January 31, 2011 – Piano Lessons

It’s time for some of the day-to-day living that fills our lives.  Music is one of those.  If you’re going to be good at music you have to practice.  There’s no secret code to enter, no extra powers hidden under a rock – just commitment and practice.

You also need a teacher to advance more rapidly.  Here Martin is with his piano teacher.  I can’t help but think of the kinds of information are best passed down person to person, and not in books, in computers, or video.  Music is certainly one of those kinds of information.

one year ago…”Cedar Rapids Post-Flood”

January 30, 2011 – Farewell, but not Goodbye for Carole

This week was Carole Winkleblack’s last days on the job as director of the Marshalltown Public Library.

While Carole brought many skills and talents to her position, perhaps after her optimistic personality, she will best be remembered for bringing a state-of-the-art Public Library to town.  The library is Iowa’s only LEED certified library and earned a LEED Gold rating.  In addition, it was named the State of Iowa’s best Commercial/Civic development in 2009.

The library contains Iowa’s largest solar array on the roof, has native prairie landscaping, used local limestone and brick, passive solar lighting, and a host of lighting controls and the like.  It also earned kudos for remaining in the Central Business District, helping to alleviate the trend of dying or dead downtown areas.

Carole will be the first to say the library was the work of many people, and that is true.  In a difficult anti-tax environment, Carole led the bond issue to garner 70% approval by the town’s residents who voted to raise their taxes for the new library.  Yes, it is true that many people were involved, it is also true that without the spark, enthusiasm, and attention to financial detail, that Carole brought, the library would not have been built to have such a low impact on future energy and bills.

Carole has our family’s deep appreciation for providing the leadership for this project.  Now, we look forward to visiting Carole in her so-called retirement as she and her husband rejuvenate an old Iowa Farmstead somewhere along the state’s namesake river where Carole can attend to chickens, restored prairie, saplings, children, gardens, and a classic farmhouse for a while!  Thanks Carole!

one year ago…”Easy (and cheap) Row Covers”

January 29, 2011 – Smallest Chicken Egg Ever!

There was a bit of a surprise in the chicken coop this evening – a mini-egg!  This egg was so small it would fall right through the egg basket!

smallest chicken egg

We’ve had some weird eggs before, but never one this small.  I guess if you were on a low cholesterol diet, you couldn’t get into much trouble eating this one.  I was hoping it would have a perfect little yolk, but it was all egg white inside.  Wouldn’t that have been cute in the frying pan?

one year ago…”How Much Noise Does a Skystream Make”

January 26, 2011 – Where’s the Beef?

After the post a few weeks ago when I discovered that Dean’s Guacamole dip contained less than 2% avocado, the Taco Bell meat controversy deserves some time as well. A class-action lawsuit has been filed against Taco Bell claiming that the products contain “seasoned beef” are misleading because the lawsuit claims the filling is only 35% beef. Taco Bell claims it is not true. It really shouldn’t take long to figure it out right?

Looking at the legal definitions, puts this at a whole ‘nother level. The USDA definition states that “Ground Beef” must contain at least 70% beef (the rest can be beef fat). Taco Bell claims that their “ground beef” contains “88% USDA inspected quality beef,” Creed said. The rest of the recipe includes: 3%-5% water, 3%-5% spices and 3%-5% oats, starch, sugar, yeast, citric acid, and other ingredients. So, if my math is right and you use the cheapest beef (70% beef) and subtract 12% for the ingredients Taco Bell claims it adds to the “ground beef,” you wind up with something that is about 62% beef.

According to the law, “Taco Beef Filling” must contain 40% beef. Tired yet? My point in this dust-up is that it is unreasonable to expect that when you plop down a buck for a dollar meal, can anyone think that the ingredients are top of the line, or even reasonable knock-offs of what they are imitating?

one year ago…”Aftermath”

January 25, 2011 – First Aid Kit

I’ll admit, it’s the middle of the winter, things are quiet on the farm, and we’re all hunkered down inside. So, you can expect some far-ranging posts until the farm warms up.

While I was working away doing the equivalent of spring housecleaning on the computer, I was streaming old World Cafe and All Songs Considered episodes.

That’s when I ran across First Aid Kit.  No, not a medical helper, but a couple of teenage sisters from Sweden. When they were 15 and 17 they headed to the woods with a guitar and did a cover version of a song by Fleet Foxes.  Nearly 2 million youtube hits later, they have a recording contract.  Here’s another song by First Aid Kit in the Swedish forest.

Their sisterly harmonies are delightful and family knitter Linda is particularly enamored with their sweaters and fingerless gloves. So, one thing leads to another, they get selected as a showcase artist for South By Southwest in Austin Texas, start getting love on NPR radio shows and suddenly they are on high hopes gardens blog. They have arrived!

They’ve got a bit of Scandinavian quirkiness that must appeal to me with my authentic Swedish surname. I particularly like that the parents of these girls “made” them endure long hikes in the woods as well.

one year ago…”Blizzard Warning with No Warning?”

January 24, 2011 – 2010 Southwest Windpower Skystream Results

Ok, the numbers are finally in from last year’s Skystream production.  In summary, the Skystream produced nearly identical production per month (339 kWh in ’09 vs 333 kWh in ’10), but our household electric use dropped from an monthly average of 962 kWh to 857 kWh.

Production stats for the Skystream Turbine for 2009-2010.

