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Acres of diversity

If variety is the spice of life, then Rich and Wendy Tobiasz's Evergreen Oasis Farm will certainly appeal to the taste buds.
  • The spice of life

    If variety is the spice of life, then Rich and Wendy Tobiasz's Evergreen Oasis Farm will certainly appeal to the taste buds. The Tobiaszes use every square inch of their 5 acres near Spring Grove, Illinois, packing in more gardens, birds, insects and animals than peppers in a mill.<br>They describe their property as "wonderfully imperfect." While they admit that it does not have the look of a manicured golf-course, it is a work in progress, complete with an orchard, flower and vegetable gardens and livestock. They built their home in 1988 adding on in 2004. The land was a hayfield with only two white pine trees. Today it has over 300 trees, with more than 50 species represented, some already over 20 feet tall. They call their farm and home the Evergreen Oasis, because to them it feels like they're in an oasis surrounded by subdivisions.<br>As Wendy says, "We really DO appreciate beautifully tended gardens and I go out of my way driving to work just to look at them. Our style is a bit more casual. That works for us."
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    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • We like it that way!

    Rich is the Spring Grove fire chief, Wendy is a registered nurse at a local hospital. Both are very busy professionals, and to hear Wendy tell it, "We like it that way!" Their place has been featured on the McHenry County Master Gardener Tour. 4-H and many home schooled children have visited the site to learn about sustainable gardening.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • True variety

    Their gardens include a Japanese style dry garden, an English cottage garden, a combined culinary, medicinal and fragrance herb garden, and new gardens for shade perennials and bulbs featuring canna and calla lilies, gladiolas and dahlias. Their half acre plus of vegetables means lots of canning (Rich completed the Master Preserver course). Annually they grow enough produce for a year's supply of tomato sauce, corn, asparagus, carrots, beets, green beans, pickles, pears and jam. Some items are frozen and crops such as potatoes, onions and squash are stored in the coolest area of the crawl space.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Salad bed

    Their salad bed, a raised above-ground bed near the house, flourishes with spinach, endive, radish, arugula, purslane, scallions and swiss chard. Parsley and dill, some running wild, punctuate the bed. They plant every couple of weeks to ensure a readily available fresh salad nearly year-round. With some season extending techniques, they have fooled mother nature and managed to have fresh salad greens on Christmas Day last year. Nearby grows a 60x60-foot herb garden with more than 80 different types of herbs. While many are used throughout the growing season, they dry several varieties for off-season use.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Kristy

    Kristy, a Shetland Sheepdog has the run of the place and keeps tabs on their herds of goats, sheep, pens of chickens, turkeys, and visiting classrooms of kids.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Spinning wool

    Wendy spins hand shorn wool from their Rambouillet, Icelandic, Shetland and Jacob sheep into skeins of yarn. Some of the herbs will provide natural dye for the fine white wool. Wendy is growing indigo this year for the beautiful blue it creates. She spends a good chunk of the winter by the fireplace making wool socks, scarves and sweaters with her new home-spun textiles.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Alpine goats

    Their goats are Alpines. Rich and Wendy drink the goat milk and use it to produce Chevre, cheddar, Parmesan, Colby and ricotta cheeses. Excess goat milk is fed to the chickens.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Honey hole

    Three bee hives line up the north side of the property, and the honey is used in breads, cereal, and tea. Much like the jams and jellies, Wendy and Rich give family and friends jars of honey each year. "The satisfaction in what we do comes from being able to share products with friends and co-workers," Wendy says.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Chicken tractors

    Rich teaches classes for Master Gardeners, and shares not only plant lore, but experiences with animals as well. The chicken "tractors" he and Wendy utilize are a prime example. Laying hens spend spring, summer and fall wheeled around in ground cages that are moved daily. They feed on grass and bugs while they scratch up the soil and fertilize it. "Studies indicate that free range chickens have better beta carotene, Vitamin A, E, B12, folic acid and omega or fatty acids" Rich says, "probably because they are on fresh pasture." The "tractors" keep the chickens housed and protect them from predators.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • A natural approach

    Rich and Wendy believe that the vegetable and fruits produced on their acreage benefits their own general nutrition like nothing else can. "We grow without commercial fertilizers and pesticides. Animal and green manures provide the fertilizer. Mulching conserves water. Beneficial insects are encouraged to control pests. We are trying to be as organic and as sustainable as possible," says Rich.<br>He adds, "We think we've been the motivation for lots of people to get into organic gardening. It's been so much fun to have children come and taste fresh peas form the garden or hold a chicken for the first time, or watch their faces the first time they touch a turkey. Most kids never get to experience these kinds of things in the city, and that’s part of why we do what we do here," says Wendy. She adds, "It's an active lifestyle. It takes an average of 3-4 hours per day, maybe more during the growing season. There's no time for TV, but that's OK. There is so much more that’s interesting out on the farm."<br>

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Learn more

    Rich and Wendy Tobiasz<br>
    Spring Grove, Illinois<br>
    eofarm@aol.com<br>

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012

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