Friday, September 30, 2016

2015 Look in the Mirror

In prior years we have done a Top Ten Events for the prior year.  After all, January is the month for 'top ten' lists and that sort of thing.  So, of course, we started it in January and didn't finish.  Since I am needing some new material on the blog, what better way to accomplish this sooner than to finish something I've already started?

In keeping with a recent series of "Look in the Mirror" posts, like this one for 2012, we were feeling more like writing that way rather than trying to rank things.  And, after all.  I never did get this done in January - July (and then September) seems like a good time to do things differently anyway!

All in all, 2015 was a pretty good year for us at the farm.  Of course there were problems.  There are always things that don't go quite right.  But, for the most part, we did just fine.

Early Season Events and Decisions Set the Tone
It is hard to believe that some of these things just happened in 2015 as it feels like they occurred a long, long time ago.  For example, we finally received a settlement for the 2012 spraying incident in February.   And, in late July, we finally regained organic certification for the west fields and old high tunnel that were in the spray zone (three year anniversary).  It is hard to explain exactly how different we feel about things on the farm now that these two milestones have been reached.  Suffice it to say that we both feel like we have some extra energy for the farm.

We also made the decision to not do an extended Spring share this year.  Instead, we figured we'd make sure the regular season CSA started strong and rely on direct sales for early Spring for whatever crops we got going.  This allowed us to use the high tunnel a little bit differently in the Spring.
So, we used the high tunnel to start plants during the early months
Perhaps the Spring share will return in future years.  But, for 2015, it was exactly what we needed to be doing.

Truly Weather Wythards

A weather station for the farm
We've talked about getting a weather station on the farm for a few years, but the time/energy to explore options just never showed up... until this year.  We picked up a decent station and set it up in the high tunnel early in the year to get used to it AND see how things worked in a somewhat controlled environment.  I think we are most amused (by it, not the weather) when it tells us it is "raining cats and dogs."  If Rob were programming it, he might have added things like "hold on to your hat" and "your neighbor's cow just flew by."

Equipment Changes and Additions (Again!)
Every year, we add, modify and delete tools and equipment on the farm.  It's just part of the way things are.  If you really use something, it tends to break.  Or, if you use something often, you begin to see how it can be improved.  And, sometimes, you pick something out because you think it will solve a problem - and it doesn't.  It's all a part of what we do.

The orange running gear at the left has turned out to be the most used tool purchase of the year.  It now has a flat deck on it and, unlike our other hayrack, it can turn without a good deal of force.  Ya, something about needing to turn on a fifteen acre farm....

The middle photo shows off Jeff Sage's wonderful work in repairing the back doors on our chicken nugget trailer.  Yes, we know it's an old horse trailer.  But, it is now used to be the portable home for our meat chickens - usually referred to as "nuggets" when they are smaller.

On the right is a nice flair box that, shall we say, has yet to find it's real niche on the farm.  Ah, such is life.

The SNORT Returns
The last time we heard about the Snort, it was a situation that we hadn't planned on.  This time around, we actually invited the Snort to come dig our own personal "Grand Canyon."  Rather than say much more, we'll just go to the next item.

Valhalla at GFF

We started the process of pursuing the building of a second high tunnel in 2013.  And, as part of the process, we entered the Dream Big, Grow Here contest and won the local competition.  It took us until 2015 to get everything together and to gather the rest of the necessary funds (no small project in itself).  The SNORT was used to dig a trench for a frost free water line to serve the new building.  All I can say at this point is that we're glad we did it.  And, for those who care, we named our first high tunnel "Eden."  Hey!  It's better than the "Old" high tunnel and "new" high tunnel.

Well, I'm Bushed.
I'm beginning to understand why we were so tired at the end of the season last year.  The sheer number of additional projects in addition to the normal growing season and poultry raising is a bit surprising when you look at it in the rear-view mirror.
Laying fabric to help the new bushes survive.
We've had bush lines established in parts of the farm since 2005, but are really trying to establish lines on all edges of the farm.  Our hope is that this does several things for us.  First, it will provide habitat for all kinds of useful critters on our farm.  And second, we hope it helps protect us a little bit from spray drift form neighboring farm land.  Already, many of these bushes are putting on some size in 2016. 

The Carrot/Beet Experiment
Carrots and beets have been difficult for us to grow in the field for various reasons that we have outlined in other blog posts.  So, we thought we'd see what would happen if we grew a row of each right next to each other in the high tunnel.
middle row, carrots on the left, beets on the right
The net result?  109 pounds of carrots and 107 pounds of beets.  We'll consider that a success and work to expand on it.

Valhalla's First Crop
The new high tunnel didn't go up until June, which was NOT our original plan.  But, that's when it happened.
Then, we had to change our plans as far as the timing of crops were concerned for the building.  We gave some late tomatoes and peppers a try, as well as a row of green beans and... some sweet potatoes and late melons.  The last two - not a good idea.  The others, however, did pretty well for us.  Getting some fresh Black Krim tomatoes on Tammy's birthday in November - priceless.

We Just Like This Picture

Weeded and the plants look good. 'Nuff said.
Treating Flowers as a Crop
Sometimes things work.  This year, we finally executed the plan we've wanted to with respect to flowers and melons.  We treated the flowers with the same emphasis in growing as we did the melons.  We reduced the number of melon plants by about 1/3 - net result, we got about 1/3 more melons this year than prior years. 
We might be on to something here.
We decided to over-Winter some ducks for the first time ever.  The hope?  We wanted to raise our own ducklings. 
It worked this time around!
It actually was fun seeing those little yellow fluff balls following mama around.  We're not calling it an unqualified success, but it gave us some hope for the future.

Summer Festival Takes Precedence
We decided to target our energy a bit more and have one large festival in August rather than trying to hold three festivals per year.  The result was a Summer Festival with music and a scavenger hunt, among other things.
oh, and painting!
And A Field Day?  Really?!?

We even helped host a field day with IOA (Iowa Organic Association) and NCAT (National Center for Appropriate Technology) on a new crop insurance program.  Part of the session was held at the Tripoli Extension Office building and it was followed by a farm tour at GFF.
Yep, I like this tool
Still Green In November
We still had some green and growing things in the field right up until mid-November.  But, when it decided to turn cold, it did it right quick!
Spinach, daikon radish, fall radish, napa cabbage and pok choi!
Rob spent a couple of frantic days trying to bring in everything he could prior to the deep freeze. And, since we didn't have a place to keep things from freezing other than our basement, he hauled several thousand pounds of produce to the basement.  Ugh.

Poultry Clean Up Crew
We decided to have a later Fall batch of broiler chickens so we could use them to clean up some of our field and, in the process, they could spread manure for us.
This field HAD green things in it a day or so ago.
Drift Catchers Are Us
And, we participated in a drift catching project that required some set up and consistent data collection.  We were ready to do this again in 2016, but they are looking at changing things so they can collect and test for more things.
We did receive results from this project and it opens up a whole host of questions that should be discussed.  We'll save that for another time.

Culinary Corner
Last but not least, we were able to debut the Culinary Corner post series on our blog to feature one of our workers, Elizabeth, and her culinary knowledge.  We saved one of the posts for this year and we try to link people to these periodically.  Thanks again Elizabeth for your work on these posts!

Belated Thanks
Again, this post was slated for January.  But, things happened and then other things.  And, we all know what happens after that... MORE things!  Still, our gratitude for everyone who helped us through 2015 is no less strong than it was when this post was begun.  In some ways, it might be stronger because we can see how things have proceeded since last year.

Here's to a timely 2016 post!  But, let's enjoy 2016 before we even begin to worry about that.

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