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Weed Management 2018/ Student Interns

¡£ ¡¢ Let’s talk about weeds bay- beee, let’s talk about you and me, let’s talk about all the bad things and the good things that involve wee – ding- ing, let’s talk about weeds! ¡£ ¡¢

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Can you find the pepper plant?

Well I have to say there is more bad than good when talking about weed management for farms. It is definitely one of the toughest tasks that I face each year. Weed management is something every farm must evaluate and decide while planning their farm in the off season. Why weed management? Weeds can out compete your plants for sunlight and soil nutrients. They can also help spread disease and pests to healthy plants.

 

There are many different styles of weed control. Some of these styles are cultural, mechanical, and chemical. It is our preference not to use herbicide in order to be good stewards to the land. Everyone has their own method and this post is not going to debate organic vs. nonorganic. Since we are not using herbicide, it makes weed control challenging and vital to our operation. Most of our methods are mechanical, meaning we use a mower to cut down our weeds/ cover crop between path spaces and a weed eater to get the smaller areas. We also rely heavily on plasticulture, meaning we make raised beds covered in plastic and poke holes in the top to plant. This is a bit controversial due to the waste it creates. The plastic is non-reusable from year to year and sometimes, it is hard to get all of the pieces removed from the ground at the end of the growing season.

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In years past we have had almost our entire farm in plastic. Labor is our biggest expense and it reduces the time we spend on weeding immensely. However, this year I wanted to experiment reducing the use of plastic and using other tools I learned from conferences in the off season. I mentioned in a previous post that we purchased some new equipment to assist us with this experiment. Our goal is to plant into stale seed beds that we prepped with shallow tillage and a flame weeder. Stale seed beds mean we have killed the weed seeds just before we plant into the bed so the plants have a head start. We are still practicing with the seeder, trying to get our plantings close enough to where the plants will shade out the weed seeds. Even with the bed prep, the weeds have been growing at an alarming rate due to the rainy months of May/ June.

Cover cropping and proper crop rotation also helps with weed control. We are not able to do either of those well with the small amount of land we are on but I am very excited to be able to apply these methods to our new farm we are moving to this fall.

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Switching gears I would like to mention/ gush about our high school student interns this year. Hendrick House is participating in SYEP and CARE4U programs, helping to facilitate real on job training for students. We were lucky enough to be paired with two outstanding young adults named Travis Makabu and Tony Bien, from Centennial High School and Urbana High School respectively. Hendrick House is a unique business for many reasons but one of those reasons is that we can offer a true farm to table experience. Travis and Tony have been splitting their time on the farm and in the kitchen. They have seen the produce as it is growing in the field. They have harvested it. They have processed it down into meals at Hendrick House. This is a fantastic opportunity for us to really push local food education while also providing life skills for the students. Travis and Tony have exceeded my expectations with their hard work, great attitudes and willingness to learn. Bravo to them for stepping out of their comfort zones and really excelling!

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Plant Biology/ Entomology 101

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It’s raining it’s pouring the bacterial spot is showing. Looks like it is going to be one of those years where we are constantly fighting fungal and bacterial problems. In the past we have had serious problems specifically with bacterial spot. Bacterial spot is caused by bacterial pathogens. If you aren’t in the biology field I am sure you are wondering “What the heck is a bacterial pathogen?”. Well, get comfortable because I am about give you a description of what that is. OR you could stop reading now and just google it yourself.

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Bacterial Pathogens = Bacteria that cause disease. That’s it! Short and sweet. These pathogens live on plant surfaces. This particular disease loves high humidity, wet, hot conditions. Which….. brings me to my next complaint. It can stop raining at any point now! We have been pummeled with thunderstorm after thunderstorm. Two weeks ago it was so intense we had five inches of rain in one week! This is why you never ask a farmer “how’s it going” because they will either complain about the weather or pests or disease. It’s always something.

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The symptoms of bacterial spot are relatively easy to ‘spot’ (ahaha) but can easily be mistaken for many other types of bacterial and fungal disease so it is always best to have it checked out at a plant clinic. I spotted the scabby looking areas on some of my peppers a little over a week ago. I was really hoping it wasn’t what I thought it was but sure enough, the University of Illinois Plant Clinic confirmed my suspicions. Once you have bacterial spot it is impossible to get rid of. At this point we are treating it with copper in the hopes it doesn’t worsen with the scabs spreading to the fruit.

