Thursday, August 31, 2017

Summer Harvest Festival Success

We held our annual Summer Harvest Festival at the farm last Saturday (August 26) and participants were relieved to discover that the rain showers in Waverly and Cedar Falls did not extend northeast to Tripoli and the Genuine Faux Farm.  If you want some proof that there was, in fact, activity on the farm you can view this neat time elapse video recorded by Charlie Figura.

As a self-diagnosed introvert, I can tell you that my desire to go through with the festival decreased as the time for it to start came closer.  It has nothing to do with the effort to set up nor is it an indication that I wasn't looking forward to seeing many of my favorite people.  It's just the nature of an introvert such as myself.  I was actually relieved to find another person who put the feeling into words for me (ironically, while we were both AT the festival).  Of course, once the festival started, it was fine and both Tammy and I enjoyed seeing all of the wonderful people enjoying themselves at the farm.  It always helps for us to see the farm through someone else's eyes.

The fences came out yet again this year to provide us with an artificial 'sidewalk.'  We don't really have much sidewalk for our sidewalk chalk, so the fences just had to do.  And, apparently, there were a few artists in the group this year.  Our thanks to Charlie, Sophie and Max for setting these up for us.

But, there was more sidewalk chalk work going on than that!  Abby and Kate helped out prior to the festival start and made sure the green flairbox was made to look cool AND be a sign for those arriving that they were in the correct place.

 And, they made sure each side had something of interest.
 And, I mean.. .EACH SIDE!  Nice!
 Jean, Kyle and Abby arranged to create a batch of painted rocks of an appropriate size so our younger visitors could participate in a painted rock hunt prior to the serving of food.  At least one participant claims to have found "lots" of rocks.  When asked exactly how many, she proudly stated that she found "hundreds."  Another participant told Farmer Rob that he found rocks too.  When asked how many, he decided it was time to get into the green cart and go for a ride.  I guess we'll never know how many it was.
Before the festival started, we had some help from Clans Figura and Clan Peters getting tables ready and pop-up tents in place.  A clever washing station was also rigged up for use and many more hands were willing to set up chairs, carry out plates, slice tomatoes (and other veggies) and do other things that made the event so much easier to get going.

A good crowd gobble will get most anyone to smile!

A small group took a guided tour of the farm while others grabbed a Scavenger Hunt sheet and did their best to see if they could find all of the items.  The chickens and the turkeys had a fair share of admirers as did Soup and Inspector.  In fact, Soup enjoyed the attention of some special friends (particularly Oliver).  The Sandman was conspicuously absent (but not surprisingly so).  Sandman did, however, show up just as the last people left at the end of the festival (also not surprising).  For a spokescat, he sure does a fine job of acting a bit like an introvert!

Once again, the green carts were a hit.  I am afraid that Tammy and I just see them as... um...  green carts.  But, who knew they could be a source of great entertainment?

Ok, we did because we've seen it at nearly every festival.  While the two of us get irritated with them because they go through wheels like no one's business, the kids who visit can't resist their pull.  And, yes, a bit of pulling of kids in carts did ensue.  Until...

Emma and Max to the rescue
I am beginning to think that the kids have something here.  Whenever Tammy and I are feeling a bit down at the farm, we should just take turns being pulled around in a green cart.
Tammy did an extraordinary job getting the turkey roasted and prepared.  She also got the lemonade, tea, water, dishes, etc etc  ready to go with some willing hands to keep it all together.  Ben and Sam were kind enough to help us out by picking up extra buns when we figured out we may have underestimated the need for more of them.  Rob was more of the outside clean-up guy, doing his best to consider what areas should be made off-limits and what things needed to be 'hidden' so small hands and bodies would not be put at risk.  But, the great thing is that the adults shared the responsibility of looking out for everyone's children.

We enjoyed meeting new people who came as guests of some of our CSA members and we're pleased that people think enough of the farm to introduce others to us.  It is possible we had as many first time visitors as we had returning visitors this time around.

The food shared by those who participated in the potluck was excellent and I suspect very little food went home.  The turkey was mostly gone by the end of the festival and most of the s'more makings were also used up.

While we do have some clean-up work to do at the farm (as of this writing on Sunday), we were gifted with the efforts of several people who made sure things were picked up, tables wiped off, tents down, chalk picked up from the ground and numerous other things. This was all done while Rob and Tammy were doing their jobs as hosts of the event.  We can't tell all of you who helped in any number of ways how much we appreciated it.

Here's to an enjoyable Summer Harvest Festival in 2017 and here's to hopes of an even better one in 2018!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

It's the Little Things

I do not profess to be much of a photographer, but I do meander around the farm every so often and capture things that catch my interest.  It's a way of reminding myself of little things that renew my spirit and interest in living life as best as I can.

Even though some of the pictures aren't fabulous works of art, I still like to grab batches of them and write what comes to mind that might be worthy of sharing from the context of our farm.  Enjoy!

Droplets on Brassicae
Anyone who has grown broccoli, kale, cauliflower and other related vegetables knows how water tends to bead on these plants.  In the right light, it can almost look like a drop of liquid mercury.  It's a neat little mechanism for a plant to collect water and funnel down to their root system.
Even though I am not always carrying a camera with me, I take pictures with my mind every time I see these water droplets.  I am not sure what it reminds me of or why it makes me happy to see it.  And, I suppose that's not what matters.

