Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Vocabulary Shortcomings, Skritches and Other Stuff

There are a number of words that I know how to use and use well.  Words like pollinator, inconclusive, allelopathic (even spell check is lost on that one), obfuscation and algorithm are among those I consider to be good words that I can use given the right situation.  Apparently, there are some simple words I am unable to figure out.  Words like.... "no."

Failure to say "no" may lead to photos that look like this one.

Ok, it's not all that bad.  I do my best to balance what I can do.  But, when you see situations where something really HAS to be done and no one else is stepping up to do it, my vocabulary (especially the word "no") often fails me.  Perhaps at some point in the future I will elaborate on what has caused me to discuss the merits of the word "no," but until then, I will refer you to Mrranda in the picture below.
Ya, ya.  Now get to some blogging that interests me.  Talk about skritches or mice.
For example, when one of our cats approaches me and asks for attention, I tend to give it some.  This is especially true this time of year.  The indoor cats are starting to see us leave the house more often to work outdoors.  They know the human who tends to tolerate their presence on his lap while he works at the computer will not be offering this service nearly as frequently as he did in January.  So, they are getting a little more demanding. In order to keep the peace, I try to pay for a little tolerance with a skritch or two whenever Bree or Hobnob are within reach.

The outdoor cats, who see much less of us during the Winter, are anxious to be shown that they are still valuable members of the community (as you can see by the picture above).  It is not unusual for Sandman or Mrranda to hop up on a car, picnic table or trailer for attention.  In fact, both of them will give Rob a 'hug' when he stands still long enough so they can get their skritches.
A satisfied cat customer.
When the demands of life (or the cats) seem to be too much, I contemplate other things.  Things that I can look forward to in the months ahead.  Green beans, flowers and bumblebees.  I am very much looking forward to the appearance of the bumblers.
Bumblebee on a gazinia. Only green beans missing from this picture.
But, my mind keeps coming back to a number of things that are in need of attention.  Perhaps our wonderful readers can help us out with some of these.

1. We are looking for more CSA members for 2016.  We have many slots open.  Spread the word!
2. We need at least one more worker for this summer.  We have one interested person who is currently following through and we could use more.

Ok, two is enough for now.
Oh, and my shoelaces are untied.  How could that have happened?
And, we've already had our first thunder and lightning show for the year at the farm.  This picture is from a different event, but it gives you a taste of it.  You know it is early in the season when every flash of lightning gets your attention.
My night time photography needs some help.
Actually, most flashes of lightning get my attention when I'm at the farm - regardless of the time of year.  If we have workers in the field and there is lightning, it typically means I have to consider getting everyone to shelter.  If there is lightning in the middle of the night, I tend to wake up in order to determine if we have some nasty weather heading our way.  The difference is probably in the 'startle' factor.  If it is July and you see lightning, it isn't entirely an unexpected event.  If it is early March...that's another matter.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Interested in sum sum Summertime?

Sitting at a picnic table.  Holding a wedge of watermelon in your hand.  Taking a bite and savoring it.  Then spitting the seed as far as you can - all the while trying to look cool as you do it.  And, if you're like me, that first seed just kind of dribbles onto your chin - so the looking cool part doesn't happen.  It's a picture of Summer in many people's minds.  So, we thought we might give you a post about watermelons at the Genuine Faux Farm.

We are in search of a year that gives us the "right" amount of watermelons for a given year.  Granted, we don't really know what that number might be.  All we know is that everyone in our CSA might like at least one during a given season.  And, we'd like to have some for ourselves and maybe some for events we hold at the end of Summer/beginning of Fall. 

Sweet Siberian (dark green), Ali Baba (light green), Mountain Yellow Sweet (dark green with light green stripes)
We've asked for feedback on what we grow numerous times over the years and were surprised a couple of years back when the watermelon was given more love than cantaloupe or other melons by our CSA members.  Since that time, we've figured out some of the reasons for this.  First, our CSA hadn't seen much for melons in the two years prior to when the question was asked, so they didn't have recent memories of some of the melons we grow.  In fact, most people who do not like melons are reacting to the unripe melon that is usually foisted off on consumers in many groceries.  Well, if that had been my only exposure to them, I might agree.  But, as we've gotten better at melon growing we've been able to convince a number of people that melons are a very good thing.  Maybe not everyone, but we recognize everyone has their taste preferences.

