This week at the farm we had some promising growth happen over the last couple days. Two of our plants have started to produce fruit for the short Fall season in Florida. The two plants that are bearing fruit are the American Plum tree and the Yellow Passion Fruit vine. Over the last six weeks I have been putting in extra effort and care into preparing the passion fruit for the small growing opportunity in early November. I have been posting the progress of these plants in my previous blogs and on our social media pages. However, what we did not expect was for the American Plums to produce some fruit during the Fall as well. This occurrence is out of season and not supposed to happen until Spring here in Florida. This particular plum tree has around 5 plums dangling from its branches currently, but the same tree a couple feet away has nothing. I have been tending to these trees all Fall in hopes that they would grow enough to produce plums during their grow season in spring. This is the first time that these trees have produced any fruit since they were planted years ago. Below are some of the pictures I took of the fruit currently on our farm.
During my time here on the farm I have learned several skills involving the construction of various urban farming infrastructure. These include a chicken coops, vertical strawberry gardens, and drip irrigation systems. When I start my own urban farm these skills will be very useful in beginning with a strong foundation. As for the social media aspect of my internship, I’d say it has been going well. As of this week we have increased our page likes to 565 people and reaching 1370 people via comments, likes, and shares. During the harvest season this increase in potential customers should really help to turn a profit next year. We’ve expanded the number of products available, while branching out into new markets in order to meet the demands of our new customers. We have added avocados, bananas, basil, carrots, sweet potato, mango, and strawberries. Plans for the future continue to be focused on farm fresh eggs and possibly cascade hops.
I finished my internship up just a few days ago and have learned so much over the past couple months. It brought me happiness knowing that the work I did not only promotes a sustainable future, but also helped to produce nourishment for people. Each day on the farm was quite enjoyable. Even after days of sweating and pulling weeds and handling feces I was still able to have a smile on my face. I guess this means I’m doing what I was meant to do. It feels good and I hope everyone has an opportunity to do something that makes them happy. At the end of this month my 50 page paper is due. However, I am not concerned as I feel as if I could write a 100 page paper. The presentation is going to have a lot of pictures and some graphs to help present my data in a effective method. Excited to get my degree, but sad to be finally done with school. Its time to go out and change the world. I can’t think of a better way to spend my time. Thank you everyone for all your support and I plan to make the Patel College very happy.
This week on the farm my focus was on accessing any biological issues involving our plants and determining the best course of action to solve that problem. As I’ve previously mentioned, when working with an organic materials such as fertilizers and pesticides it is common to apply them more often than traditional chemicals. There have been lots of butterflies fluttering through the farm as of late and with an increase in butterflies we also see an increase in caterpillars. However, on our farm these pests only seem to want one thing and that’s our passion fruit leaves. There are some vines that are seeing tremendous growth, while there are some other vines who just can’t seem to get started. To solve this issue I have been spraying the vines with a combination of Thuricide, Therm X, and water from our well to eliminate the caterpillars on the lower sections of our passion fruit vines. This organic brew of naturally occurring pesticides seems to last just under a week and needs to be applied promptly after. As you can see below, some of our passion fruit vines are really flourishing. Some vines even growing to heights that we can’t reach with our sprayers anymore. I hope that we don’t see another caterpillar infestation near the top. So far this vine and many others with this height have not shown signs of pests near the top. The vine in the picture is well over 20 feet tall and is one of many fruit vines to reach this height on the farm.
Construction is nearly complete on our vertical strawberry garden system. Farmer Bob decided to stain the wood plank support structure to make it more visually appealing and “rustic” looking. Strawberries really grow well in Florida and are a popular fruit among many of our customers. We gathered this information from comments on our social media pages and plan on giving our customers what they want. At the start of next year we should have a surplus of berries (blueberries and strawberries) and passion fruit available. Strawberries grow from January to November depending on the type and blueberries grow from May to July in Florida depending on the type of plant. Recently, we also planted some mango trees, which have been making some excellent progress and currently without any signs of pests or fungus. Our carrots have also really began to take root as many sprouts have begun to show above the soil. We used recycled materials and our homemade compost to make this possible. Below you will see our almost complete vertical gardens and with the left over materials from that we were able to build an herb garden as well with some quick growth from our carrots.
Working on the farm has taught me a lot of skills that I will need in the future for personal and professional endeavors. Adding this to my resume has caused employers to ask questions about what I do there and why. Of course I happily tell them all the details of what goes on at the farm and why it is important not only locally, but globally as well. Even though I get up at 7:45 AM each morning to make it to the farm on I enjoy every thing I do there. From my first day shoveling chicken feces to the days I spend picking weeds for hours. It feels good knowing that my efforts are contributing to the greater good and helping a local farmer to build his farm. Additionally, upon completion of this internship I will earn my degree and be that much closer to achieving my goal. The Patel School has taught me so much and provided me with an immense amount of opportunities to grow. I will never forget the time I spent here on the farm, along with the joy it brought me helping other in my community. The featured image above is a photo I took arriving at the farm this week. The beauty of the sunrise paired with the greenery of the farm really made me sit back and just enjoy the blessings I have.
