Farm, Journal, Update

End of a Season

Well I guess this is my final blog post until next season. The blog will continue but my friend Adam will be writing with Hendrick House’s current news. Thank you so much for tuning in to our little project and I hope you will keep checking for updates to see what next season has in store. I have learned so much with the Beginning Farmer’s class and have made some really great friends in the industry. I can not thank them enough for their patience and guidance.

I would personally like to thank Rick Weinzierl for taking on this fantastic program and being an amazing teacher and wonderful friend. He has offered so many opportunities to me and my company and I am forever grateful for this experience. I would like to thank Mary Hosier for her complete support for my company and my cooking. It was a huge compliment that you organized and attended farm to table dinners requesting me as your chef. I would also like to thank Jeremy Shafer and Bryan Warsaw for all of their help and guidance. These two people, along with Kenny Ehler, are some of the best people I have met in my time in Champaign. They are truly golden! Not only were they knowledgeable and willing to teach me, but they were also a lot of fun. I highly recommend getting to know these guys if you have the chance. Jeff Kindhart is a one of a kind! Absolutely hilarious, although he made fun of me A LOT :). That’s ok though…. he didn’t know what risotto was :). LOL. He is an amazing resource to have. He helped me immensely this year with my tomatoes and steaming my spinach bed to make it weed free. All of the people I have listed DONATED their time to help me, just because they wanted me to succeed. photo (3)It was an amazing feeling getting to work with these people. Finally, thank you to the Student Sustainable Farm (Zack and Matt) for loaning out your equipment and teaching me to use it. Also, thank you for allowing me to tag along and help with your harvests. There is no better way to learn than hands on!

That being said, I had my final harvest of spinach today. It was an absolutely perfect day and I was happy to be outside for a couple hours. I even had a surprise visitor show up. My good friend Phil, who owns and farms Moraine View Farms, just happened to be driving by. I was happy to see him and even talked him into helping me harvest the rest of my spinach. photo (4)The power of persuasion :). I love talking with Phil. He is so easy going and has so much insight in to organic farming. He loves to share his knowledge with me and I am always interested to hear what he has going on during the seasons at his farm.

As I say my final farewell I can’t help but reflect on some great moments of this year. There are definitely too many to count but I have to say some of the highlights were the first beautiful harvest of salad greens, the excitement of laying down raised beds with plastic (hanging off the back of the tractor), the beautiful trellising Jeff taught me how to build, working with the greatest friend (Kevin, who put up with my anal OCD ways), my tomato jungle, the beautiful green beans that my boys loved, the moment when Kevin and I knew our peppers would survive after the bout with bacterial leaf spot and of course planting my own cover crop in the big tractor. I will certainly miss the honks my friend Danny Stierwalt makes as he is driving down South Lincoln, laying on the horn in a different vehicle 15 times a day. My favorite was the honking in the combine as he turned each row across the field. (He farms for the U of I and another amazing friend I met this summer.)

I will miss the casual visits from Jeremy and Bryan, just checking to see how my day is. I will miss working 1.5 acres away from Todd, who was another incredible friend, helping me in anyway he could as we learned together through disease and insect trouble. I will also miss the visits from Rick, who was always eager to help. I learned so much from him this season. All and all this was such a valuable experience and I look forward to learning from all my mistakes as I plan for next year.

Farm, Journal, Update

Kale’s Not Done Yet

After the excitement of planting my own cover crop last Monday I took the rest of the week off from our little farm project. I had a multiple course alumni dinner Friday night, so it was nice to focus on just that event.

Now that the tomatoes, peppers and green beans are out I went by today to examine what I had left. I ended up harvesting 33# of chard and 10# of spinach, both of which were absolutely (1) I’m not sure if you remember, but the spinach was planted by some sweet volunteers from the fraternity I cook for. They were so excited to see the final product walk through the door and couldn’t wait to taste it.

