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It’s a sloooow down

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The chefs have been doing some fantastic things with the tomatoes. Kat at Pi Beta Phi is so great at using farm produce and cooking with the seasons. I walked into her kitchen last week on delivery and the smell was intoxicating. She had some of our poblanos and was roasting them on her stove. She has also been on a standing order for tomatoes since the beginning of the season and sent me this picture of a delicious looking caprese salad she served to her girls.

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Unfortunately tomato season is coming to an end. I am super disappointed because we had a month and half less harvest than we did in 2015, which means we are way down in sales. This is entirely due to the fertilizer burn we experienced on our transplants in the spring, which caused us to scramble to replant. We didn’t get the peppers and tomatoes in the ground until end of June/ beginning of July. This is also super frustrating because this was the first year in three years that we had weather that allowed us to grow a fantastic crop. I guess if there is a bright side to this it would be that the tomatoes and peppers we did harvest were absolutely beautiful. I didn’t even see a 2nd tomato that had a scab from bacterial spot, which was a complete opposite from last year. I really really really hope that we will continue this dry hot weather for summers to come and now that I can focus all of my attention on the farm, eliminate accidents such as fertilizer burn in the future.

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My poison signs must be working because we are back up in our numbers for our strawberries. I thought about setting up a lawn chair and camping out all weekend but instead made 15 trips just to make sure no one was stealing. The strawberries are really going to like the cooler weather coming up so I am anxious to see how that progresses.

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Basil seems to be ok so far. Fingers crossed!!!

We are racing mother nature at this point. Our fall crops are very close to producing. I just hope the first freeze, which is typically mid October, holds out a little later this year.

 

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Kale

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Kale has been a real winner this year. Without even realizing it, kale has been the best selling crop of 2016. I think the main reason we didn’t notice kale pulling out in front is because it has been a crop that has been going since the beginning. I chose a different variety than we have planted in years past to try to avoid black rot, a disease that commonly affects red russian kale. Although I prefer red russian to curly, the variety we chose to grow this year, I am very happy with the success. This crop was planted back in May and there has been next to no disease issues and very little pest problems with occasionally spraying for cabbage looper. I have noticed that the chefs seem to prefer this variety as well. Mel from Gamma Phi Beta made some beautiful kale chips for her sorority girls last week.

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There farm crew had sort of a rough week last week, mostly due to our schedule being thrown off because of rain and thunderstorms. We have been forced to grow out transplants outside due to the excessive heat in August. It was too hot for the seeds to germinate in the greenhouse. Unfortunately that opens the door for the birds to feast and they are especially fond of our lettuce. We have not had very good luck keeping up with our succession plantings of romaine this year, entirely due to birds. Incredibly frustrating. The weather has dramatically cooled down so we will try yet again but this time keep the seeded trays in the greenhouse.

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The other bad news we had at the end of last week is that my grand plan to make back the hydroponic expense from the strawberries took a sour turn. Damn downy mildew struck us again. I know it is prevalent in the field but was hoping since the basil was somewhat protected in the caterpillar tunnel that it would come out unscathed. Not the case. We completely ripped out the other side of the tunnel (not planted in strawberries) that we had just set up and planted a couple weeks ago. I then ran a 10% bleach solution through the lines in attempt to sterilize the substrate. (Substrate is a fancy word for what the plants grow in…..in substitution for soil.) I also filled a backpack sprayer with the same 10% bleach solution and sprayed the rims of each beta bucket and the tunnel itself. We replanted today but only 6 towers. I would like to see if we can make it out of this nonsense without further problems. Fingers crossed.

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We love visitors at the farm, especially the little ones! Justin was in charge of watering last weekend and he brought his family out to see all the hard work he has been doing the last three months. I hope this adorable little superman comes back to visit again! Maybe he can use his super powers to make our downy mildew go away!

 

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Last week wasn’t all doom and gloom though! We did happen to see the weinermobile while we were on delivery and of course I made the boys pull over so we could get a picture!

 

 

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Pests come in all shapes and sizes

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The Chefs continue to do amazing and delicious things with the farm produce. Jacobo at AEPI made this mouth watering pasta salad with our farm tomatoes and roasted poblanos.

