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Please. Stop. Raining.

Sarah learning the ropes of tractor driving

Sarah learning the ropes of tractor driving

Please. Stop. Raining. It has been raining here every day for the last couple weeks. I complain a lot, especially in previous

BS in peppers

BS in peppers

years about excessive rain but let me tell you why….. Too much rain can cause the right breeding ground for bacteria (i.e. bacterial spot, speck etc). We now have signs of the dreaded BS (bacterial spot) or what I like to call BS (bullshit). It has

really started to show up in our peppers and we have now seen signs in our tomatoes. We are having trouble keeping up

with treatment because once we apply it the rain washes it away. We are also having trouble keeping up with our pesticide

applications as well for the same reason the treatment for BS isn’t working, because of the daily rainstorms. On the bright side Matt (the head of the student farm for the U of I) trained Sarah and myself on a tractor that has a spray wagon behind it. THIS IS HUGE!! We have been using a backpack sprayer which takes approximately two full days. Time is money and we have a lot of other things we need to do that are just as important. With this new piece of equipment we will cut our time from two days to two hours.

Ground is too wet!

Ground is too wet!

Sliding around on the mower

Sliding around on the mower

I have been waiting and waiting to mound my potatoes but the ground has been too wet. I finally broke down today and tried to disc the beds with the student farm’s electric tractor but the wet dirt was clumping to the discs and causing damage to the plants. I HATE being in a position where there is nothing I can do except watch the damage occur. The ground is so wet I even got the mower stuck three times today trying to mow. Luckily I was able to get myself out so unless Jeremy reads this blog post he will never know ….. shhhhhhh :).

Romaine

Romaine

This past weekend was sunny during the day so I was able to take full advantage of that sunshine. I got the rest of our huge tomatoes pruned and trellised and I also harvested the romaine lettuce. Unfortunately I was only able to save about 400 heads that were left undamaged from the deer. The ones I did save were beautiful and delivered this morning. I also harvested some fragrant black radishes. Harvesting is so much more fun and rewarding than constantly treating problems.

Black Radishes

Black Radishes

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Ya win some Ya lose some

Hello Readers! I know you have been anxiously awaiting this week’s blog post. With the sporadic rain just frequent enough to be annoying I figured my time was better spent in the field while I had the chance. Because of all the rain we have been having here in central Illinois the crops (and of course the weeds) have been growing like crazy. It is starting to get a little difficult to keep up with everything but we are managing. Our tomatoes are HUGE and I can really feel the difference between trellising and pruning less than a 1/4 acre of tomatoes up to a 1/2 acre.

1/2 weeded carrot bed. No thanks! Ill just start over!

1/2 weeded carrot bed. No thanks! Ill just start over!

After the initial transplants were in the ground I decided to direct seed the second round of crops (carrots, parsnips, lettuce and spinach). My thought process was that I would be saving money on soil and greenhouse fees. Well this did not turn out how I hoped. By the time the plants started to come up they were completely overgrown with weeds. We did not want to weed the beds until we could differentiate between what was crop and what was weed. Because of all the rain, the weeds overran the entire bed top. I might try growing on all plastic next year. There are a lot of birds/ crows in the area around the farm. I am thinking that played a part in the sporadic germination as well. I really like starting with transplants in the field because you can see exactly where they are planted and they already have a head start against the weeds because they are being planted into a freshly tilled bed. Totally Transplant Time!!!

Heart eaten out of the center by deer

Heart eaten out of the center by deer

Damage to Head Lettuce by deer

Damage to Head Lettuce by deer

We suffered some loss at the end of last week beginning of this week. Our beautiful romaine head lettuce, mere days from being harvested, were eaten by some deer. We had a 50% crop loss. 😦 Let’s please take a moment of silence to mourn…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… Normally we have not really had any problems with deer but this year a couple of them got inside the large fence surrounding the property and once they are in it is very difficult to get them out. Jeremy mentioned gathering a group of people to herd them. Lol. There will definitely be pictures of this to follow.