Now That's A Right Proper Tomato for a BLT
Most Italian Heirloom tomatoes land at just under a pound in weight and often cover all or most of the bread when you slice the tomato.  Sometimes, they do even better than that.
Like - maybe they dwarf the rest of the sandwich?
Oh, but the sandwich ended up being soooo good!  And, yes, I did put more lettuce on it.

Surprise Lilies (aka Naked Lilies) are a nice early August bloomer.  These plants will send up their leaves early in the season only to die back by mid July.  When August comes, they send up a flower stem over a period of about a week.
It's rewarding to have clusters of them here and there at the farm.

Lengths of Sturdy Pipe and Cinder Blocks
Two things that don't seem like much, but are incredibly useful at the farm.  What little things do you take for granted and don't really look like much?
If we didn't have this cinder block we'd have to come up with another way to keep this door from blowing shut in the wind.  It has also been used to hold some things down during a wind storm and it was an impromptu ladder to give one of the farmers an extra inch or two of reach.  And, I remember my grandparents growing flowers in them as well.  What's not to like?

Time for Timer
Simple technology, big help!  We've forgotten to turn off the irrigation enough times.  It's really nice when there is an easy solution.

Where Did You Come From?
Then there are the flowers (Turtles Head) that we didn't remember were in the wildflower area.    What a nice surprise that one was.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Humble Pie

Tammy and I have been working the Genuine Faux Farm since 2005, so it's not like we're novices or anything.  Yet, we still make mistakes and things still go wrong.  We still have problems that give us grief and we still don't like sharing them publicly.  Yet, I still put things on the blog that illustrate failures - why is that?

The biggest reason I have for recording the opposite of success is to enforce some level of reflection so we can try to avoid the same situation in the future.  If you don't think about the causes and reasons for the problem, how can you address them effectively?  The answer to that question is that you can't. 

But, why share them publicly in a blog? 

First things first, I highly doubt that many people read this blog, so it's not like I'm going to have to go on a media outlet tour to explain why things went wrong to the general public.  Those who do read this blog are genuinely supportive and/or are interested in learning.  In the first case, real communication to people who care is balanced between the good, the bad and the middle ground.  So, there is no problem there.  In the second case, there is no better learning situation than when failure is encountered.

And, let's be clear here - our whole farm plan is built to absorb some failures.  To paraphrase another farmer I respect very much, "If you don't have some failures each season, you aren't trying hard enough."

Now that the obligatory introduction is complete, let's get to the fun. 

Everyone Who Farms Has Done This (and will do it again)
Don't leave rolls of barbed wire, chunks of fencing, fence posts and other such things near paths or other areas where grass and other growing things will cover them.

Yeah, yeah.  I hear you.

There are very few people who have mowed on a farm that can say they have never mowed over something that fowled up the blades.  In fact, I'll bet that the few people who can say that didn't do a whole lot of mowing on a farm.  Simply put, farms have a lot going on.  You set things down 'just for a second' because you only have two hands.  You'll come back and get that after you do this thing or that thing.  You run over it with the mower two months later.

If You're Going to Deviate From the Plan...
When we plan for our season we usually have 'alternative plans' if things dictate that we make changes.  But, I can tell you this much - as soon as you get a thought that follows the format of "Huh, I'll just do this instead of..." you'd better take another moment or three to think through it.
Huh, I'll just change the spacing in this field because the plan doesn't look right... ya, right.
As always, there is more to the picture than the heading shows.  And, the post isn't really about all of the details that led to sad chleome flowers in the middle of weeds.  My point is that, while it is good to be able to make adjustments, you should make sure to think through those adjustments.  The worst mistakes we have made on the farm were the result of a rushed decision.

It Doesn't Count If You Answer the Quiz Question Correctly
It sure doesn't hurt to have a nice pool of knowledge at your disposal for whatever work you may do.  But, darn it, if you don't apply what you know, it doesn't really help does it?

This one frustrates me because we have known for many years that bush beans (especially green beans) tend to keep potato beetles out of potatoes well enough that you don't need to worry about the population getting out of hand and destroying your potato crop.  We know this to be true and we plan to execute an intercropping plan every season.  We may modify the plan every so often, but it's there.

So, how is it possible that we did not get it done this year? 

First, let me assure you that we didn't lose our crop.  Some varieties are going to do poorly because of potato beetles, but we'll still get some decent taters.  But, I'm still asking the question - how did we let this happen?

The reality is, we didn't just let it happen.  On a highly diversified, small-scale farm there are limited resources for a very diverse number of crops.  Certain weather patterns can hit a spot that can set a subset of crops back simply because the resources are not available to deal with that crop AND all of the others that need something done 'right now.'  Hard choices have to be made and the beans in the taters didn't happen in time to prevent the potato beetle flush that we had to deal with this year.  In this case, it will make the difference between an outstanding crop and a passable one. 

On the plus side, it encouraged me to exercise my "poetry skills."  (and now you are all saying, please do better with your intercropping next season)

Sometimes, It's Not About You
The weather doesn't provide the growing degree days for a crop to reach maturity during the planned period of production.  The sun doesn't come out for ten days straight.  The state of Iowa is so full of herbicides flying all over the place that things don't germinate consistently.  The woodchuck figures out how to get into a coldframe and eats your melon starts.  Excessive rain floods your high tunnel and rots out carrots and beans.  It's just part of what we deal with and it's a big reason why the diversity on our farm is so important.

