Saturday, May 27, 2017

VAP Revisited

In July of last season, I wrote a post about our VAPs (Very Ambitious Plans) that several people found either amusing or alarming, depending on how one was feeling at the time.  By way of a short introduction, Rob has always been a list-maker, but the realities of our farm requires that we take list-making to a higher level.  Each day needs some sort of a plan to maximize results.  While Tammy is NOT a list-maker, she also agrees that we always have a more productive day when there is a clear VAP to guide us.

Example of an item that changes the VAPArrgRat
Discovered VAP Items
 In the previous post, I spent time creating some 'fictional' statistics for our VAPs.  And, no, before you start thinking I am more crazy than I really am, I have not actually run any of these statistics - nor do I intend to.  One of the categories was the Discovered VAP items.  Things that didn't go onto the plan before the day started are said to be 'discovered.'  For example, if critters (aka varmints) are getting into the peppers we have to add "put the electric fence around the peppers" ahead of most everything else.  I guess lists and the plans they represent are meant to be broken.

May we help with your VAP?
Chores, BOLS, and MEWs
I am sure there are many people out there who think I must do nothing other than think up useless acronyms or words and then share them with the hapless blog readers out there.  I assure you that this is not true.  Ok, when I'm doing a repetitive task on the farm, like picking spinach, my mind does tend to wander to such things.  After all, it is much better to be creative than to dwell on the things that aren't going right or to worry about the things you are NOT doing at the time.  Although, I will admit that many of my thoughts focus on things that are coming up and farming decisions I must make.  So, I guess I don't know where this silliness comes from.
Move those trays to the cold frames please
Every VAP has a set of chores that are common to nearly every day of the farm.  They don't usually need to be written out much more than something that looks like this:
T, H, H, N - W F
Translation: Turks, Hens, Henlets, Nuggest - Water, Food

Why even bother writing anything?  Well, if you have to ask, you aren't a list maker.  It's all about the joy of crossing things off a list.  Well, that, and it's a simple way to put yourself into a planning mode for the coming day.  Start with the routine and simple to get the brain engaged in the process.  That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

There are always a bunch of smaller, somewhat unrelated things that need to get done each day that do not qualify as chores.  We call this our BOLS-sublist (Bunch O' Little Stuff).  We're considering putting this on our chalk board for all the workers to see.  That way, if anyone has a few minutes in between a job, they can pick one of these to complete.  A prime example is something like moving the carts with plants in them to another location.

On the other hand, there are the multi-part or larger tasks that we now call MEWs (Major-Event Work).  Hey, we have cats on the farm.  Everything they do is major (according to them), so this makes some sense.  The process of  harvesting, cleaning, packing, loading and delivering a CSA is a MEW - though we might be tempted to call it a 'chore' since it occurs on a regular basis. 

On the WICGID list
Then there are "WICGID" (Wish I Could Get It Done) items.  Things like loading the software and setting up the download from our weather station to our computer.  Is it a really big deal?  Apparently not, since it has appeared every so often at the bottom of our VAP on and off for over a year.  Alas - another item that keeps the Carry Over Ratio on our farm high.

Oh, don't remember what a Carry Over Ratio is?  Guess you'll have to go read the original VAP story!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Waddle Waddle Waddle

The Genuine Faux Farm (yep, that's us!) was recently featured in Iowa Ingredient in their episode featuring duck eggs and duck meat.  If you don't know Iowa Ingredient (an Iowa Public Television production) then you should go view the episode at this link.  All pictures in this blog post were shared by Iowa Ingredient on Facebook.

 It's amazing to think exactly how much footage was taken in an effort to have the quality snippets that were needed to make the show work.  Theresa Knight and the videographer (sorry, we have since forgotten his name) had to work very hard to get these shots with the inclement weather that made the whole thing much more difficult than it should have been for all of us.  In fact, we had to schedule and reschedule multiple times to get a second date where there would be some sun.  To make matters worse, the rain was not in the forecast for that day and it was a strange system where it came out of the Northeast.  Not only were we forced to adjust with the IPTV crew, but we had to do a great deal of adjusting with our own work crew by re-making our work plans on the fly.

