Sunday, February 28, 2021

Borderline Benefits - Postal History Sunday

Welcome once again to Postal History Sunday on the Genuine Faux Farm blog!  Take a moment and throw those worries into the kitchen scraps bucket and take them out to the chickens.  Chickens don't seem to have many worries, so maybe they can handle them a bit better than we can.

Now that the chickens have something to peck at, let's take a look at some things I enjoy and like to share with others.  Maybe you can also enjoy some of what I learn when I work with these things and you could learn something new too.  Sounds like a good deal to me!

Internal Letter Mail vs Foreign Letter Mail

I thought I would start with a basic letter from one town in Belgium to another town in Belgium.  As a postal historian I refer to this as either "internal letter mail" or "domestic letter mail."  This folded letter was mailed in November of 1855 from Anvers (Antwerp) to a small town near Liege.  The price for mailing this item was 20 centimes.

Internal letter mail rates in Belgium at that time were based on both weight and distance, but I don't want to distract from the point I am trying to make here, so I'm not going to talk about the distance factor.  The cost of a letter weighing no more than 10 grams was 20 centimes for this distance.

Foreign letter mail, on the other hand, required the interaction of two postal services in order to get a letter to its destination.  Each postal service was concerned that they receive compensation for their services and the postal agreements in the 1800s (until 1875) were often quite complex.  In fact, there were several countries that failed to have postal agreements with some of their neighbors.

When there was an agreement, you would typically get something like this:

This is a another folded letter that started out in Anvers (Antwerp) in October of 1859.   If you would like to learn more about this particular letter and the addressee M. Evrard, you can take this link.

You might notice the Anvers postal marking at the top right for Oct 14, which was applied by the post office in that city.  There are two markings in the top center.  One is the P.D. marking we talked about in this October 2020 Postal History Sunday entry.  We learned there that the box with the "P.D." tells us that this item was "payée à destiné," which translates to "paid to destination."  

The other marking reads "Belg. Amb. Calais E" around the outer ring of the circle.    This is an "exchange marking" that shows where the letter left the custody of the Belgian mail service and entered the purview of the French mail service.  In this case, the transfer occurred on a mail car on the train that went from Calais to Paris in France.

To be perfectly clear, it is possible that the mailbag left the custody of the Belgian mail service and was in French hands before this point.  But, the marking shows when and where the mailbag was opened and processed by the French.  It is at this point that the item officially entered their ledgers (so to speak).

The cost of this letter was 40 centimes for every 10 grams in letter weight.  The December 1857 postal agreement between these two countries dictated that distance would NOT play a role in the cost of a letter - with one important distinction.

Neighbors in Different Countries

Could you imagine living just a couple of kilometers from the border between France and Belgium.  You have friends who live just down the road, but that is officially in another country.  You do business with people in the next town over, but they too live in another country.  How would you feel if you had to pay 20 centimes for a letter destined to someone 5 kilometers to the North and then pay 40 centimes for a similar letter to someone 1 kilometer to your South just because they were on the other side of the border?

There were plenty of business interests in southern Belgium and northeastern France and there was likely plenty of pressure to recognize this issue.  The postal agreement provided for a discounted rate if a piece of letter mail crosses the border and distance is 30 km or less from origin post office to destination post office.  The distance for the letter above from Courtrai (Belgium) to Lille (France) is right around 30 kilometers, so this letter qualified for the reduced rate.

Actually, the agreement made it even easier for postal clerks to be able to determine what destinations qualified for this reduced rate.  The postal convention listed the locations of post offices that qualified (you can click to see a larger version of the picture).  This excerpt shows the French post offices.

As a result of this agreement, neighbors who wanted to mail things to someone in another country wound up paying the same rate as the first letter that was internal mail and half the amount the second piece of foreign letter mail required.

The Dutch and the Belgians

The Netherlands and Belgium had similar arrangements for border settlements.  Shown above is an 1868 letter from Bruxelles (Brussels) in Belgium to Vlaardingen in the Netherlands.  The rate for mail from Belgium to the Netherlands was 20 centimes for every 10 grams in weight.  There was no distance component to the mail rate between these two countries at this time other than the special border rate.

If the origin and the destination were close by, this rate was cut in half!  The 1869 folded letter shown above only has a 10 centime stamps for an item mailed from Liege, Belgium (yep, that marking is hard to read!) to Maestricht in Holland.  You will notice that, even though these letters traveled a short distance, they still have a PD marking to indicate that the postage was paid for a letter between nations.  This may have qualified for a reduced rate, but it still had to be processed as a piece of foreign letter mail.

An interesting thing that I have noticed as I look for items like this is that these reduced rate items are far less common than the regular rates between these countries.  And, because they are less common, it is more difficult to find examples that are nicer looking.  

But, why would these be less common?  It's a simple matter of mathematics.  Without doing actual calculations, it would be safe to say that less than 5% of the population for each country lives inside of the area that could qualify for the reduced rate.  On top of that, not all of the mail leaving those areas would go TO a destination that also qualified for the reduced rate.  I think it would be safe to estimate that no more than 1% of all of the letter mail that was sent between Beligium and France or 2-3% for Belgium and the Netherlands would have qualified for these rates.

Huh.  I think that explains it!

But, sometimes you are lucky enough to find things that others don't.  Here is an example of a border letter rate from the Netherlands to Belgium in 1867.  Each Dutch cent was equal to two Belgian centimes.  So, it cost 5 Dutch cents for a border letter.  You might notice that stamp has a marking that reads "Franco," which happens to be Holland's preferred marking to indicate a letter was paid.

Know A Good Thing When You See It

It isn't hard to understand how the idea of border rate reductions, once it showed usefulness in one agreement, would start popping up in other agreements.  The root of these special rates probably comes from the fact that most postal services included distance as an element for determining postal rates.  The further something had to travel, the more expensive it became.  That certainly makes sense if transportation is your biggest expense.

If anything, the idea that the rate would stay the same for all distances EXCEPT border mail was the innovation that was a response to improved transportation via the railways. 

Here is a folded letter mailed in 1862 from Switzerland to France.  The normal rate to mail an item was 40 rappen for every 7.5 grams, regardless of distance.  You will notice the exchange marking in red shows that control of the letter was transferred at Pontarlier (France).  France and Switzerland both used the PD markings to show the receiving nation that the letter was fully paid.

And here is an 1860 letter that shows a PD marking and a red exchange marking at Fernex (France).  The letter was mailed in Geneva, which was just across the border from Fernex (Ferney).  Clearly, this is a situation where a border rate should apply, and it does.  Only 20 rappen (1/2 the normal rate) was required.

