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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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Doom and Gloom

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Rabbits ate our entire beet crop

Well, like every year we are starting to have some problems. I’m not even going to compliment sandwich (squeeze the negative between two positives) this news. I will give it to you straight up. We are having major pest and small animal problems. So far this year we have had a complete infestation of cucumber beetles, squash bugs, Japanese beetles, potato beetles and rabbits. We have had a total crop loss on one round of our beets, carrots and our potatoes. The rabbits have moved on to our freshly planted broccoli transplants that just went in the ground at the end of last week and have eaten over 1/2 of them.  It is incredibly frustrating when you work hard to seed and plant in the field only to be eaten by one of these pests. It is not only a loss of labor but a loss of seed cost and soil cost, which can add up. The only thing we can really do now is replant as quickly as possible, keep treating the cucumber beetles and squash bugs and put down moth balls around our beet, carrot and broccoli beds. Grrrrr

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Damage to Broccoli transplants

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Justin replanting …. wamp wamp wamp

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Tomatillos

Now that that depressing news is out of the way let’s talk about something happier like tomatillos. Tomatillo, also known as Mexican Husk Tomato, is a crop that originated in Mexico. This was a big requested crop by the chef’s when we had our meeting back in January so I thought we would try it out. So far it has grown like a tomato and trellised like a basket weave with stakes every 3-4 plants. The summer chefs have been asking about their arrival since the beginning of the season so I was very pleased when we were able to get approximately 67 lbs off of our first harvest. That is based off of a 180ft bed with 2′ spacing between each plant. Tomatillos have been very low maintenance so far and the fruit has been wonderful. The chefs were incredibly excited to have this delivered today as they had big plans to make salsa verde. This will definitely be a crop we will be seeing more of.

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Green beans (2nd harvest)

Green beans….. I love you, I hate you. Green beans are a crop I grapple with every year. They are easy to plant (direct seeded). They germinate well and quickly. They are in high demand with the chefs. They require very little maintenance BUT they take damn near FOREVER to harvest. So much labor is dedicated to green beans on a weekly basis to pick them from the plant. We can average around three pickings for three weeks before we rip them out and replant. Now that the farm is getting busier and busier it is hard to find the labor to dedicate to harvesting this crop. I probably won’t eliminate it from the roster because it is such a nice product to offer but sometimes I really want to.

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Big Deliveries

The farm is getting busier and busier as the start of school is quickly approaching. Minus the crop loss that was previously mentioned, the farm will be in full production in two weeks. We are harvesting almost a full day now on Mondays and Thursdays and our tomatoes aren’t even ready yet. Once they are it will be “game on” and we will have to adjust our schedule so we can fit everything in. I love this time of year when the focus switches to harvesting instead of plot maintenance.

 

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Helping Hands

The quiet lull of the farm is coming to a close as more and more vegetables are becoming ready for harvest. We have hired another person whose name is Robert, to help us part time so Justin and I don’t end our days crying and feeling helpless at the amount of work that awaits us each day. I will try to get a sneaky picture for the next blog post so you all can put a name to the face.

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We have been so lucky the last couple weeks with the amount of volunteers that have come to help us at the farm. They have come in all ages and sizes and Justin and I couldn’t be more grateful. Our smallest volunteer has been showing up on the regular, usually on Tuesdays to help us wash our romaine lettuce. With an inquisitive brow and raw honesty, Liam Whobrey is definitely the most entertaining visitor. I find myself in brief anxiety as I wait for his taste approval. We were very lucky this past week as we received at first a hesitant but positive thumbs up after tasting a couple of our cherry tomatoes that ripened early.

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I also must reiterate this year, like previous years how grateful I feel to work for such an amazing company who supports and takes active interest in the farm. We have had many visits from Betsy, Terrell and Bobby as well as Tim and Alex this season, all board members for Hendrick House. The weather is miserably hot right now so I was surprised when Tim and Alex volunteered (the hottest day of the year thus far) to help Justin and me plant and clip tomatoes on Wednesday. I wish I could put into words how hot it actually was. I felt like my face was melting off so I’m sure it was very uncomfortable for them. They were amazing help and it was perfect timing because, as I stated earlier, this week was really the first week where we have been fighting to get everything done. Everyone was rewarded with peaches at the end of the day! Justin looked like a little he had just won Willie Wonka’s golden ticket.

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The weather has been puuuuurfect, for the crops and less so for the workers🙂 ! It has been like the blazing fires of hell hot and we receive a thunderstorm with consistently about an inch of rain every four days. This truly is our year for tomatoes and peppers. I CAN FEEL IT!! And I must add the word FINALLY to the previous sentence because the last four years have NOT been good for warm weather crops. But you win some and you lose some. Our squash isn’t very happy this year despite us putting them in a nice home fondly known as “squash alley”. There is a strange unidentified mucus coming from the center of the plant and they are dying at a fast pace. Once they have completely met their fate I will rip them out and plant again for fall. Hopefully the fall crop will provide more produce with the cooler weather.