Eden is missing some beans here....
The excessive rains in July resulted in standing water for Eden.  Green beans do not care for that sort of situation so our formerly healthy plants all had to be pulled.  The good news?  We had already harvested a pound per row foot from these plantings.  The bad news?  We usually get three pounds per foot by the end of the season from rows like these.

But, as I mentioned, the diversity of our crops and the diversity built into our plan tends to result in an overall 'win' for the farm.  For example, we have been able to harvest from some of the green beans in our east fields since the loss of these bean plants.  And, in another week or so the beans in Valhalla will start producing - so hurrah for succession planting.  We've harvested 226 pounds of green beans in 2017 and our goal is to land somewhere between 600 and 800 pounds for the season.  We'll be just fine, thank you.  But, it would have been nice to have the easier road to our goal with beans happily producing in Eden.

Mad Scientist?
We experiment on the farm frequently because we know there is always more to learn and we recognize that experiential learning is very effective.
I'd say there was some seed in that straw mulch, wouldn't you?
Our sprawling cucumber vines always result in some weed issues later in the life of the crop.  We've considered paper mulch, but you can't walk on that to harvest.  We've considered trellising (and even tried it), but there's a labor timing issue that just doesn't work on our farm.  This year, we trialed putting some straw mulch between two rows and you can see the result above. 

Apparently, the oat straw had a lot of oat seed in it.  We only placed the straw between the rows and not on the outsides.  As you can see, the cucumbers seem to favor growing OFF of the straw mulch.  We've taken the time to pull the oat 'weeds' and we'll see how this succession of cucumbers finishes.  But, this experiment may not be repeated without some serious thought.

And there you have it!  A look at some things that aren't going (or didn't go) quite as we wanted at the farm this season.  We can handle these problems and we will handle them.  Perhaps the most difficult part about them is avoiding making our failures our focus for the season.  Plenty of things have gone and are going well enough.  But, we're human.  It only takes one failure to obscure ten successes. 

But at least we won't get a big head.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Cast of Characters

We've done various "Cast of Characters" posts on the blog for our farm in the past, but the only constant is change (or so they say).  That, and we are fully aware that blogs, social media and other electronic publications "scroll down" and out of view to many.  We can certainly try to link you back to prior posts (like we did in the first sentence) but we're are certain that the number of times people take those links is infrequent.

Today's blog post won't be an all comprehensive list.  Instead, it is a "Cast of Characters" by convenience.  In other words, I took some pictures in August and figured I'd use them for a post.  What could be more logical than that?  (Ok, Spock was supposed to be more logical than that - but what else?)

Outdoor Farm Management
The Sandman continues to hold the position as farm Spokescat.  As you can see, he takes this position seriously, posing for promotional pictures and illustrating the proper use of a wheelbarrow.
Um, I am still getting sunlight in my eyes, could you move the barrow slightly?
With Mrranda and Cubbie gone on to the Great Hunting/Napping Grounds we now have Inspector and Soup rounding out the outdoor management staff.  Inspector has become the official "Greeter" and "Affection Seeker" for the farm.  He likes most everybody and will accept attention with a nice purr.  Inspector is Soup's son and he still treats mom with respect.  What a nice young man he is!

Inspector (foreground) and Soup
Soup has taken some time to integrate into the farm.  She's less certain of people, but once she warms up you will learn where Inspector got the purr from.  Oddly, Soup has not taken on a specific role on the farm.  We're not sure what the reasons might be, but we're willing to be patient.

Supervisory staff supervising.  Good job guys!

You Name Trees?
Yes, yes we do.  At least we name some of them.  I think it started with Jeff Vader (the cottonwood) and we were not the ones guilty of naming it.  We were just guilty of adapting to using it and then sharing with others.  On the other hand, we are guilty of naming Crazy Ole' Maurice.

You probably know that we like Lord of the Rings and you can probably guess that we enjoy the part with Old Man Willow and Tom Bombadill.  However, this willow tree is not really an Old Man Willow type.  He's got kind of the Einstein haircut and he is far from menacing.  And, since we often reference Beauty and the Beast with our Dangerous Pastime posts, it seemed fitting to name a willow this way.

No, I don't know exactly why it seemed fitting.  It just did.  It's the farm, it doesn't have to make sense.
Crazy Ole' Maurice
They Come and They Go
Sometimes participants in daily farm life are only there for a limited duration.  For example, baby barn swallows only stay babies for so long before they fledge and fly around, eventually moving away for the Winter.  I've taken to calling the babies in the nest the "Nixons" because they look like they have jowls that even Richard Nixon could have appreciated.
The Nixons
Meanwhile, we get visits every 28 days from the Moon.  Who else can say that?  We're pretty special, huh?

What?  What do you mean the Moon visits you too?  Wha? 
The Moon visiting the farm.
The Chalkdoor Speaks
Ok, Chalkdoor doesn't really speak.  But, it sure does get a fair amount of attention during the growing season.  It's only been active since last summer, but it feels like we've been using it for longer than that. 
As you may notice, we don't always limit ourselves to words on Chalkdoor.  Every so often a baby chick might show (see bottom 1/2) or maybe a wheelhoe (top left).

Oh Look!  A Bird!
We must like birds because we willingly host hundreds of them every year.