If Ferney sounds familiar to some of you, you might recognize it better as "Ferney-Voltaire."  The philosopher, Voltaire, purchased the land around the small hamlet of Ferney in 1759.  Once travel is restored, you could go visit his chateau and the community that is part of Voltaire's legacy.  

So, How Do You See It?

That brings me to the last point.  How does a person, such as myself, notice that a letter could qualify for the borderline letter rate - no matter what pair of countries and regardless of the time in history?

The first thing is that I need to know what a normal piece of internal letter mail for the time period looks like.

This internal letter in Switzerland was mailed in Romoos.  It cost 10 rappen (or 10 centimes) to mail and the markings on the cover simply show its travels inside the country.

Most internal letter mail in Switzerland during this time period will have a 10 centime/rappen stamp.  So, if I were to see a letter with that stamp, my first assumption is that it is a piece of domestic letter mail.

And here is an 1867 letter from Horgan, Switzerland, to Genoa, Italy.  The rate between nations was 30 centimes/rappen per 10 grams and a PD marking was put on the letter by the Swiss to let the Italians know that they did collect the proper amount of postage.  All in all, this is a pretty normal looking letter between these two countries for that time period.

So, I bring you this one:

This one was mailed in Splugen in 1865 and has a Swiss 10 centime/rappen stamp applied on it to pay the postage.  The person who offered this item for sale listed it as a piece of "domestic letter mail" because that is what most 10 centime blue stamps in Switzerland were used for.  

What told me to look closer?

You can see it too - it's the PD marking on the cover.  Most post offices during that time did not use a PD marking unless it was a piece of foreign mail.  That is not always true.  The Netherlands used the "Franco" marking on internal mail as well as foreign mail.  But, it was enough to make me look closer at this item.

Splugen is both a settlement and a mountain pass in the Alps near the Swiss/Italian border.  The hard part was trying to figure out the destination.  The address panel on the front maybe reads "Clafau" or "Clafen," but I couldn't be sure.

The reverse shows a receiver postmark for Chiavenna, which is located just South of the border, which clearly makes it a piece of border mail.  After some searching, it turns out Chiavenna is also known as Claven, Kleven and Clavenna depending on the language.  It is just another case where the spelling of a location could be different depending on the person's background writing the address.  We could talk about that more, but I think that could be a Postal History Sunday all its own.

Thank you for joining me this week.  Next week's Postal History Sunday will be titled Turn, Turn, Turn.  I believe that's called a "teaser" to increase interest for what's coming next.   I wonder what it could be that I'll be showing you next time?

Until then, I hope you have a wonderful remainder of the weekend and a positive and fulfilling week to come.  Maybe you had a chance to relax for a few moments today and you learned something new.  If you have questions for this or past blogs or suggestions for future PHS blog posts, feel free to send them my way.  

Further reading if you have interest:

Here is a post that I constructed regarding the mails between Switzerland and Italy.  It needs another edit to update my knowledge there.  But, it is fairly accurate.
Each of these posts on the GFF Postal History Blog were created as a place for me to work on my own understanding of how these mails worked.  As I continue to learn, I try to take time to edit each so that they are as accurate as I can make them.  

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Garden Sunshine

Tammy and I have relied much more on heirloom and open pollinated varieties for many vegetables over the years than most "commercial" growers.  Part of this has to do with our commitment to diversity on the land and on our farm.  Some of it has to do with a desire to support Seed Savers and their commitment to biodiversity and the conservation of heirloom seeds.  And, of course, a good bit of it comes from the enjoyment we derive from growing different types of vegetables - we often don't want to grow the types everyone else seems to be growing.  And, last but not least, we recognized early on that there is a wide range of taste possibilities that we miss when we rely on the most popular seed types.

We have featured many of our favorite varieties over the years on this blog, with our Veg Varieties of the Year getting some attention from interested persons.  Last year was the first year in a long time that we did not create that list - and it felt strange not doing it.

Why didn't we create our veg varieties of the year list?  Well, we scaled back and moved to growing mostly our favorite varieties for one, so I suppose we'd just list what we grew.  And, for two, things were extremely different at the Genuine Faux Farm in 2020.  There just wasn't the same motivation to do that list - so we didn't!

Instead, I thought I would try my hand at a series of shorter blogs for Saturdays that feature different veg varieties that we have grown.  Let's see how far this takes us!

Garden Sunshine bell peppers

  • Average fruit per plant:  4.7
  • Average weight per fruit: .35 lbs
  • Average cwt/acre = 158.8  * 

* (note, we did not grow an acre of these, but this is a standard measurement unit for production numbers)

The data above comes from a 2 year production period.  We have the raw data for other years, but felt this was enough for the time being.  The fruit per plant numbers were lower on these plants than they were for many varieties we grew during the same season and weight per fruit was slightly higher than the overall average.   However, the smaller sized plants allowed us to actually get our normal cwt/acre harvest level despite fewer fruit per plant.

These numbers only counted marketable fruit and did not account for fruit we identified as culls.

We first grew Garden Sunshine back in 2007 or so when we were looking for a bell variety that had some different color, was a smaller plant AND "held well" on the plant.  

A fruit is said to "hold well" when the window of time that it is ripe and eligible to be harvested on the plant is expanded.  For example, if you grow lettuce in late Spring as the weather warms, you will find that a lettuce plant will reach a full size head quickly, but you won't have many days to harvest that head before the plant starts to "bolt" in an effort to produce seed.  If you grow lettuce in the Fall as temps are cooler, you will find that lettuce will "hold" at the mature size for many days - and sometimes several weeks - without bolting or losing its quality as a good-looking, edible plant.

With our status as a CSA farm, we needed to spread our production out rather than having a concentrated harvest period.  It was much more important that I could harvest 2 bell peppers per person each week than it would be to get 5000 peppers in one day for a bulk sale.  We needed to find varieties that held well so we did not have to harvest and store the fruit until we were ready to distribute them.  Garden Sunshine's fit the bill for our needs at that time.

It turned out that Garden Sunshine could be harvested when the waxy yellow/green color started deepening to a dull yellow, but you could wait until it turned into the orange-red colors you see above for the best taste.  We thought there was a bit of paprika taste to these fruit, which should not be a surprise since paprika is a type of pepper.  The color change for these remind us a lot of how other paprika peppers behave, so I would not be surprised if someone classified them as a very mild paprika spice pepper.