The social media campaign continues to gain support from our local community and elsewhere. This week we have added 6 new people to the page bringing our total up to 526. As of today, our current reach for the week has been 425 people. I am extremely excited to see what demand will take place when harvest season comes around. I fear we may have more customers than we can provide for. However, one thing is for sure and that is that this year looks much more promising than last year. The increase in customer communication paired with the addition of several other plant varieties ensures that we will be pulling in a lot more revenue. We have also started an Instagram page that has also been making some decent progress. Since July we have 59 followers and have over 54 posts on our page showcasing what we do on a daily basis. Below is a graph indicating the page growth since I started working on the social media.
Plenty of things going on at Bob’s Berries in Riverview to keep me busy this Fall. A majority of my time was spent weeding our entire blueberry crop this week. We have been running what we call “worm tea” through our drip irrigation system to help stimulate growth outside of season. Although the blueberries love it there are some other flora who do as well. The worm tea not only helps the fruit trees grow, but it also makes the weeds grow enormous as well. The removal of these pests is essential to provide the maximum amount of nutrients to our blueberry trees and not the weeds. Look at the root structure in the picture below of this weed I pulled out of one of our pots. Almost pulled a muscle in my back just trying to get it out. The good news is that we never waste these precious nutrients. All weeds are collected and used in our compost pile to create more healthy soil. We get help from our neighbors, many of which have large yards decorated with various trees and plants. Once a week we collect the trimmings and recycle those into our compost pile as well. Below you can see my contribution this week of weeds and one of our larger compost piles we have out back.
The vertical strawberry gardens are also coming along nicely and should be ready for growing season early next year. Going through a redesign we decided to swith the triangular shape for a more basic fence like support. The three rungs will hold a line of strawberries on each side and the ground will support one more. This greatly reduces the amount of horizontal space needed for this garden from six feet to about a foot. We also added two new types of mango trees to the farm this week. They are the Bailey’s Marvel Mango and the Maha Shanooc Mango. Our list of crops continues to expand each week to provide our customers with the best selection of organic produce in Riverview come the growing season. We are looking to make some partnerships with local farmers markets and fruit stands to market our farm while increasing profitability. Riverview is home to many of these businesses and the locals seems to really enjoy picking our their own food. Additionally, this week we have had to prepare for Hurricane Matthew as it slowly bypasses Florida. Although the hurricane will not actually hit us, the farm will be experiencing some high winds which can send debris or tree branches into our plants. High winds can also snap our growing saplings or even pull them from the ground. We have taken precautions to stake the more flimsy plants to the ground to prevent any damage. Lets hope for some good luck as we try to avoid any damage from flying debris over the next few days. Last time Tropical Storm Hermine did some damage and we lost a few blueberry trees due to oak tree branches. Looking to avoid that catastrophe again this time around. Rain however, is a good thing and helps us to reduce the amount of water we pull from the ground. Also being an organic farm we don’t need to stress about chemical runoff from fertilizers or pesticides getting into the local waterways. There are so many benefits to switching to an organic agricultural system its honestly shocking that we haven’t done so already. As we attempt to weather the storm here in Florida I wish the rest of you a safe weekend.
This week on the farm I helped in the completion of our nursery. We transplanted 288 different blueberry trees into pots, that will be sold to customers interested in growing their own berries. Each tray contained 72 blueberry saplings of two different variety. The types of blueberries we currently have in our nursery are Arcadia and Scintilla. Although this may not seem like a difficult task it proved to be most time consuming even for two people.
The process consisted of wetting the soil to make the saplings easy to remove from their tray. Then we recycled planters from previous plants used on the farm and filled them with our compost that we have been making. After a work table worth of pots was filled we then created some holes in the compost and filled them slightly with concentrated fertilizer called, WormGold. The fertilizer is chicken feces which is then processed by worms in the form of castings. After adding the concentrate to the holes, we then placed each plant in a pot then filled in the hole. This process took over 4 hours to complete, but is paving the way for the future of the farm. In the right photo you see the 288 re-potted blueberry saplings lined up in the nursery. The sprinklers are set to water these little plants every hour for 1 minute each day.
While on the farm this week I again sprayed the organic pesticide combination of Neem oil and Thermx on the passion fruit and other trees. Our regiment of Thuricide has begun to take control and has kept the caterpillars off our passion fruit vines for a week at least. Therefore, this week I did not have to spray the Thuricide on the trees further reducing the additives that come in contact with our plants. The social media is also making great strides as well. We are currently on average per week reaching well over 1,500 people through our Facebook page alone. Our total likes for the page are currently 519 and 59 followers on Instagram.This week as of Monday we have reached 512 people in 2 days with only 2 posts. I hope this rise in customer interaction equates to more visitors to the farm during the growing season. The property is covered in passion fruit as well as blueberries. As for the chicken coop, we still are working on getting the wire up on the support beams. Just another step to making Bob’s Berries more sustainable.
