… Winter 2017 continued

Dear Illinois Winter,

Stop teasing me. Please pick a temperature and try to be consistent.

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Well, this past weekend we received around 3 inches of snow after working the ground last week, which means the greenhouse was shaded due to the accumulation on the roof. I had anticipated seeding our first series of summer crops in the greenhouse yesterday but I am going to hold off a couple more days. I am looking for a lot of sunlight to promote good germination. I also do not want the plants to get leggy before we are able to get them into the field in late April/ early May.

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The herbs for the roof that were planted last week are coming along nicely. I have seen great germination so far and they are continuing to come up more and more as the days progress. I can’t tell you what a breathe of fresh air it is to see signs of life. It makes me so excited to get back into the dirt with the boys.

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Our SARE grant officially started March 1st which means everything I do now needs to be tracked so I am able to report back with our progress regarding education to community, chefs within the company and other farmers. I have been working on planning youth workshops that will be geared towards the lifecycle of a plant and the importance of growing and eating vegetables. I will be hosting chef workshops training and educating on cooking with the seasons and incorporating fresh vegetables into menus. I am so excited to be able to share our enthusiasm for farm to table especially if it may have impact on future generations of eaters. 🙂

Forest to Mansion Dinner tickets are on sale now!!! You can find them through Allerton Park and Retreat’s website. There is an amazing chef lineup this year! Can’t get more local than foraging wild edibles right off the property!!

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Scouting for Enemies

Now that we are over the hump of start up and everything is planted, it is time to walk the field scouting for pests and disease. If I have learned aaaaanything from the previous years it is to start this step immediately after the plants are in the ground.

Struggling Tomatoes before fertilizing

Struggling Tomatoes before fertilizing

Fertigator

Fertigator

While perusing the farm last week I did spot some concerning sights. Let’s start with the first 1/2 acre and work our way east. Tomatoes! The tomatoes were not looking very strong, robust and healthy. Their leaves were starting to yellow on the bottoms and move into a whitish sickly color one has right before they are about to throw up. Since that look causes me to take steps back in front of a human I knew this was a bad sign for my poor little tomatoes. I was hoping it was just the shock of going from their protected environment to this windy, rainy field. They were a couple days younger this year compared to last when they were planted so that may have had something to do with it was well. (Keep in mind I am only guessing.) I knew this wasn’t a pest problem and it probably wasn’t disease this early on so I decided to try and feed them to see if they would perk up. They did, slightly. I am going to get them on a hearty diet of food once a week using the fertigator and hope they get “swoll” (as the frat boys like to say) over the next couple of weeks.

Infestation of Cucumber beetles

Infestation of Cucumber beetles

Cucumber Beetle

Cucumber Beetle

The next 1/2 acre is where my watermelon and squash are planted. I did not grow these last year because I had such a horrible cucumber beetle problem my first year. I was just trying to avoid that headache all together. Well, no avoidance this year. When talking with the chefs on what to grow there was a lot of interest in squash, zucchini and watermelon. Because of my experience with those little nasty squash bugs and beetles the previous years I knew it was just a matter of time before they raised their ugly heads. Sure enough there they were. They were really tearing holes into the new growth in the squash and seemed to like the Dunja (yellow squash) variety the best. Luckily I caught them early and was able to hit them with one application of Sevin with our four gallon backpack sprayer. Because it is early in the season this posed no threat to pollinators and immediately took care of my cucumber beetle problem. The squash are beautiful now and starting to produce blossoms.

Squash

Squash

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I spoke briefly of this last year so I am not going to talk about it too much again. Everyone has their own choices based on what they are trying to accomplish with the Organic vs NonOrganic argument. Do I care about pollinators …… yes. Do I care about being a good steward to the land …… yes. Can I sell back to this company at organic prices ….. no, I can not. These cooks can barely afford to pay $2/lb for meat let alone $3 -$4/ lb for fresh produce. I recognize this problem and am trying to do my best to be a hybrid while keeping both sides in check. For the most part I follow Organic practices. I will however, use a NonOrganic pesticide if it means losing my crop (which in business means losing $$$$$$) but I will use it in a responsible way to as not to affect pollinators and water sources as much as possible.