The turkles are liking the pasture.
August is the time of year when we have five flocks on the farm at one time (used to be six flocks when we had ducks!).  The turks have a decent sized pasture North of the Poultry Pavilion and have a pasture that borders with the hens and Crazy Ole Maurice's domain.  Minnie the Might Oak is among a few small trees we're trying to grow in their pasture so future flocks can enjoy a little shade during hot days.
The henlets.
The "Henlets" (this years young hens) have not yet been integrated into the main laying flock (aka "the Ladies"), though that day is coming (some times in the next 2-3 weeks).  Meanwhile, we have the "Boyus" are in a different section of pasture.  These are the older broiler chickens that are soon approaching their trip to "the Park" and then some time at "Freezer Camp."  "The Nuggets" are still in the brooder room and consist of the next batch of broiler chickens that will go to the park in early November.

We hope you enjoyed this quick tour of some of the characters you might find at the Genuine Faux Farm.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Oot and Aboot at the Farm

We've recently had a number of big Visual Improvement Days at the farm which spurred the farmer to go out with the camera.  We do like to share pictures of the farm (within reason), but we also like to have these pictures to help us with our own record-keeping and decision-making.  After all, we fully realize that our memories are fallible.  At the very least, these pictures can help us when we feel like we are making no progress at all!

So, let us take you on a walkaboot the farm!  (and no, I don't have any pictures of boots, though it crossed my mind to take one just for the blog)

We walk certain paths and areas of the farm more often than others.  The picture above is actually a view I could see more than once a day as I walk from the chicken yard, the turkey pasture, the henlet area, Mount Evermess... etc etc.  Eden is our older high tunnel building and, come late September/early October, it won't be there.  It will be about 90 feet West of this point.  I can't tell you how hard that is for us to get used to!

At left is the granary and at right is the Poultry Pavilion (in case you wanted to know).

Then, there are viewpoints we don't see all that often.  This is taken from the North end of the turkey pasture looking from the North to the Poultry Pavilion.  As you can see, Tammy is explaining Thanksgiving Dinner to the turkeys.  In the foreground is Minnie the Mighty Oak.  Well, we hope Minnie will become mighty.

Every year, we work to improve this pasture area and we're getting better at it.  But, like all things farm, there are priority levels and this one doesn't often get to the top until the turkeys really need the pasture!

I think this inspired me to take pictures from different perspectives from those that I usually take with the camera.

 For example, I often walk by the flowers at the end of the onion beds as I go from here to there, but I don't usually think to inspect the marigolds.  Don't get me wrong, I love the marigolds.  But, for some reason I don't stop and focus the camera at marigold flowers like I do other flowers.  And, frankly, this one may not do them justice either.  But, at least I stopped this time!

We've been throwing marigolds into more nooks and crannies this year and generally like the results.  I wonder what we'll do next year?
 Then, there is the Xerces annual pollinator mix trial we are doing.  For the most part, it looks like buckwheat.  Why?  Because that's pretty much what's in there right now.  It seems that the buckwheat level was sufficient to pretty much suppress most of the other flowering plants.  Hm.  Well, that's why we call it a trial.

The view from the East field back towards Valhalla is one I just don't look up for much as I go from here to there on the farm.   The Ninebark hedge continues to grow and look healthy.  In fact, it keeps getting wider as can be shown by the path that is no longer as clearly evident as it was earlier this season.

Yes, there is a path to get to Valhalla... I think I see a small maintenance project that needs doing.
We see the old barn every day as we leave the house, or as we work around the other buildings in the barn 'proper.'  But, when we're in the East veggie fields (aka the Eastfarthing) we don't often look up to see the barn.  I don't know what it is about humans, but we are very good at looking without seeing.  This is why I like taking Oot and Aboot walks on the farm with the camera.  It encourages me to look and see just a bit more.  This view reminds me that the barn had several good qualities, which is why it wasn't as easy a choice as you might think to let it go.  Sometimes we look at this side and wonder if we could still fix up part of it.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Difference a Year Makes

It is mid-August and the farmer is taking a few moments to take stock in the way the current season is progressing.  This is a normal occurrence and has happened before.  One example might be this post from 2015 that actually led to mid-season variety awards.

Oddly enough, I've actually spent less time assessing this year than I have some years.  I am still recording data, so the evaluation is bound to come at some point.  But, the energy is going elsewhere this season up to this point.

If there is one thing that might encourage me to do some mid-season analysis, it is a crop that is doing well.  Yes, a crop that is doing poorly also gets me to do mid-season analysis, but I'm not always willing to publicly share that analysis while I am still feeling the sting of failure!  Though there are times when the failure leads to a brain-storming session that might lead to a post sharing some of the results!

Broccoli Doing Us Proud
We participated in a broccoli trial last year with Practical Farmers of Iowa after having had a couple years of consistent production.  What happened in 2016?  Well, it was just a pitiful broccoli year on our farm (and on many other Iowa farms, it turns out).  Since we had recent experience with success, it didn't make sense to overhaul our approach to broccoli.  Instead, we simply rededicated ourselves to the crop and our strategies for growing it.  The results so far are very good.

The downside of re-dedication to one crop is that fact that your time and energy have to come from somewhere.  Often, it is at the expense of another crop.  This year, it looks like the melons are suffering from our lack of attention (among other things).  But, that's for another blog post.