The plants were compact, not taking much space in the field and we could get anywhere from two to seven fruit per plant.  Size was variable, which would explain why a commercial grower who was interested in consistent shapes and sizes might not appreciate Garden Sunshine.  What you see in the picture is representative of what we saw over several years of growing them.  

The pepper walls were on the thicker, crunchier side and they were quite dense - not giving too much of its weight to the seeds in the cavity.

From a marketing perspective, we found that people preferred the green, red, and yellow bells to Garden Sunshine, but there were nice compliments when we made sure each CSA members got a Garden Sunshine or two in their share and we asked for feedback.  

Last year was the first time in a long time that we started none of these plants at the Genuine Faux Farm.  Part of the issue is the need to move pepper production into the high tunnels with drift issues removing the option for growing peppers outdoors.  We had to make decisions and simplify.  The other reason?  We are moving our model to wanting larger numbers of peppers ripe and ready at the same time now.  Garden Sunshine's strengths no longer fit our needs.

But, if you like growing some different things, Garden Sunshine could be an enjoyable surprise for you.  The color is very different and taste isn't the same as every other bell pepper.  The plants are smaller and you don't have to wait for that second the fruit is ripe to pull it off the plant before it gets over-ripe.

We hope you enjoyed this blog entry and we wish you a good weekend!  Be well!

Friday, February 26, 2021

More Talk, Same Walk

Every once in a while I am asked to speak for classes or conferences or... maybe a radio show once in a while.  I must admit that I do enjoy public speaking, despite my tendencies to be introverted.  Like most introverts, it takes a good bit of energy to work up to it and then I need some recovery time.  But, if someone thinks I have something to contribute - I do like doing it.

Does that make me a failure at being an introvert?  Let's all go to our respective corners and think that one through, shall we?

One of the more recent radio shows I was on was the well-loved DonnaLonna Kitchen Show featured on KHOI Radio on Tuesdays (noon and replayed at 7PM).  I met Donna a few years ago when she was an outgoing board member for the Iowa Organic Association and I was an incoming board member.  I was struck by her intelligent, yet caring, attitude when it came to all things farm and local foods and I appreciated her willingness to just speak honestly in conversation.  In short, she got my respect fairly quickly.  

When I was asked if I would come on their show and speak about things like the ban of glyphosate in Mexico, dicamba drift and other things farm - I was honored.  And here is that show!

Like so many things we do with Zoom - there are so many moments where it was hard to read the cues, so we ended up speaking over each other a few times.  But, otherwise, I had a great time and I enjoyed speaking with Lonna and Donna.  I'd heard some of their shows in the past and I find them to be informative, yet uplifting - even if the topic may not be an entirely happy one.

Another recent radio conversation with Melinda Hemmelgarn (Food Sleuth Radio), aired in January.  After Rob's Pesticide Action Network blog Living A Dicamba Nightmare was published I was contacted by Hemmelgarn and was impressed with her preparation and insight.  It was not a difficult decision to agree to have a conversation about the production of healthy foods and the hurdles, such as dicamba drift, the prevent farms like ours from doing what we do best - raise good food for you while maintaining a healthy and diverse farmscape.

After the conversation I came to realize what it means for a person to have exceptional interviewing skills.  And the production quality was fantastic, even though I was not in a studio and only had my cell phone to make the connection to their studio.

You can listen to that show right here

If you like what you hear, feel free to share.  Not only will you share what I hope is a useful message, but you will also be pointing people to two useful and interesting radio show series that are worthy of our listening support.  In both cases it was an honor and a privilege to be able to be a participant.

Maybe I'll get to have a good conversation with these fine people again in the future!

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Whether Wythards are Wise

"How much time do you think?" asked Tammy.
"This one's moving pretty slow, probably half an hour, maybe more," I responded.
"Huh, we can try to put those lettuce transplants in then," she said.
"It'll be a little muddy, but it's only going to get muddier," I grumbled. "Let's go."

As farmers, we are in fascinated by the weather.  As farmers, we are motivated by the weather.  As farmers, we are often at the mercy of the weather.  And, as farmers, we weather the weather.

The thing that amazes me most is that the weather is actually very rarely completely unfriendly to those who are diversified growers.  Now, I also have to admit that the weather is also rarely perfect for us, but that is beside the point.  We could successfully argue that every season we've operated the Genuine Faux Farm has had its unfriendly elements and every season has had some friendly components as well.  

For example, 2018 was extremely rough for us with very wet weather early and late.  We could argue that the season was entirely unfriendly and cite all sorts of crop failures to back us up.  But, additional evidence would show that we were not telling the entire truth.  Many of our perennial crops, such as apples, berries and asparagus did very well.  The broiler chickens and turkeys sized up and the taste of the meat was exceptional.  Egg production stayed very consistent all season long.  The garlic was a little smaller than usual, but turned out just fine.  Half of the onion crop was really nice.  We had some decent summer squash, zucchini and cucumber.  In short, there were good things that happened, even if the whole body of work might have balanced out on the negative for the year as far as crops were concerned.

As a sidelight - how often do we, as humans, fail to tell ourselves the full truth about things?  I'm not referring to how we present our beliefs, ideas and thoughts to others either.  I am talking about how we create our own story about what is going on just with us and around us - and that story is filled with partial truths.  Is it really important that 2018 was bad or good?  Must we label it only as one or the other?  But, I digress - so I will show you a picture of raindrops on a Redtwig Dogwood.

Climate and Weather

There is no escaping the fact that we must pay attention to the weather if we want to raise produce and poultry.  It is also clear that we, as farmers, must continue to keep an eye on how the climate changes.  To ignore the difference between what climate is and what weather is - that is not even a choice if you want to farm.  

Or - let me rephrase that - ignoring the difference between climate and weather is not a choice if you want to continue to farm in the long term.  I am sure you can be a grower from one year to the next and move on once things no longer work the way you have been doing things.  But, if you want to keep plugging along, you need to take some time to read and learn what is going on with the climate so you can better prepare yourself.

Here, in northeast Iowa, it seems that one of the trends that will impact us the most at our farm will continue to be excessive rainfall.  Another trend is the northward migration of various pests and diseases that has been documented for quite some time now.  A third is also rain related, but it has to do with the amount of cumulative rain we have gotten during certain times of the year.  The graphic below comes from KWWL (published last July) and shows the top 10 wettest Junes for our area.

Since 2021 is an odd year, we should be fine.  But, everything else aside, if your farm has trouble with too much rain and the climate is showing that it will support a higher likelihood of wet weather - you should prepare.  Yes?  Sure, the second half of the year was dry, but the overall trend says we should be ready for wet.

