Willow Bark Farm

  (Grand Tower, Illinois)
Farming In Southern Illinois
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Growing Watermelons and Using EM-1

Well it has been awhile since my last blog post. Our summer has been busy planting, watering, weeding and harvesting here on our rural farm.

Southern Illinois has experienced record temperatures this summer along with drought conditions. With farming weather effects every crop that is grown.

This season it took three plantings to get a decent stand of watermelon. The third time is the charm they say. J

This season the varieties that we grew were Sugar Baby, Crimson Sweet, Charleston Gray and Georgia Rattlesnake. These are all heirloom variety watermelons. Ranging in size from small to quite large. Round and oblong in shape. Colors dark green, striped and pale green. Truly a beauty in the garden.

As the heat seemed to dry and scorch every living plant on our farm. Watering was a must. On normal rainfall years watering is usually very minimal. Not this season it has been hot, dry and down right miserable.

As the summer progressed, I was in great doubt that we would have a watermelon crop to harvest. The vines were drying and the blossoms were few. The watermelons were not maturing as I would have liked them to. As each day passed our watermelons that we had worked all season to grow were gradually withering away. Let me tell you, it is disheartening to work so hard only to be left with little or no crop to harvest. This is the way of farming though, some years are very good years while others are just plain terrible.

I decided to try EM-1 Microbial Inoculant on our watermelons. EM is an acronym for Effective Microorganisms. It is a brand name referring to a line of microbial-based products using a technology developed by Japanese scientist Dr. Teruo Higa. EM-1 is a liquid bacterial product made of three groups of bacteria: Yeast, Photosythetic Bacteria, and Lactic Acid Bacteria. EM-1 works together with beneficial microbes in the area to which it is added, creating a synergy among microorganisms and larger forms of life including insects and worms, pets and livestock, and people. It is a wonderful organic product.

At this point in the game of watermelon growing, I figured that I had nothing to lose.

I filled a one quart spray bottle with water and added 1 teaspoon of the EM-1. Let me tell you I spent quite a bit of time in our watermelon patch, making sure that every vine got a drink of the EM-1 solution.

I watched and waited. Within one week the watermelon vines began to show signs of recovering from the intense heat and drought. I was amazed and I couldn’t believe my eyes when our watermelons seemed to flourish and come alive again. It was wonderful to see the vines turn vibrant green and blossoms by the hundreds filled the vines. By the second week many small melons filled the vines. I cannot tell you how happy I was to see those tiny watermelons and lush vines filling up the watermelon patch. With my hope renewed, I knew that we would harvest a watermelon crop. Each and every week the watermelons just kept growing, the vines healthy and trailing and filling the entire growing area.

I harvested the first watermelons this morning. My, my they tasted absolutely delicious. Just the right sweetness, juicy, texture and vibrant color. For those of us that love watermelon, there is nothing that quite compares to a sweet slice of watermelon on a hot summer day.

To learn more about Effective Microorganisms visit the TeraGanix website by using this link http://www.teraganix.com/?Click=2131

They have many wonderful organic products to choose from.

I have included a few photos of our watermelons growing this season.

From our farm to your table, grow watermelons for a sweet slice of garden goodness.

How Sweet It Is!



The Four Penny Egg

 I have and raise a small flock of heritage breed chickens and turkeys. I have 20 young laying hens that are now 24 weeks old. The breeds are Buff Orpington’s, Rhode Island Reds, and Silver-Penciled Wyandotte’s.

Throughout my 30 years of living on the family farm I have raised many types of poultry. My largest flock was ten years ago when I had 100 heritage breed chickens, 10 bronze turkeys, 150 mallard ducks, 2 White Chinese Geese and 30 Bobwhite quail.  

I have 3 incubators and a brooder that I use to hatch new baby chicks. My children were always amazed when they were young when we would put the eggs in the incubators to hatch.  We all waited in anticipation for the little chicks to pip from their shells. Throughout the incubating process we would candle the eggs. This is done by holding the egg upright the small end pointing up, in a dark area and using a flashlight to look into the egg to see the embryo alive and growing inside the egg.

I just love raising poultry. They are easily cared for and have such individual personalities. It is an enjoyable hobby and the birds can supply a family with fresh eggs and meat. I like the idea that I know what my poultry is fed. My birds are naturally grown and are not packed full of hormones and antibiotic.  Commercially raised poultry are often raised in small cages and fed a meal that contains both antibiotic and growth hormones. My poultry love fresh picked greens and vegetables from my gardens. I feel it is important to give poultry fresh vegetables along with their regular diet of farm raised grains, grasses and clover that they pluck from the ground from free ranging and the many insects that they search out and find on their daily travels.

I awoke this morning at 4:00 a.m. to a temperature of 39 degrees. Tonight the temperatures are due to reach a freezing point. I hurriedly dressed warmly and made my way out to my chicken coop to feed and water my chickens and turkeys. They were all awaiting my arrival. Clucks, cock-a-doodle doo’s and gobbles sounds filled the air. They were chattering up a storm as I made my way inside for the morning feeding and watering.






One of my young Buff Orpington hens that I named Henny Penny was in the nesting box laying an egg. She is quite verbal when anyone comes near her nest when she is laying an egg. She cackles and ruffles her feathers warning off any intruder. I went about my business of doing my morning routine of caring for my birds. It wasn’t long and Henny Penny got off of the nest and made her way with the rest of the flock that was busily eating. 

I went to the nesting box to collect Henny Penny’s egg. I was shocked and amazed at the huge egg that lay in the golden straw. It was by far the largest egg that any of my chickens had laid in the 30 years of raising poultry. I added it to my basket and continued collecting the eggs. I went inside the house and washed my eggs under cool running water. It was apparent by looking at the normal size eggs that Henny Penny’s was a monster. I decided to measure the size of Henny Penny’s golden egg. As I carefully laid her egg on a clean and dry paper towel, I certainly didn’t want her egg to roll off of the kitchen table unto the floor. I lined up copper pennies in a row next to the egg. One penny, two penny, three penny and finally four pennies lay in a row next to the lovely egg. I hurried to get my camera to photograph Henny Penny’s wonderful egg.


 Her egg was so large that the egg carton would not close. You have heard of bragging size tomatoes, well I have a bragging size golden egg that was laid on a small country farm in rural Southern Illinois.

 So, this is my story of Henny Penny and her unusual four penny egg. A penny for your thoughts….





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