For a recent articles/stories publshed about our tomato farm:
In the Los Angeles Times High School Insider Edition
CLICK HERE, published August 23 2016, and written by a high school student Caroline Heitmann at Shawnee Mission East High School
By the Kansas City Star, CLICK HERE, published August 22, 2016, in the on-line version and written by the KC Star Food Editor--Jill Wendholt Silva is The Star’s James Beard award-winning food editor, lead restaurant critic and blog curator. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She tweets at @kcstarfood and @chowtownkc
Lifelong Pursuit of Tomatoes with Taste
For all his life, Sky Kurlbaum has enjoyed growing and eating delicious home grown tomatoes. But not just any tomatoes! They had to taste like the ones grown over 35 years ago on his family’s farm in Sandoval, Illinois.
After years of being away from the family farm, Sky tried growing his own home grown delights. But, after the long wait for a taste he found himself disappointed. “These tomatoes just don’t taste like the ones we used to grow in Sandoval.” Maybe it was the climate, or the soil.
Then, he read about heirloom tomato plants. He thought, “Could it be the type of plants?” He had been planting hybrid plants available at most nurseries but not knowing nurseries over the years traded old heirloom varieties for less tasty, more recent hybrids. So, he ordered heirloom seeds and grew plants from seed. At harvest, he had his first taste of an heirloom tomato that pulled him back in time to those warm summer Sandoval nights when eating a tomato in the field was like heaven on earth. “Wow, flavor!” That’s the way tomatoes should taste. Just give me a salt shaker and a spot in the dirt.”
Sky and his family now plant nearly 3,000 plants and supply over 30 restaurants with their summertime tomatoes.
2016 Tomato News
It was a great 2016 tomato season. We got the plants in just before the rains came (nearly 5 weeks of rain). Then, the rains stopped and for almost 5 more weeks, not a drop fell. We were expecting doom upon our return from our annual summer July 4 vacation but much to our surprise, the plants were loaded with fruit. What was different this year from last, where we had a terrible time? One can never be sure but we think the following made a difference: 1. We have been “supercharging” our soil by planting cover crops of turnip and mustard greens, then plowing those back into the soil; 2. We now have beekeepers on the property; and 3. We finally kept the deer out. Further, we moved the gardens up out of the lower garden where in past years it has gotten too wet and where at night, cold air settles on the plants. Can we replicate this year’s great garden? You can bet we will try. Our tomatoes were very clean right out of the garden with very little disease and insect damage. We picked well over 6 tons of tomatoes. We supplied over 30 restaurants and sold to three grocery stores. The tomatoes had exquisite, complex flavors with a smooth finish, satisfying the high taste test standards of our Tomato Sommeliers. If we were making wine, 2016 would be the bottle headed to the wine cellar. We had 6 farm to table dinners highlighed by servings from some of the best chefs in Kansas City. The annual Micael Smith's and Jasper's Kurlbaum Tomato Dinners were completely sold out!
2015 Tomato News
Rain, rain, go away. It's been another cool and wet Spring. Did someone say "global cooling?" It's soggy and we only had a one day window to get 2,800 plants in. We have about 500 more to go and can't plant due to the wet soil. Anyway, we are hoping for the best as we always do. The plagues of the World visit each year and we just have to persevere. That's what being a farmer is all about. The year was nearly a bust.
The garden has been producing like mad. We have picked two 2,000 pound plus picks during the week of August 10. Tomato dinners are in full swing and customers all over the City are enjoying our tomatoes. We are now in 40 restaurants, 8 grocery stores and one fine caterer. The word is out. Kurlbaum's tomatoes are the tastiest of all!
Tomatoes are now producing fruit! Cooler July than any of can ever remember. Slowing the ripening process but tomatoes are tasty and looking good. Notice that everything is growing well this year?
This year, we are using the Florida weave to hold up our plants. We also built a new 30 x 70 hoop house we hope to be using soon to accelerate and then extend our growing seasons.
We have five "tomato dinners" already scheduled where our Kurlbaum's tomatoes will be featured. Those dinners will be at Jasper's, both the downtown and Leawood Bristols, the Brio, Beer Kitchen Michael Smith's and Gram & Dun (See Dinner tab above for details).
Previous year’s Tomato News
This was a bit of a tough year for us as the cool spring weather kept the plants from developing tomatoes. We did, however, make a comeback and harvested the second two waves of tomatoes. The tomatoes were very tasty this year.
