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Hot Ticket Item – Cherry Tomatoes

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Holy Harvest!! We are currently at peak season as of last week and almost every chef is ordering from the farm. I think we are close to needing another delivery vehicle to fit everything. It is a wonderful feeling to be selling out of product but it also makes me realize there is room to expand. It would be nice to be able to have tomatoes to meet the demand….. Cough Cough, hint hint we need a high tunnel ;-).

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Our peppers and tomatoes have taken off to the races. Peppers are in the lead and are amazingly beautiful! They have shown very little signs of fungal/ bacteria damage. I do not have the answer as to why they are doing better than our tomatoes other than maybe our tomatoes are slightly more fragile. As each year goes by I look and study very closely as to which varieties do the best compared to which varieties are in most demand with the chefs. There needs to be a happy medium as I would like to provide what the chefs want but it has to meet with what is possible for us to successfully grow. This is another reason networking and attending conferences during the off season is advantageous. You are able to learn from other farmers all over the state as to which varieties worked and didn’t work for them.

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Cherry Tomatoes are a crop that is in very high demand with the chefs. I knew that so I purposely planted two extra 180 ft beds, making four out of the 13 beds dedicated to cherry tomatoes. That may not sound like a lot but when you are harvesting them it seems like an eternity. I picked varieties that are slightly larger but still tasty to compensate for the labor and make picking a little faster. We have sold out for the last two weeks and finally after some research last year and the previous years we have had a lot of success with the varieties planted. I am very pleased with this crop this year and we continue to sell out each week.

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The entire farm is planted for fall. We harvested a bed of lettuce last week and immediately tilled it and planted a new crop of lettuce. NO EMPTY REAL ESTATE! Our goal, after the birds eating the seed fiasco, is to now have a continue rotation of Romaine from now until the end of the season.

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As Justin, Terren and I are delivering Tuesday and Thursday mornings we try to scavenge food that the chefs might want us to try to give to us. This usually consists of pathetic faces and lots of belly rubs in front of the chefs. It seems to be working and we have been able to taste some AMAZING HH farm fresh food. Today we walked in with a delivery just as Jeremy was finishing up his watermelon gazpacho. Every ingredient was from the farm and it was like a party in my mouth, touching every taste bud and flavor profile.

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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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