What a season the summer of 2014 was! Since my first day on the job as the new Farm Operations Manager I feel as I have been playing catch up. With my first day being March 24, I have been working really hard to get as much organic produce into the kitchen here on campus as I could. Luckily I was given a beautiful greenhouse, a hoop house and all the tools I would need. I started seeding vegetable plants the day I got here. Twelve kinds of heirloom tomatoes, ten kinds of peppers, herbs, squash, eggplant, the greenhouse was overflowing. We decided to host a plant sale on May 18th and considering we did no advertising, it was a success. This year I plan on growing even more seedlings to host a larger sale and get more of the community out to see this wonderful place.
It was a cold, wet spring followed by a cool, wet summer. I didn’t have to set up the drip lines though! With the help of my first student employee and the kitchen staff, we were able to plant all the squash and tomatoes in one afternoon, about 400 plants! Since the goal here is to be a sustainable food operation, a large part of that is to preserve for the winter. We planted 101 Paisano sauce tomato plants. Our chef Scott (the one who left to Vegas!) had a goal to make and freeze enough tomato sauce for the year. So far, as of October 13th, they have 63 gallons made! Amazing! We also planted 200 pepper plants in ten varieties including four kinds of hot peppers. I put the hot peppers in the hoop house along with some of the sauce tomatoes and the cucumbers. Oh, the cucumbers. What a sad story they were this year. They developed bacterial wilt and one by one they wilted and died. We still were able to harvest 180 pounds of them but by early August, they were all dead. Next year I am planting a variety that is resistant to that wilt disease.
As always, the brassica family thrived in our garden! My favorite of the vegetables as they don’t care if it is hot, dry, cold, wet or even snowy! They are the first plants into the garden and the last ones out. Our kale and collard greens did great and some of my best cabbage and Brussel sprouts I ever grew were this year. We got in a second round of snow peas, they loved the cold spring, but we will see if they have enough time to fruit before the real cold temperatures start. Our beans did OK. I think when we planted on June 1st, the ground wasn’t warm enough and most didn’t germinate. We replanted but that cold snap in early September really slowed them down. My family and I have been saving an heirloom soybean for five generations and we were able to share them with the kitchen here. Guests at our farm stand were surprised to find them too, a rare treat!! They grew well out here without any rabbits that normally devour the young plants. I think that fox den kept their numbers down.
We had wonderful potatoes in five varieties. I tried to plant them in succession to have a continual supply throughout the season, with the first planting going in on Good Friday, April 18th. I still have the storage potatoes in the ground but so far we have harvested 1,036 pounds. The kitchen hasn’t had to buy any since June!
As in every organic garden, we had our share of pests. The usual suspects, tomato hornworm, cabbage loopers, flea beetles but our biggest problem were the ground squirrels. Those things can dig under fencing and have tunnels all over our garden. Plus, there is nothing one can humanly do to stop them. They liked to take one bite out of each ripe tomato rendering it useless except for sauce, really annoying.
Besides the gallons of tomato sauce the kitchen made, the staff has processed and froze lots of other veggies too. Bell peppers are easy to freeze, chop and bag. Kale, collards, snow peas, and chard have all been blanched and frozen. Hot peppers are dried and ground into a hot pepper flake, it is seriously spicy. Other hot peppers are dried whole. Herbs such as sage, dill, basil, parsley, oregano, thyme and cilantro have been dried and ground and stored in canning jars for cooking. Some tomatoes have been dried too, packaged in oil as sun dried tomatoes are. Basil and arugula have been made in pesto and tomatillos into salsas. Onions and garlic are cured and in cold storage and potatoes and winter squash will last for months there too.
There is a lot of planning I must do this winter season. I’d like to expand the growing area, producing even more for the kitchen. I’d love to try some veggies I’ve never grown before, different colored beets, dry beans and specialty herbs. I want to expand my farm stand, advertise more and get the word out there. I really want to get more Loyola students to spend time out here on the farm. It is quite an experience to work in the field then load up the wagon, pull it to the kitchen door, unload it and see it on the lunch buffet hours later! Talk about fresh! We were able to produce 7,344 pounds of produce out here this season so far; I can’t wait to see what we can do next year!
Written by Emily Zack, Farm Operations Manager at Loyola University Retreat and Ecology Campus. 10.28.14