I am going to quickly go over the other things that we are battling right now. (Farming is hard):

Problem: cucumber beetles/ squash bugs

Treatment: As soon as it stops raining we will put another application of Sevin on the squash and watermelon

Problem: bacterial spot on peppers (despite being disease resistant) due to excessive rain

Treatment: we have been spraying once a week with copper and will continue to fertilize once a week. Hopefully it will stop raining soon and we can out run it before the plants produce fruit

Problem: animal damage

Treatment: I have contacted the chefs at HH and am going to get it out of the ground ASAP before there is anymore damage and loss. We are going to rally a herding gang to get those deer to the outside of the fence.

Problem: environmental damage (from the storms) on our squash

Treatment: pray and wish that they stop soon

Problem: first signs of aphids on tomatoes

Treatment: I am really hoping they just go away on their own but I will reevaluate in a couple weeks to see if I need to take action

Whew! Glad we got that covered and can move on to some good news!

First Harvest of Squash

First Harvest of Squash

We had our first harvest of squash for the year. I am growing Dunja and Golden Glory. It was beautiful! When I brought them in to Lance, the interim chef at Hendrick House, he was ecstatic which made this whole week better 🙂

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Watermelon Sex Education

Replanting the Watermelon

Replanting the Watermelon

Lots of learning at the farm last week. As I have stated in previous posts, this will be my first year growing watermelon. From a chef’s and seller’s point of view (which is NOT the one I should be using) I know that seedless watermelon are easy to eat and even easier to sell. Let’s face it…. college kids like easy! When I planted my watermelon at the end of April I did not realize that you would need watermelon with seed growing next to the seedless to cross pollinate so the seedless watermelon produce fruit. Not only do you need watermelon with seed but you also need to keep colors together or I am told the fruit will taste strange. Luckily I was talking with the other incubator participants, Erik and Gary, and they gave me a little watermelon sex education. Thankfully they did or else I would have had four 180ft beds of beautiful vining plants and no fruit. Whoops! This is yet another advantage of being in an incubator setting. Sometimes you are the teacher and sometimes you are the student. It is definitely nice being able to collaborate on problems. After learning this valuable tidbit of information, Gary was kind enough to give me some leftover seed so I could direct seed every five plants between my transplants. I am not-so-patiently waiting for them to come up.

Big and Beautiful Squash

Big and Beautiful Squash

We had a HUGE rainstorm this past weekend. It was not so surprising timing from mother nature because we just started to string/ trellis our indeterminate tomatoes at the end of last week. It seems as though every time we start to attach them to string a huge storm rolls through and uproots the plants, a very sad sight to behold when you come in to work and some of your tomatoes have hung themselves. We were fortunate this go around and had very little damage. Other farmers were not so lucky. It just proves what a tough business this can be, especially when dealing with things that are out of your control. The rain actually pushed some of our crops over the shock of the transplant hump and into the “healthy” category, which was nice. Our tomatoes are luscious and green now and our squash is huge. I didn’t see any damage to our head lettuce and we are still on schedule to have a nice harvest of that crop at the beginning of July.

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Scouting for enemies

Now that we are over the hump of start up and everything is planted, it is time to walk the field scouting for pests and disease. If I have learned aaaaanything from the previous years it is to start this step immediately after the plants are in the ground.

Struggling tomatoes

Struggling tomatoes before fertilizing

Fertigator

Fertigator

While perusing the farm last week I did spot some concerning sights. Let’s start with the first 1/2 acre and work our way east. Tomatoes! The tomatoes were not looking very strong, robust and healthy. Their leaves were starting to yellow on the bottoms and move into a whitish sickly color one has right before they are about to throw up. Since that look causes me to take steps back in front of a human I knew this was a bad sign for my poor little tomatoes. I was hoping it was just

Tomato after fertilizing. Much better!

