much time outdoors this year, you might have noticed that a high percentage of mornings during this period had foggy conditions and nearly all of them had a heavy dew on the ground.  This situation was perfect for a number of blights and fungal conditions that limited production for a wide range of things.  The weather conditions also promoted heavier weed pressures that needed attention - preempting some of our normal late Summer/early Fall planting.  Add to it some suspicions about other factors and our final result is that our overall production was about 2/3 of what we had last year at this time.

In the end, we had a very diverse set of crops do well enough that we were able to provide yet another fine CSA season for our customers.  This could be our most balanced shares to date, giving our customers the appearance of a year of bounty.  And, for their part, it was that - and we are pleased by this.  On the other hand, the ability to sell surplus was down this season, though we do still have garlic, onions and potatoes that will help us at the tail end of the year.

But, even if the over-all production levels were down, there were still outstanding producers on the farm - and that is what we want to focus on - the stars of the 2016 GFF growing season!

15. Komatsuna
There probably hasn't been a season where we haven't tried something new to us.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.  This is one of the years where the trial worked out pretty darned well.  We liked how komatsuna did in the Fall a bit better than the Spring, but I don't think it will stop us from doing a bit more with it during either period.  We are thinking we might do a bit more of the komatsuna and a bit less of the pok choi in the future, especially in the high tunnels.  This isn't a knock on the choi mind you.  It's just that these are a bit less bulky, a little sweeter and people are reporting that they have been able to eat these up a bit better than some of the nice big choi we grow.
photo from Evergreen Seeds

14. Thelma Sanders Acorn Squash
We have been telling people about Thelma for many years (both growers and consumers).  In our opinion, we think the quality of this tan acorn squash is better than most green acorns and Tammy and I prefer the less stringy texture.  Even better, the production numbers are quite favorable.  This past season we had 285 marketable fruit from 120 row feet of plants (approx one plant per row foot at transplant).  This happened even though we were late getting them in this season.  What's not to like about that?
Thelma Sanders is showing up in more seed catalogs!
We have had a difficult time having consistent winter squash production on our farm over the years.  The two most prominent issues have been excessive moisture in the Spring preventing us from getting the plants in the ground and excessive moisture later in the year preventing us from cultivating and keeping weeds down.  This year, the excess came late and we were able to address issues to give Thelma a pretty good situation for 2016.  But, even in the difficult years, Thelma gives us some production.

13. Pride of Wisconsin
This wasn't the melon year that last year was.  We can link it to the field, to the time of planting and to the timing of the wet weather in late July through August.  On the other hand, production levels for all melons were actually reasonably good.  It's just that you can't help but compare the current year against the record setting season that came just prior.
Pride of Wisconsin landed at #15 in 2015
It is interesting to note that Pride of Wisconsin was on our list last year as well, something that actually doesn't happen all that often.  That's likely in part to some handicapping that occurs since we don't want to give you the same top varieties every season.  But, it is also a testament to how different every year is for us as growers of produce.  Pride of Wisconsin's main competitors on our farm for melon superiority are Minnesota Midget and Eden's Gem.  The former produced at half the levels we saw last season and Eden's Gem was similar to last year, just not enough to dethrone Pride.

12. Marconi Red
This is a variety that we have been growing since our first years in Tripoli as the Genuine Faux Farm.  Early on, we only got a few peppers off of our Marconi plants - proof positive that sometimes you need to learn your variety in order to get production out of it. 
A Marconi plant before the fruit is um... red.
Marconi Red reminds me of a stretched out bell pepper in shape since it does have lobes, unlike some of our other sweet peppers (see Chervena Chushka later in this list).  You can certainly eat them green, but if you do, I might suggest that you are missing out on a real treat since the taste matures when they are red.  Great taste and excellent texture are the norm and we have had consistent production since 2012.  But, this year, Marconi set a record for it's best production levels on the farm.  That's enough for us to give it a GFF Veg Variety Winner showing in 2016.

11. White Wing
Once again, it was hard to feel great about the onion production because our expectations have increased dramatically over the last three years.
Early onions in your shares courtesy of White Wing
White Wing showed up in the end of year awards in 2014 and did equally well in 2015.  This year, they continued to be consistent, earning a slot here.  We don't know how well these onions store because they never stick around all that long.  We've found them to be a good addition to the high tunnel as well as in the field.

10. Bronze Arrowhead
I tell you we tend to favor veg varieties that haven't appeared here before and now I show you Bronze Arrowhead.  It has been at the top of the list in 2010, in the top five the year after that and in the top ten in 2013 with an 'Honorable Mention' in 2014.
One of our favorite varieties to grow - period.
Well, we had better have a good reason then, hadn't we?  First, we can grow Bronze Arrowhead very early, very late and in the middle of Summer.  We can pick them small and we can pick them at full size.  They are easier than many lettuces to clean when you do full head harvest like we do.  We like the taste and texture and our CSA members agree.  Over the last five seasons, we have harvested twice as many of the Bronze Arrowhead as any other lettuce variety we favor at the Genuine Faux Farm.  Reason enough to be in the top ten.

9. Helios
Helios is a new entry into the list even though we have grown it for many years.  A quick look shows it on our grow list in 2009, but I seem to recall we might have had it even earlier than that. 
A handful of Helios is a radish lover's delight.
Helios can be picked at normal radish size, but we tend to favor letting them get a little bigger.  They can hold a bit longer in the field than most radish and they don't get pithy.  Helios can handle warmer weather when most other short season radish quit and Tammy favors them for taste over French Breakfast.  We got a nice batch in the last Spring and in the Fall this year.