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Stealing is bad. Stealing from a farmer is the worst. I mistakenly weeded in front of our caterpillar tunnels exposing the sides for the viewing pleasure of anyone walking along the arboretum path. We noticed a strong decline in our strawberry harvest numbers. I decided to put up a couple signs to deter the pests. Although it now looks like a crime scene area, we did see a rise in our numbers this week.

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This week was the first large harvest of tomatoes. It was amazing. We are now starting to see the numbers we should and now we are just racing time. This year is the first year that we are getting more perfect looking tomatoes (1sts) than sauce tomatoes (2nds). Sometimes it is hard to believe when Terrin and I pull a tomato off a brown hanging limb and the tomato is flawless.

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Potatoes… what can I say. I love this crop because it is usually low maintenance for the entire season until we harvest them. This year we had a bum year. Our plants were attacked by potato beetles, something which we have not seen in previous years. We had a tough weed problem last year so I decided to grow under plastic. I didn’t think that we wouldn’t be able to hill them. Once the plants were dead and we ripped plastic to see if we would have a crop. We were deceived because most of the crop was laying on the top of the bed. We dug the three beds in the hopes of having something to show for our labor and unfortunately we only pulled 30#s. That will be enough to cover the cost of the potato and lesson learned for next year.

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Hot Ticket Item – Cherry Tomatoes

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Holy Harvest!! We are currently at peak season as of last week and almost every chef is ordering from the farm. I think we are close to needing another delivery vehicle to fit everything. It is a wonderful feeling to be selling out of product but it also makes me realize there is room to expand. It would be nice to be able to have tomatoes to meet the demand….. Cough Cough, hint hint we need a high tunnel😉.

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Our peppers and tomatoes have taken off to the races. Peppers are in the lead and are amazingly beautiful! They have shown very little signs of fungal/ bacteria damage. I do not have the answer as to why they are doing better than our tomatoes other than maybe our tomatoes are slightly more fragile. As each year goes by I look and study very closely as to which varieties do the best compared to which varieties are in most demand with the chefs. There needs to be a happy medium as I would like to provide what the chefs want but it has to meet with what is possible for us to successfully grow. This is another reason networking and attending conferences during the off season is advantageous. You are able to learn from other farmers all over the state as to which varieties worked and didn’t work for them.

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Cherry Tomatoes are a crop that is in very high demand with the chefs. I knew that so I purposely planted two extra 180 ft beds, making four out of the 13 beds dedicated to cherry tomatoes. That may not sound like a lot but when you are harvesting them it seems like an eternity. I picked varieties that are slightly larger but still tasty to compensate for the labor and make picking a little faster. We have sold out for the last two weeks and finally after some research last year and the previous years we have had a lot of success with the varieties planted. I am very pleased with this crop this year and we continue to sell out each week.

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The entire farm is planted for fall. We harvested a bed of lettuce last week and immediately tilled it and planted a new crop of lettuce. NO EMPTY REAL ESTATE! Our goal, after the birds eating the seed fiasco, is to now have a continue rotation of Romaine from now until the end of the season.

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As Justin, Terren and I are delivering Tuesday and Thursday mornings we try to scavenge food that the chefs might want us to try to give to us. This usually consists of pathetic faces and lots of belly rubs in front of the chefs. It seems to be working and we have been able to taste some AMAZING HH farm fresh food. Today we walked in with a delivery just as Jeremy was finishing up his watermelon gazpacho. Every ingredient was from the farm and it was like a party in my mouth, touching every taste bud and flavor profile.

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First Week of Class

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G-A-M-E T-I-M-E!!! Almost every chef leading a kitchen ordered from the farm today. It was exhilarating to be a part of. We almost couldn’t fit everything into the truck. It was a crazy game of tetras. As we were delivering this morning we noticed a new co pilot pictured below.

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This mass of orders came just in time for our first big harvest of tomatoes. Terrin and I pulled almost 300lbs from the plants yesterday. We have had very warm weather up until last week and now it is very cool, especially at night. This is pleasant for the workers but very bad for the plants, especially since ours are on the verge of ripening. We have also had about 8 inches of rain in a week, so that combined with cooler temperatures means…………. yup, you guessed right! It means we have Septoria and Bacterial spot. To say I’m freaking out a little would be an understatement.