Tomato after fertilizing. Much better!

the shock of going from their protected environment to this windy, rainy field. They were a couple days younger this year compared to last when they were planted so that may have had something to do with it was well. (Keep in mind I am only guessing.) I knew this wasn’t a pest problem and it probably wasn’t disease this early on so I decided to try and feed them to see if they would perk up. They did, slightly. I am going to get them on a hearty diet of food once a week using the fertigator and hope they get “swoll” (as the frat boys like to say) over the next couple of weeks.

Infestation of Cucumber Beetles

Infestation of Cucumber Beetles

Cucumber Beetle

Cucumber Beetle

The next 1/2 acre is where my watermelon and squash are planted. I did not grow these last year because I had such a horrible cucumber beetle problem my first year. I was just trying to avoid that headache all together. Well, no avoidance this year. When talking with the chefs on what to grow there was a lot of interest in squash, zucchini and watermelon. Because of my experience with those little nasty squash bugs and beetles the previous years I knew it was just a matter of time before they reared their ugly heads. Sure enough there they were. They were really tearing holes into the new growth in the squash and seemed to like the Dunja (yellow squash) variety the best. Luckily I caught them early and was able to hit them with one application of Sevin with our four gallon backpack sprayer. Because it is early in the season this posed no threat to pollinators and immediately took care of my cucumber beetle problem. The squash are beautiful now and starting to produce blossoms.

Squash starting to blossom

Squash starting to blossom

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I spoke briefly of this last year so I am not going to talk about it too much again. Everyone has their own choices based on what they are trying to accomplish with the Organic vs NonOrganic argument. Do I care about pollinators …… yes. Do I care about being a good steward to the land …… yes. Can I sell back to this company at organic prices ….. no, I can not. These cooks can barely afford to pay $2/lb for meat let alone $3 -$4/ lb for fresh produce. I recognize this problem and am trying to do my best to be a hybrid grower while keeping both sides in check. For the most part I follow Organic practices. I will however, use a NonOrganic pesticide if it means losing my crop (which in business means losing $$$$$$) but I will use it in a responsible way to as not to affect pollinators and water sources as much as possible.

cutworm damage to pepper

cutworm damage to pepper

Rick Weinzierl

Rick Weinzierl

We had almost 3″ of rain over the weekend so everything was nice and muddtastic this morning when Sarah and I arrived. I noticed that our peppers, on the eastern most 1/2 acre, were looking really puny. The weekend temperatures were not very warm so I am sure our little peppers are cold. Upon further inspection I noticed insect damage in the leaves and cut stems in almost 25% of our entire pepper crop. I suspected it was cut worm damage but I hunted Rick Weinzierl down to double check. I also wanted to make sure his picture was in the blog this week :). Rick is an entomology professor at the U of I and also the head of the BFRD Program. He is a genius and probably the nicest guy you will ever meet. If you ever have a question for him, not only will he tell you the problem and solution but he will also give you the history of the problem and what possible

Larvae damage vs cutworm damage on peppers

Larvae damage vs cutworm damage on peppers

situations could have caused it. He is a complete wealth of knowledge! As I suspected, he told me it was probably cut worm. I brought him two samples of leaves, one with tiny holes which he told me was damage from the larvae and another with giant bites taken out of the edges of the leaf, which was damage from the caterpillar itself. I was very concerned because such a high percentage was damaged so I used a small application of premethrin and I am hoping to see some results by the end of the week, barring the weather warms up a bit.

Tyee Spinach

Tyee Spinach

Not all news was bad!! We had our first harvest last Friday. I was able to harvest about 30# of tyee spinach which is being featured at Hendrick House for lunch today by Chef Bonnie Collins. I never seemed to have much luck with spinach in the last couple years but this year I am focusing more time on it and planting the seeds much closer together. I found that the younger spinach was more flavorful and had a better mouth feel than the adult spinach.

Bush Beans in the ground 4 days

Bush Beans in the ground 4 days

I planted provider bush beans again this year. They are always in huge demand with the chefs and they are relatively easy to grow, despite having a cut worm problem last year. They come up fast and are ready to be harvested in 35-40 days.

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