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Our watermelon are finally ripe and so are our green beans. Thank goodness we have Rob to help us part-time now because green beans are an all day event. We pulled 51lbs on the first harvest which is slightly better than our 40lb  first harvest last year. I am expecting about three harvests from this crop until we rip it out and replant. Green beans, although incredibly labor intensive to harvest, are in high demand with the chefs so it is worth growing them. They are very low maintenance to grow and germinate quickly so that also makes it an appealing crop.

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All about that H Y D R O

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As I was perusing the internet for laughable hydroponic quotes for this blog entry I was disappointed that the only acceptable ones that would keep me out of trouble were by an obscure band called Wolfmother. A band quote that none of you would get anyway. Anyhow, hydroponics is the topic of today ***insert marijuana joke here…

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I spoke briefly last week that Justin and I are trying our hands at hydroponic growing this year, with the immeasurable help from my friend Michael Douglas (not the actor). Hydroponics by definition is simply growing without the use of soil. In place of soil we are using a mixture of coco coir and perlite. Coco coir comes from the inner shells of the coconut. Both of these substrates are excellent for drainage. This whole system is connected to a water line and is set on a timer. It waters for one minute three times a day. The water runs through pvc pipes which are connected to two injectors each leading to 5 gallon buckets of nutrients, then up to a line that runs all the way down the caterpillar tunnel (like a high tunnel but smaller) and to stacks of 4 buckets deep filled with the coco coir and perlite. Yowza that was a mouthful! Basically that was a long winded explanation of a growing system in buckets with water that doesn’t use soil.

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I put this system together back in April for the sole purpose of growing strawberries. My dear friend Jeff Kindhart was a hydroponic strawberry expert and raved about this system for all of the years I had the pleasure of knowing him. Hendrick House has a huge demand for berries and I thought this would be a great way to produce and provide this market for them. Like anything I do there seems to be a great learning curve. I didn’t really know very much about growing strawberries let alone hydroponics. I thought about last year and the harvest that my friend Michael Douglas (not the actor) was getting off this system. I did not factor in that last summer was very cool and rainy and this summer has been much warmer. STRAWBERRIES DO NOT LIKE HOT WEATHER. I repeat, STRAWBERRIES DO NOT LIKE HOT WEATHER. In true ‘Ann Fashion’ I have become very antsy about having everything planted and not being able to harvest very much yet. Don’t get me wrong, we have had some beautiful harvests of squash, lettuce, kale, broccoli raab, etc but I continue to worry about the whole profit vs cost thing. So here we are with strawberry plants and we are just waiting for the weather to turn cooler until we can have beautiful harvests. We did get a tease at the beginning of the season but it did not last long. Just enough for everyone to get excited about them. (forehead slap) When I take a deep breath and think about it I realize they are just like the tomatoes…. taking up real estate that may not be seeing a return right now but hopefully will see a huge return in the fall.

When deciding what I was going to use the hydroponic system for I started thinking about crops that were in high demand but for one reason or another I could not produce in the field. Two crops immediately came to mind, BASIL AND SPINACH. I haven’t successfully been able to grow basil in the field due to downy mildew and spinach doesn’t doesn’t germinate well. I have both of these crops planted in hydro and they are perfect!

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Justin and I planted Genovese basil in five free towers that were not planted with strawberries and I could not be more impressed. Because of the nutrients pumping through three times a day we can heavily harvest each plant once a week and it grows back bigger and more beautiful! There has become an interest in processing this basil for puree and pesto so I am costing out putting up the other side of the tunnel just for basil production. I wonder what 50# of basil will look like. *Gulp!

 

 

 

 

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Guess Who’s Back.. Back Again..

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My sincerest apologies faithful readers. As you know from last year’s posts I would rather be in the dirt than on a computer but here I am with a lot of info to update you on for the 2016 spectacular farm season.🙂

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So far, this year is off to a great start! In the four years I have been farming this is the best weather I have seen. It has been warm and there has been zero flooding, so far… We had a couple hick-ups with some stunted transplants at the beginning but all the plants are in the ground now, are trellised and flourishing. The above picture is of a hawk that visited us perched on our tomato trellis. It was incredibly regal. Photo compliments of Justin Slade.

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There are some exciting new things happening this year that I am pleased to share with you. The first being a new addition to the farm staff, which was comprised of just me for a while which was scary. I am happy to announce Justin Slade has joined the HH farm crew. He comes to us with a landscaping background so he is rough, tough and was ready for the job. He can also drive a tractor/ mower without hitting anything. There may or may not have been an incident involving the bucket on the tractor and a 4×4 in the tomato trellis area before Justin came on board. If no one sees it does it really happen?

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I am also pleased to announce that the HH farm crew is trying our hand at hydroponics this year. We have strawberries and basil in our system (compliments of the U of I Department of Crop Science) and I have to say that I have never seen a better basil product. It is big and glorious and ready to harvest each week. I will talk more on our hydroponics set up as the blog gets back on a weekly track.

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The pollinators have been out in full swing. I have honestly never seen so many. I was able to carefully get a close up of this little guy hard at work. Thank you little buddy!

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We have been harvesting for four weeks now, mostly consisting of romaine lettuce, curly kale, broccoli rabe, squash and radishes. We have a couple new crops in the ground but you will have to come back next week to find out what they are🙂 .

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