NEW FARMER JOURNAL: Fresh Harvest Farm, Mokena IL

The long list
With growing season in full gear, farm projects continue to pile up.

By Patty McPhillips
Posted June 16, 2005

Jean Phelan and Patty McPhillips


Fresh Harvest Farm
Mokena, Illinois

Farmers: Patty McPhillips and Jeanne Phelan

First season: 2004

What they raise: Mixed vegetables, herbs

Location: South Chicago suburb

Marketing strategies: farmers’ market, farm stand, considering a CSA

June, 2005. We are planting in our 2-acre Frankfort field (land used to grow conventional soybeans in 2004). The soil here in Frankfort is very different from that on our 1/2-acre Mokena field only 5 miles away. The Frankfort soil crusts over pretty quickly and is powdery in many places. It seems as though there is no organic matter in the soil at all.

In early May, I had a semi-truck load (30 yards) of compost delivered from a large, local organic herb farm. We sent out an urgent plea to the CSA members asking for their assistance in spreading the compost and had a few volunteers offer to help out. The day before we were scheduled to work, it rained (the only rain we got in all of May). We cancelled the volunteer date and have been faced with that mountain of compost ever since.

Now we are applying compost as we plant (transplants get a shovelful in their planting hole). For seeded crops, I am laying down a line of compost and coming back over with the Earthway seeder, hoping to have the compost incorporated into the soil a little through this process. The tomato and pepper transplants are looking good in their little compost beds. When all is planted, I will distribute any remaining compost over the top of the field by wheelbarrow and shovel.

Irrigation and refrigeration are very urgent concerns right now. The drip irrigation system in Mokena is installed and worked fine for one cycle, after which the pump started acting weird and is now not drawing water at all. It turns on OK but pulls no water from the creek. After doing all the troubleshooting I can think of – which certainly isn’t much; cleaning the filter and checking to be sure the pump is primed – it is still dead in the water (so to speak). My brother-in-law Steve is a pipe fitter and helped install the system last year. He thinks that the impeller may be loose and has offered to come out and take a look. Thank goodness for handy brother-in-laws.

Irrigation at the Frankfort field is a whole different issue. Our water source (a well of unknown capacity) is 1,000 feet away up at the barn. The spigot puts out about 600 gallons per hour. There is a 1,000-gallon stock tank right next to the spigot, and we will be able to use that as a holding tank. I plan to push the water down to the field through 2-inch aboveground PVC pipe assembled with a union every 40 feet so that it can be taken apart and stored for winter. I should be able to run 24-100-foot drip tapes continually and am cogitating on the best way to make the them moveable and the system flexible.

Our first pickup will be next week—peas, lettuce and radishes—but I still don’t have refrigeration. Yikes. I thought that one or two used, reach-in type restaurant coolers housed on my back porch would be a good solution, but the units won’t fit through the door. The only other home for such a unit on my property would be our one-car garage, and installing a cooler would eliminate forever the possibility of parking a car in there. As it is, I commandeer the garage for tool storage and staging of landscape jobs in the summer and then clear everything out in the fall so we can at least get the car out of the winter weather.

Plan B for refrigeration was to turn an existing backyard shed into a cooler using a window air conditioner, and my Dad agreed to help with the project. Unfortunately, I have since learned that the thermostat on the AC unit will only allow the temperature to go down to 60 degrees. Plan B, Shed-to-Cooler Conversion, Revision 1: Dad is working on insulating the shed with polystyrene while Pipe-Fitter Steve and I hunt for a condenser and coil that is within budget ($400). If this shed-to-cooler conversion works, I will still be able to use the shed for winter storage of tools and get the car in the garage.

This certainly is a time of long days, short nights and to-do lists that have no end. I feel as though I am hanging on by a thread and praying that the thread is made of some newfangled, space-age material that is incredibly strong and resilient.