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This weather has also brought out several pests. Our farm is an entomologist’s playground right now! Because they are not causing much damage yet, aside from the Colorado potato beetles that just won’t die, it has been fun playing the ‘I spy’ game. Can you identify these pests?

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The Launch of Hendrick House Teaching Kitchen

We finished the last of our workshops with Edison Middle School last week. It was bittersweet as we were just starting to get the hang of things and really getting to know the students. I was very impressed with how our Urbana High School student intern, Tony, was engaged and assisting in teaching of the farm to table lesson. Bravo Tony!!!

We were able to use, for the first time ever, the new teaching kitchen that was built by Hendrick House employees (Juan Molina leading the team) at our satellite location on Killarney St. This teaching kitchen is such an amazing asset for the farm and for Hendrick House. Education is a key component we have been focusing on for the past year and half, promoting healthy fresh food within the company. This is just one more tool to help facilitate that goal. It was such a treat for the staff and for the students to be able to take what they learned from the farm and apply it to real food in the kitchen.

There were too many wonderful pictures to choose from so you’ll just have to enjoy a slideshow!

Please Click Red Circle so Tom Petty can serenade you through the slideshow

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In other news…… it really needs to stop raining. More on that next week.

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Edison Middle School Summer STEM Camp

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One of the primary goals of Hendrick House Farms is to educate within the company and the community the importance of fresh, healthy food. As the company grows, we are acquiring unique materials to facilitate in that goal. One of the things we have at our disposable is a one acre teaching vegetable garden that includes a composting station, pizza garden and chickens. We were fortunate enough to partner with an Edison Middle School teacher, Julie Anders, to help in teaching kids about farm to table cuisine. My team and I are very good at setting things up and doing the behind the scenes labor while Julie and her group are excellent about lesson plans and communicating the message to the students in a way they are able to understand and learn from. With our combined forces we are able to host informative/ fun filled workshops at the farm.

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The second unique feature Hendrick House has built is a teaching kitchen. This is amazing on so many levels. It gives us a space to host split workshops where the kids can be on the farm for the first 1/2 of the day and then actually create something edible for the second 1/2. We will be using this space for the first time tomorrow and I am so excited for this opportunity.

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Our intern from Urbana High School, Tony, educating some students on seeding green beans!

We had our first workshop with the summer STEM camp last week. We talked about farm safety, intro to horticulture and had hands on learning stations. The children had snacks harvested from the garden and were able to correlate what they learned with final results they could eat. It was an invigorating day! It was difficult to tell if the farm team was more exhausted after pounding 300 t-posts in the blistering heat or running around with middle schoolers for a whole day :).

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I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story….. do note that Danil wanted to practice his english by helping Julie read to the kids. His posture while reading was absolutely hilarious and he was a natural! Also, Justin wanted me to mention in the blog that his sweet corn planting station was voted the best! (He had tadpoles and fresh strawberries to show off….. a little unfair if you ask me :). )

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Photo and caption courtesy of Justin Slade

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New Equipment for 2018

Having access to equipment makes life on the farm much much happier. The farm has been a very dependent operation the last several years on the University of Illinois for access and use to their equipment. This year because we are transitioning to our new acreage west of Champaign, it has made borrowing equipment even more difficult. We aren’t able to use U of I equipment off property. A lot of the time the equipment at the new farm is being used in a different location or has maintenance problems. We are very excited to be expanding but are feeling the growing pains. It’s too bad money doesn’t grow on trees :).

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With that said, we did get a couple new pieces of equipment this year that has made our lives much easier and much more efficient. The first piece of equipment, and probably the favorite so far, is an Earthway seeder. Gone are the days of scattering seed on our hands and knees, going back down the bed covering the seed with dirt, and waiting for the seed to poorly germinate. This little contraption is a labor saver!! It is made up of two wheels and a small container with different size discs, depending on seed size. The seed goes in the container and as the seeder rolls down the bed it picks up seed with the disc and drops it through the bottom, followed by a dragging chain to cover the seed with dirt and a back wheel to pack it down. It does everything for you the first pass and all the lines are straight and even without wasting a bunch of seed. This has changed the attitude at the farm. When I say we are planting it is greeted with cheers instead of moans with the imminence of formidable back pain.  I can’t wait to post the results!!

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The second piece of equipment we received this year is a flame weeder. We are doing an experiment at the east end of our plot this year, which I will talk more about next post. The flame weeder burns newly exposed weeds so when you direct seed into that bed, the seeds have a head start and you can actually tell the difference between your crop and the weeds. When using this piece of equipment I felt two things.

