Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Rough Start

A quick blog post to celebrate the end of May and beginning of June - if celebrate is exactly the right word.  If I felt like we were caught up on everything, I might be more willing to celebrate, but we are not.  So, I'll just roll with the calendar because there isn't a choice in the matter.

Spring Sprang Sprung?  Not quite.
We had some nice weather in April that got everyone thinking "Spring," then we had this patch in May where things got pretty cold - including a freeze and a couple of frosty nights.   They had us scrambling to move plants to places where they could handle the temperatures.  Tomatoes got put into a high tunnel with a double cover of remay.  Even then, some of them got bit.

Some of our brassica went into this trailer and were covered with what we could find
We were glad we hadn't pushed much into the fields at this point, even though it might have been nice to get a few things seeded.  But, you get done what you get done and there isn't much more we can do.

We pressed some moving blankets and tarps into service on the cold frames.
While we didn't lose many plants, we did lose momentum.  Essentially, a cold snap like that one makes you move things backwards.  Plants that had graduated to various stages of hardening off were backed up one level.  It also means we spent that much of our time and energy just trying to get everything moved and/or protected.  And then moved back to where they belonged after the danger had passed.  That's alot of hours and effort that should have been spent moving forward.

The good news?  We are better prepared each year for events such as this.  We lose fewer things and the process gets more efficient.  And, we know what the next steps need to be - but that always takes time and resources to get there.  Sound familiar?  Just like everyone else we are.  We have ideas as to where we need to go and how to get there - now we need the things we need to get it done.

Mekanikle Ineptitude
Ok, we do NOT claim to be mechanics.  We can do what must be done when it has to be, but we admit we are not the most proficient at it.  That's why we pay others to do certain work.  They have the tools, shop area and expertise to do these things more efficiently than we do.

So one of the JD lawn tractors went in because it wouldn't start (at all).  Then, the tie rod on the other one broke.  So, we have no mower on the farm.  Uh oh.  We got a loaner mower - the belt to the blades stretched and came off - so it's down now.  So, we fixed the tie rod on our tractor ourselves.  It worked until it blew out a tire.  So, had to get that tire off and get a replacement.  Now that tractor is stalled out in the middle of the North fields and won't start again.  Each time we have a small mekanikle viktorie....

If it were just the lawn tractor issue, we wouldn't quite feel like there was some sort of hex working here.  But, it's been email issues and other computer things.  Various other tools have odd breaks or issues that we've had to address as well.  We're used to some things breaking as we start to use them in the Spring - but this has been a bit over the top.

And, who ordered this Spring cold that both of us caught this year?  Not fair!  "Piling on" foul!  Even the Sandman has been fighting an infection of some sort this Spring.
I am annoyed by this situation.  I, the Sandman, have spoken.
Masked Bandits and other Varmints
This is turning into the year of the VARMINT on our farm.  Look, we want to be friendly to nature - but when it gets this unfriendly to us and what we're doing...  We have to find ways to fight back a bit.

Short story is as follows.  We've seen more rabbits, raccoons, woodchuck, deer and other critters than normal this year.  With fewer options to tame areas that tend to get overgrown (dead lawn tractors - see above), these critters are feeling more welcome than usual.  We had some of our kohlrabi (about three trays of them) get nibbled by an unknown critter in our coldframes.  We moved things out of that and an adjacent cold frame until we could try and trap the culprit (never happened).

Things were placed on pallets in the cold frame area and seemed final until, one night the culprits attacked again.  We lost 90% of succession I of broccoli, most of the cauliflower and all of the cabbage.  Only things we had pulled and put on a hayrack were spared.  So, what was left got placed onto additional hayracks until we could address the issue the next day.

So, it only figures that raccoons would then climb onto the hayracks and dig into our plants and throw them around for a bit.  Why not?

Now, we have an electric fence around the area and no further issues have been encountered.  But still - that hurt.  Many of these plants were going to go into the ground the next day or two, so I suppose it could have been worse.  We could have spent the time transplanting into a field and had them all destroyed after that effort (that's me - always looking on the bright side!)

