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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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