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Youth Workshops

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One of our goals this year was to use the farm as an educational tool, educating the children of the community on the importance of growing and eating fresh food. I was connected with an amazing outreach program in Champaign called DREAAM House. DREAAM House stands for Driven to Reach Excellence and Academic Achievement for Males. It is a program that was developed in 2015 to encourage positive behavior and learning, keeping kids (pre-K to 7th grade) in school and on the right track.

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We had the pleasure of hosting our first group this past Friday. There were 20 fourth and fifth grade boys. We did a farm activity identifying different crops then we all went to Hendrick House for lunch. It was so exciting and invigorating to watch these boys harvest and try different vegetables right from the farm.

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Squash isn’t for everyone ๐Ÿ™‚

I am trying to track their knowledge and exposure to fresh vegetables through surveys. After I ensured them that I was not giving them a test on their summer vacation they were more than happy to oblige. It was interesting to learn that a lot of their schools currently have gardens, which is really great. We have two more workshops scheduled with DREAAM House coming up next week and July 11. The next two will be 23 first and third graders. It should be very exciting and I have lots of fun things for them planned ๐Ÿ™‚

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Surveys NOT Tests!!

 

***All photos compliments of Laura Graven, DREAAM House***

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June Progress Report

Here is the progress report for this week!

 

Weather:

HOT HOT HOT!!! SO DANG HOT! We haven’t had rain in weeks! This is great for the plants (since we have irrigation) but not so great for Justin, Rey and myself. I am starting to lose the winter pudge at a rapid pace.

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Roof:

Sedum = Kudzu of the midwest. Don’t plant it unless you want it to remain there forever!!! This was the ground cover on the roof before the remodel. I am completely convinced it will grow in midair. ๐Ÿ™‚

Pests:

We are at full scale war with the Colorado Potato Beetle. I completely underestimated this pest. What they lack in smarts they make up for in numbers. We have now implemented hand management, meaning we are going over every single eggplant, potato and tomato plant once a week between treatments squishing them by hand. It has been really interesting to see the entire life cycle, which is pictured below.

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Eggs hatching

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Larvae turning to soft bugs

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Soft Beetle

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Colorado Potato Beetle Damage on Eggplant

Vegetables:

The farm is flourishing! Our crops look amazing!! We are having an early harvest on almost everything. Even our tomatoes are fruiting! I am slightly nervous about them ripening so far from the beginning of school but am excited that we can get some processing in before the kitchens get busy. We harvested some beautiful beets this week. The squash is so early that we will be harvesting next week!

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The plants are flourishing!

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Turnip bigger than Justin

Despite the horrid weather we had at the beginning of the season, the farm is doing quite well. All of the surviving plants have seemed to have outgrown the damage that was inflicted by the storm. Justin and I have settled into our routine for plot maintenance (trellising, fertilizing and weeding) and we are already harvesting, which is two and a half weeks ahead of last year! We harvested huge turnips that were so deliciously smelly the scent followed us around the entire day. We also harvested kale and many of our herbs. This warm weather is really doing great things for the plants and promoting rapid growth.

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BUT… you can’t have thriving plants without everything else from their habitat thriving as well.

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Colorado Potato Beetle

Our enemy the Colorado potato beetle reared its ugly head at the end of last week but it wasn’t on our potatoes. It was on our tomatoes. Coincidence that the tomato beds are in the spot where are potatoes were last year?? Upon first finding this pest I initially thought “What a dull-witted lazy bug.” The beetle would play dead once found which made them easy to smash. Thinking they were only on the tomatoes I also thought they were lazy since they had not migrated to the other end of the farm. I was wrong.

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Colorado potato beetle damage to tomato plant

Upon further inspection of the entire acreage I found several egg clusters on the back of the leaves of our potatoes, peppers, eggplant AND tomatoes. Luckily they are bright orange and therefore easy to spot. If you all remember last year, it was less than a week for total destruction of the potato crop once finding these little nasty things. I was prepared, got up very very early (two days in a row), as to not hurt our little pollinator friends, and took them out.

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Colorado potato beetle egg sacks on the back of a tomato leaf

We also smashed the egg sacks by hand. Bleh! It’s hard to see from the above picture but they are the gross orange things on the leaf. So far so good… and our potato crop is big and beautiful this year!! ๐Ÿ˜‰

 

**** For all those gardeners out there reading the blog let me offer up some advice… If you have a pest problem and aren’t friends with a entomologist yet that would be my first suggestion.

Secondly, take a picture of the target pest and use google search images to identify what they are and what is the best way of controlling them. Google was very helpful in identifying this particular pest!

 

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Things are a little bit brighter

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Justin and Rey building the border.