8. Touchstone Gold
This is another repeat from 2015.  But, unlike Pride of Wisconsin and White Wing, Touchstone Gold exceeded last year's production.  In a year where most crops ran at levels under prior year production numbers, a crop that exceeds the prior year needs to be rewarded by showing up on the list.
Last year's photo, but better results in 2016.
We had a similar root count for our high tunnel production of Touchstone gold this year, but the harvest weight (without greens) nearly doubled.  We attribute this to how we harvested this time around, but you still can't help but be impressed with these great tasting beets.  A great treat this summer was sauteed golden beets with the greens added at the end.  That meal included some steamed green beans, so the farmers were pretty darned happy.

7. Black Cherry
We will grant that our Black Cherry production per plant this year did NOT match last year.  On the other hand, we had more plants and production amounts were double last year.
There are no Black Cherry tomatoes here, the taste testers ate them all!
As a result, they appeared as an option for our CSA members frequently - which meant we had some pretty happy people.  We really can't argue about the health of the plants and the production levels were just fine.  But, with Black Cherry it is really only about the taste.  And, for our farm, it is about the ability to pick them fairly quickly without a significant number of split fruit.  Black Cherry is a winner at GFF.

6. Chervena Chushka
Chervena was number five last year and takes a tiny step back to number six this season.  Production numbers were down a tiny bit, but it seemed to us that the taste was actually better.  There isn't much we can do to verify our taste perception from year to year, but we can say that Chervena Chushka got more positive reviews from our CSA members this year than most of our peppers.
One of our prettiest peppers too!
We are wondering if some of this season's growing conditions led to higher sugar content for many of our crops even if it reduced production levels and storage times.  Whatever the case may be, this pepper has been solid since we gave it full production status in 2014.

5. Marketmore 76
What more can we say about this vegetable variety?  It is a consistent producer on the farm each season.  We normally harvest them when they are 3/4lb to 1 lb in size.  They typically have a nice straight barrel shape that is attractive on the table.  The spines are easy to rub off and the quality remains good even if the fruit exceeds a pound in size.
I should have picked one more for an even 1000 this season.
I am actually shocked that Marketmore has never cracked our top five.  Perhaps I just haven't wanted to 'jinx it' by putting it here?  No, I think it will do just fine next year, even after it's appearance at number five.

4.  Bunte Forellenschus
Larger quantities of seed for Bunte Forellenschus other than gardener packets have not been consistently available, so it should not be a surprise that it hasn't made our list before.  Add to that the slightly limited peak production window and you don't typically have a recipe for a top veggie variety on our farm.
I'm ready for a BLT right now!
But, what happens when you hit the production window perfectly?  Well, then you harvest beautiful heads of lettuce that you almost feel you want to play a fanfare for as you set it out for your CSA customers.  It is no secret by now that I favor some of the smoother/softer textures for lettuce and this one fits the bill.  But, feedback from all lovers of lettuce was positive for Bunte this season.

3. Rio Grande
It has been FAR too long since a potato made it to our top vegetable variety list (2012).  We like our taters and it is always disappointing when they don't do as well as we would like.  We tend to set our goals pretty high, which often means we are disappointed - even if the yields were reasonable.
Rio Grande in the center
Rio Grande was not available in 2015, much to our dismay since it has been a consistent producer of Russet potatoes on our farm.  It returned to the seed availability list this season and we immediately reinserted it into the lineup.  Production exceeded any prior year (458 lbs) for Rio Grande on our farm and the taste/texture combination was fantastic.  Tammy tends to favor the Mountain Rose, Purple Majesty and Carola, but she has also been enjoying Rio Grande this year.  We did note some issues with hollow heart in the very large tubers, but it really isn't hard to deal with, so we didn't hold it against it.

2. Waltham Butternut
We realize many growers are turning their heads for some newer butternut cultivars, but we are happy to stick with Waltham.  This year, we had over one fruit per row foot of production and an average size around three pounds.
Waltham Butternut
The solid vine of a c.moschata squash, of which butternuts are one, helps these vines to survive vine borer attacks far better than many other winter squash.  Hence the reason organic producers find it easier to produce them than other cultivars of winter squash.  This season, the taste of our butternuts have been sweeter than we've ever encountered - just amazing eating!  On the other hand, the high sugar levels are reducing the storability of the crop.  I guess that's not a horrible issue because people are going to want to east them up as fast as they are able anyway!

1. Gold of Bacau romano bean
One would think that the farmer would manage to get a picture of the number one crop for the season.  He didn't, so you all have to deal with a field picture that has the bean plants in it.

Gold of Bacau beans climbing the fence on the right.
We tried Gold of Bacau in the past on a trial basis and we (and others we got to try it) enjoyed the taste of these romanos very much.  We put the production at 90 feet last year and failed to get them weeded.  Not to be daunted by failure, we tried 90 feet of production this year and got 130 pounds of beans for our efforts.  Everyone in the CSA was given a nice batch of them to try and we have to admit we had to do a fair amount of encouraging.  After all, Gold of Bacau is... gold colored.  And, the beans are harvested fairly large, with the beans clearly showing in the pod.  If you are looking at green beans this size, you typically say they are past peak.

We were persuasive enough to get people to try them and now we have a large number of fans for Gold of Bacau in our CSA.

We hope you enjoyed our 2016 Veg Variety Winner blog post.  Please feel free to ask questions or make comments regarding these varieties in the comment section and we will happily engage you in discussion if you wish.