Season Extension Tools

What’s the purrrr about cat tunnels? Well let’s start at the beginning by describing what a cat tunnel is. Cat tunnel, short for caterpillar tunnel, is a season extension tool much like a high tunnel only smaller. A high tunnel is similar to a greenhouse with no electricity. So let’s recap from the end back to the beginning. Greenhouse ($$$) -> High Tunnel (no electricity $$) -> Caterpillar Tunnel ($).


Living in the Midwest season extension tools are an absolute MUST! The market I am trying to reach is the student market when the university is in session. That means August – May I want to be producing vegetables. Our season starts later thus needing to end later or not at all, preferably.


I was lucky enough to get approved for not one but two caterpillar tunnels this year. We chose this structure over the other two described above because they can be easily put together and taken apart in one day and they are relatively inexpensive compared to their big brother… the high tunnel. The caterpillar tunnels are basically the top bar of chain link fencing that has been bent to make ribs. Thick plastic then covers the ribs making a protective growing environment underneath with a 20-25 degree variant temperature from the outside. These two tunnels will be used for tomato production in the summer and then the ground will be worked and reused for greens and hearty winter crops in the fall, winter and spring.


Spring has Sprung

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Spring has sprung which means I have been sowing the seeds of love! With the official first day of spring this week my cabin fever subsided and it was time to get the hands dirty!! I love starting seeds. As the farm plan changed with the addition of two high tunnels this year and how to best utilize them, it was challenging adjusting the plot map and plant count so everyone had a proper home. Once that was all figured out I was good to go. I seed the plants in order of how long it takes them to germinate. Herbs were seeded first since I will be able to plant the roof before the field. Next I seeded cauliflower because it seems that it takes 1/2 a year for those plants to produce (probably an over exaggeration but you know what I mean). I planted over 800 pepper plants yesterday consisting of a good mix of sweet and hot peppers. I am always very careful when seeding plants in the greenhouse because seed depth and water can affect germination of the plant. I am excited to see signs of life in a couple weeks. Next up: Beneficial Flower Mix, Turnips, Beets and Tomatoes!!!

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Winter 2016/ 2017


Hibernation Station?? Not this girl! Instead of hiding out, gaining weight and binge watching Netflix this winter I have been a busy little bee. Well, maybe I did get a little winter fluff. 🙂 So many exciting things have happened in the past three months that I’m not even sure where to start. When I left you in December of last year I was closing down the farm and gathering my summaries for the year. Since then, I am so excited to announce that Hendrick House has received a grant through the NCSARE (North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education). This grant will be used to provide education to chefs, the community, area farmers and youth with regard to cooking, sourcing and eating fresh local farm produce. The first of our youth workshops will be held next month and I will keep you updated as to how it progresses.


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I briefly mentioned at the end of 2016 that I was taking over a roof top garden to redesign and make more efficient. This has been a challenging yet invigorating process, primarily due to the fact that anything we add or subtract to the roof has to be moved four stories up and down. The roof top garden is located in the heart of downtown Urbana on the roof of Hendrick House Dorm. The roof was renovated in 2009 turning it into a green roof. Green roofs are designed to hold growing medium with rubber layers used for proper drainage. So far, I have removed the raised beds allowing for maximum use of space. The entire roof is planned to be turned into a high production herb garden and I am most excited that it will have drip irrigation ON A TIMER! No more coming to town to water for two hours. Wahoo!! The progress has been exciting to see so far. I will explain more about this project as the season progresses.

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The weather has been incredibly warm this winter which makes me want to plant so badly. I have been talking myself out of it everyday but finally couldn’t hold back and seeded all of the herbs for the roof last week. It is so exciting seeing the first plants sprout. Only one more week and it will be time to seed the entire farm in the greenhouse!!