Sweet Siberian
That doesn't mean we aren't also trying to grow enough watermelons for everyone.  The first post referenced in the last paragraph (this one) gives most of the reasons why watermelons don't usually get a high priority on our farm.  Overall, the issue is more of a logistical problem than anything else.  Watermelons get ripe when we have a wide variety of produce available for our CSA.  The truck is already very full - and we have to get a batch of watermelons in there as well?  If you haven't noticed, they're rounded, so they don't pack all that well either.

We try to cover most of the production need with Sweet Siberian, which is a smaller (5-7 pound average) watermelon.  It is a light yellow watermelon with a slightly grainy texture.  The taste reminds me a little bit of a watermelon dipped in honey.  As long as you aren't expecting the standard texture and taste and keep your mind open to it, this is one fantastic watermelon.  Yes, it has seeds.  It has lots of seeds.  It's an open-pollinated watermelon.  Seeds are natural.  They kind of need them to reproduce, don'tcha know?  After all, that's why you eat them outside - so you can have a seed spitting contest!  Just avoid dribbling seeds on your chin.  All of the cute girls (Tammy) will point and laugh at you... until she tries to spit a seed and the same thing happens to her! HA!

Orangeglo - light green with dark green stripes
Sadly, watermelon is one of those crops that has a few strikes against it.  First, it is a longer season crop. The longer the season a crop needs, the more opportunities there are for things to go wrong.  With some of the weather we've dealt with over that past X years, there have been seasons that simply did not give the watermelons a chance to do anything.  Second, watermelons take up space since they are a vine crop.  In fact, they take up more space that cantaloupe.  They just don't produce super high numbers of fruit per square foot of growing space.  That's a problem when you run a CSA program and have limited field space - we're all about the numbers.  If you have 120 members,  you want/need at least 120 fruit.

It was sitting in the field, just minding its own business.
Then, there is a matter of education.  Yes, I said "education."  I've said it before and I'll say it again - we firmly believe that there are all sorts of taste options out there that provide opportunities for people, such as myself, to learn to like new things.  That is why "We Can't Grow Anything Normal."  But, when you can't grow anything normal, you end up having to spend time explaining what you have and why it is a good thing.  Since we grow many different things, we have to pick and choose some of our battles.  And, even when we give it our best shot, someone will still inform us that they threw a watermelon out because it looked like this:

Yes, it really IS orange inside.  It is called Orangeglo, you know.
But, the main reason we grow Sweet Siberian (light yellow), Ali Baba (pink), Orangeglo (orange) and Mountain Yellow Sweet (yellow) is because we think they give us a nice range of fantastic tasting watermelons.  And... they are all open pollinated varieties.

Well, at least someone is happy to have an Orangeglo watermelon!
Last year was a great melon year, but we had a watermelon catastrophe.  The small watermelon harvest had some really tasty Orangelo watermelons, but not enough for everyone.  We're hoping to meet our goals for both in 2016!

Join our CSA and reserve your chance to taste some of these delicious treats!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Winter, We Hardly Knew Ye (Careful What You Wish For)

I started to type the title of this blog post and realized that we are still well within range for some very Wintry weather.  There is no denying that this El Nino year has resulted in an abbreviated (thus far) snow and cold season.  But, before you get too excited about this let me remind you of a few things.

Is It Spring Already?
If things stay significantly warmer, some of our annual crops - including fruit trees - will start to bud out.  This is actually a VERY BAD thing if you want a good crop.  It is highly likely we will have freezing weather yet this month and the next.  And, I don't mean something like an hour or two at 30 or 31 degrees.  I mean, below freezing and staying there for days.  If these things get started now, they're likely going to have bud freeze-off and we won't have some of those crops this coming year.  So, while I'm just like anyone else - I enjoy mild temperatures and weather because I really LIKE being out in it - I also consider the best interests of some of the plants we care for.  Farmers... can't make them happy with any kind of weather I guess.