The average size of our broccoli is a bit bigger than it has been.  In 2014, the average head of broccoli weighed in at about 9/10 of a pound.  The following year, the average head weighed a pound.  So far this season, our heads of broccoli average 1.1 pounds.  We do not collect individual weights, so I can only report that the reason for this increase seems to be more the fact that there are some giants coming in from the field along with all of the other heads of broccoli  Spot checking tends to yield a weight right around a pound for most heads this year, so I think that theory holds water.

Thus far, two beds of broccoli are nearly done with main head production and we're hoping for some good side shoot production this year.  Our other two beds of broccoli are just now entering peak production.  Thus far, we have collected just under 300 pounds of broccoli.  Our record is 674 pounds in 2014, a year when sideshoot production was amazing.

Other than favorable weather for broccoli growing in our part of Iowa, we can trace this year's success (knock on wood) to a few things.  First, the broccoli landed in one of our better fields this year.  Last year, it was in a field that has a history of problems.  In fact, we're looking at removing that field entirely from our production rotation.  The weed pressure continues to be difficult in that field and the soil type is clearly different.

That doesn't take into account the fact that there were issues for many other growers in our area with the broccoli.  So, we do have to give some weight to the theory that some years just don't favor certain crops.

Perhaps the most important aspect is the level of importance we put into maintaining the crop.  In a highly diversified and small-scale growing system such as ours, resource limitations can play a larger role in crop success (and failure) than they might otherwise.  Clearly, broccoli is an important crop for us because many people like it and it is an easier veggie for us to find a market for excess.  It was important enough that we weren't willing to accept 2016's 95 pounds of production and we put this crop at the top of transplant, irrigation and cultivation lists.  Simply put, that field looks fantastic and some of the reason for it lies with the farmers and the crew.

High Tunnel Tomatoes
Then, there is a crop like this one.  It received high priority last year, just as it has every other season we've grown tomatoes in the high tunnels.  We didn't really do anything hugely different this season either.  And, yet, we are already seeing results that look like they will exceed last year's poorer showing.  For example, we have already gotten as many of our wonderful Black Krim tomatoes off of five plants in Eden (our older high tunnel) as we did for the whole season last year form six plants.  The average fruit size is nearly a quarter pound larger AND if hadn't been for an issue with worms boring into some of the earlier fruit, the numbers would have been even better for this season.

Our Valhalla tomato production has not started yet, but that's by design.  We want those tomatoes to peak later so we can run them into November more easily.  The plants look fine at this point, but there's no knowing until the fruit start coming in.

This brings up a couple of questions:
1. Was last year an aberration or is it this season?
If we look at numbers from 2014 and 2015, we harvested 32.0 lbs and 39.3 lbs of marketable Black Krim tomatoes per plant grown in the high tunnel environment.  In both cases, we felt like we didn't quite maximize what we could have done with that crop, but we did pretty well.  In 2016, we harvested just under ten pounds of fruit per plant.  One third the production of the prior two years.  So, the fact that we've already exceed 10 pounds per plant this season may not be all that remarkable.  Instead, it seems to show a return to the norm for this variety in our high tunnels on this farm.

2. Is it something we did or did not do?
At this point, I have not been able to put my finger on anything we have done that might account for 2016's lower production and this year's return to prior season numbers.  It is possible that part of the issue is that the West position of Eden has problems with wet soil if we get excessive rains (for example).  But, we noticed a decline in health of all of our tomatoes last year, for whatever reason.  This season has been better thus far for all tomatoes on the farm.
Wapsipinicon Peach snack tomatoes

And there you are!  You have been privy to one farmer's thoughts about some of the production on his farm this season.  We hope you enjoyed getting a view into some of the things we consider as we grow.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Dangerous Pastime

I've been thinking.  And, we all know that thinking is a dangerous pastime.

**** Warning: Difficult Content Follows ****

A combination of recent events led me to consider what some of the reasons might be for why I have reacted the way I have to them.  I must warn anyone who is reading this post that it is NOT happy.  There will be a few photos that are disturbing.  And, if they do not disturb you, then I am worried for you because they represent truly awful situations and terrible suffering.  I am sharing these photos as a reminder to myself and anyone else who might read them why should work harder to understand each other and find ways to live together respectfully - regardless of what else we might hold as our basic beliefs.

The Specter of the Mushroom Cloud

I grew up at a time when there were still drills in schools in case there were a nuclear attack.  It was simply a part of the way things were.  Perhaps, I thought about such things a bit more than other kids my age might have.  My mother can tell you that I was probably a bit more sensitive to many things than most children.  To make matters worse, I had (and still have) an excellent imagination.  So, I could certainly extrapolate beyond what was being observed to something far better or... much worse.  I remember that my family watched the TV mini-series Roots and Holocaust.  These were merely dramatic interpretations of the actual events - and I had to leave more than once because I couldn't stand some of the worst situations and portrayals. 

I also had an attraction to learning and to reading about historical events.  I enjoyed going to the public library and reading/browsing through books while I was there.  I read a fair amount of fiction, but I also read a good deal of historical texts.  Since I was curious about why there was a big deal about atomic/nuclear weapons, I did a little poking around.

And, I found a book that I haven't been able (and maybe unwilling) to relocate.  It showed a number of photographs and included descriptions of the events at the end of World War II that resulted in the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The photographs and first person accounts made a deep impression on me.