R.I.P. little plants.
Whether Wythards
Too warm, too cold, too dry and then too wet - in that order.  We farm, therefore the weather is always an issue.  'Nuff said.

Looking on the Bright Side
Ok, we will now follow my own advice and look on the bright side - because there have been several.  It can be hard to think about them sometimes when you are feeling a bit put upon by circumstances.  But, they are there, nonetheless.

We do have the onions in, which is no small task.  We have the option of putting in a bit more, but may opt not to do it.  Still, it is nice to have that choice available to us.  they probably have shown the least transplant shock of any season to date because we got the drip tape on them pretty quickly - despite the very dry soils we planted into.

Lettuce in Valhalla is looking great and the next succession in the field is on schedule.  The chard in Valhalla is also looking pretty good, so that is encouraging.  The next set of broccoli is getting closer to transplant stage and are looking good as are the plants in pots and trays that are waiting for ground to dry out enough to put them in.  And, the asparagus has been producing pretty well.  A good weeding of the taters will help them out (they are all in) and the germination has been good - if a little scattered.

And, despite the rain arriving earlier than forecast, we had a good day getting things done on the farm.

Building blocks.  We'll use this one as a solid base and put another good block onto the pile tomorrow.

Happy June everyone.

Friday, May 27, 2016

May the Flowers Be With You

It's May and the blogging time is hard to come by.  Or, even if there is time, the blogging energy is even harder to come by.
But, we have some May flower pictures that we thought we would share.  Enjoy!

They're Just Dandy!
This is worth saying a word or two.  Like most everyone else in the United States over the past several decades, we were raised to despise the dandelion.  Bane of green lawns everywhere!

We now actually like the dandelion!  Why?  Primarily because it is a food source for our pollinators at a time where there is less than maybe we would like for them to eat.  The dandelions really don't hurt much of anything as long as you keep the air filter on your mower cleaned up when they go to seed.
And, they are actually pretty.  Let your child tell you - and listen when they say it.
The Bush That Could
We were mistaken that some of our bushes didn't need to be fenced this past year.  Apparently, the rabbit population liked this decision and we have come to rue it.  So far, we haven't seen that we've lost many of the bushes.  But, they are shorter than maybe they should be at this point.  Then, there is this bush.  It kept one main stalk and it covered it in flowers this May.
Ha!  I will flower no matter what!
And More Flowers
The rest, we'll just get out of your way and let you enjoy them!

Bergenia.  We've had it in this spot since we moved here.  It likes that.

It was a good lilac year.  Just take a sniff!

Fernleaf peonies.  Never get too huge, always about 7 flowers per plant.  Why not?
I've always wanted some large hostas.  Turns out, if you leave them alone a few years, you can get them.
Oh!  Iris season!
Not sure I appreciate chive flowers nearly enough.
Did I mention that it is iris season?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Soup's Kittens (not to be confused with Soup Kitchen)

Ok folks!  The kittens have crossed the four week old mark and we're starting to actively look for homes for these two.  We've got enough cats to care for on the farm right now even though these two ARE cute. 

We thought we'd share the photos of these two that we have.

family picture

First week.  Two in one hand was easy

eyes open and one kitten per hand is better (about 2.5 weeks)

Ok, the gray one was a bit behind - ARRRR! It's a pirate cat?
 And now... what they looked like today (May 25).

Mmmmm. That food was tasty.

What?  What do you mean by that?!?
I am NOT going near that camera with the flashy thing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Refusing to Punt

The days are still getting longer and the farmer's endurance is not keeping up!  We can only assume he will eventually figure it.  While he is working on his stamina, we thought we'd give you a brief blog post for your entertainment (and maybe his as well).

With Anemones Like These....
Who needs friends when you have anemones?
We have a nice little patch of anemones that started out as one plant 12 years ago.  It might actually be safe to say that these anemones are actually friends of ours.