I've also started hearing the standard comments along the lines of "you must be anxious to get things planted" and "I am sure you're already putting things in."  Well, yes and no.  Frankly, I'm not as pleased about the approach of Spring as maybe I once was.  Spring is simply an indicator to me that I must work harder and continuously to do the things I do.  While I certainly do plenty in the Winter, there is no denying that it is a more relaxed pace than the growing season.  Spring is my equivalent to the end of August for those who still run on a school calendar.  On the other hand, I do still like growing things and I do still like Spring.  I just wish I'd gotten more of the things done that I said I'd do during my "off-season."  And the time for that is running out - just like it does every year.

Great Minds
While I normally am the one to grab the camera and try to catch things around the farm to share with people on our blog, Tammy will sometimes get a wild hair and do the same.  We didn't communicate about the pictures you see below and they came on two different mornings.  But, we did select similar subject material.  Can you guess which of us took each picture?

The Burning Bush is Frozen?
We have a nice little Burning Bush just to the southeast of our house.  I managed to grab a chance to take a picture of it when it was covered in hoarfrost.  I couldn't really capture how cool it looked, but I could not pass up the chance for the wordplay. (actually, when have I passed up a chance for wordplay?)
Bad Timing
One of our trials this past year was to get some clover growing in the paths between the cucumber rows.  I apparently missed the time frame for getting the clover established so it would do us any good while the cucumbers were growing.  But, guess what I found in early December?  Why yes.... a nice, 200 foot long clover patch in between where 2 cucumber rows had been. 
look carefully just to the left of center for the clover row
Part of the idea here was to help reduce weeds during the harvest period for cucumbers.  Clearly, I failed in that endeavor.  Another part was to help keep the cucumbers cleaner on rainy day harvests.  Again, we didn't see that either.
Just to prove it really is clover, here is a "close up"
But, one of the principle ideas of cover crops is to keep soil covered to prevent erosion and to promote healthy microbiology in the soil itself.  Clover has an added benefit that it fixes nitrogen into the soil as well.  So, I may have missed my timing on this one, but I still get some benefits.  I'll take it.  And, no, I didn't notice any four-leaf clovers in this batch.  But, there was one in the path just to the West of these.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Back At It

It is a tradition for Tammy and I to spend the date of our anniversary together as much as is allowed by life schedules and this year was no exception.  She will likely pay for this since she has all kinds of things going on at school right now.  But, Thursday was an extremely nice day and Tammy requested some outdoor, farm time.  So, we made that happen.  (ok, ok.  There was going to be some outdoor farm time because we need to get things done anyway, but the order of things might have changed slightly to meet her request!)

Hauling the broadfork out to Valhalla
One of our tasks was unpacking and checking all of the seed orders that have arrived.  But, that didn't get us outside.  So, we gathered tools and moved on out to one of our high tunnels.  For those who may be new to what we do, we have two plastic covered hoop buildings that are commonly known in horticulture circles as "high tunnels."  We have named the older high tunnel "Eden."  Eden is the smaller of the two buildings (30'x72') and the Valhalla is the newer and larger building (30'x96').

Hiking turned out to be good preparation for broadfork work
We need to prepare the ground in the high tunnels for our early plantings and the first step is to use the two-handled broadfork.  This tool has sturdy 8 (or so) inch tines.  You step on the cross bar, push the tines into the ground and then rock the whole tool to loosen the soil.  The words do not adequately describe the workout you can get with this tool.  Our soil is dense enough that simply 'stepping' on the bar will not push the tines all the way in - so it ends up being more of a step on, march in place while balancing, step off procedure. 

I managed to get about a third of Valhalla worked up in a reasonable amount of time. I'm still a little bit off the pace I'd like to work at, but not far off.  On the other hand, I began to realize that I actually have the length of rows in Eden imprinted on my brain.  Every time I'd get to about 70 feet in a pass, I'd start looking around to see if I was by the end wall.  I don't know whether to consider this a good or bad thing at this point.

