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By: Ann Swanson, Hendrick House Food Service
Growing in fall is so much easier than growing in the spring. There are usually less bugs, the days are shorter so the weeds have slowed their growth and the temperatures are usually cooler. Except for this week where temperatures will reach back into the 90’s. Yuck!
We had a couple hiccups while trying to get our fall crops in the ground.
Hiccup #1: We had a terrible small animal/ bird pest problem this year. For those of you trying to grow small speciality crops in Central Illinois, I’m sure you can feel my pain. We have been in a terrible drought. Droughts are good and bad for us. The upside to a drought is it keeps pesky disease at bay, which is a great advantage considering the previous years when we have had to fight bacterial spot and septoria. The downside to a drought (and something we struggled with all year) is that the crops are not the only ones that are thirsty. Crows, rabbits, coyotes etc all need water as well. The crows were by far the worst! We have so many holes in our drip tape and lay flat it looks like a ride at Hurricane Harbor. This presents a real problem when you are replanting the same beds with irrigation that was laid underneath plastic mulch.
Hiccup #2: Those same small animals that were thirsty were also hungry. Every time we had an acre of fall crop planted the rabbits would swoop in (overnight it seemed) and eat our tiny transplants. I also think they were so thirsty and the crows were hogging so much of the irrigation water that the poor rabbits were trying to suck out water from the plants.
Hiccup #3: Don’t go on vacation in August if you run a farm. Unfortunately I have been trying to explain that to my family and they just keep planning these big events right smack dab in peak season. Each irrigation line has a valve and you can control whether the bed is watered or not with said valve. This is great for obvious reasons. However, if the lines aren’t constantly walked and each valve checked over the entire three acres of irrigation every time you run the irrigation, then a bed can get easily missed. This isn’t a big deal if the plants are mature but it is a very big deal if they are transplants and are small. Unfortunately, I returned from vacation to a very burned acre of fall crops.
All in all we replanted about three times, filling in holes as plants went missing. Did I mention we plant on our hands and knees?? It was painful, emotionally and physically. There was definitely a point where we just gave up replanting due to lack of time in the season. The fall crop that did make it is beginning to show signs of life, two weeks behind schedule. I am still holding my breath on the broccoli and cauliflower but hopefully it will mature before we have our first blizzard :).
There were many lessons learned this year but that is what makes us better. I am contemplating not using as much drip next year, instead switching to sprinklers. I am also definitely not taking a vacation at the beginning of August (forehead slap) :).