There is no good way to predict exactly what we will encounter and it is perfectly clear that whatever the weather is and wherever the climate goes, it will impact what we do and how well things go.   But, one thing is clear to me.  Our world still provides what we need to be successful farmers, we just need to prepare to use what we have responsibly and we need to take a longer view than the next succession of lettuce or this season's crops.

We need a long-view and a long-view points to being a steward of the land rather than a steward of this year's balance sheet.

Key Word: Resiliency

One of the things we are consider during the winter months is how we, the Genuine Faux Farm farmers, are going to respond to the climate and the resulting weather patterns we are likely to see from this point onward.  We can't predict exactly what will happen, but we can study the bigger patterns so we can prepare just as much as we are able.  But, Mother Nature doesn't check with us to see if we are ready for the next thing she's going to do - so we'll get surprised and things won't always go our way.

So, we work on adapting and we find ways to move with the wind as it blows us from here to there.   Over time, we have come to realize that we will not be resilient farmers if we insist that our way is the only way and try to go toe to toe with nature, doing our best to subdue it to our will.  That means that we keep adjusting how we do things at the Genuine Faux Farm - trying to bend with the wind and support natural systems that can handle new patterns and new extremes.

Whoa!  Wait a minute there Rob!  Haven't you ALWAYS said you want to work WITH nature and not AGAINST nature? 

Why, yes.  I have.  But, saying is not the same as doing.  Sometimes you have to experience things before you realize that some of the processes you thought were ok (and working with nature) are maybe not as ok as you thought.  The simple actions of tilling the soil, removing existing growth, introducing plants YOU want to grow and providing fertilizer, water and cultivation can be contrary to what nature is inclined to have happen.  Much of the act of farming - at least as many of us know it - is the attempt to impose our will on the land.

I have come to believe that farming is similar to nurturing a close relationship with another person.  There are concessions that must be made.  Each participant has to consider the other's wants and needs - and those wants and needs can change over time.  It takes work and consistent effort.  You have to be willing to admit when you are wrong and make alterations so you can do better.  And - you have to find a way so both parties in the relationship can be happy - all while being true to who they are.

The Genuine Faux Farm will continue to evolve and the farmers will continue to learn - always looking for the best solution, even though they know they likely won't find an optimal solution.  These solutions will change as the farm and the farmers adapt. 

But don't worry.  I'm sure your farmers will also grumble about the weather multiple times in the coming season.  It's normal.  If you consider that weather systems are sometimes akin to an alarm clock (hurry up, plant that lettuce!) you might have sympathy for the grumpy farmer.  After all, wasn't it you who knocked your alarm clock to the floor this morning?

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Genuine Faux Farm to English Dictionary v.1

We can't help it. Tammy and I have a tendency to create or use words differently than many people when we refer to things on the farm. It's so ingrained in us that we often forget that others do not have an Genuine Faux Farm to English (or any other language) dictionary. Here's the beginning of your personal copy of that work.

And please remember, sometimes things might sound a little crude to you - but when you live on a farm, some things happen and you have to find a way to deal with them.  One of our ways is to maintain a sense of humor.


Accent - the flowers you see on the edges of our fields or in the middle of our cash crops.  We like to call them an 'accent.'

Ali and Frazier -  as our male broiler chickens mature, they start to challenge each other.  They stand about a foot apart in an aggressive each other the 'evil' eye.  Occasionally, they'll move their heads up and down trying to get an advantage.  Rarely, they'll give each other chest bump.  Once all that is done, they go eat something.


Beaks of Doom - Every once in a while there is a disturbance where many chickens or turkeys move quickly at once.  Flying insects do cause quite a stir in the flock.  Until they meet a beak of doom.

B.O.D. - see Beaks of Doom or Bills of Doom

Bills of Doom - it turns out that the ducks are pretty good at catching things as well.  They're just funnier when they try to move quickly.

Broiler hiccups -  Ok - they are not really hiccups.  But, the sound some of these birds are making as they attempt to learn to crow....  hiccups is about the only valid description we can come up with.

Broom Bird - We used to have to work harder to put broilers into their buildings, so we used to play a game called broom bird.  No - we did not *hit* the birds with brooms.  But, we did use brooms to direct birds to their shelter.  Our waving arms didn't suffice - but a colorful broom - that's the ticket. 

Breezy - Do you wear a hat?  Well, now you don't.  


Cardio - using the wheel hoe in the gardens. See "Three Shirt Day."

Chalkdoor - the chalkdoor is exactly what it sounds like.  It is a door that has had blackboard paint applied to it.  Sometimes the chalkdoor speaks to us. 

Chicklet - a baby chicken.

Chuckie - any woodchuck on our property has a tendency to be at least mildly evil. The mama woodchuck is, of course, Bride of Chuckie and the young-uns could be considered Spawn of Chuckie (see also: Ewok)

Clyde - sometimes a bird will not go into shelter at night.  If an owl finds them, we usually just find internal organs the next morning.  That bird is automatically named "Clyde."  See also "Not Like Clyde."


Door Warden - one to three of our turkeys tend to stand (or sit) in the door area of their shelter as a guard until we come to close the door for the night.  These are the self-appointed (or perhaps flock-appointed) "door wardens."

Dumb Truck - we learned this one and adapted it from an advertisement in a free farm magazine that lists such things for sale.  There is evidently a unique Dumb Truck (only 1) for sale.  Funny that it looks like what most people would call a Dump Truck.  From that point on, we call anything that looks like the truck in the ad a "Dumb Truck."


Ewok - a woodchuck youngster. 

Executive Decision -  there are numerous times during the growing season that a decision simply gets made for us.  That's just the way it is.


Farmer Delusional Syndrome -  Any farmer who creates a vision for their farm while sitting inside on a cold January day can relate to FDS.  If you want more detail - go here.

Field Access Indicators - the puddles in the drive area.  If they are full, you likely can't work the soil in the fields.  If they are damp, pretty close to ready.  Dry?  Go for it.

Flutterby - that's a butterfly... when it flies by. 

Fork of Damocles - as the date for a trip to the park closes for any of our poultry, we say the "Fork of Damocles" is hanging over them.

Freezer Camp - after a trip to "the Park," our poultry often take a trip to Freezer Camp so they can chill for a while.  Eventually, they are hosted as dinner guests at (or probably "on") various tables in the community....


Garden Zit - potato beetle larvae. They're orange with some spotting/striping and look a little like mini-Jabba the Hut. They pop when squished (not squashed).


"Help" - what our cats do.  

Henlet - a young hen.  No longer a chicklet, but not an adult.  They have their own soliloquy.