Barty got a chance to play today too!

We do have a propensity for naming things.  Oh, you noticed?  Good.  Get used to it.

Barty is our walk behind tractor with a nice tiller attachment.  After using the broadfork I brought Barty out to start making the seed beds.  We should be able to finish the project and get things in the ground by the end of the weekend!

While Rob was doing the bed prep, Tammy was pulling a little plant residue out of the North beds.  Then she spent time bringing materials out to Valhalla so she could start planting onions into our nice new red trays.

Step one, add drain holes.
We've used some white plastic trays the past couple of years and have found that they break up very quickly.  They're just not able to handle what we put them through.  So, Tammy did a little research and found these.  At the very least, we aren't going to lose track of them easily.

Well, that's a little less than half of them.
One the holes were drilled, Tammy got the water connected up in the high tunnel and she mixed some starting medium up for the onions.  She got five trays planted with the medium she brought out to the tunnel and then ran out.  Since the sun was starting to go down and we had chores and dinner to attend to, we figured it was enough for the time being.

What's this?  An "On Farm Farmer Selfie?"
Apparently, Tammy and I think we're pretty clever since we came up with our 'Farmer Selfie" thing on our recent trip.  I'm sure once the novelty of these things...or the novelty of this year's growing season catches up to us, this will die down.  But, for now, we prefer to think we are still rather clever and we will share a farmer selfie when the mood and opportunity meet up.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Walking Picture Tour Part II

And, our final installment for the Kauai trip is now here.  We will return you to your regularly scheduled farm blog after this.  I suppose we may be inspired to do more on this in the future - never say never.  But,  it feels like this is a good stopping point for the moment.  After all, we realize that the pictures will mean more to us than to you because we were there and it includes our 'adventures.'  There is fun in the sharing - as long as you don't wear out your welcome!

Kalalau Sunset
We were lucky to see another sunset from the Kalalau Lookout.  There is a neat phenomenon where the trees on the hills to the West of the lookout turn gold as the sun sets.  I haven't taken the time to identify the very best picture of this, so you'll just have to settle for this one.

Sunset to the West (imagine that!) of the Kalalau Lookout
During Winter months, things aren't always clear enough to experience a good sunset from this spot.  And, in fact, there may have been only one evening that was clear enough while we were there during this trip and we made sure we caught it.  What amazes me most about the Kalalau Lookout is how calm the wind has been each time we've been up there.  I'm sure there must be days or nights when the wind howls, but we sure haven't experienced it.

The Return to the Edge of the World (Waipo'o Falls)
One of the goals I held for myself was to hike the trail to Waipo'o Falls again.  Last time was quite the traumatic experience for me in particular.  Why?  Well, I am not particularly fond of heights and I can say that once you get on top of this ridge, it sure seems like you could very easily take a tumble for a LONG way down.  With Tammy's help, I managed it last time - there's something about conquering one's fear that makes you want to show that it wasn't a fluke.  So, we did it again.  And, it was easier this time around.  Although I did stay further from the edge than many people.

Tammy surveys the Edge of the World
And, once again, we went to the top of the first drop of the 800 foot Waipo'o Falls.  This time around, there was a good deal more water in the stream, so we did not cross it.  I suppose it could have been done, but we weren't in the mood for walking a couple miles in wet boots on the return trip.

The top of Waipo'o Falls
Makaha Ridge Road
Each time we would drive by the intersection for this road, Tammy would say that we should drive down it sometime.  So, on our last day at Koke'e State Park, we did just that.
And, we were rewarded.
There are a significant number of hunters on Kauai that work to control the wild pig populations.  Not only are these piggies used for food, but controlling them is necessary in order to prevent them from tearing up the ground and significantly increasing the erosion and harming native plant populations.  The pigs were introduced by humans (of course).  The reason I tell you this is because this road (and most others) have trails that are primarily used by hunters and are also hiked by people like us once in a while.  We found a short trail at the end of the road that took us to this viewpoint.  Makaha Ridge juts out towards the ocean.  I'd share one of the pictures that had the ocean in it, but it just doesn't show up as well as I'd like, so we'll go with this one.