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Be on the lookout for Allerton’s annual Forest to Mansion dinner sponsored by Hendrick House, May 7th featuring locally sourced food and foraged ingredients from Allerton Park and Retreat Center. The dinner will be prepared by myself and four of the area’s finest chefs (Alisa DeMarco, Drew Starkey, Adam Shallenberger and Mark “Shades” Hartstein)!! Tickets go on sale soon on the Allerton website or by phone at 217-333-3287!

Here is a sneak peak at the menu 😉

Chefs/ Menu 2017 Allerton Forest to Mansion Dinner

Alisa DeMarco – 1st Course

Whipped Salmon Rillette, Allerton Wild Ginger & Morel Mushroom Relish, Toast

 Chef Alisa DeMarco led the kitchen at Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery for 8 years, where her farm dinners and breakfasts earned her a reputation for outstanding local and seasonal cuisine.  Alisa learned the pleasures of eating locally at an early age, helping her mom in the garden, fishing for dinner in the river behind her house, foraging for mushrooms with her grandmother, raising her own laying hens and eating beef raised by the neighbors across the road. Her formal training at the Culinary Institute of America solidified her beliefs in seeking out the best ingredients and forming relationships with local farmers and artisans in order to do so.  Alisa lives in Savoy with her husband Jeff and their son Cole. She enjoys gardening, yoga, music and anything and everything involving food and wine.


Drew Starkey – 2nd Course

Wild Allerton Ramp Gnocchi with Smoked Lamb Shoulder and Fried Morels

Drew Starkey is the Chef/ Owner of Bacaro, which is a high end restaurant located in downtown Champaign. Chef Drew, who has been cooking for more than 14 years, is committed and passionate about using fresh local produce and meats provided by area farmers.


Ann Swanson – 3rd Course

Pistachio and Allerton Stinging Nettle Flatbreads with Pickled Allerton Ramps, Prairie Fruits Farms Goat Cheese topped with a Truffled Fennel, Radish and Blood Orange Salad

Ann Swanson is the Director of Operations at Hendrick House Farms. Hendrick House Farms consists of a three-acre vegetable farm, hydroponic facility and 1,000 sq/ft urban rooftop herb garden. Ann is a trained chef and spent the majority of her career in South Carolina where she found her passion for farm to table cuisine.  She is now committed to providing and educating students, cooks and the community on the importance of fresh, locally grown food.


Adam Shallenberger – 4th Course

Sugar Grove Family Farm Berkshire Grilled Pork Belly & Sassafras Root Braised Pork Butt – Foraged Morels and Ludwig Cheddar Grits, Dehydrated Wild Ginger, Stinging Nettle Stems, Sassafras Reduction, Pickled Red Bud Flowers

Awarded Chef Adam Shallenberger is as local as they come. Raised in central Illinois and graduating from Mahomet Seymour High School, he returned home with his culinary finesse in 2013. A Le Cordon Bleu Atlanta alum, he honed his skill working in kitchens from Savannah, GA to Fort Worth, Texas. At Ellerbe Fine Foods serving as sous chef he helped achieve the Bon Apetit award of one of the Top Ten Best New Restaurants opened in America in 2010. He met his lovely fiancé, Madeleine, in Texas and they have a precious 5 year old son, Miles.  Coming “home” and bringing the skills with it, he was the executive chef at 3 established local restaurants. Most recently he opened and was executive chef and General manager to V. Picasso. While there he participated in numerous charity events, winning the Central Illinois Artisans Cup, a fundraiser for The Land Connection. His style can be defined as southern comfort with bold flavors and unique ingredients. His next move has been to transition from the brick and mortar grind to his brand new food truck, FIRED, coming to Champaign this April. Be on the look out for his latest conquest and be surprised by the integrity of locally sourced and creative street food.


