Dec 17, 2012
A little rain and a lot of faith

In the heart of the drought that hammered much of central Illinois this summer, at least one farm got just enough moisture to pull off a good season. The Garden Spot in Princeville, Ill., owned by Lillian Jacobs and her son, Jim Buckley, sells at the Peoria Metro Centre Market and the RiverFront Market, as well as at a small roadside market right on the farm.

June and July were terribly dry, Jacobs said. She also noticed that the crops ripened more unevenly than in any other year. It was all about moisture.

The 30-acre farm has no real irrigation, but Jacobs and Buckley did try to help things along where they could.

“My husband put in some piping down into the creek, that helped bring just enough moisture,” Jacobs said. “Just one mile east of us, they had no rain. We were very lucky to catch those rains. We were luckier than most.”

Cabbage was hit hard.

“We had to mow off a whole field of late cabbage,” she said. “Nice big heads, but as soon as we got a little rain, we had rust.”

Some of their beans were hit hard too, Jacobs said. The plants were coming along well and looked great, but they kept dropping the blossoms in the dry heat.

The drought has reduced some of their competition at the markets.

“A lot of growers have not come to the Metro Centre market this year because they lost things to the drought,” Jacobs said.

It wasn’t just the drought. The early spring and late frost also took out the few peach trees they had.

“The April frost this year just wiped the peaches out completely,” Buckley said. “Not a single peach. I had to bring in some from South Carolina for the markets.”

Double cropping

Jacobs said they double crop quite a few things. The drought hit the new plants first, and made them think about when or if they’d be able to replant. But the land holds the moisture pretty well, she said. Double cropping has worked well for them this season, as it has in the past.

Double cropping also allows them to meet special demands from customers.

“We are growing some Crowder peas,” she said. “People down at the markets have asked for those. Where we had early sweet corn, now we have beans and peas.”

Sometimes double cropping hasn’t worked for them, but it has been worth it to try, Jacobs said.

“If you don’t plant it, you don’t have it,” she said. “It’s the risk you take. We had sweet corn in October. How else could that happen?”

The Garden Spot doesn’t use chemicals, Jacobs said. They do lose some crops and some of their techniques have been a little unorthodox, but it’s worked so far.

“We left the potatoes with weeds on them because if we didn’t, they would cook in the heat when the temps got up in the hundreds,” Jacobs said. “We’ll mow off the weeds and tops and have good potatoes with the weed protection. We try to keep our field as healthy as possible, for those folks who are sensitive to chemicals.”

Sweet corn has been a big crop for the farm, too, and one that Buckley has been especially proud of this season.

“We’ve had a lot of stalks with three ears, a lot with doubles,” he said. “I’m proud of the corn this year, for as dry as it has been. The flavor has been outstanding.”

For corn varieties, Obsession works well for them, Jacobs said. Temptation early in the season was good, and so was 277A, but is a little wormy right now, she said.

Looking ahead

Jacobs predicts they will have an early freeze this season. She said they were picking acorn squash in mid-August, and this is the first year that has happened.

“Last year, we got to go until December 3 to sell at the markets,” she said. “It was really an exception. It was cold to be standing out there, but we were fortunate.”

Jacobs also said she is letting her son take a larger role in the farm.

“I decided to step back a little and let Jimmy take over a little more,” she said. “He has to learn somehow.”

The last few years have been more of a challenge, Jacobs said.

“One year, we had 22 inches of rain in just a few days,” she said. “We replanted some things two and three times to finally get a crop. Everything happens for a reason. You have to keep the faith.”

By Derrek Sigler, Assistant Editor

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