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Our romaine was timed to be ready for the first week of school as well. As we were harvesting Justin and I decided to pull a little initiation/ welcome to the crew prank on Terrin. When you turn the water source on to the wash/pack station, a geyser of water shoots out of the hole in such an obnoxious way that your entire body is soaked for the rest of the morning. We dressed Terrin in my raincoat and sent him into battle. Justin and I were snickering and spying on him as we were unloading the truck. Sure enough after two turns the geyser shot up but dear Terrin is so loyal to his job he didn’t let go until he made sure it was on all the way. Unfortunately for him it took longer than normal because Justin and I were laughing so hard we couldn’t give him a straight answer. WELCOME TO THE CREW TERRIN!

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The chefs have been making some phenomenal food with some of the produce they have been receiving. Rich, chef of Presbyterian dining hall, is one of our biggest customers. He has been taking massive amounts of basil, peppers, green beans and squash and processing them down into puree, hot sauce and pickles. The colors and flavors are amazing. Thank you Rich and all the other chefs who support the farm!

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The price of a flower

Justin, Terren and I are gearing up for what is commonly know every year as “Black Monday”. This term dates back to the very beginning of HH farm when we were very unprepared as to what to expect for the first day of classes and I was cooking and farming. Thankfully as each year passes I have learned from my mistakes, making each year easier and easier as we transition into the school year. Last year “Black Monday” was more of a grayish tone and this year I have full confidence it will be more of a faint memory of which we can all now laugh about…. maybe🙂.

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This is purposely the busiest time of year for not only the chefs but also the farm. I have tried to plan for most of our crop to be ready and for this to be peak season. Of course, like everything else that is heavily dependent on the weather. We were very much on track with very hot, very dry conditions and I was hoping my tomatoes would start to turn this week. A huge storm came in over the weekend and we got 3 1/2 inches of rain. The weather has also turned cooler with highs in the 70s, perfect conditions for the promotion of fungal and bacterial problems. Can you say Septoria??? Ugh!

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This week was the first week of service for most of the dorms and the sororities. We have had a variety of orders, many from new chefs who are now getting settled in their houses. I planted flowers at the farm this year with the idea that we would be able to use them for garnish (plate decoration) for our farm to table dinners. It was very surprising and neat to see the interest and orders roll in from sorority chefs who wanted to mix them with their lettuce on their salad bar and also use them to decorate their dining rooms. It is a great way to promote the farm and what a surprising revenue stream for the farm.

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I mentioned earlier this year that we are trying our hand at hydroponics this year. I planted 5 of the 30 towers in basil and it is the most beautiful basil I have ever seen. Because we are pumping water and nutrients to the plants three times a day the basil takes less than a week to recover from heavy harvests. I did the math and it makes more sense to grow that crop as opposed to strawberries (so far). Instead of giving up on the strawberries, we set up the other side of the hydroponic system today dedicated solely to basil production. I am very excited for all of this to be planted and extremely grateful to the chefs who are taking the time to process it down into puree for pesto and sauces.

 

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Stand off at the Farm

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As I was harvesting cherry tomatoes yesterday I came around a corner  and there he was, belly distended from eating all of the broccoli transplants no doubt. We locked eyes, neither of us willing to back down. As I quickly racked my brain to find a weapon made from vegetables (that I didn’t want to waste) he stared at me with a distasteful fear in his eyes waiting for me to make my move. With a ninja like stealth, which probably wasn’t stealthy at all, I slowly collected the rotten split cherry tomatoes that were surrounding my feet, never once breaking the locking gaze. As I cocked my arm back to release the first blast of rotten fruit, the rabbit realized my intention and daintily hopped into the corn field out of target range. This will not be the end of our encounters rabbit!!!

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Our farm crew is nearly complete going into the busy season as we are still looking to acquire another part timer. We were lucky enough to get a great working, jolly fella named Terrin. This is the kind of guy everyone wants on their crew. Between him and Justin I can honestly say work is a pleasure coming to everyday.

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IMG_3336The weather has been hot and dry. We haven’t had rain in a while and have had to use our irrigation a couple times now. My plan to run less lay flat lines across the plot is working famously and there have been very few irrigation repairs throughout the season. Because the weather has been dry and hot this is the year for peppers and tomatoes. FINALLY!! We have started to see signs of bacterial spot and septoria but seems to be under control at this point and our peppers are huge and beautiful!

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