Kind of slow growing year for asparagus.
Look, we've seen the cartoon with the reference to the Age of Aquarius song that substitutes Asparagus for Aquarius.  It's funny, ya.  But, why do "Age of Asparagus" when you can do "Eggs and Asparagus?"

So, we got up early on Saturday for farmers market.  It was dawn and we were selling eggs and asparagus, eggs and asparagus, aaaaaaaaaaaspaaaaaaaraaaaaaaaaaagussssssssssssssssssss!

You're welcome.

No Trays of Humility
We planted lots for one session, so there.
Yep, sometimes we go on these planting sprees and plant lots of trays.  Ok, there is actually a limit that we run up to if we're going to 'pop' the seeds in the trays on heat mats.  WE were pretty proud of this effort, so there.

Stealing Bases... er... Basses
 Both Tammy and I love baseball and we both played cello, so this pun goes right along with our interests.  This meme was going around facebook recently.

Have a great week everyone!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Signs of May

We think this year might be see a bit earlier iris bloom than many years and we are (as always) looking forward to it.  There is one iris in particular (Thornbird) that I am hoping has not died off on us and I think I remember where, in our various perennial flower beds, this one should be. Whether they are still with us or not, we'll know one way or the other in a few weeks.

Of course, I'm not just anxious to see Thornbird.  There is a host iris varieties on our farm and they are all welcomed when they appear.  We very much enjoy picking bouquets and bringing them into the house and we do like to walk the grounds and view the flowers that have opened.  The hard part is getting back to work rather than just finding a chair and sitting and looking at them.

Another sign of May is the movement of our broiler chicken trailer.  Ok.  It's a small horse trailer that we've converted to use as the home for our broiler flocks.  When we first get broiler chicks we put them into the horse trailer and surround the trailer with portable electric fence to keep out the curious predator or two.  We place the trailer close enough to a building so we can run electric to the heat lamps that keep the baby birds warm enough.

However, May is when the birds get to start going outside, which means we need to start moving their portable home to appropriate pasture areas.  After all, you can't just leave the birds in one place for too long or grounds have difficulty recovering from the 'devastation' the birds leave in their wake.

And then, there is the Cart O Tools.  It's always a bit dismaying to us the first time we go out to really work one of the East plots and we have to keep taking trips back to the buildings to get yet ANOTHER tool or item we have forgotten.  Eventually, we get used to it.  And by that, I mean, we get used to going back to the buildings for things we've forgotten AND we get used to just packing out more than we think we will need.

Sometimes I think the gathering and putting away of tools might be one of the most tiresome jobs on the farm.  The gathering can be annoying because you just want to get to the task(s).  The putting away part usually happens when you are just ready to sit down/lie down and call it a day.  But, when you succumb to the temptation to just leave things out, that's when you pay - one way or another.

And, the final sign of May (that we will mention in this blog post - we know there are others) is the appearance of GFF plants in 3 1/2 inch pots that you can buy and put in your gardens!  We brought a few last week to the Waverly Farmers' Market and will be putting a whole lot more into pots this week.  I hope we can get it all done.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Long Term Hopes

Apparently, I've had the long view on my mind recently since I very recently wrote about our reasonably long tenure with this blog and now here I am writing about things we are undertaking or have undertaken for "the long run."  I suppose I tend to get into this mindset in the early Spring because the short term is beginning to press on me and force me to "be doing" rather than "be planning."  Of course, it's never all one or the other, but there is certainly a tension and one end or the other usually dominates depending on the time of year.

If you want another purpose, we are still trying to get people to join our CSA this year.  Consider this an attempt to convince you that joining us is a good idea!  But, if you are reading this and our CSA is not a valid option for you, enjoy it for any/all of the other reasons you might have and be welcomed!

Organic Certification is a Long Term View
Certification is on my mind because I completed our application for certification for 2016 in mid-April.  We are a bit behind this year in part because we didn't have our inspection until VERY late last year.  My internal time-clock just wasn't ready for it, I guess.  But, since the deadline approached, I had no choice in the matter and it got mailed just in time!