These things happen every season - just not normally on the same day that you have a 'special event' going on.  Ok, maybe they always happen when you have something different at the farm - Murphy's Law you know.

Why are these eggs so wet?
 It's always interesting to see a finished filmed project and see the snippets that are used.  We have the context that surrounds the clips that viewers do not.  The IPTV crew were taking shelter in our garage while the rain came down, so we went and got some eggs out of the fridge so they could show the difference between duck and chicken eggs.  The eggs are sitting on top of our grill and they got a bit damp due to a combination of raindrops and condensation.

ok, this one is our picture.
It's amazing how perspective can make something look like more or less than it is.

Silver Appleyards with one Muscovey in foreground
 We're glad we were able to help Iowa Ingredient with this program and it's always nice to be associated with a quality product/program.  We will happily host them again in the future if they should desire it.

And now for the difficult part.  We no longer have ducks on the farm.  We actually liked raising them and would not mind trying it again.  But, the reality is that we couldn't find enough of a market for the duck eggs and duck meat.  We realize that the cost is higher (especially for the meat), but that is a function of the higher cost of ducklings and for processing.  In fact, we just recently cooked what I think is our last duck that was in the freezer this past weekend.  (yes, yes...our duck was cooked).  We love the taste and might consider raising a few for ourselves if nothing else.

So, the question is this: do you want us to continue raising ducks?

If you want us to, we need to hear it and we will need some commitment from you to make it work. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

It Has Been Too Long

Our blog has not been as active as it has been previous years for a whole host of reasons.  Rather than spend time listing all of them, I'll point one of them out to you.

Sometimes I manage to write a post that is a 'higher quality post.'  For example, there was a very good post titled a Choice of Litany last Fall that was well-received for a serious/philosophical offering.  In fact, I took a moment to re-read that post just to work on changing the way I am feeling about things right now.  I'll let you know if it works.  Then, there are posts like the one on VAPs that tap the more humorous side of creativity.  For those who remember the post (or those who go read it now), we do still create VAPs for most days.

So, what, exactly is the problem with good posts?  Well, I put pressure on myself to try to provide quality each time I post.  But, I am not always feeling all that creative.  The net result is that I have a bunch of started posts that have yet to see the light of day (so to speak).  So, what to do?

Create a brand new post and just report on some things going on at the farm.  Why not?  It has worked before!

Just Dandy
Sadly, the dandelion peak is over at the farm.  For those who still think of the dandelion as a noxious weed, I want you to consider exactly how nice that bright yellow is in the midst of the green.  And, when you find out about weeds that cause us more issues on the farm like Canadian thistle, crabgrass, bindweed, etc etc  - the dandelion isn't an issue at all.  In fact, we are very happy to have clover and dandelions in our lawn and pasture areas - thank you very much.

The Solar Fence Explosion

As we start to do more with poultry in pastures and plant starts in the fields, our solar powered fences start providing their service to us instead of sitting neatly rolled up on a hayrack.

We have our first batch of broiler chickens on pasture now.  Of course, once we did that, we got cooler and wetter weather almost right away.  Why not?  Let's just make things a bit more complicated.  At least we remembered to get the solar charger up on a cement block so it wouldn't be sitting in the mini-pond that has formed in that area.  And, no, the nuggets (as we call the younger broilers) are not fond of the pond either.

You're Welcome
We're still trying to fill up our CSA program - so we're still taking applications if you are interested.  Thank you to all who have signed up.  We look forward to serving you.

A couple of years ago, we periodically provided produce to Lincoln Elementary for a special 'healthy snack' program.  We were happy to do this and I ran across the nice artwork provided to us as a way of saying thank you.  Little things like this help the farmers when they are looking at very very wet fields with very few options to do the work that needs doing.

Every Year is a Struggle
We try not to complain or be a broken record about it.  But, the weather can just drive us crazy sometimes.  Yoyo temperatures have forced us to be patient with planting.  We dodged some bullets by deciding not to plant certain crops, though we were tempted.  But, now those plants are in trays and really need to get into the ground.  The problem, of course, is how wet everything is.  There isn't really much we can do about it right now.  And, as I type this, I see more rain coming.  It helps to know (sort of) that other growers in Iowa are fighting some of the same issues because that means we're just not bad at what we do.  On the other hand, I don't really want them to struggle either!