Month kWh Produced
by Turbine
kWh Used by
Jan ’09 334 1275
Feb ’09 368 1109
March ’09 482 899
April ’09 570 961
May ’09 433 782
June ’09 210 693
July ’09 177 867
Aug ’09 146 923
Sept ’09 130 801
Oct ’09 411 889
Nov ’09 383 686
Dec ’09 464 1315
2009 Totals 4068 11549
Jan ’10 334 733
Feb ’10 376 851
Mar ’10 389 713
April ’10 524 755
May ’10 384 946
June ’10 227 740
July ’10 120 823
Aug ’10 116 1254
Sept ’10 280 656
Oct ’10 304 687
Nov ’10 591 850
Dec ’10 353 922
2010 Totals 3998 10284

2009 Summary
In 2009, the Skystream produced 4068 kWh, an average of 339 kWh per month. The farm and household used 11,549 kWh, an average of 962 kWh per month. The Skystream produced 35.2% of our energy.

2010 Summary
In 2010, the Skystream produced 3998 kWh, an average of 333 kWh per month.  The farm and household used 10,284 kWh, an average of 857 kWh per month.  The Skystream produced 38.8% of our energy.


2009 Summary
In 2009, the Skystream produced 4,068 kWh, an average of 339 kWh per month. The farm and household used 11,549 kWh, an average of 962 kWh per month. The Skystream produced 38.6% of our energy.

2010 Summary
In 2010, the Skystream produced 3,998 kWh, an average of 333 kWh per month. The farm and household used 10,284 kWh, an average of 863 kWh per month. The Skystream produced 38.9% of our energy.

one year ago…”Sleep, Who Needs Sleep”

January 23, 2011 – Local Food Momentum Building

A couple items of note slipped by notice on the blog last week.  First, was the unveiling of the Iowa Food and Farm plan to the public.  I went to the session and it was well attended by the public and the media, with print and TV media in attendance.  About a half-hour into the program, the lights went out in the building where the briefing was being held – so I guess you could say we’re still all in the dark about local foods – but one of the farmers in attendance had  a flashlight, so the speakers could read their remarks.

The other event was the initial meeting/meal of the new “Harvest from the Heart of Iowa” local food group centered in Marshall County .  Over one hundred residents and farmers showed up for the local meal and election of officers.  It was nice to see so much local momentum for the group.

one year ago…”The Ultimate Christmas Tree”

January 21, 2011 – Growing More than Crops!

In my wrap-up of the PFI meeting a few weeks back, I failed to mention the marriage proposal one of Linda’s students made in front of the entire PFI gathering.  The following is a story from Agri-News.

Young Farmer Proposes at PFI Annual Meeting
By Jean Caspers-Simmet

LEGRAND, Iowa —For Garrett Caryl the recent Practical Farmers of Iowa annual conference was the perfect place to propose to his partner Rebecca Lamb. When he and other beginning farmers participating in PFI’s new Savings Incentive Program were introduced, Caryl, 21, and Lamb, 20, were asked to talk about their operation.

While on stage, Caryl got to the heart of the matter. “I really wouldn’t be here without Becky,” he said. “She’s a special gal.” With that, he popped the question, “Rebecca Lamb would you marry me?” He got on his knee and offered her a diamond ring.

“I suddenly realized, ‘He’s going to do this in front of everybody,” said Lamb who readily accepted Caryl’s proposal. “I was happy and shocked. I had no idea what he was doing.” The couple said they will likely wait a couple years before they have the actual wedding. “I’m pretty excited to start my life with Garrett,” Lamb said.

The couple met at Iowa Valley Community College in Marshalltown. Caryl, who is a certified welder, is in the entrepreneurial diversified agriculture program. Becky is studying to be an art teacher.

Caryl works full-time at Green’s Products in Conrad while he’s attending school because he believes in paying cash. He services semis. “I was a dorm RA, and Becky and I met when I was playing a prank on some baseball players,” Caryl said. “Becky had never farmed, but one of the things I liked about her was that she wasn’t afraid to scoop hog manure with me on a cold windy day.”

Caryl is building his farming operation in between school and work. Last year he and Lamb raised vegetable starts, 15 broilers and five Berkshire hogs at his Colo home. They produce a worm tea from red wiggler worms that they raise in totes. They feed the worms apple and potato scraps and “anything that’s biodegradable.” They spray the tea on their crops, which last year included organic corn and vegetables.

This year the couple is renting an acreage near LeGrand. Eventually, they hope to rent the farmland that goes with the acreage. Since neither of them was raised on a farm, they’re starting small. This summer, they will raise 375 broilers, vegetable starts and a few vegetables. They also want to buy Red Wattle sows and get into niche pork production.

Caryl said Practical farmers of Iowa is a great organization. He learned about it through his ag courses. PFI has held its annual meetings at Iowa Valley Community College and he attended. When PFI offered the SIP program, Caryl applied. “I couldn’t have done the program without Becky,” Caryl said. “I’m dyslexic, and Becky helped with the writing and paperwork.”

Caryl said he thought he’d propose at the PFI meeting because “Becky would be less likely to say no in front of the group. PFI has been there for me. They’re like family.” The couple had been looking at engagement rings recently, and Caryl told Lamb to do some other shopping “because I wanted to talk them down on price. Really, I was making an appointment to come back and buy the ring.”

“It was very special to me to see her face that day,” Caryl said. “I really do love her. We both want a large family. We joke that we want 10 kids so that we’ll have a 12-row planter.” As a part of SIP, Caryl meets with mentor John Gilbert who farms at Iowa Falls. Through the program, Caryl and Lamb will save up to $100 per month for the next 24 months, and PFI will match the savings dollar for dollar up to $2,400. The money can be used for farm business purchases. They are also developing a business plan.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #192″