High Speed Internet - Oh, wait.  That one belongs in our myth list on the farm.  Put it between "weed-free" and "on-schedule".  

High Wind Warning - Look out!  Wasn't that the neighbor's tractor/silo/cow blowing by?

Honeydew list - the list of melons we intend to grow in the coming year. 


Insta-Tan - put on suntan lotion, go oustide on a windy day when the soil is dry and sweat a little bit.  The result is often an insta-tan that will be the envy of all of the other kids at the pool.  Sadly, the pool owner will not feel envy if you jump into the pool with your insta-tan.


Kamikaze - a blackfly or gnat that does that little loop in front of your eye before diving right in.  Also known as a #$*%!

Kite - it's a pull-behind tool for a garden tractor that flips up grass clippings into the carrier so it can be used as mulch or compost. It can catch the wind too, there you have it. 

Knucklehead - a generic term used for any of our poultry that is causing Rob's blood pressure to go up. Occasionally, deer, chuckies, raccoon, cats and other critters will become a knucklehead. Early in life, Rob called bullheads 'knuckleheads,' but that's another story.

Knucklehead (definition 2) - the final stage of development of the turkeys at the farm.  They follow the progression Turklet, Turkle, Turk.... Knucklehead.


Mentor crop - often we plant successions of a crop (to spread out the harvest).  The planting that was put in earlier is often our 'mentor crop' if it is doing well.  When the new succession pokes their little heads up out of the ground, we point to the earlier crop and say, "See - that's what YOU'RE supposed to do." 

Misplaced - things that were not properly anchored or put away prior to a strong wind.


Nibster - Both of the little feline type creatures that live in our house are nibsters.  Nibster is what you get if you shift your right hand to the left one spot (as a touch typist).  See if you can figure it out.

Not Like Clyde - We now tell our broilers to 'not be like Clyde' when they don't want to go into their shelter at night.  Still, that bird had guts.


On Schedule - how about now?  Now's good.  Unless later would be better.

Orbin - that's a robin for people who aren't always so good at word scrambles.


Paid in Full - what a critter is said to have done if it does not escape from the Fauxes after it takes out some of their poultry or crops.

(the) Park -  the Park is where we take our meat poultry when the time has come for them to... ahem... prepare to be dinner guests.  Many of them will then go to Freezer Camp to chill for a while. 

Product Tester - that would be Tammy. She likes to eat produce in the field. 


Reeechard -  the Dickcissels on the farm are very insistent in their Summer call.  We prefer to refer to them with their 'given' name instead of the shortened version.  What?  Didn't you know they are Reeechardcissels?


Scout - the early tomatoes that often precede the main crop by 2-4 weeks.  Most tomato varieties in our fields will set a couple of tomatoes early and ripen then well before the main crop.  We figure they are checking out our farm before encouraging the rest to grow and ripen. 

Skritch - our cats like to get a good skritch now and then.  You do not scratch a cat, they scratch you - especially if you don't skritch them properly (and often enough). 

Skritcher - any tool used to scratch up the ground and make life more difficult for weeds. Officially, a skritcher has tines - but we stretch the definition for saddle hoes, wire weeders, etc.

Squish - ya, that's a squash. There is a summer squish, pumpkin squish, butternut squish and rotten squish that goes 'squish' when it's squashed.

Sun puddle - especially prevalent on sunny Winter days.  Cats are particularly good at commandeering the flat spaces where a sun puddle resides.  Beware - they (the sun puddles) tend to move. 


T.E.F. (Thistle Eradication Forces) - when you have to deal with Canadian Thistle on your farm, it's time to gather the troops.

Three Shirt Day - think about it. We work outside. It gets warm. We perspire.

Time Wasters - aka kittens.
Time Square Ball -  I was thinking about renting the Time Square Ball that drops for New Year's.  Set it to start at the top and slowly sink to the ground as the day for taking the broilers "to the park" approached.  But, then I wondered if people might think I take too much glee in that thought.  The reality is - we just don't have a good place to set the thing up.  If we did get it, would it be a Fowl Ball?  At least you know you'd get the Chicken Dance out of it.
Turklets - baby turkeys
Turkles - the next stage for turkeys after "turklets"
Turks - the third stage for turkeys after "turkles."  The following stage is "Knucklehead".


UnEgg Space - when you tend to pick 4 to 5 dozen eggs a day from your laying flock, *any* space in the refrigerator that does not hold eggs is UnEgg Space.

VAP (Very Ambitious Plan) -  Our daily work plan at the farm.  Beware the OAP (Overly Ambitious Plan) and the NAP (No Ambition Plan).  For more details, check out this post.


Waldo - can you find the Oriole in the Oak trees?  You can't?  Well, that's why we call him Waldo.

Weed free - This is also a myth along the lines of "High-speed internet."  In both cases, there is some debate regarding how much value we should place on each.

Windy - That's when you close building doors so things don't blow OUT of the buildings.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Coloring Book

I've been known to doodle pictures here and there.  In fact, nieces and nephews and godchildren have probably - at some point or another - done some drawing and coloring with me.  It's a simple thing to do in a shared environment that is creative and cooperative.  And, I suppose my introverted self can interact in a safe way as well.

Well, here we are in February and I was outside moving snow after another snowfall of four to five inches.  This certainly has not been the snowiest winter we've experienced, but it sure has been... well.... white.  With the bright sunshine today it was blindingly, brilliantly white.

I am not complaining because fresh snow is quite beautiful, covering up the sins of our existence with its splendor.  But, I have to admit that I am finding photos like the one below even more attractive than usual.

I saw this particular picture as I was scrolling through old farm pictures from 2013 and it made me feel like I could take out the colored pencils or the crayolas and maybe start coloring the snow so I could change it all to Spring.  It was only a momentary whimsy, but it stayed long enough for me to recognize that I, the farmer, was actually starting to feel a little bit like I wanted Spring to come.

This is a momentous occasion because for the past few years I have been reticent to welcome Spring.  Spring only represented the beginning of the period of time where there would be work and more work, followed by... work.  I was not ready to welcome Spring when we were in February and I was just fine with the snow holding on so I had an excuse to ignore what was heading our way - that light coming towards us in the tunnel was a freight train that was the growing season.  Start running now or decorate the walls of the tunnel!

So, does this mean I am ready for Spring this year?  In terms of certain tasks - probably not.  But, in terms of having spirit that could be ready to begin the process of growing again this year - I think so.

It's a good sign that perhaps some balance is being achieved.  Or maybe, it's a sign that a different imbalance has come to be.  I'm a farmer, so the line between the two is often crossed, sometimes frequently over the period of one day.