I could imagine my home town.  Looking like this.  I might have been too young to fully appreciate that many, many people have seen and experienced scenes like this over time.  There are people experiencing things like this RIGHT NOW.  But, I made the first step of bringing home to myself by realizing that THIS COULD BE ME.

Or perhaps, this could be me.

And, as I viewed the pictures - I made myself keep looking.  I wanted to quit.  I wanted to go find a nice piece of fantasy fiction and immerse myself into something that wasn't real. 

I started to realize that this could be my sister.  Or my friend.  And then I realized it didn't matter if it was someone I knew.  It was horrible.  And it wasn't right.  And it shouldn't be allowed to happen again.

So, I wonder why it was that I have responded so badly to the poorly considered and ridiculous posturing between North Korea and the United States regarding nuclear weapons?

Divisive Wounds that Still Bleed

I have always had some fascination with US history from the 1860's.  Of course, children (and perhaps many other people) who have never experienced war or who have only read glorified accounts of it will be drawn to things like the Civil War.  From a historian's perspective, periods of unrest provide fascinating looks into how the world works, how people respond in adversity and we can get insight into how innovation and change come about as a result of these sorts of events.

But, when you are ten years old and you come across a book with pictures of the Civil War and they include pictures like this one:

Your attitude tends to change a little bit.  Again, I suspect many kids fail to have the experience or imagination to fully appreciate what is being seen here.  In fact, I am pretty sure I didn't fully understand either.  But, I still remembered these photos and when I did gain experience and information to fill in the blanks, it helped me to gain perspective that I think is important.

It is no surprise that the average age of soldier's in the US Civil War conflict was around 25 years of age.  There are multiple accounts of some as young as 14 finding ways into the ranks.  That may sound old to a ten year-old.  But, it doesn't take long for that attitude to change as a person begins to realize that those bodies could have been me... or someone like me.  In short, someone who had likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams...  It didn't matter what these people looked like.  It didn't matter what country they came from or what their religion was or the color of their skin or... 

Then, we have events in Charlottesville where a group of people essentially went there looking for trouble and went through the process of making trouble.  The claim by some was that they wanted to preserve their heritage (among other things).  I have a suggestion.  Let's exchange some of these glorified statues of officers all dressed up and looking nice with statues of bloated bodies in a field or ditch.  After all, we don't want to change history do we?

Don't Let The Kids See That!

I still remember seeing some TV footage of the Vietnam War when I was quite young.  But, I more vividly remember my Mom saying that, "the kids shouldn't be seeing that."  And, the TV was normally switched off fairly quickly.

My parents are some of the best people I know in the world.  They did a fine job helping me and my siblings become the people we are today.  I'd like to think that we've all turned out reasonably well.  I don't disagree with their paying attention to what we saw and limiting what we were viewing.  However, I did see some of these things in all of their hideous, but truthful, portrayals.  And, I do not regret seeing them.  I only regret that events occurred that led to these pictures being possible.

The difference here is that it motivates me to put a non-farm, non-humor post on this blog because it is important to me... it is important to all of us... that we find ways to remove photo opportunities like this one:
I did not see this photo until I was in high school.  The photo is from the Vietnam war and is one of those iconic images that appears whenever anyone does anything on that particular event. 

I wanted to look away.

I wouldn't look away.

I will not look away.

And I will do what I can to make things better.  I may fail.  I may not make the best choices.  But, I will try.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Summer Harvest Festival 2017

We'd like to cordially invite you to our annual Summer Festival at the farm that will be held on Saturday, August 26.  The event will be preceded with a Tom Sawyer Day for those who might like to volunteer some time on the farm either prepping for the festival or helping do a little weeding or other farm work so things look beautiful when everyone else arrives.. If you would be so kind as to RSVP that you plan to attend, it would help us immensely with our preparations.
While we hope for good weather, we’ll party regardless of the weather.  This year’s festival will feature a GFF turkey (prepared by Tammy), good food, family-friendly fun, the annual Farm Foto Treasure Hunt, farm tours and other activities.
We hope this event gives everyone a chance to celebrate a the closing of Summer with us at the farm. Bring your family, kids and friends (but please leave pets, tobacco and alcohol at home). Our farm has open space for kids of all ages to run around, chase balls, meet the poultry, and share in the fun. We encourage you to bring lawn-games, blankets and chairs, table service would be helpful.  Leave the electronic devices in the car.

Food at this festival features some of the best food around by the best chefs around – all of YOU.  Tammy will roast one of our farm’s pasture-raised turkeys for sandwiches and we will provide some veggies to top the sandwiches.  We expect to provide iced-tea, lemonade and water.  We encourage you to bring either a salad, snack or dessert.  [note – at past festivals we have also offered a grill, but sadly, our grill is aging and not available for the heavy use associated with a large gathering].  If you wish to bring other beverages, we would prefer that they be non-alcoholic.  If the weather is nice (low wind), we’ll also provide s’more makings (if you have a favorite marshmallow-roasting stick to share with others, bring it along!). To help those with food sensitivities or the curious, please bring a recipe card with an ingredient list and your name to tape to your dish. 
One of our goals for our events is to have "minimal waste" events.  We will have table service (plates, silverware, napkins and serving utensils) and encourage attendees to bring their own beverage cups (we’ll have extras just case).  We also encourage you to bring lawn chairs or blankets as we have a limited supply. 
Summer Festival Schedule (subject to change if needed):

1:00-4:00 Tom Sawyer Work Time
For those who have interest, we could use some volunteers in the early afternoon to help with set up and preparation. If you are willing to help, please indicate that this is the case in your RSVP. If we get enough volunteers, we could have a few people doing other work on the farm.