Well this has already been a better week. We actually had four consecutive days of warm weather and sunshine. It was too wet to get into the field at the end of last week to finish planting the farm crew headed to town to work on the roof. I am always surprised to find out new things about the crew. You sort of take for granted assuming you really know someone one just because you work with them every day during the week. It was Rey’s turn to surprise me last week. While we were on the roof brainstorming ideas as to how to keep the compost and mulch from running off the bed every monsoon season, Rey decided to tell me he was an expert carpenter. Well heck ya Rey!! The funny part was that he didn’t really come out and say it. We were doing measurements and Rey would chime in saying don’t forget you have to make one of those ends 3/4 ” longer than the other. Finally we got it figured out that we had an expert in our midst. Hours later there were all kinds of power tools (which I love), saws and drills. Within a day Rey, Justin and myself had built a beautiful wood container edge to hold the beds in place and to prevent soil runoff. The new design for the roof is complete and now we are just waiting for things to grow. It is beautiful and super efficient, with the irrigation working perfectly!!

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Rey and his masterpiece

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A Day Late and A Dollar Short (several dollars short)

Yeah, yeah… I’m a day late. We’ve been busy and I was waiting for a rainy day!

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The beautiful greenhouse tunnel going up

I would like to tell you a story this week about a little farmer named Annie. Annie farms vegetables for a really great company called Hendrick House. Annie grows ย tomatoes, peppers, watermelon and lettuce. It is hard for Annie to grow vegetables in the winter because she lives in a place that gets very very cold. ย Annie needed to fix this problem so she decided to apply for a grant which would help give her money to afford more things she needed.

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Our beautiful greenhouse tunnels 1 week ago

Annie ended up getting the grant and Hendrick House allowed her to buy two greenhouse tunnels so she could grow her lettuce all year long.

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Unfortunately, a big bad gust of wind (several big gusts of wind) came across the farm and huffed and puffed and blew her greenhouse tunnels down.

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Then, balls of ice fell from the sky with heavy rain and the little greenhouse tunnels weren’t strong enough to survive. They came crashing to pieces. (Violently! Rebar was bent in 1/2 and thrown several feet across the farm.)

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๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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Wiggle wire channel ripped from the metal tubing by wind.

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Crimped metal

The poor tomato plants that were planted in the greenhouse tunnels were smushed! (We lost over 200 tomato plants.)

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Annie and her friends; Justin, Terrin and Rey were very very sad.

After the big storm everyone helped to pick up all the pieces, much like Humpty Dumpty, except no-one felt like kings.

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Annie walked down each of the paths looking at all of her plants. She was so sad because the big gust of wind (several big gusts of wind) had created a turbo blaster of sediment that hurt her plants and made them sick.

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Greenbean, Pepper, Eggplant Damage from sediment from wind.

Annie told her boss and he was very sad as well BUT he put his hand on Annie’s shoulder and said “Don’t worry Annie! We will figure out a way to make this better.” Annie instantly brightened up and got back to work.

 

Moral of this story….. things could always be worse, I guess.

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Go Time = Planting the Farm!

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Hello Summer! Technically I guess the official start of summer isn’t for several more weeks but now that the rain has stopped and the temperatures have started warming up, why not say it’s the unofficial start?! ย I have to apologize readers for this blog post. . . we have been so busy the last week it completely slipped my mind to create a great arsenal of photos for today’s blog. This week will be a little light on the creative picts.

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The biggest news of the week is that our caterpillar tunnel is up!! We put the ribs up a couple of weeks ago but it was too windy to “skin” the tunnels. *Skinning means covering with plastic. Hendrick House allowed me to purchase two tunnels instead of just one and I cannot even begin to express my excitement upon receiving the go-ahead for that. Due to the plot map already being planned out for the season, and some of the plants seeded in the greenhouse, it made the most sense for the tunnels to be end on end of each other rather than being side by side, which means we made one long 14ft x 200ft tunnel instead of two 14ft x 100ft tunnels. We received the tunnels via kit from our friends at Farmer’s Friends LLC. The kits were fairly easy to assemble (although I will say their youtube video was super deceiving when showing two men casually putting the plastic on the tunnel). I ordered something called wiggle wire to attach the two ends of the tunnel together. When putting up any type of tunnel it is best to check the forecast and remember wind speed when going through the planning process. The first day we had a couple liftoffs like we were parachuting and did not go at all like the youtube video portrayed it to go. ๐Ÿ™‚

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The boys and I are planting away. We have our full crew now that Rey is with us. It is nice having everyone back. In the last two days we have planted almost an entire acre. It is great to have a returning crew that knows the work load, doesn’t have to be trained and is happy to be outside!!

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Monsoon

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Well who would have guessed since our last check in that the temperatures would have dropped to a consistent 39/40F at night with rains that just don’t seem to stop? Who knew that February would be warmer than May this year?! The boys and I were getting ready to invest in kayaks and swap all of our plants for one big rice crop. I am glad I restrained myself from planting early. . . well, too early :).

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