Mark “Shades” Hartstein – 5th Course

Wild Allerton Japanese Knotweed Mousse, Rhubarb-Sassafras Jam, Butter Mochi Cake and Caramelized Skyr

Mark “Shades” Hartstein projects include “Shady Dawgs,” a mobile hotdog and sausage cart; “Saru Ramen,” an infrequent ramen pop-up; “The Urbana Pickle Project,” a private larder club; and (partnered with Leslie Bettridge) “CuSP: Champaign Urbana Smørrebrød Project,” a Danish sandwich pop-up to raise funds for the Eastern Illinois Food Bank. He is currently the chef/owner of Watson’s Shack & Rail. Stay tuned for the next adventure.



The farm season has officially come to an end for 2016. Justin and I pulled up the remaining plastic in the field and I broke down the hydroponic system in preparation for the farmers to shut off the water. Despite a few setbacks with the replanting of our transplants and downy mildew, this was an amazing season. The weather was finally in our favor with a hot, dry summer. Most importantly, after three years we finally secured a BADASS farm crew that will be returning in the spring. I have never had more fun at work than I did this year. The crew worked hard, were reliable and did it all with a smile and a great sense of humor.




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I owe a huge amount of thanks to so many people for this year’s success. Thank you to the University of Illinois Department of Crop Science for allowing us to lease land and supporting our mission. Thank you to Hendrick House and the Hendrick family for encouraging the farm and shared vision to make this dream become a reality. Thank you to the chefs for your support and menuing fresh farm food. Thank you Jeremy Shafer, Eric Kinkelear, Billy (B nizzle) Sharp, Bryan Warsaw, Michael Douglas (not the actor) and Matt Turino for your continued guidance, patience and loyal assistance throughout the year. Thank you to Rick Weinzierl and Mary Hosier for teaching me the ropes of farming and for your continued support through the years. Finally, thank you, thank you, thank you to my fabulous staff (Justin Slade, Terren Gaither and Rey Jackson) for all of your hard work and great laughs.

I will be spending the winter making new and exciting preparations for the 2017 growing season. We will be implementing season extension tools for our 3 acres and I am going to redesign the rooftop garden to increase functionality while implementing education workshops for the chefs and the community, hopefully making us eligible for grant opportunities. I have also been furiously putting together a workbook for the chefs which will serve as a field guide when they are menuing and ordering for the 2017 growing season. There are many exciting things to come in 2017 so please stay tuned!! …….Ann out


Living on Borrowed Time


I knew what was going to happen last weekend and dreaded looking at the crops yesterday morning. I was hoping by some miracle we could get one more week but alas, the peppers were droopy and mushy when I walked the bed. We knew some of the crops were living on borrowed time. The first real freeze of the season happened last weekend and it was sayonara. I am very happy that the season went so late and the harvest numbers for peppers blew 2015’s numbers out of the water.



I was hoping that would be the only loss for now, that was until I saw my basil. This year, like the many years before it proved to be tough for growing basil. With downy mildew so prevalent in this area I think it is nearly impossible to grow in the field. This being my first year for hydroponics, and the crop doing so well in the beginning, I thought I had found my solution. Although the cold weather cause the immanent death, I still had a few problems toward the end. I am not giving up though!! I will do more research this winter into growing hydroponically and be sure to start my basil early in the season, as that seemed to be the prime time for success.


Unfortunately we lost a majority of our romaine crop. Although we still beat the numbers from last year, by a lot, I would have had liked to have one final harvest. Unfortunately the crop was too small to harvest before the freeze last weekend and when I walked the bed yesterday there was a considerable amount of damage to the leaves. Although disappointing, I knew I was pushing the envelope with the last planting. The lettuce that was marketable was beautiful, lush and green.


The farmers are draining all the lines to irrigation around the farms which means no water so the end is near. I am going to harvest the rest of my kale this week and the chefs have agreed to take the large amount and process it down to use during the winter months. I plan to get the plastic and drip tape up before the ground really freezes, which could be as early as this weekend. I have decided not to till the plot this year, to try to keep as many nutrients in the soil as possible. This will be my first year trying to make more permanent sustainable beds with the same plot plan, just rotating crops by the 1/2 acre.


