Projects galore on 5 acres
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Work in progress
If variety is the spice of life, then Rich and Wendy Tobiasz's Evergreen Oasis Farm certainly appeals 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.
They describe their property as "wonderfully imperfect" and admit it does not look like a manicured golf course. It is a work in progress, complete with an orchard, flower and vegetable gardens, and livestock.Date Published: March 2, 2018Date Updated: March 6, 2018
They built their home in 1988 and added 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 homestead Evergreen Oasis Farm, because to them it feels like they're in an oasis surrounded by subdivisions.Date Published: March 2, 2018Date Updated: March 6, 2018
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. But our style is a bit more casual. That works for us."
Rich is the Spring Grove fire chief and Wendy is a registered nurse at a local hospital. Both are 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. Many home-schooled children and 4-H groups have visited to learn about sustainable gardening.Date Published: March 2, 2018Date Updated: March 6, 2018
Acres of diversity
Their gardens include a Japanese-style dry garden, an English cottage garden, a combined culinary-medicinal-fragrance herb garden, and new gardens for shade perennials and bulbs that feature canna, calla lilies, gladiolus, and dahlias.
Their half-plus acre of vegetables means lots of canning (Rich completed the University of Illinois Extension 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; crops such as potatoes, onions, and squash are stored in the cool crawl space.Date Published: March 2, 2018Date Updated: March 6, 2018
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 at Christmas. Nearby grows a 60×60-foot herb garden with more than 80 different types of herbs. While many herbs are used throughout the growing season, the couple dries several varieties for off-season use.Date Published: March 2, 2018Date Updated: March 6, 2018
All kinds of animals
Kristy, a Shetland sheepdog, has the run of the place and keeps tabs on the herds of goats and sheep, the pens of chickens and turkeys, and the visiting classrooms of children.
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 grows indigo for the beautiful blue it creates. She spends a good part of the winter by the fireplace making wool socks, scarves, and sweaters with her homespun textiles.Date Published: March 2, 2018Date Updated: March 6, 2018
Gifts from Home
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.
Three beehives line up on 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 coworkers," Wendy says.Date Published: March 2, 2018Date Updated: March 6, 2018
Rich teaches classes for the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener program, and he shares not only plant lore, but also experiences with animals.
The chicken tractors (shown here) he and Wendy utilize are a prime example. Laying hens spend spring, summer, and fall wheeled around in ground cages that are moved daily. The chickens feed on grass and bugs while they scratch up the soil and fertilize it. "Studies indicate that free-range chickens have better beta carotene, vitamins A, E, and 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 the flock from predators.Date Published: March 2, 2018Date Updated: March 6, 2018
Rich and Wendy believe the vegetable and fruits produced on their acreage benefit their own general nutrition like nothing else can. "We grow without commercial fertilizers and pesticides," says Rich. 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," he says. 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 from the garden, hold a chicken for the first time, or touch a turkey."Date Published: March 2, 2018Date Updated: March 6, 2018
"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. "It's an active lifestyle. It takes an average of three to four 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."Date Published: March 2, 2018Date Updated: March 6, 2018
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