I've been asked many times why we bother to certify organic and I've probably given a few different answers.  Not necessarily different in content or intent, but perhaps in the order or method of delivery.  It usually depends on the context of the question and the questioner.

One of the parts of my answer is that I believe it is my duty as a steward of the land to consider how everything I do as a farmer might impact the environment, the people we provide food to and the farm business I run.  Organic certification "forces" me to review my whole farm plan every year and encourages me to consider if there might be ways that I can be better at what I do.

The National Organic Program guidelines support long-term soil health and pushes growers to consider long term consequences to short term actions. If there is no other reason for someone like me to go through the certification process than to improve our ability to be the best stewards we can be - then it should be enough.

Input Effort Here - Receive Gratification Later
There are many days when Tammy and I look at each other and ask, "What in the world are we doing? Why do we make things so difficult for ourselves?"  For example, it seems like we do a lot of spending money so that we can have more work.

I'll grant you the possibility that we are a bit odd and our priorities may be different than many people in this world.  I'll also grant you the likelihood that our decisions aren't always the absolute optimal decisions we could make in every given situation.  But, every time we open up a one of our jars of canned peaches during a time of year when good fruit is hard to find, I am reminded that many of the investments we make that cause ourselves to wonder are worthwhile.

Peaches are not something we can grow with much success on our farm, but we do love them.  So, we buy a couple of lugs of peaches and can them during some of the hottest days of the year.  Tammy does most of the canning work and I am the cheerleader.  But, the reality is that I cover other things she normally does so she can concentrate on the canning.  In short, it is not a super-easy thing to do during a busy part of the year.  But, these jars of sunshine are so welcome in February that I suspect we'll go ahead and do this every year we are able.

Investing in Better Food Now
GFF squash!  Yum!
You just HAD to know I was going somewhere with all of this, didn't you?  You didn't?  Wow.  I'm either sneakier than I thought or I'm more disorganized in this post than I should have been.  Whichever, doesn't matter.  I've got you wondering, don't I?  Well, I'm wondering at least.  So, I'll just go to a different topic.

We have actually had a few families not return to the CSA program over the years as small children have entered the picture.   I can understand some of the reasons - among them is simply the amount of time and effort the kids take.  It forces one to reassess where that time and effort goes, so spending time figuring out what to do with each week's produce may land on the priority chopping block.  We get it.  We understand it.

On the other hand, we also believe that the time to get the good stuff introduced to people is when they are small.  We love it when we are informed by a six-year old that spinach is great and they want to eat it RIGHT NOW!  It would be a rare kid who wouldn't find a way to express individuality by exerting some control over what they eat and selecting some likes and dislikes.  But, give them a chance to opt to like some of the good veggies.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Spring is the Time for New and Newer

April has actually been a very difficult month for both of us on the farm.  Tammy goes through finals week for Winter term and then needs to prep for and run an intense May-term course that starts in - you guessed it - April.  Organic Certification paperwork and taxes are both due mid-month.  Plants are getting started, the farm needs to get "unpacked" from storage and, of course, our Winter bodies are complaining about the new level of alternating activity and inactivity they are receiving.

If you do not understand that last statement, here is an example.  Tammy and Rob both spent a whole day on intensive paperwork goals like grading finals for Tammy and finishing organic certification paperwork for Rob.  The next day, they ran around like crazy people doing active work outside all day long.  Zero to one hundred miles an hour with just a single night in between them.

Sadly, all of this running around either mentally or physically (and sometimes both at once) forces us to make a strong effort to actually look at and enjoy some Spring things - otherwise, we would miss them altogether.  The hard part is actually looking at the Spring things and not think about the work they represent.  Uh oh.

Who Doesn't Like Baby Animals?

Americauna hen chick
Me!  Oooh Me!  Ok, But, they are kinda cute.  So, never mind.