1. I’m about to blast off into the sky ….and

2. I hope I don’t blow up.

I did make Justin stand next to me for a good 10 minutes with a cooler of water in case something bad happened. Poor guy.

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The last, best and probably most important piece of equipment we received this year was a traveling tool box with tools! Since we are in transition, our farm truck is basically our mobile office/ storage unit, which can be tricky storing everything while transporting five people. The tool box stays in the truck at all times and now has every tool we use on a daily basis. These tools include; socket wrench set, nut drivers, screwdrivers, torx set, utility knives, storage for our harvest knives, sunscreen, bandaids and the list goes on and on. Say we are fixing irrigation at our three acre farm but had worked at our new farm the previous day. It would be very inconvenient if we had to spend 40 minutes round trip going to pick up equipment, which has happened. Also, it is inconvenient to stop what you are working on to go to another part of the U of I to borrow a tool. It’s a terrible waste of time. The tool box sits between the front seats and is such a luxury to the crew this year!

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The Importance of Record Keeping

Like years past, as soon as the plants get in the field we are scouting for pests. For the first ten minutes of everyday, the entire staff walks the farm and scouts for damage. I started doing this this year for a couple reasons.

 

  1. It teaches everyone to be aware of their surroundings at all times.

 

  1. It drives the point home that the plants are our #1 priority while at work.

 

  1. It also teaches everyone how to identify pest damage so they can be my eyes and ears while I am doing other things.

 

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So far, we have seen ten billion potato beetles that over wintered from last year. Danil doesn’t have the heart to kill them so he takes them hostage and releases them in my hands to do the dirty deed of ending their life. I am trying not to worry about the rising army but know things will get real once the little suckers start reproducing. After talking with our neighbors, Matt Turino from the U of I Student Sustainable Farm, we have decided to play it cool until they start reproducing. Then it’s game on!! Danil might have to take that day off :).

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Aside from the potato beetles we haven’t seen much damage. Justin spotted something eating the new growth of our pepper plants. After pulling off one of the leaves and doing an ole google search we quickly found our answer ……. From a previous blog post ……. Of mine ……. Highlighted on the internet. Hahahaha, this is a prime example of why it’s a good idea to keep detailed records of previous years. The damage matched perfectly and we were able to tackle the problem immediately. Pesky Cutworms!

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2018 Year of the Cat

****Please click red circle for the theme song to this post. Unfortunately you will have to go to the youtube link below to hear the full song as I am a complete idiot when it comes to technology :)****

***Please open another window and click ‘WATCH ON YOUTUBE’  in the box below***

 

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All three farm locations this year are almost all planted. I am very happy with our progress especially coming off an extended winter. The weather couldn’t be more perfect for the staff. We are as comfortable as can be expected on our hands in knees planting. The weather has been in the low 80’s, cloudy with a slight breeze. Perfection! We also had beautiful plants to work with! Our friends at PSL took great care of our plants as they were germinating in the greenhouse. They were by far the best they have ever looked going into the field.

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I would like to introduce the staff of 2018! These amazing people will be seeding, planting, weeding, trellising, irrigation maintenance, overall plot maintenance of all three sites and working on community outreach with Champaign/ Urbana’s youth!

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This is Kat, but she is fondly known to us as Kitty Kat. Kitty is a trained chef and helping us out during the summer when U of I is not in session. Normally you can find her throughout the school year at Pi Beta Phi cooking with our farm produce. She was the largest greek purchaser of farm produce last year. I am so pumped to have another farm to table chef passionate about food!  Like a true chef she hates having her picture taken. You can see the progression I had to go through to her to smile :).

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Danil hails from Cuba. He is a returning gem from last year. A photographer by trade, he loves being in the dirt, asking questions and learning as much as he can from his surroundings. His attention to detail is unprecedented. Taking everything by its literal meaning, he makes us laugh constantly! Also not liking his picture taken, he was yelling at me but I couldn’t really hear what he was saying, lol.

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Justin, my assistant farmer, is also back this year. He gives the literal term to “right hand man”. Justin is always in step with me and can predict my next move. It is really nice having a returning veteran who knows the ropes and can help me in leading our other team members.

We have had a great start and it is going to be a phenomenal year! Our motto: check your catatude at the door! (Shout out to a random bumper sticker and kitty for that inspiration.)

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