Power Line Trail
Once we moved to the North side of the island, we worked to explore new things (to us).  One of our hikes was on the Power Line Trail (so called because it was created for maintenance/construction of the power lines from the North to the South side of the island through the interior).

Not a bad looking waterfall!
The hike was a bit less strenuous than some of the ones we'd taken thus far.  But, we'll admit we stopped a bit earlier than we thought we would because the trail was covered by water.  I suppose we could have slogged through it, but it would only remind me of days I have to work in mud on the farm.  So, maybe not.

The Christmas Tree of the Powerline Trail
We found this little tree next to the trail that had been decorated for Christmas.  It looks like a Norfolk Pine and is surely related to them.  We found it amusing enough to take a picture of it.

And, we were able to get a decent picture of the mountains to the West of the Powerline Trail.  It was always interesting to watch clouds gather on the North face. 

Kalalau Trail and the Napali Coast
We got up early to avoid the normal crowds that hike the first segment of the Kalalau trail to Hanakapi'ai Beach.  We succeeded in avoiding most of the other hikers by doing this, but we also dealt with more overcast/cloudy conditions than we've seen at other times. 

Sun hitting the top of a ridge on the Napali Coast
The brilliance of the colors really shows when the sun comes out.  They are muted somewhat when it is cloudy/foggy.  But, the whole thing is beautiful regardless of the amount of sun.

The different colors in the water always amaze us.
This trail is rated as being appropriate for a "Hardy Family," which is a notch less difficult than the "Strenuous" trails like Nu'alolo, which we hiked earlier.  But, frankly, I find this trail to be more difficult because of all of the rocks on the trail that like to try to roll my ankles. 

Well, not THESE rocks specifically
And, like most trails on Kauai, there were ups and downs to it.

How about rocks AND ups and downs?
Kilauea Lighthouse
The lighthouse itself was closed for work to shore up the paths to the lighthouse.  Erosion is doing its work on Kauai.  It's just the way things are. 

So, we went to an overlook that let us look towards the lighthouse instead
The point of visiting was the hope that we would see some whales.  No whales this time around (though others reported seeing them earlier in the day).  So, that was a small disappointment.  But, it was still a beautiful viewpoint and we got to see the Red Footed Boobys that were nesting in the area around the lighthouse.  If you look carefully at this picture, you'll notice the different colors of blue in the water AND the sky. 

Inini Beach
We alternated hiking with trips to various beaches on Kauai.  We did enjoy Kekeha Beach on the Southwest side.  There were big waves and lots of sun and sand there with mostly locals enjoying the surf.  Salt Ponds was a decent place to visit on the South side as well, we could explore some of the little fishy creatures that were in the rocks there.  But, we really enjoyed Inini.

Another farmer selfie?!?
Technically, the water near the beach is a lagoon that is protected by a reef further out.  It was strange how calm the water was near the beach.  Yet, we could still see huge waves breaking on the reef that was about 1500 feet out.  And Rob took great pleasure in disturbing a poor little crab that could rapidly cover itself in the sand.  Ok, he didn't disturb it THAT much.  Just a little.  All in the interest of science.  Or, something.

A Last Hike: Kuilau/Moalepe Trails
On our last full day on the island, we took one more hike.  I'm not sure how to describe the decision making process for us to go on this hike.  Suffice it to say that we started this trip by making sure to space out our hiking trips to allow time for recovery.  After all, this was a vacation, not a boot camp.  Most of our hikes were 4 to 5 hour hikes and some were fairly strenuous.  Since it is Winter, our conditioning isn't what it might be in the Summer.  That, and we don't do so much of the up and down stuff in Iowa for some reason.

Viewpoint towards the Makaleha Mountain range
We'd hiked on Kalalau Trail the day before and Powerline the day prior to that.  So, mentally, we were thinking there wouldn't be a long hike on this day.  But, we looked at the map in a region of Kauai we really hadn't explored much and decided the rating for this trail made it sound pretty easy.

