Friday, February 23, 2018

Genuine Fun Facts

Every once in a while, Tammy and I see something and say, "Hm, that might be interesting for other people to see on the blog."  Sadly, most of the time, we say this when neither of us is prepared to write it down.  As a result, there are a whole bunch of great ideas that fall out of our brains and rattle around on the floor.  So, if you see some of our ideas sitting on the edge of street somewhere, please direct them to us.

Genuine Faux Farm By the Numbers
Many of you already know that Rob likes his numbers.  Sometimes, the numbers actually interest other people as well, so we thought we would share a few that might be enjoyable.

Mr Aubergine wants to know...
 120,297 - the number of eggs our laying hens have produced from 2012 to 2017.  No, it's not the same group of laying hens every year.  We have a great post about the ladies that answers a number of questions about how we raise the birds.  Now is a good time to point you to the Poultry Slam post from 2015.

36,827 - the number of cucumbers harvested on our farm since 2006.  Yep, that's about 3000 a year.  All that time picking cucumbers and wondering when the cucumber frog is going to startle the farmer...

164 and 11.1 - the number of songs a typical GFF month's music play list contains and the number of hours that playlist would normally take to play in its entirety.  Last year's Harvest Festival play list was only 134 songs, so I guess I fell short on that one, but the days were getting shorter, so 8.8 hours was usually pretty good.

250, 350, 400, 500, 600, 800 - the number of dollars it takes to sign up for one of our CSA share programs.  There are many options that may fit you and your family.  Luckily enough for you, we have openings and are now taking reservations!  Prices on the website are current, even if the farmer missed changing the year date on the web.

Genuine Faux Farm, A History

There WERE Foxes on the Genuine Faux Farm

Take a look at the larger crack in that foundation.
 In 2007/2008, after the old hog building came down, a vixen decided we had the perfect place to raise a few kits.  We were able to get a few pictures and were also able to contact photographer, Kip Ladage.  Kip came out and got some great pictures (one of which is signed and hanging on our kitchen wall).  Once he had captured his photos, we went about our normal business of farming.  This was too much for Mama and she moved the kits away soon after.  Frankly, if they would have entered a contract of not killing all of our chickens, we'd have been happy to have them stay.  But, having us as their neighbors was just a bit too close for comfort from their perspective.

 That Old Barn Was Good for Something
 Those who have been to the farm over the last five or so years, but not prior, have not seen the old barn with a roof and siding.  While was still largely intact it was the perfect nesting space for barn swallows.  There were always two major hatchings of chicks and once they fledged we'd get to see the grand line-up on the electric lines.  Sadly, with fewer nesting spots, we don't get to see this any more.

The Year the Cucumbers Would NOT Grow
Just... pitiful
The farm is full of lessons of humility.  One of our earliest such lessons came in 2008 when we had a year where one of the 'easiest' crops to grow simply wouldn't.  The following year was a bit better, but 2010 was the year of the cucumber.

You Did What When?!?

Young Horticulturalist?
Would you like your plants to get big and healthy this year?  Diligently prune off the flowers just as Tammy did in her family's garden.  Just remember that you won't get any fruit if you take off ALL the flowers.  But, then again, if that's the goal you want....

Deliveries by GFF Started Earlier Than You Think
Officially, the Genuine Faux Farm started operations in 2005.  But, the very first deliveries were made years earlier - even before Rob and Tammy met.  The produce came from the 'garden' Grandpa Faux maintained and he was happy to have a high school baseball player available to run the gauntlet that were essentially 'drive-by vegetablings.'

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Enough is Enough

Every year, the farmer gets big ideas about all of things he will accomplish.  Every year, the farmer gets an enforced "vacation from everything" as he fights some virus or another in the latter part of January or early part of February.  Every year, the farmer has to fight to maintain some level of progress on all of the fronts he has chosen to engage.

And, it doesn't work.  Or at least, according to some measures, it doesn't appear to work.

Then, the farmer takes a moment and finds a picture like the one above.

And the farmer decides.  He can't do it all.  But, he can do enough.  In fact, he can do more than enough.  Sometimes we have to realize that enough is enough.

How's that for an introduction to a blog post?

So, What's Up For February at the Farm?

February is the month where we begin to plant for the new season.  We will be starting our onion plants in trays along with some herbs and a few flowers.  It is likely that we will be seeding some spinach and other early season crops for the high tunnels as well.  There won't be too much planting just yet, but there is enough to keep us involved in the growing process.
Whatcha doin'?