By some miraculous turn of events, the kale has made a comeback. Maybe it took leaving it alone for a month?? Who knows?? Since we promoted it so heavily at the beginning of the school year I am very glad that we can get another harvest out of it before the season is

I had my second to last class of the Beginning Farmer’s Program this past Saturday. I am so sad to see it coming to an end. While we were in small groups discussing business plans and marketing, it came up how it is very hard to make money as a small vegetable farmer unless you find your perfect niche market and it is also incredibly labor intensive. One person in the discussion group even said, “and why are we doing this again??”. I sat there for a minute and thought to myself how fortunate I am to work for a company who provides me personal security while sharing the same dreams and interests. People do this for passion and the love of good food. I did laugh to myself thinking how I was an art major in college, switching to hospitality (because I didn’t think I could make a successful career out of it) and then ending up in culinary and farming, sitting in a class listening to a guest speaker say how hard it is to make this work. I love a challenge :).

Farm, Journal, Update

Hello, Summer? It’s me, Ann.

Hello, Summer? It’s me, Ann. I was just wondering when you were planning to arrive this year?

cherry-tomatoWhile this cooler weather may bring some reprise from last year’s “off the chart” temperatures, it is creating a bit of an impatient waiting game for Kevin and myself. We have had peppers and tomatoes on the plants for weeks now and it seems like they will never change from green to red. We did get a very nice harvest of cherry tomatoes, vibrant green bell peppers, kale and chard this morning.

As I was doing my daily routine of walking down the beds whispering sweet nothings to each of the plants in the hopes they would produce more, I noticed unsettling scabby looking spots on a lot of my tomatoes. Now, after the total destruction of the basil I have become more than a little paranoid. I immediately went to the U of I student farm offices to figure out the problem in their disease and insect books. I identified it as Bacterial Spot. Dum dum dum dum da dum dum da dum (to the tune of the Imperial March from Star Wars).
Apparently we were unlucky enough to catch a strain that affects both peppers and tomatoes. We have been treating the peppers since early July with copper hydroxide and we started treating the tomatoes in mid July because I thought we had early signs blight. (If you have ever tried to identify soil-borne or foilatge disease you will know that, for the most part, ALL OF THESE DISEASES LOOK EXACTLY THE SAME!) It doesn’t seem that the copper hydroxide applications are working but since there isn’t much else we can do, we will keep applying and hope things will turn around.

My boss keeps reminding me that this is the first year and we should use it as a learning project. Well, I have definitely learned that growing organically is very very very hard. I have also learned that the amount of hard work you put in really has very little to do with the success of your crop. The success of the crop has more to do with weather, soil, experience and sheer luck. Next time you walk by that beautiful vegetable at the co op or farmer’s market, take extra care when preparing and handling.

“Always end on a good note” they say…. well, Kevin and I got the first fall planting completed and irrigated. Our bush beans, which were planted a little over a week ago, are about 2″ tall and our salad mix, which was planted on Thursday, is already starting to come up. We got our spinach in the ground today and are so excited to see growth next week.

Farm, Journal, Update

My New Wasp Friends

Mother nature has finally decided to cut us a break… at least in the pest department. As I was harvesting our kale, I noticed white egg sacks on the back of some of the kale leaves. At first I began to panic, thinking “great, another battle to wage Braveheart style”. At the moment I was devising my attack plan, Rick Weinzierl stopped by to see how I was doing. Not only is he the head of the SARE program I am in, but he is also an entomology professor at the U of I. Apparently the white sacks are Braconid wasps that have laid eggs in the pesky cabbage worms that have been threatening to destroy our beautiful kale. These wasps do not cause damage, other than the destruction of their hosts. Also, they are not harmed in any way when we apply the weekly application of BT. It was amazing for me to learn about the existence of these insects and they have now become my new best friends.
Green Peppers

Kevin and I are trying to be patient while we wait for warm weather to cause our sweet Italian peppers and heirloom tomatoes to ripen. We were very excited to bring in our first 48 pound harvest of green bell peppers on Monday. The wonderful aroma was overwhelming and if I had not been so full snacking on green beans and black cherry tomatoes, I would have eaten at least four.

We are preparing for the fall school year and trying to estimate and devise a planting schedule so that each pound of produce has a home, whether it be out in our greek accounts and/ or at Hendrick House, Presby and Armory. I am ecstatic about planting again and wish this rain would hold off so that we can have time to work the ground and get the seeds in so there is HH farm lettuce and spinach available when school starts.