The trees on Kuilau were friendly.
And, for the most part, it was easy, compared to most of the other trails.  There was still a climb (maybe 500 feet or so?).  But, the trail was wider than many and it wasn't covered in rocks.  There were even places we could walk without watching our feet.  That's actually the biggest danger for most of the Kauai hikes.  There is so much cool stuff to look at, you want to keep your head up.  If you keep your head up, you end up tripping on things.  So, it's much safer to walk with your head down and stop as often as you wish to get a good look around.  That does not mean that each of us didn't fall prey to the rubbernecking and then tripping issue on this trail at least once.

We both had a great time on this trip.  Of course, part of it was the location.  But, the biggest thing was the fact that Tammy and I could relax a little and spend quality time together.  Thanks for a great 25th Anniversary trip T!
Aloha Kauai! and Mahalo.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

An Appreciation for Different

We won't do too many more blog posts on our trip to Kauai, so hang in there - the farm focus will come back very soon.  But, for now, we bring you this.

One of the things farming has done for both of us is increase our awareness for the natural things that surround us.  This time around, we tried to record a few more of the things we observed with the camera.  Some with good success and some with ... um.. less success.  If you wish to view any of these in larger format, just select the picture and a larger version will pop up for you.

We took notice of more birds this time around.  One of these birds had a really great call that I wish I could describe.  Maybe one day I'll find a recording of it so I can share.  It's a cute little thing... and it's green, so it blends in well.
Can you find the little green bird in this picture?
We also had a good time finding flowers and taking pictures of them.

Ohi'a Lehua
And we found that fog/clouds can really highlight things differently and give you a whole new perspective on what you are seeing.
Yep, it really was THAT steep,.
We also got lucky and saw a fogbow.  It wasn't really a rainbow and it didn't show the colors as strongly as a rainbow might.  But, it was fun to see.  For a short time, it was a double fogbow.  Cool.
Today's new word is FOGBOW...yes, I created the word.  Neat, huh?
We stopped places that weren't exactly marked as an overlook or scenic spot.  This little waterfall was just off the road on the way up to Koke'e State Park.  We've seen it before and finally managed to get to it with some good light.  I'm not sure I picked the best photo we took of it, but it gets you the idea.

Note the red dirt.
And the day was bright and the sun was starting to go down.  And, the farmer got an idea.

A "Farmer Selfie!" perfect for introverts!
We also couldn't help but notice some of the signs on our hike.  If you read the signs you might wonder what possessed us to take this trail anyway.  If it helps, this was the second time we had taken this particular hike.  Ok, maybe it only helps you to revise your opinion of us, whatever that might have been to start with and whatever it might change to... We really can't say.

Remember.  Don't Cliff Dive!
We took the signs seriously. 
But, the reality is that hikes in Kauai are typically a bit rougher than what we might be used to in Iowa. It's not too hard to turn an ankle or wrench a knee on these trails.  And, they can be dangerous if you aren't paying attention and listening to yourself when the internal alarms go off.

We also learned that they grow nasturtiums REALLY BIG in Kauai.  Something about being perennial versus annual plants on the island... among other things.  We grow nasturtiums as a companion with some of our vine crops but we shudder to think what might happen if the nasturtiums we grow got to look like.....

And we got to see some wild orchids during a couple of our hikes. 

And we got to watch waves.  Just don't ask how many pictures Rob took to try and catch just ONE of them with the curl this one has.

Oh, did I mention that we saw a number of birds?  And, we have no idea what this bird is.

Does anyone out there know?
On the other hand, we know what this bird is.  Why?  Because there was a sign there.  And because there were people there who told us.  And... well.  I guess I have no other reasons why.

Look!  A Red-Footed Booby.  No, really.  It has a blue beak.
And, for your next "Where's Waldo" experience on this blog.  We did experience seeing Geckos and other lizards like this one.
Yes, I think you bipeds are very silly and quite unstable.
Then, suddenly, on our last hike of our trip, we got the feeling that we had entered the pages of a Dr. Seuss story.  Again, we don't know what these plants are, but they certainly got our attention.

Inspirations for the Lorax?
We hope you enjoyed the pictures and the observations as much as we enjoyed bringing them to you!