Saturday morning, 20+ gardeners gathered under the tent adjacent to the WildWest Community Garden to hear Eric Lober of Sunny Creek Farm, Villa Ridge, MO.
Unseasonably cool temperatures had several attendees wishing they had brought light jackets. Eric talked about Sunny Creek Farm and how he and Kathy began farming five years ago after completing a Farm Beginnings class (now known as Grow Your Farm) offered by University of Missouri. They lease 174 acres, with about 2 1/2 acres planted in produce. Their current focus is on raising animals – cows and chickens – for processing into meats. They raise grass fed beef which is inspected by Swiss Meats and pasture raised chickens which are processed, inspected and immediately frozen as whole birds at a facility in Loose Creek, MO. They sell meats and some produce to St. Louis restaurants, attend the Wildwood Farmers Market on Saturdays, and provide CSA(Community Supported Agriculture) subscribers with shares of produce and meats during the season. They also market pork raised by Todd Geisert, Washington, MO. When asked what time they got out of bed Saturday morning, Eric replied, “5 am”, which drew laughter from the audience.
They have worked hard to re-balance the soil on their leased land. It had been used for years to grow hay which depleted the soil’s nutrients. Eric recommended Midwest Laboratories for thorough soil testing. It costs about $35 per sample excluding shipping costs. He talked about the importance of micro-nutrients in the soil and the fact that a simple NPK soil analysis doesn’t include enough information to accurately select amendments. One of the minerals that they have found necessary to add to their soil is pelletized gypsum.
They will soon harvest potatoes. They applied Bradfield Organic fertilizers to this year’s crop and are looking forward to seeing improvements in their production. Several gardeners wanted to know when to harvest potatoes. Eric said that it is variety dependent, but it is definitely some time after the plant flowers. Yukon gold potatoes have a short season of about 60 -70 days, but they don’t keep well. He usually marks 50 – 60 days out from the time he first sees growth after planting. When that time arrives, he checks a plant to see how the potatoes are doing. If they are ready, he cuts the tops off before harvesting to let the skin harden. They have access to a mechanized potato harvester that is owned by Missouri Organic Association ( or Cooperative). They order potato stock from Potato Gardens in Colorado.
Eric also mentioned that pests are worse in gardens with imbalanced soil. Questions were asked about what caused eggplant leaves to look like they had been shot, riddled with tiny holes. The problem is likely flea beetles and Eric said that it is difficult to treat for them with organic methods. He and Kathy have tried every organic product on the market and have given up trying to grow plants susceptible to flea beetle invasion. While he thought some of the home remedies for pests might be practical or effective in a small garden, they have found that these methods aren’t practical in a garden the size of theirs. Regarding blossom drop, particularly with cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers, he recommended Zone liquid calcium foliar spray, available at Morgan County Feed. He cautioned that when you use foliar spray, you should apply it either early in the morning or late in the evening or the leaves will likely burn in the sun. He also pointed out that heat and excessive moisture can cause blossom drop. Eric said that if you have aphids, you probably have too much nitrogen in the soil.
On the subject of extending the growing season, he recommended Eliot Coleman’s book, Four Season Harvest. An earlier Coleman book, The Winter Harvest, is available at the St. Louis County Library. Methods such as hoop houses and cold frames are discussed in detail in these books. Black plastic on the soil will also raise soil temperatures. A hoop house greatly extends the season and allows the gardener to control the water received and protects plants from temperature extremes and wind damage. There are seeds that can be started in August to plant in September. He suggested kale and carrots as examples. They usually start lettuce about 3 weeks before planting.
Miscellaneous thoughts from Eric – he read somewhere that brown or purple green beans germinate in cooler soil vs. the warm soil temperature requirements of the white bean seed. He and Kathy have grown corn but it required too much land to meet it’s cross pollination needs, so they no longer plant it. When asked about a lettuce that would better survive the heat of summer he recommended Summer Crisp Lettuce. He suggested Route 66 Organics as a source of compost for those who would like to amend their soil. Route 66 Organics is located in Pacific and the owner frequently comes to the Wildwood Farmers Market on Saturdays.
The event was covered by reporter Jo Beck of the Eureka-Wildwood, MO Patch. Be sure to check out her story on their web page. Doug Smedley barbequed delicious hamburgers and hot dogs for the lunch that followed Eric’s talk. Several garden members brought additional pot luck items – brownies, cookies, salads, watermelon and dips. I’m pretty sure no one left hungry. Deanna Eguires manned a snow cone machine, offering to make icy treats for any one interested.
Jodi Smedley introduced members of the garden committee who received rounds of applause from the audience for all their hard work in bringing the garden to reality. We are all so grateful for the hours of planning and organization that occurred leading up to the build day, April 30. Everyone seems excited and enthusiastic about the efforts that have transformed a field of grass into more than 40 gardens brimming with a variety of beautiful flowers and vegetables in just a couple of months. What a great example of community working together for a common goal! Yea, Wildwood YMCA!
WildWest Community Garden “Lunch & Learn”