Needless to say, we make the best decisions we can and then we live with them.  The good news about all of this is that we have more experience and more tools, so we are much more able to recover from some of this than we could in years past.

I'm ready for a huge planting session.  Here's hoping Mother Nature gives us a shot at it.

Monday, May 1, 2017

May Newsletter

The month of April reminded us that a freeze is not all that unlikely during the its 30 day tenure.  It also illustrated that even if you have warmer temperatures, plants will not thrive if Mr. Sun stays hidden for most of the daylight hours.  If I'd thought to keep better notes on this, there seemed to be a disproportionate number of mornings that started with some sun (after clear overnight hours) until about 8:00-8:30am, when it clouded up for the day.  Don't get me wrong, there were a few beautiful days during April at our farm as well.  But, there had to be some reason why the spinach we planted didn't fill out on the schedule it normally follows.

Kohlrabi and other brassica seedlings
May Calendar of Events
CSA dates subject to move a bit in the early going depending on crops.

  • May 2: Delivery 1 CSA in Waverly at St Andrew's 
  • May 3: Delivery 1 CSA Tripoli
  • May 6: Saturday Waverly Farmers' Market 8:30-11:30 
  • May 11: Delivery 1 CSA Cedar Falls 
  • May 13: Waverly Farmers' Market
  • May 15: Work for Your Food Event (RSVP)
  • May 16: Delivery 2 CSA Waverly
  • May 17: Delivery 2 CSA Tripoli
  • May 18: Delivery 2 CSA Cedar Falls
  • May 20: Waverly Farmers' Market 
  • May 23: Delivery 3 Waverly
  • May 24: Delivery 3 Tripoli
  • May 25: Delivery 3 Cedar Falls
  • May 27: Waverly Farmers' Market
  • May 28: Gang of Four+ at Grinnell Heritage Farm 
  • Delivery 4 ***Traditional 20 Shares Begin*** 
  • May 30: Delivery 4 Waverly 
  • May 31: Delivery 4 Tripoli
CSA Program Status:
We are currently sitting at about 50 member shares sold or reserved.  Last year we had 97 shares, so we have lots of space to fill.  We realize some of this is because we just haven't gotten a final decision from many people and we realize some is because we had many people move away last year.  The upshot is this - we have spots open and we're still trying to promote the CSA.  That means that all of our record keeping is still in flux - so things like our email list continues to require attention.

As you see above, the weather has been mildly uncooperative.  The result is that those who were expecting a CSA delivery in April per the original calendar will not be receiving one.  Normally, we have things we are anxious to give that week of the year.  Never fear, we'll reorganize the schedule slightly and all deliveries will occur.  For those with the Traditional 20 week CSA, you have no worries either since your first delivery doesn't arrive until the end of May/beginning of June!

We are composing our annual CSA fact sheet email that will be sent out early next week.  WE are hoping to solidify our membership list so we can clarify who is in which weeks for the Alternerating Delivery program among other things.  thank you for your patience and please ask questions if you have them.

Farmers Trying to Consolidate Efforts:
Every year we re-assess our lives and how the role our farm in our lives.  We have both been feeling overwhelmed on and off the past couple of years and we're working to make things more manageable so we can be better at the things we do.  The change in garden plant production was just one such move we made in an effort to make things better.

As a result, we can tell you that we managed to get field carrots, peas, turnips, beets, arugula, mustard greens, radish and spinach planted in the outside fields ALREADY this year.  In prior years, that might have been impossible given the number of plants we had to keep watered and the number of plants we would normally be feverishly potting this time of year.  So, we feel that was a good decision.

Another decision was for Rob to get out of a leadership role in the Waverly Farmers' Market.  It wasn't a position he sought out last year, but someone had to pick up the reins.  Happily, Amanda Mitchell was willing to be assistant last year and is now willing to be the manager.  The down side?  Well, there's all of the transition stuff that we're trying to get through - it's getting in the way of our own farm's workings.  But, we anticipate an end point to this fairly soon!