For now, we'll call it a good sign.  After all, the snow is beautiful, the sunshine is beautiful and the green leaves with an iris is also beautiful. 

Almost made me want to get out the colored pencils so I could draw for a minute there.  But, the picture above will probably do for the time being.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Pollinator Support in the Nooks & Crannies

This year's Practical Farmers of Iowa conference was held virtually at the end of January and it went as well as any event that is normally geared to face to face interaction can go when it must be done at a distance.  Both Tammy and I presented as part of a 'Lightning Talks' series of presentations where each individual got about 8 minutes of time to cover a topic.  Tammy presented on turkeys and I covered planting to support pollinators and beneficial organisms on the farm.

PFI will put at least some of the sessions out for public consumption as time goes on, but I suspect the Lightning Talks won't make the cut.  It's just the nature of the beast.  However, I thought that people might enjoy a blog version.  It won't be exactly the same, of course - but perhaps it will have value on its own merits.


One of the things Tammy and I have committed ourselves to over the years at the Genuine Faux Farm is providing a diverse and healthy habitat for beneficial critters on our farm.  We delight in seeing all kinds of bees and toads and snakes and ladybugs and...  Well, you get the idea.  There are even some creatures that are welcomed with less joy on a vegetable farm, but are nonetheless part of the diversity that makes for a healthy ecology.

Every year, as we design our planting plan for the season, we identify the edges and the corners that could be turned into opportunities.  Here are some of the opportunities we try to take advantage of every season as we are able.

1. Let Some Areas Go

A healthy farm is not necessarily one where everything is completely tidy and there are no wild areas.  In fact, it is important that there be some truly wild areas on every farm, in my opinion.  Places that you just don't get to when you look at 'cleaning things up.'  

Of course, you would be correct if you point out that there might be 'good wild' and 'bad wild' as far as our farms are concerned.  One example of a 'wild' that I am not terribly pleased to keep are the stands of Giant Ragweed that we've battled from "Year One" at our farm.  These plants tend to choke everything else out and they don't really seem to support much diverse wildlife.  So, we've worked to control those areas and encourage other 'wildness' that harbors more diversity.  

On the other hand, we had some strong patches of asters this year and we were happy to let them go so our pollinators would have a reliable food source late in the season.

2. There Are Plenty of Corners Outside

If you plant as many crops as we do at the Genuine Faux Farm, then you have plenty of little nooks and crannies where you can slap some interesting and attractive flowers.  And, we are NOT above being opportunists.  We planted these chleome at the end of a bed in 2019 and found a significant number of volunteers popping up in that area again this season.

We ended up transplanting some, cultivating others out and leaving a few in the same spot this year.  While I do not acknowledge chleome as a highly attractive pollinator plant, they lend color and a diverse landscape for all sorts of critters.  We also tend to go with some of the more traditional, old varieties rather than the highly hybridized versions because they often do seem to support wildlife better.  This decision is based only on our own anecdotal evidence - but it is enough for us to feel comfortable with this decision.

3. And Opportunities Inside!

Most vegetable/hort growers around our size of farm have at least one high tunnel for production.  The tendency is to recite the mantra that the space inside a high tunnel is "Prime Real Estate."  Thou shalt not waste the "P.R.E.!"  As a result, too many farms put a single crop in their buildings to optimize production.  This tends to eliminate diversity and the grower commits the same sin so many of us like to blame row cropping systems for doing.

Perhaps we go quite a bit further than many growers by having anywhere from eight to twelve different crops in each of our buildings.  All that does is illustrate either the level or our commitment or the extent of our insanity.  But, I do think many growers miss an important opportunity when they fail to do anything to diversify in the high tunnel.  For example, we plant sweet alyssum at the base of our trellised heirloom tomatoes.  

The biggest issues?  Well, the sweet alyssum is a strong volunteer plant the next season that will need to be controlled in crops that don't get as tall as tomatoes.  And, I suppose you could argue that they get into the walking path and try to trip you up as you harvest.  I think I can tolerate that.

My biggest concern about attracting pollinators and other wildlife to the high tunnel is that these buildings can be a death trap to some of our worker friends.  Sometimes birds and butterflies don't figure out how to get back OUT of the building and we find their bodies later on.  In the end, I just have to trust that by creating more habitat, we encourage more robust populations - even if we lose some in this fashion.

4. Lawns and Pastures are Opportunities

Our farm has lawn areas closer to the farm house and pasture areas for our poultry.  In both cases, we are happy to let dandelions grow so the pollinators have early season food sources and we encourage clover in all of these areas.

We have even gone so far as to allow a couple of areas in our 'lawn' to become overwhelmed by clover that we cut once the first peak bloom finishes so it will be encouraged to produce a late bloom.  The presence of bumblebees and butterflies confirms for us we are doing a good thing.  I was tempted to say we are doing the 'right thing,' but I wonder if that is too presumptuous of me to say.  Nature is far too complex for me to ever be completely certain what the 'right thing' might be.  

Maybe I should say we are doing a 'better thing' - as in - 'better than other things we could be doing.'

5. Plant Those Borders with Pollinator Support Crops

We are fully aware that many of our crops are highly reliant on the presence of pollinators for production.  Melons, squash and cucumbers are all more likely to do better if you encourage pollinators to be present.  Even crops that do not rely on pollinators, such as broccoli and cauliflower, will benefit from the presence of predators you encourage by providing shelter and diverse habitat.

About the easiest nook or cranny any farm might have would be the edges of plots, rows and fields.  Give up that outer row that never produces all that well anyway and put in some annual flowering plants.  Or, better yet, put in some perennial pollinator habitat there.  The endangered Monarch will thank you for your efforts.

You do not have to go right to the end of each row with your cash crops either.  Put a few flowering plants at the end of row.  It's still in the row so your cultivation practices won't have to change.  Planting a few things on the edges is a simple task that you could even ask a volunteer to do.  

6. Intercrop Rows of Pollinator or Habitat Support

You can always go to the next level and dedicate some of your beds to plants that do not directly provide you with crop production.  Several years ago, we decided to reduce the number of rows that had melons and replaced them with borage, zinnia, calendula, basil and other flowering plants.  We planted 1/3 fewer melon plants and expected a corresponding drop.

Let me be perfectly clear here.  We removed cash crop plants from our plan.  We put in flowering crops that would have no harvest value to us.  We treated these flowering crops as well as we did our cash crops by cultivating and even running a drip line during a dry season.