cut worm damage

cut worm damage

Pepper leaf damage

Pepper leaf damage

Rick Weinzierl

Rick Weinzierl

We had almost 3″ of rain over the weekend so everything was nice and muddtastic this morning when Sarah and I arrived. I noticed that our peppers, on the eastern most 1/2 acre, were looking really puny. The weekend temperatures were not very warm so I am sure our little peppers are cold. Upon further inspection I noticed insect damage in the leaves and cut stems in almost 25% of our entire pepper crop. I suspected it was cut worm damage but I hunted Rick Weinzierl down to double check. I also wanted to make sure his picture was in the blog this week :). Rick is an entomology professor at the U of I and also the head of the BFRD Program. He is a genius and probably the nicest guy you will ever meet. If you ever have a question for him not only will he tell you the problem and solution but he will give you the history of the problem and what possible examples could have caused it. Wonderful. Well, as I suspected he told me it was probably cut worm. I brought him two samples of leaves, one with tiny holes which was damage from the larvae and another with giant bites taken out of the edges of the leaf, which was damage from the caterpillar itself. I was very concerned because such a high percentage was damaged so I used a small application of premethrin and I am hoping to see some results by the end of the week, barring the weather warms up a bit.

Spinach

Spinach

Not all news was bad!! We had our first harvest last Friday. I was able to harvest about 30# of tyee spinach which is being featured at Hendrick House for lunch today by Chef Bonnie Collins. I never seemed to have much luck with spinach in the last couple years but this year I am focusing more time on it and planting the seeds much closer together. I found that the younger spinach was more flavorful and had a better mouth feel than the adult spinach.

Bush Beans 3 days in ground!

Bush Beans 3 days in ground!

I planted provider bush beans again this year. They are always in huge demand with the chefs and they are relatively easy to grow, despite having a cut worm problem last year. They come up fast and are ready to be harvested in 35-40 days.

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Heeeelllllloooo! I’m Back :). Hope everyone had a great holiday season. It was a very nice break but I am ready to get back in the dirt. During the months of December, January and February I spent time planning and revising my growing plan to better suit the needs of the consumer who will be purchasing and using the product. Since our first real growing season is under our belt, I have also been trying to work out kinks in the system so that this year will go a little more smoothly. I know now what to expect and have more of a precise idea of when to expect it, so that I can plan for extra help and also packing, storage and delivery schedules.

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I attended a very interesting Organic Growing Convention and learned some new tricks which I am hoping to apply to our little piece of land this season. I will keep you informed with details as the season progresses.

After revising my garden plan I started to get my seed order together. They finally arrived on a cold grey afternoon (typical of an Illinois winter) and I couldn’t have been happier. This meant warmer weather and the smell of dirt was right around the corner.

 We started planting our transplants in the INHS greenhouse at the end of April. I can not say enough great things about the IHNS greenhouse. They have the most wonderful staff (Lesley Deem) who always seem to have endless amounts of information and tips to help you succeed. Since we had such great success with germination last year, I decided to grow all 3,080 of them myself. We really lucked out because we had nearly 100% germination again. We are transplanting all of our tomatoes, peppers, basil and kale. It was amazing and very exciting to see how quickly they sprouted.Kevin and I will be spending our weekend splitting them into new trays.

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I am very excited to be working closely again with all of the new friends I made last summer. One of the people I mention frequently was Jeff Kindhart, the hydroponic tomato man. Now he has decided to try his hand at mushrooms. He is growing them in his high tunnels because they will be more marketable than lettuce or salad mix. Jeff stopped by a couple weeks ago and lucky for me he wanted me to be the taste tester. Needless to say they were absolutely beautiful.

I’m ending here for now because I have to be up at 5 am tomorrow morning to lay plastic and irrigation on my plot. I am so excited that the season is finally here and I can’t wait to implement everything I learned from the mistakes of last year and the new information from fellow Illinois farmers! I will have to get used to the early morning hours again because it was so nice sleeping in until 7 :).

I’m Baaaaaaack

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