April is the beginning of the baby boom on the farm.  It starts with hen chicks, who are now actually ready to get moved from their starting point in a metal bin to one of our trailers (that happened on Tuesday this week).  Nights are still a little bit chilly, but we'll have a back up in case we think it will get too cold.  The first batch of broilers are now one week old and are still yellow puff balls with a hint of wing feathers.  They live in a small horse trailer that we run an extension cord to for heat lamps.  But, with the wide range of temperatures, we have to be ready to open up doors and windows for them during the day and shut everything up tight at night.

Then, there was the addition of Soup's kittens (which sounds a little bit like Soup Kitchen - which is an entirely different thing).  We need to put a newer picture of them out there for everyone since their eyes are now open and the ears are a bit bigger.  They, of course, require some of our attention each day so they can get used to human touch and Soup wants her skritches* as well.  This leads to some major jealously issues from ALL of the other cats who all believe they are also cute and deserving of affection.  Mrranda "helped" me pull some weeds today, Sandman "helped" by pulling on the strings of my hoodie, Bree "helped" me find the brush so she could be brushed and HobNob did something she knows she should not do and jumped onto the kitchen counter for attention.  Uh huh.  Ok, so HobNob didn't help.  No, wait, she "helped" me try to type some quick email replies by sitting on my hands while I was trying to type.  There we go.

*skritches - For those who are/were Peanuts fans, Snoopy always liked to be 'skritched' not 'scratched.'  Tammy and I have (for as long as we can remember) given the critters in our lives 'skritches.'  After all, 'scratching' seems to imply injury and we don't want that, do we?

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis)
And, Flowers Are Good Too

We miss the flowers during the Winter months and we get to see them again in the Spring.  There are two things that is difficult about this.  First, many Spring days are very windy out on the farm.  As a result, the flowers can get beat up pretty quickly.  Second, the flowers are begging to be observed and praised for their beauty.  But, when you are zipping from task to task on the farm, the flowers can start to think that you are down-right rude.

In an effort to placate them, I brought out the camera a few days ago and tried to give the flowers my undivided attention for all of five minutes until it started raining pretty hard.  Oh well.  I guess I'd better give it another try sometimes soon.

Virginia Bluebells (Mertinsia virginica)
One of my favorite flowers of Spring is the Bleeding Heart.  It's not particularly showy in that the flowers are actually pretty small. But, they can have a delicate look to them that belies their toughness.  I suspect that I have a soft spot for Bleeding Hearts because we had a big, old, traditional Bleeding Heart near the house where I grew up.  I remember spending several sessions just admiring that plant.

The Virginia Bluebell (at left) is a flower I really didn't see much of (or maybe I just didn't recognize it) until we moved to the area.  Then, I noticed a yard that had a sea of blue flowers and I had to figure out what they were.  It turns out they were bluebells and they appear to like this part of Iowa just fine thank you.  We don't exactly have a lawn full of them, but we have our fair share and we're quite pleased to see them blooming in April and early May.   It is actually the kind of flower that I wouldn't mind having a really good sized area with them around just for the Spring bloom.

Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris)
Another early bloomer is the Pasque flower.  We have one of these perennials that has been with us for many years and it continues to increase.  I don't think we've ever seen this thing with quite so many blooms on it as it has this year.  The younger plants did fine as well, but paled in comparison.

This flower is supposed to bloom at Easter - but I think it was wise in passing on showing up this time around.  Easter was pretty darned early!

And, then, our farm is looks like a field of dandelions right about now.  I actually think it is sad that we have demonized the dandelion - they are actually quite pretty.  Tammy even found one with abnormally large flowers and she found the light fragrance to be quite pleasing.  Dandelions have those wonderful tap roots that bring up micronutrients for other plants and loosen up the soil.  And, frankly, they kill pretty easy when we till up the soil for planting.  Give me a field of dandelions any day over the Canadian Thistle that seems to be having a good Spring as well.

Well, I hope you enjoyed our "ode to Spring!"