Plant Status:
For those that ordered plants, we anticipate they will be ready for pickup starting May 10 (approximately).  We will provide those who ordered plants with more details.  There will be additional plants beyond those that were ordered - we're guessing about 50?  We'll know better once they are all potted.

CSA Signup 2017
We still need people in the CSA as we are only about 50% full.  If you need convincing - please consider the value you get with our programs.

Contact us if you have interest and we'll get you started.

Song of the Month
A long time favorite of ours that helps keep us moving in the field.

Recipe of the Month

Spinach Frittata
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large heavy skillet.
Saute 1 clove minced garlic and a few chopped scallions/green onions.
Add 1 pound washed spinach and cook until wilted.
Remove veggies from pan; lightly beat 6 eggs and add to pan along with spinach mixture,
3/4 c parmesan or feta cheese, and some parsley.
Stir all together and cook over low heat until frittata is set.
Allow to cool slightly and cut into wedges to serve.

Field Report
As we mentioned earlier in the newsletter, we have managed to get field carrots into the ground (St Valery's and Dragon), but we might not have mentioned that we got St Valery's carrots into Eden (one of our high tunnels) even earlier.  Here's hoping!  The peas went in to the field last week.  A 200 foot row each of four varieties (Mammoth Melting, Oregon Sugar Pod II, Blizzard and Golden Sweet) also went into the Eastfarthing (field 2).  With the cold weather that followed we expect them to be slow to germinate.  The Southwest had rows of turnips, beets, spinach, arugula, mustard greens and radishes put in before the cold and rain as well.  Sadly, we couldn't quite get to the potatoes, but we're confident we'll get them in next week once the fields dry out a little.  

Our high tunnels are named Eden and Valhalla.  Valahalla is currently home to tatsoi and komatsuna that are ready for some harvest.  The spinach in Valhalla should allow us to harvest some next week, but the kale is a little slower.  Eden has rows of green beans, onions, melons, cucumbers, carrots and beets seeded.  We anticipate putting in tomato and pepper plants next week!

Asparagus started trickling in mid-April and has, of course, stopped when things got cooler.  The rhubarb was already trying to send up flower stalks - which we really don't want.  The fruit trees were largely in full bloom when we got the freeze a couple of nights ago, so we'll see what happens with fruit set this year.

Picture of the Month

The season has begun!
Farm News Shorts

  • The Iowa Ingredient Episode featuring the Genuine Faux Farm (yes, that's us) will be airing this month on Iowa Public Television.  The first showing will be May 18 at 6:30pm (Thursday) and the second is on Saturday, May 20 at 11:30 am.  You can keep an eye on all things duck on IPTV's Facebook page starting May 15.
  • Mrs. Borglum's Waverly-Shell Rock high school science class has been looking at various aspects of sustainability this semester and they will be coming out to the Genuine Faux Farm to see some of the ways we try to use sustainable methods to raise food.  We are looking forward to seeing them on the farm May 3!
  • Some of you who have been CSA members for several years and/or those who have read the blog for some time might recall seeing pictures or references to Denis Drolet (you can see him being an expert mulcher in this blog post from 2014).  Denis worked on the farm for several summers and he can probably tell you stories about our farm from a completely different perspective from the one we provide here!  He might mention Tammy the Warrior Queen or Rob the Plant Philosopher or... he might just sneeze in memory of the dusty straw mulch we used that first year he helped on the farm.  Denis has been honored with the presence of a wonderful person (Julie) in his life and we are most pleased for the two of them.  We wish them the best as they pursue new adventures together.
Time to Have Pun
Rather than a long, silly pun today - how about some shorter things that might make someone laugh.  If it's not you, then maybe it's me.  If it's neither of us, then it's that guy in the back of the room that tries to make his laughter sound like a sneeze, but fails...

A few "sort of proverbs" for everyone:
- After all is said and done, usually more is said.
- Consider what *might* be fertilizing the greener grass on the other side of the fence.
- Experience is what you get when you were expecting something else.
and finally
- Gather 'round like cattle and ye shall be herd!