The result?  We got 1/3 MORE saleable melons that year.  And we had similar results in the years that followed.  

We got a positive result that was directly attributable to this change in this instance.  But, we do NOT expect such a return for every one of our projects at our farm.  Typically, we will call these efforts a success if our production stays close to what it was.

Why?  Well, if we can do things that do not actually hurt our bottom line for production AND we see evidence that it helps provide useful habitat - why wouldn't we? 

And, of course, we are more likely to reach our goal of creating a field that we like to be in.  That is a successful field!

7. Intercrop In Row

Take it up one more notch.  It really isn't all that hard to do - even if you use a waterwheel or other, similar, transplanter. 

We will often use marigolds, calendulas, zinnias, or other flowers to mark a change from one variety of a crop to another.  For example, we have typically grown three to four varieties of broccoli to extend the harvest period and handle variability in seasonal conditions.

We also use flowers as dividers when we do on-farm research.  If you look closely at the picture above, you will see some color here and there in our broccoli and cauliflower rows.  

Sometimes, the selection of a flower to intercrop in row has a very specific purpose.  We have found that nasturtium can reduce the incidence of vine borers in squash.  Now, that's a pretty good incentive to slap a few nasturtiums in between plants in our cucurbit rows! 

8. Leave That Spent Cash Crop

The picture below shows a field where we have some arugula and mustard flowering at the right side of the picture.  As the season got warmer, these plants bolted and wanted to flower and set seed - all part of the natural process.  These crops often flower when flowering plants are not at their peak to be available for our worker friends, so we left the crops to bloom for a time before we took them out.  These plants were BUZZING with activity.

The obvious downside?  Well, we aren't growing anything for farm production there while we let the plants bloom.  But, we have found that perhaps we don't need to make every square inch be productive in that way for every day of the growing season.  And - if we have healthier pollinators at this time of year, they will be there for our crops that need them later in the season.

The next obvious downside would be the volunteer plants we are bound to see in future seasons in addition to some weeds that get more established than they would have otherwise (the flower stalks make it hard to cultivate near those rows).  Frankly, these are not insurmountable problems, so I am willing to deal with them.  Once again, I think the benefit outweighs the cost.

9. Some Cash Crops Work for Habitat Too

We made the choice to grow several 200 foot rows of basil every season because we liked how it worked with our tomato field.  There was no way we would have demand for that much basil.  And, even if we DID get that much demand, we did not have a processing system in place to handle that much of the crop and get it to the proper markets. 

We still grew that much basil because we could target sections of it for the basil we wanted to give to our CSA customers or sell and the rest could be allowed to bloom.  Basil, especially Lemon Basil, really does provide an excellent food source for many of our smaller pollinators.  And, those same critters increase the pollination levels in our tomatoes.  

In short, you need to remember to pay your workers well.  If you do, they will work better for you.  Sometimes, that means giving up a little production space so the workers have a 'break room.' 

10. Grow to Leave Some Food Sources in Winter

With the snow pack this year and the extreme cold we have had recently, I have found myself feeling even more grateful that we planted and then left many row feet of sunflowers standing on our farm.  

The Cardinals and Goldfinches love the seeds and we hope this has helped some of them survive so we can see them again this Spring.  If you feed the birds, that's great.  But, why not feed them AND provide places for them to perch.  Places that might have more shelter from predator birds or the farm cat?  

The woody remains of basil plants provide shelter for the smaller creatures - including mice - that you might like to have predating on weed seeds (and basil seeds).  They help hold soil in place and capture some of that snow that would otherwise keep on blowing until it sits in the ditches.  

Certainly, growers know enough to point out some of the shortcomings of these practices.  The more variety you plant, the harder it is to be efficient in your labor.  But, while it might be harder, it is not impossible.  Every tool - and I consider this approach one such tool - has its learning curve and every tool has its plusses and minuses.  But, it is my belief - once again - that the issues created by planting pollinator and beneficial population support in the nooks and crannies are nothing compared to the potential benefits that might be accrued when more people do this habitually, rather than haphazardly.

Are you a grower?  I challenge you to use those nooks and crannies well.

Do you have a yard or a small garden?  You too have your opportunities!  The scale is different, but you can still take some of the thoughts here and make them your own.  I also challenge you to find those nooks and crannies in your life and fill them with flowers and worthwhile habitat.

I am looking forward to a beautiful growing season for all of us.  Let's make it happen.  Let's create a pollinator paradise.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Different World - Postal History Sunday

Welcome again to Postal History Sunday on the Genuine Faux Farm blog!  

This is the place and time where I remind you that you should pack your troubles into a tight, little ball and then throw them as far away from your person as you are humanly able to do.  And, if you are not much for throwing things, call your young nephew over and tell him there is "no throwing in the house" and hand him that ball.  I suspect there will be plenty of distance, but it might add, rather than detract, from your list of troubles.

This week I thought I would reflect a little bit on how postal history helps me to understand how the alignment of nations and the borders they keep evolve over time.  It is always tempting to try to fit history and events we did not live into our own understanding rather than trying to learn how things were at that point in time. But enough philosophy!  Let's get down to some interesting postal history and maybe... just maybe... learn something new!

The Tuscan Lion Still Roared

One of the things I tell myself to remember as I explore a postal history item is that the people who carried mail and implemented the systems to handle that mail were NOT worried about my desire as a collector to find order amidst the artifacts I collect.  In fact, it is frequently the case that what I uncover is a tangled web that may not have a perfectly easy and simple explanation.

One such case study would be the postal history that surrounds the Italian States prior to their unification as the Kingdom of Italy in the 1860s.  Prior to 1859, Italy was not a single political unit.  The Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia was a semi-autonomous state under the direction of Austria.  Sardinia, in the northwest (and the island) was a kingdom that had a fairly close relationship with France.  Tuscany, Modena and Parma were their own entities, but each were influenced to varying extents by Austria.  The Papal States controlled all of central Italy and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (Neapolitan & Sicilian territories) covered the south.  

And - of course - I have over-simplified the whole thing.  Don't quibble with details here.  I'm just trying to point out that Italy was a bit more complex at the time if you want to figure out the postal history.  What we have here is enough of a picture that we can identify the stamp issuing postal services in Italy during this period.

When it comes to postal history in the 1850s and 1860s for this area, it is very important that you learn as much of the basics as you can about the history of the various states and how they interacted with each other.  All of these entities had their own postal systems, they had different currencies and usually had different rules for handling the post.  Sometimes they even had different weight and distance metrics.  If that isn't enough for a little confusion on my part, then I don't know what is!