4:00-5:00 Huck Finn Play Time

It is possible that there may be a little bit of prepping still going on, but we'll certainly start making the transition to just enjoying the day at this point. We intend to do our photo scavenger hunt again this year. We will have sidewalk chalk available for the artistic sorts. You need not attend early to participate in these activities. We don't anticipate shutting them down unless the weather or other circumstance forces the issue.

For those that have a lawn game that they might like to play (and share with other interested persons), let us know you will bring it and we'll make sure an area is open for the game you have chosen to share.
Also note: we *might* get some latex paint and provide some rocks to do some rock painting *if* there are persons out there who are willing to help supervise this activity.  Let us know if you are such a person.
It is also possible that there will be an active event or two organized.  We will announce as we confirm persons who can help us supervise these activities.

4:30 Farm Tour #1
Rob or Tammy will provide guided tours of the farm at two points during the gathering for those who would like them. We'll give you the nickel tour and you can feel free to ask questions as we show you our fields and the critters on the farm.
5:00 Food!

The potluck and turkey feed begins at 5pm.

5:00 - 6:00 Heirloom Tomato Tasting
We hope that we can manage to put out a spread of different tomatoes for everyone to taste. You all get to vote for your favorite. The winning tomato gets a 'free' blog post and a bump in production for next year!

6:00 Farm Tour #2
If you are not too full and want the nickel tour, here is a second chance for you.

6:00 Farm more Huck Finn Play Time
Hey - if we have all these neat games and art making opportunities and music around - why would we stop? If you can still move after eating - go for it!

7:00 Bonfire and s'Mores?

It is GFF tradition to have a bonfire and some s'Mores after the potluck winds down. The tradition only holds if the weather allows. If it is too windy, we may opt to not start a fire.

8:00 Time to Wind it Down
As it starts to get dark on the farm, the farmers start to turn into pumpkins. Well, not literally. But, they do still need to do some chores after everyone leaves. If you are willing to help with a little clean up, please let us know. We might appreciate three to four pairs of hands to help in that department.

We Compost
In an effort to reduce waste at GFF events, you will notice that we will have containers with different labels. All food waste will go into the COMPOST bucket. We do realize that some meat might go into these buckets, but the relatively low volume as compared to our compost piles will not make much difference in this case. We will have a BURNABLES container for napkins and paper produces. Another container will take the dishes and silverware we provide (if you bring your own, you'll have to take it with you, of course). A RECYCLING container will be available for standard recyclable items. And, a TRASH container will be for whatever is left (it should not be much).

Arrange to pick up or order poultry while you are there!

Our second batch of broilers will be processed the week prior to the festival. Save a dollar per bird if you order birds and pick them up prior to leaving the farm at the end of the Festival. We will also have a sign up sheet available to reserve turkeys.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Using Those Veggies Isn't So Hard!

We certainly understand that the volume of vegetables provided in our shares can sometimes overwhelm.  We are also aware that there are vegetables that various people don't always like.  That's ok, we all have our favorites and we all have our taste preferences.  But, we still believe that many of us will find that some of the vegetables and foods that we "don't like" are just waiting for the right preparation method that could change our minds.

In order to set up this story properly, we would like to remind you about this Eggplant story.  You should go read it, we'll wait here for you. Honest, it will tell you something about one of your personal farmers!

Pintung Long eggplant
Now that you have the backstory.  Wait!  You didn't read it?  Get with the program now!  The rest of us will wait here while you do that.

Ok, now that we're all caught up and we all know the lengths to which Tammy will go to avoid eggplant, we bring you the following:

Jocelyn has been working on the farm this Summer and she does get some produce to use as she sees fit as part of her reward for weeding and helping reap.  She put together the following "egg bake" dish and brought it for all of us to share for lunch on Thursday of the past week.  Jocelyn did NOT tell us which veggies were in the dish and she enjoyed our guessing which vegetables and spices were in there.  However, the real fun came as Jocelyn, Rob and Caleb waited for Tammy to realize that there was EGGPLANT among the ingredients.  Please note that she had already given this dish a thumbs up!

The great news about this one?  It is easy and you can make changes based on what you have available and what you prefer to use.

Here is what Jocelyn sent to us with permission to post and share:
Ingredient Dump Egg Bake: 
*These are approximations and there is room for moderation at your personal desire. 

Dice up the following: 
1 medium Summer squash
1/2 large Kohlrabi 
1 medium Onion (including greens) 
2 Turnips
1/2 small eggplant (without skin) 
1 green pepper 
A few shakes of pepper 
3  dried and smashed Basil leaves 
a couple sprinkles Dill 
1 strand of dried Oregano
A good dusting of garlic powder
2 dashes of salt  
Whisk together 
Approx. 10 eggs and a dump of 1% white milk (air on the side of a little milky) 

Add all together with a handful of shredded Parmesan cheese and half a handful of shredded Colby Jack 
(Or whatever cheese you happen to have in your refrigerator) 
After briefly mixing, dump into grease 9x13.  Bake at about 425 degrees until the egg is not raw but not too long that the bottom is burnt.  