We had tomato dinners at the Beer Kitchen, Jaspers, Bristol (downtown) and Michal Smiths. Our tomatoes were in short supply.
We also held several events at our farm including hosting the Slow Food group with chef Jasper Mirabeli who wrote about the event in the KC Start on-line edition.
As we gain experience from year to year we learn from our successes and mistakes. We will continue the modified lasagna method of placing paper under each plant. This provides an environment the earth worms love. We then mulch with old hay. Use the lantern method of caging (suspending the cage above the plants from a guy wire). Respect the land by using sustainable farming methods and organic products for the pests.
We can control some things, but not mother nature. The weather has been abnormally weird! Dry and record warm. We are thankful the the recent rain.... (we never water the plants after they are planted...the roots go deep in search of water.) With the winter so warm we certainly will have our challenge with controlling the pest population. The gardens were shifted to new locations to reduce the incidence of soil borne pathogens that is inherent in tomato gardening. The gardens are in with almost 3000 plants and every thing looks great!!!!. We are delivering to grocery stores, fine restaurants and food kitchens and pantries. We should deliver as much as 1,000 pounds of fruit to charity this year.
In keeping with our vision last year a SCHOLARSHIP was awarded to :
Dennis Jilka, Kansas State University
Dennis is pursuing a biology degree and is a future doctor. It is a privilege to work with such a fine young man.
We celebrate the return of Thomas Kuklenski, my nephew. After graduating from St. Louis University he joined the Peace Corp and was assigned to a small farming community in Guatemala. Thomas worked closely in the tomato and other vegetable production in Guatemala. As he begins his job search, he is once again a contributing member of our work force and now adds valuable hands on information to our knowledge base.
Wow being a farmer is so humbling! This spring began with unseasonably cool weather which slowed our plants growth in the greenhouse. They were put in the ground in late May. Perfect transplanting weather with no loss! Then the heat hit. The fruit that set in June we harvested in July. However July’s inferno heat prevented the blossoms from setting fruit. (We knew fruit wouldn’t set if nighttime temperatures exceeded 85 degrees and we experienced it first hand) Our August harvest wasn’t. Oh well better luck next year. :o)
As we gain experience from year to year we learn from our successes and mistakes. We will continue the modified lasagna method of placing newspaper under each plant. This provides an environment the earth worms love. Mulch with old hay or straw. Use the lantern method of caging (suspending the cage above the plants from a guy wire). Respect the land by using sustainable farming methods and organic products for the pests.
We can control some things, but not mother nature. The water table should be high after record snow fall helping with the dry farming technique we use (we never water the plants after they are planted...the roots go deep in search of water.) The winter has been very long and cold, which should reduced the pest population. The gardens were shifted to new locations to reduce the incidence of soil borne pathogens that is inherent in tomato gardening. There was a bit too much rain and cool weather early on. The gardens are late this year. However, we still have produced over 13,000 pounds of tomatoes. We are delivering to grocery stores, restaurants and food kitchens and pantries. We should deliver as much as 1,000 pounds of fruit to charity this year.
The tomato plants were planted in the ground Mother’s Day weekend. We planted 32 varieties experimenting with new types and our tried and true ones as well. To keep deer at bay, we used a combination of 3D fencing with an electrified strand baited with peanut butter. This was very successful. The season was cooler than usual. After participating in the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture’s annual garden tour at the end of June, we began picking earlier than ever, July 1st.
This was our year for no-till gardening. We used a fence post auger and drilled into the pasture ever three feet. Then amended the holes with manure and worm castings. The plants grew vigorously, yet didn’t produce a lot of fruit. Hind sight: too much nitrogen in the soil and too much Spring rain. Thankfully we had not put all our eggs in one basket. Our regular garden did great!
Bristol Sponsors Tomato Scholarship Dinner--August, 2012
Dennis Jilka accepts the 2012 Tomato Scholarship award and with it, an $800 scholarship. Our great friends at the Bristol downtown sponsored a tomato dinner and donated a portion of the night's proceeds ($800) to the scholarship. Dennis worked at the farm for the last 6 years and is moving on to medical school. The farm helped Dennis pay for his pre-med education at Kansas State University. Pictured with Dennis is head Chef Travis who outdid himself with the tomato dinner.
Selling locally at Foo's Frozen Custard, 95th and Mission with our partner farm, Riverview Gardens
Our friends at Jaspers (Chef JJ shown) serve our tomatoes in season fresh with table side hand made mozzarella
A view of our tomato gardens from afar