The farm is going and going and going and going and going …..

I know you loyal readers are probably sick of me talking about the warm weather and how long the season is going this year. I can’t help it! It is not only unbelievable but absolutely fantastic. Growing in the fall is the absolute best because you don’t have to worry about most of the problems you encounter in the spring, such as pests!


I had another amazing harvest, pulling 150 lbs of just peppers! I am still harvesting bells, Carmens, poblanos, banana and jalapeño peppers. I am truly amazed at the size and quality along with the longevity. I found two extra remarkable Green Bell peppers yesterday so I had to track Justin down just to show him. They were bigger than his hands!! Poor guy can’t get away from the blog, hehe.


Hard to see the spots in this picture but the cauliflower heads look beautiful!

I do not want to let the crazy phenomenon of the peppers over shadow the rest of the fall crops that I anticipated harvests on this late in the year. As you know from last week’s blog post our cauliflower is finally ready. It seemed like I was waiting an eternity for the plants to mature. One of the phenomenal chefs, Kat, who takes a lot of farm produce each week, asked me why some of the heads had small purple spots. This was a great question because it forced me to do a little extra research on cauliflower. Cauliflower is in the same family as cabbage, broccoli, kale etc and that is called the Brassica family. Like (red) cabbage, the coloring has to do with the amount of antioxidants in the plant. They are called anthocycanin. The crops have been getting an unordinary amount of sunlight for this time of year along with the unusually warm temperatures. The sunlight brings out more of the anthocycanin, hence the small purple coloring on the head of the crop.

We learn something new every day :)!


Unbelievable size so I had to end the blog with another picture


Fall crops are in full swing and so are… peppers???


Beautiful Broccoli Raab. My favorite tasting crop of 2016

This has been a strange growing season, fortunately to our advantage. It has been unusually warm this time of year with temperatures reaching 80 on Nov. 1st?? Crazy!


Beautiful Broccoli Crowns


I was waiting on pins and needs for the cauliflower. It is finally here!

Our fall crops are doing very well and are loving the cold night time temperatures. They consist of broccoli, broccoli raab, cauliflower (which finally started producing), kale, squash (which made a come back with the warm days) and surprisingly enough, peppers. Broccoli and cauliflower always make me nervous because they take for-e-v-e-r to produce. Despite my impatience, when they do finally produce it is a beautiful and abundant crop that the chefs love. This is my second year growing the variety of broccoli called Gypsy. It is fairly maintenance free and you really only have to worry about cabbage looper. It produces and large crown and then you are able to harvest the off shoots  for florets. I’ve found that this is a real winner with the chefs as most students are familiar with and like eating broccoli. It is also easily cleaned and great in stir fry, which is also a very popular request from the students.


HUGE Bell Peppers!!

Our peppers are producing more now than they did in August, which is supposed to be our peak season for peppers. With the disappointing and short tomato season for us this year, we really are doing well to make up that loss. The other farmers in the area can’t believe the abundance of peppers they are getting from their home gardens either. It’s really a true phenomenon. The plants are big and beautiful and show no signs of bacterial spot. I have not been preventative spraying copper and I have not irrigated or fertilized since our irrigation was stored for winter two weeks ago. Also, the cold nights we had last week wiped out the bug population so we are not battling that either.  I grew a new variety of bells this year called Red Knight Xr3. I saw this being grown in a research plot across from mine last year. The peppers were big and beautiful! Although I was battling bacterial spot pretty fervently in my plot last year, I saw no signs of the disease on these peppers, despite the wet cool season we were experiencing. I decided that this variety was exactly what I was looking for in a bell (being big and disease resistant) and thus grew them this year with a lot of success. They are sort of a late producer so it has been very conducive to this weather.



I am still pulling hundreds of pounds of beautiful looking produce off the farm every week. Yesterday we had 100lbs of just peppers alone. I wish every season was like this.This will be the longest growing season in the books thus far. I love it!