Perhaps the biggest thing to accomplish in February is the purchase of supplies and new equipment for the upcoming season.  The seed orders get made (and paid for).  Plant starting mix, drip tape and numerous other items also are identified and ordered (and paid for).  In short, there is a good deal of research and evaluation of product that is paired with budget projections so we can figure out where a significant portion of our money will go for the season.

Of course, we still have laying hens on the farm, and they require daily attention.  On the colder days, there are many visits out to the hen room to collect eggs before they freeze.  On the warmer days, we try to encourage the hens to run around the pasture more.  Apparently they aren't too keen on aerobics classes, so we'll settle for throwing a few treats out there for them to chase.
I am NOT thrilled about this.

While it is not a 'farm' thing, we are also engaged in trying to get some home repair projects going.  It is true that we might prefer to do some of these things in warmer weather.  But, growing things tends to take up our time in the warmer months.  I guess that leaves January and February for home projects.  

As I write this, I realize how sneaky-busy February is for us at the farm.  We set up research projects, do our taxes, promote the new season's CSA, work to find other outlets for our produce and we continue to sell eggs, chickens and whatever produce remains from last season.  The organic certification paperwork is due and Rob has a few presentations scheduled.
Natural farmer habitat in February?

If that all sounds like too much office work and not enough "real" farm work, then we'll remind you that we also have to do some repairs to the high tunnels and there is still old trellising to take down in one building.  We've got containers to clean and some electrical to run in a couple of the buildings.  That ought to do it!

And now you know what this farmer is doing this February.

Research Agenda 2018

The research agenda for the Genuine Faux Farm in 2018 is very nearly set and, per the norm, it is an ambitious list.  But, before you point me to the Farmer Delusional Syndrome issue that happens every year during the Winter months, please allow us to share the agenda with you.  THEN, you can tell us to go look at our own post regarding Farmer Delusional Syndrome.

Interplanting Flowers in Cucurbits
Part of the reason for the optimism I have this year in our ability to accomplish these research projects is that most of them are built upon prior work, rather than being a complete fresh start on a topic.  We have been sold on the value of putting flowers in many of our crops from the beginning.  We even held a field day for PFI at our farm in 2016 that focused on pollinators on the farm.  While we may be convinced of the value of growing flowers as companions, we'd like to help grow the database of knowledge in this area to encourage others to do the same thing.

The Genuine Faux Farm applied for a two-year Farmer/Researcher grant with SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) to help fund a project where we will attempt to measure the value and/or cost of our preferred growing system versus one devoid of all of the intercropped flowers.

Essentially, we will grow one of our 60'x200' fields the way we want to grow melons and winter squash.  We'll add our full rows of borage and zinnia and other flowers to the field.  We'll interplant nasturtium and other flowers in the row with the cucurbit vines (melons and winter squash are cucurbits - in case that flew past you).  Then, we'll do something that neither of us really wants to do.  We'll plant a different 60'x200' field with the other half of our melons and winter squash.  And we will make sure to plant NO intercropped flowers.  This field will be all cucurbits ALL the time.  We'll even keep the border path clover mowed to reduce flower availability.

Why do this?  After all, the way I see it - we're putting half of our crops at risk of failure.  (hint - it's not the field with all of the flowers in it)  But, the reality is this - even growers that I consider to be highly interested in sustainable methods fail to dedicate themselves to diverse planting techniques.  They need more data to encourage change.  Hopefully, we can provide some of that data.

Broccoli Variety Trials
Two years ago, our farm participated in broccoli variety trials sponsored by Practical Farmers of Iowa that compared Belstar, Gypsy and Imperial.  What happened?  Well, we had the worst broccoli crop we had seen in years.  It was just a bad year for broccoli state-wide.  We wanted to run the trial again in 2017, but Imperial was not available.  We still took records of Belstar and Gypsy, which we had done for several years prior to 2016 as well.  But, we really want to run the trial with what we hope will be a "normal" broccoli growing year.   The odds are good, given 2016 was an aberration as compared to all other years of production since 2012.

In fact, last year was a record broccoli production year at the farm.  We'd be happy for average production that can give us a good gauge as to how each of these varieties might fare during most seasons on the farm.