Plans for the future also include vertical strawberry gardens to be completed by the end of this year. Also, we reused the remaining gutters from the vertical gardens to create a hanging herb garden. Included in this garden is sweet basil, purple basil, oregano, rosemary, parsley, chives, and some short sweet carrots. Beyond the fence you can see the parts we will be using to create the vertical strawberry gardens. The design will feature triangle plywood supports that hold three gutters worth of strawberries. The garden should house around 108 plants all with drip irrigation and space saving design.
This week on the farm I had to apply some pesticides to remove some caterpillars and aphids from some of the plants on site. The aphids tend to be on the plum trees on the underside of the leaves. So in order to remove these harmful pests we use a plant extract called neem oil. This is combined with water and sprayed on the underside of the leaves to prevent more aphids from harming our plants and reproducing. To make the spray linger longer we use ThermX, which is derived from yucca plants. So far the results have been promising and the problem seems to be subsiding for now. Aphids are a common problem in Florida and are indicated by the presence of ants on plants they normally do not inhabit.
We also have several passion fruit vines that grow around the farm on various fences and trees. However, these fast growing fruit vines are a favorite treat of caterpillars in the area. So combat this infestation we used some organic pesticide specifically designed for caterpillars called BT or Thuricide. This is a toxic concentrate made from bacteria that eliminates the caterpillars naturally. I generally add a tablespoon of the liquid to a gallon of water in the mister and go around the farm spraying the leaves and stalks. This organic pesticide has shown real promise, but the only downside is that compared to inorganic pesticides it needs to be applied more often. I took a picture before and a couple weeks after I sprayed the thuricide and the results are amazing. The first picture is before the thuricide and the second one is 7 weeks after spraying. In the space between the large branches of the tree you can see the passion fruit extended higher up the tree. This vine is our largest on the farm and it has a height of nearly 10 feet.
Additionally, this week we have also made progress on our chicken coop with the help of some volunteers and community members. The trusses have been completed and have been attached to the roof of the structure. The next step is enclosing the space and purchasing the chickens. We plan to use the chickens for farm fresh eggs, this is a much more sustainable option than harvesting chickens for their meat without sacrificing protein. The chickens will also provide feces that we will convert into fertilizer for the farm or to sell. This organic alternative reduces waste on the farm and focuses on closed loop life cycles. The picture below we see farmer Bob and some volunteers assisting with the construction of our coop. As you can see we are nearly complete and this will make the farm more sustainable.
As the weeks go by I continue to learn new and exciting things that will help me with my plans for the future. I hope to one day have my own farm and produce my own food. Additionally, this internship will make my resume more desirable in the field I would like to pursue a career in.
This week marks the official start to my internship at Bob’s Berries Organic Urban Farm. Up until this point I have been volunteering on a weekly basis getting to know the in’s and out’s of working on the farm. In addition to expanding my overall knowledge of organic and urban farming practices, I also hope to do some sustainability consulting on the property to improve its efficiency. Other objectives for this internship include expanding the farms social media presence in order to reach a greater customer base. Currently, I have expanded the social media outlets of the farm to include Instagram and Twitter. This has shown promising results by nearly doubling the amount of followers on the Facebook page and getting more people involved with social media that had not previously existed. My external supervisor is Rob Clemons, a local business owner and entrepreneur in Riverview. He runs his own A/C business and has an urban farm on his property as a side project for the community. Together we plan on teaching each other various things about sustainability and farming.
At the moment, we have various crops which will grow blueberries, plums, passion fruit, olives, and pecans during their respective seasons. We also sell local honey and are in the process of constructing a chicken coop to produce farm fresh eggs. As for future renovations, we are looking to install vertical strawberry gardens which I will be assisting in the design and installation process for this project. I have already done and learned so much in the past couple weeks I’m really looking forward to what I will learn in the future. Food has always been a passion of mine and in today’s world it has become clear that we are more detached from our food then we need to be. This is why I feel that urban farming is important and will help to solve many of the negative side effects of our current food system. Reduction of chemicals, waste, and emissions are just the start of what urban farming has to offer. The community in which the farm is located already features many urban farms and farmers markets so the demand for these products is there.
At the moment we do not have anything to sell besides honey and composted soil, but have seen tremendous progress from many of the crops on property. The blueberries have just finished an amazing harvest this year and have nearly doubled in size during their downtime. Passion fruit is another crop we have been tending to on the farm and this has also shown significant growth during the off-season. The social media plays a huge role in keeping customers involved in the production process, as well as, creating a sense of anticipation for the next harvest. Social media has also provided the farm with a greater opportunity to reach people willing to volunteer their time. I’m extremely excited to watch the progression of my work and have it positively impact my community. If you would like to add any of our social media outlets the links are listed below.