Add diced tomatoes on top when eating 
Add potatoes/hash browns on bottom of pan  
Interested in more recipes and ideas?
We have posts that follow the tag Culinary Corner that may hold interest for you.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Building a Pollinator Paradise

Every year we try to do what we can to feed our workers.  Yes, we hope that Caleb, Emma and Jocelyn are happy.  But, these are not the workers we are referring to.  Instead, we are referring to our pollinator friends and our predator friends that help us grow what we grow on our farm.  We've mentioned them before and we'll likely mention them again.

Sadly, this year has been a bit of a struggle for our annual flower plantings.  On the other hand, the perennial plantings are having a pretty good year.

Finally Feeling A Full Recovery
Since the spray event in 2012, we experienced a significant decline in our reseeded wildflowers like Rudebekia and Coneflower (Echinacia).  With a drastically reduced pollinator population, there were fewer viable seeds.  But, it seems like things are starting to rebound.
Of course, some of this has been a natural process.  For example, coneflowers can and do survive winters in our area, so you don't have to rely on a fully reseeded batch of them every season.  The plants that survive can try again to set viable seed if they live for more than one growing period.  As a result, we have seen a quicker rebound of them on our farm. 
Some of the process of recovery was because we have been taking pro-active measures to try to encourage more flowers and 'wild areas' on the farm.  This Spring we had a little bit of help working to clear out volunteer maples and other brushy things form an area that is supposed to be wildflowers (and similar things).  That effort has been paying off with a better showing of Queen of the Prairie, anemone and other flowers this season.  We even got the surprise of seeing some remaining daylilies from our first few years on the farm when this was our perennial flower bed.

Sometimes Letting a Flower Bed Get Away From You Isn't All Bad
We like Helianthus.  We don't mind so much that it can spread by self-sowing.  On the other hand, we never quite intended this flower bed to be ONLY Helianthus.  We also got lucky with some nice clover in the foreground.  But, the pretty flowers other than these two are pretty much overshadowed and the weeds were getting out of hand.
On the other hand, we can get a pretty interesting picture if you find a daylily just opening its first flower in front of the Helianthus.  Let's just say that it is hard to not look at these flowers and stay grumpy.  That's a good thing.
Speaking of Clover
Some folks think we are a little odd because we let areas of our 'lawn' go to clover.  And, they think we are even odder when we tell them that we're trying to manage the clover so it will be strong again next year.  Essentially, our management consists of watching the bloom and the other, taller plants that tend to begin showing up in areas we are not mowing.  Once the bloom goes past peak and/or some of the other plants start taking over, we mow.  It seems to be working because we still have a decent grass base and we've had decent clover in this area for three years running.  The white clover is far easier to manage and many people should find it easy to have white clover as part of their in-town lawns.  The purple clover is a bigger plant and bit wilder.

Milkweed Here and There
I noted one of my neighbors driving down the road in their 4-wheeler with a portable sprayer.  He was specifically targeting milkweed that were growing next to the road.  I found this odd for a couple of reasons.  First, that road edge is due to be mowed by the county in the next week (edit: it was mowed soon after) so this seemed like a waste of time anyway.  And, second, I don't see milkweed as a horribly dangerous 'weed' for crops other than the fact that they can be tenacious, I suppose.  
Meanwhile, we have a milkweed volunteer by the downspout on one of our buildings.  We don't mind having milkweed here and there and we have enough around the farm that we don't cry either if we have to remove some in order to do our growing.  Personally, I would love to have a ditch full of milkweed, joe pye weed, queen of the prairie, wild phlox, wild day lilies and other cool things. 
If At First You Don't Succeed
As I mentioned earlier, we haven't had our normal success with annual flowers this year.  Our direct seedings of everything from borage to zinnia and marigolds have not been as robust as in prior years.  We have a lot of poor germination spots and germination was slow this season.  As a result, weeds popped into these planting before we could do much about it.  In some cases, we have worked the row back in because it was a lost cause.  In others, we've done things to add more plants to the row after working on weeding them.

 One example above is a row that we seeded in Phacelia (Bee's Friend).  We love Bee's Friend because it attracts many of our smaller pollinator friends.  The activity around these plants is just amazing.  But, germination was extremely poor and the weeds won.  So, we took out the row and replanted with some marigold, salvia and calendula plants starts.

It's late.  Some of the starts are past their peak.  So what?  We have them and we have a spot where they need to go.  So, there you have it.  In our minds, our workers need to eat all season long.  If some of these flowers don't really get going until September, we're fine with that, our friends need to eat then as well.  The down side, of course, is that we miss some of the attractant possibilities for this time of year when the squash is flowering.  But, that's not a reason to stop planting flowers - especially when you have them to plant.

And then there is the final succession of summer squash and zucchini.  We put a row of flowers on each side.  The good news here is that these flowers can also help boost winter squash to the north and an older succession of summer squash and zucchini to the south.

What Will We Change for 2018?
We always have ideas.  Sometimes we can make them happen, sometimes we can't.  We'll continue to support our perennial flowers as best as we are able, of course.  And, we're hoping to add some more things to the landscape this year.  As far as the annual flowers go, I guess we'll be doing more with transplants and move away from some of the direct seeding we've been doing up to this point.

But, for now, there is a good deal of the 2017 growing season left to go.  Let's see how wonderful we can make things look this year before we go worrying about next year.