For points of interest for the cover I show above - note the yellow (Tuscany) and the three shades of pink (Papal States) on the map. 

So - let's get back to that Tuscan Lion, shall we?  

The Marzocco, the heraldic lion of Florence (Firenze), is depicted on the first postage stamps issued by the Tuscan postal services in 1851.  As a point of interest, the most well-known sculpture of the Marzocco was created by Donatello in the 15th century.  

The Tuscans used a monetary system based on the Tuscan Lire that could be divided into 12 crazie or 20 soldi.  The stamp shown above indicated payment of 6 crazie.  If you were wondering, "crazie" is plural and "crazia" would be the singular form of this word - one crazia, two crazie.  The weight of a letter was determined in denari (denaro singular) with a standard domestic letter weighing no more than 6 denari (7.1 grams). 

The letter above was sent from Firenze (Florence), Tuscany to Rome in the Papal States.  The cost of that letter was determined to be 6 crazie because the distance was over 20 Austrian leghe (leagues - with 1 lega equal to 7.5 km).  A single letter was anything weighing up to 17.5 grams (about 15 denari).

So, what's with the Austrian leghe....  and why rate letters for every 15 denari when the internal rates were figured for each 6 denari?

I am glad you asked!

It just so happens that Austria promoted a "postal league" where participating postal services agreed to standardized rates for mail.  Austria, Lombardy and Venetia, Parma, Modena, Tuscany and the Papal States had all entered the agreement.  In order to make it work, rough equivalents in weights and currencies had to be determined.  You can certainly see how Austria felt this could be to their benefit as they were looking to solidify their influence in the region!  Easier communication lines might promote political cooperation.

When Baden was a Grand Duchy and Bavaria a Kingdom

Germany was also undergoing a transformation in the 1850s and 1860s that led to the eventual unification of the various states under the leadership of Prussia.  The folded letter shown below was mailed in 1853 from Mannheim to Sinsheim - both of which were inside the borders of the German state of Baden.  Baden had its own postal service and issued its own postage stamps, just as Tuscany issued its Tuscan lion stamps and managed their own postal services.

The monetary units in Baden at the time were based on the gulden where 1 gulden = 60 kruezer.  The units of weight measure were the pound and the loth where 1 pound = 30 loth and a single loth was roughly equivalent to ½ ounce.  The meilen, or postal mile, was similar to the Austrian leghe (7.5 km = 1 postal mile).

It just so happens that many of the German states and Austria had come to an agreement to implement a "postal league" in the early 1850s.  This agreement is known as the German-Austrian Postal Union (GAPU) to English-speaking philatelists or Deutsch-Österreichische Postverein (DOPV) to those who speak German.  In fact, this would be the model for the agreement Austria would have with the Italian states mentioned for the first letter in this blog post.  

Postage for a letter was calculated by a combination of the weight of the letter and the distance the letter was required to travel to get to the destination.  This specific letter cost 3 kruezer for an item weighing no more than 1 loth and traveling no more than 10 meilen.

The map above gives you some ideas as to all of the political boundaries and some of their movement over time during this period for the German states.  You will notice that Baden is in purple towards the lower left of the map (just north of Switzerland).  By the time we get to 1875, Germany will be unified, including Alsace/Lorraine (French prior to 1870 and French in the present day).  

If you look more carefully, you might notice that Baden, Wurrtemberg, southern Hesse and Bavaria were not part of the North German Confederation established after the Seven Weeks War in 1866.  These southern German states maintained autonomy over their postal services longer than most.  Baden ceased using their own stamps by the beginning of 1872, when they began using the postal service maintained by the newly minted German Reich.  Bavaria, on the other hand, continued to issue its own postage stamps until 1918 as an autonomous kingdom within the German empire.

Shown above is a folded business letter with 3 kruezer paid by a Bavarian postage stamp in 1864.  The rate is the same as the letter in Baden.  The German-Austrian Postal Union was still in force and this letter must have weighed no more than 1 loth nor did it travel more than 10 meilen in the postal services.

But, there is something strange going on here!  The black marking at the left reads Aschaffenburg - which was in Bavaria.  The blue marking at lower left is a business hand stamp for C. Marzell in Frankfurt - which was NOT in Bavaria.  Frankfurt was in Hessian territory and would not have used Bavarian postage.  In fact, Frankfurt was more than 10 meilen from the destination, so this postage would not have been enough in any case.

Sometimes it pays to have a relative with a business or a branch of the business in another city.  Franz Marzell was in Aschaffenburg, according to the marking on the back.  

One of a two things happened (other possibilities exist but are unlikely).  

  1. Someone who worked with the Marzells just carried the letter from one office to the other so it could be mailed from the Aschaffenburg office.
  2. A packet of letters/business correspondence was mailed from Frankfurt to Aschaffenburg.  Franz Marzell then took charge of posting each item in the Bavarian post.

And Ceylon Coffee was a Thing

The contents of this letter mailed in Bavaria included an invoice for Ceylon coffee (‘caffee’) and reflects the popularity of coffee from that region in the mid-1860's.  In 1866 alone, Ceylon exported over 897 million pounds.*  In fact, the development of coffee plantations in Ceylon occurred in a way that could be likened to a gold rush, with primarily English speculators clear cutting the natural forests in favor of a monocrop system.  

*according to Ceylon: A General Description of the Island, etc by H.J. Suckling

 Above is an illustrated plate from an unidentified magazine circa-1880.  Offered as an ebay lot and not further attributed.

The soil in much of Ceylon was such that farmers would need to supplement the soil to maintain production, but few speculators were aware of this and lost a great deal of money in the 1840s.  After a peak of 1.6 billion pounds of export in 1868, production declined rapidly with the appearance of Coffee Leaf Rust over the next several years.  The spread of this fungus can be largely attributed to poor agricultural practices and the ridiculous dedication to a single crop with no regard for environmental balance.

And you wonder how I can link postal history to our farming blog?  It was a bit of a long road to get there, but I did it!


And there you have it!  A blog that starts in Florence, Italy, and winds up in Ceylon and a brief discussion about Coffee Leaf Rust (among other things).  

If I were to summarize for you the take-away form this blog post it would be that postal history often has a direct link to the historical context in which it resides.  If you take some time to learn the basic history and look at a few maps from that period, you can more easily understand how a letter traveled and gain some insight as to why the post offices worked as they did.

But even if you do not learn the basic history so you can understand the postal history of an old letter, you may find yourself drawn into the history anyway.  After all, these letters have stories to tell, you just have to take the time to read them.

Have a great remainder of the weekend and a great week to come!