Lettuce Variety Trials
Lettuce can be difficult to grow once we get into the warmer months.  Even so, CSA farms, such as our own, often hope to have lettuce for large percentage of the deliveries we make.  In particular, we hope to have beautiful lettuce during some of the more difficult share weeks in July.  This motivated several PFI cooperator farmers to trial the varieties, Magenta, Muir and Coastal Star last season (we were among those farmers).  The results were favorable for both Magenta and Muir.  On our farm, we were most pleased with Magenta and found Muir to just be acceptable.

This year, we will be trialing Concept, Nevada and Winter Density.  Magenta will return as the "check crop."  For those who might not know, a "check crop" is usually a crop that has an established record (if you can call one year an established record).  If the check crop performs in a fashion that is abnormal, you can guess that the results you are getting from the other crops might not be their normal performance as well.

Fertility Delivery Trials
Once the farm acquired Rosie, the tractor, and her loader/bucket, we became much better at turning compost piles.  The net result is that we have had access to more 'black gold' than we've ever had on the farm.  We will run a randomized/replicated trial in our romanesco planting this year that will test the viability of our own compost versus a purchased product and compare the results with a no-product control.

As is true with most every research project we attempt, we have a pretty good idea as to what we want for a result.  But, the whole point of research is to see what actually DOES happen.

Cherry Tomato Enterprise Budget
We don't tend to grow too many cherry tomatoes on our farm because they are labor intensive during harvest.  However, we have had inquiries as to whether we might be willing to grow more cherry tomatoes for sale.  Add in a PFI project that will help participants to take measurements regarding the costs and returns of the crop and you see an opportunity to learn that shouldn't be passed up.

Heirloom Tomato in the High Tunnel Trial
In prior years, we have watched while other Practical Farmers of Iowa Cooperators have measured results for hybrid high tunnel tomatoes.  Each year, when we hear about the results, we could swear our heirlooms compare reasonably well with the hybrids.  Since we already collect nearly all of the data that is used in this sort of trial, it seemed only natural to offer to run a trial with heirlooms.

The only reason why we hesitate with this one?  Well, there have been 'research trial curses' in the past on our farm.  Crops that have done well for years end up having a down year when we do a research trial.  We really need our high tunnel tomatoes to do well.  So, we wonder - is it worth the risk?    Then, we remind ourselves that we are not superstitious and that a bad (or good) year will happen whether we're running a trial or not.  It's just that you examine the bad year so thoroughly if you're running a trial!

What Makes Us Think We Can Manage All of This?
Please believe me when I say we've asked this question several times of ourselves.  And, the answer is still 'yes.'

Part of the advantage of many of these research projects is that we collect 80% of the data required for these projects in a normal year.  The broccoli, lettuce and heirloom tomato trials require no additional data collection beyond what we already do.  The only difference is that we need to plant them in replicated sections to control for soil and other variables.  The even better news here is that we've done the broccoli and lettuce trials before, so there isn't a learning curve to climb.

The Fertility Delivery Trial adds an early season sample testing of soil and compost (being sent to a lab), which is something we want to do anyway.  Otherwise, we have done these processes before.  Again, no big learning curve to climb.  The Interplanting in Cucurbits is also not changing up our farming practices significantly.  The big deal is taking the time to observe the differences (and similarities) between the two fields.  Since we are highly invested in this one, I see no problem with expending a little extra time on that one.

That leaves us with the Enterprise Budget project.  In this case, I see the extra data being collected as something that will pay us back in the following year.  In short, it's an investment in analyzing a crop for profitability on our farm.  If the numbers are poor, we may decide it's a crop to continue to limit in our production unless we're willing to make big changes.  If the numbers are good, we may decide it would be worthwhile to scale up production.

Monday, February 5, 2018

February Newsletter

Annual Traditions We Can Do Without

Here we are, now in the month of February and it is time for the monthly Genuine Faux Farm newsletter!  It's an exciting moment, especially considering the lack of posts for the past couple of weeks on this blog.  We did manage to get all of our "year in review" type of posts out there to bid adieu to 2017, but that's really all we managed to do in January.  Apparently, this is a trend (if not a tradition) since there were not many posts in January and February for 2016 and 2017. 

The "tradition" behind the trend has to do with Rob's knack of catching some sort of nasty virus in late January that knocks him down for a week, or two... or more.  In this case, it was more like a week - so that's not so bad.  But, everyone knows how that sort of thing can really mess with motivations and habits.  And, of course, the nice long list of things that need to be done got no shorter during that time.  Things that I thought I was right on top of are now behind schedule.  Little things become bigger things and big things become daunting.  Add in my tendency to want to do things "well" and a reticence to do just enough to "get by" and you have a recipe for a January/February slump.

The third part of the puzzle is the natural desire I have to do things that are NOT farm related during the Winter months.  Don't get me wrong, I do like doing farm things.  But, I also like doing OTHER things.  During the growing season, it is difficult to do any of the "other" things, so it is perfectly natural to want to put the farm down the priority list for a while.  The hard part is giving myself permission to do that without feeling guilty and then still managing to keep myself in farm mode enough to get things done that need doing in a timely fashion.  After all, say what I will, the farm never gets to be down on the priority list.  Something needs to be getting done all the time.

Here's to breaking the annual tradition of struggling to finding the balance again after annual "virus enforced vacation."  Time to get back into VAPs and the accomplishments that hopefully come with it.

Picture of the Month
It's been a pretty brown Winter so far.  Our biggest 'snowstorm' for the year actually ended up being lots and lots of rain (2 inches) in January.  Point North and West got the snow, but we just got the rain.  Forecast was for a half inch, but we like to do better than expected around here!

Frozen ground with rain results in all sorts of puddles.  But, did I get the camera out to record this momentous event?  Of course not, that would have been useful for the blog.  Bad farmer, bad!  He'll get back at it and take some pictures once the forecast snowfall makes things beautiful again.

Farm News Shorts and Announcements
  • 2018 CSA Sign up has begun.  Promotional posts are scheduled for the next two weeks.  Please consider signing up for this coming year of veggie goodness!
  • The official 2018 Speaking tour began with a co-presentation with respect to On-Farm Research at the Practical Farmers of Iowa conference and a presentation to the Rotary Club in Sumner.  The month of February has Rob speaking at Hawkeye Community College, University of Northern Iowa and Wartburg. 
  • This is a repeat of our January newsletter, but we felt it should still be publicly noted.  It is now official that there was chemical drift on the northeast corner of the farm this year.  The plot impacted by this drift had no crops harvested in 2017 and is not going to be placed in production for 2018.
  • The annual Nota Conference with our friends from Blue Gate Farm, Wabi Sabi Farm, Grinnell Heritage Farm and Scattergood Friends School Farm is scheduled for this month.  As always, we are looking forward to this opportunity to recharge with people who know what it takes to farm.
February Calendar
Subject to change since February is "Set the Calendar for the Farm Month:"
  • February 7 - Rob speaks at Hawkeye Community College 12-12:45
  • February 13 (Tue) - Egg sales Waverly and Cedar Falls
  • February 20 - Rob speaks at University of Northern Iowa (12:30-2:20)
  • February 27 (Tue) - Egg sales Waverly and Cedar Falls
  • February 28 - Rob speaks at Wartburg College (6:30)
Weather Wythards
The summary will be a bit skewed because our weather station battery died in the middle of the coldest days at the beginning of the month.  I think we can be forgiven if we decided we didn't want to go out and change the battery when the windchills were at their worst.  As a result, our numbers, while still somewhat impressive on the colder extreme, do not accurately portray what happened during the super cold spell.

January Summary
High Temperature: 53 F

Highest Barometer Reading: 30.89
Highest Recorded Wind Gust: 29 mph out of NW
Rainfall : 2.09 inches
Low Temperature: -20 F (missing reading for coldest days)
Lowest Windchill: -34 F (ditto)
Lowest Barometer Reading: 29.39

Song of the Month
February's song of the month is quite a bit 'louder' than most of our songs of the month.  Nothing More's "Do You Really Want It?" is a reminder that if you don't like what's going on in the world, change starts with you.  But, sometimes, changing yourself is the hardest thing to do:

Recipe of the Month
We are continuing to take a break from recipe of the month.  These will appear with regularity as the growing season gets going.

Time to Have Pun
A combination of colder weather with some strong winds and the wonderful respiratory distress that comes with the annual "virus vacation" tends to make trips out to deal with the chickens and other farm chores a bit less pleasant than they might be.  But, we still get to see the small snow birds flitting around, which can be pretty enjoyable.  On the other hand, we have noticed more activity from the crows around the farm lately.  If you're already feeling under the weather, you may tend to think less positively about crows and all of their noise.  If you're feeling particularly gloomy, you may begin to think about all of the reasons why a group of crows could be called a "murder."

I guess it all depends on whether or not you think there is probable caws.