CLINTON, Ill. — Providing the opportunity for people to visit a farm is one of the passions for the owners of Triple M Farm: Mariah’s Mums & More.
“We’re passionate about getting people out here firsthand to see we’re growing quality, safe products and to create experiences,” said Mariah Anderson, who owns Triple M Farm together with her husband, Greg.
“We purchased this property in 2005 and we had no intentions of doing what we’re doing today,” said Anderson during a tour for members of Illinois Agri-Women. “We went to the pumpkin farm down the road and they needed somebody to grow fall mums.”
In 2009, the couple started by planting 300 mums.
“I would not sell a single one of those mums today because they were not quality because we didn’t know what we were doing,” Anderson said. “The second year we started getting things figured out and I started approaching other pumpkin farms in a 45-minute radius who took a chance on us.”
Now the farmers are growing 20,000 mums in 9-inch pots, as well as the mumbo jumbos where three different colors of mums are planted in each pot.
“We grew 3,000 of the mumbo jumbos and there are 30 different combinations,” Anderson said.
There are five main mum colors — red, yellow, orange, purple and white.
“We grow from 30 to 40 different varieties in each color family in the 9-inch pots,” Anderson said.
“I take a lot of notes, especially on the newer varieties we’re trying, like leaf structure, structure of the plant, structure of the bloom, color and shape,” she said. “I give the mums two years of evaluation.”
This year was quite challenging for growing mums.
“This has probably been our toughest mum growing year and we’re not happy with the size of our mums,” Anderson said.
“In June it was so hot so they got stressed and when it rained, it got humid,” she said. “One of my most trusted varieties got a fungus, and to rectify that, we had to dry the pots out so they looked like they were wilting, which really impacted their size.”
The mums are watered three times a day on a timing system and the fertilizer is also injected through the drip irrigation.
“Every mum gets one drip line,” Anderson said.
Visitors to the DeWitt County farm will find much more than mums.
“The vertical strawberries have been a phased project,” Anderson said. “In year one we were growing them outside and these stacks had one more pot, but we discovered the bottom pot never had full production because it was not getting enough sunlight.”
They modified the system to get the plants higher and strawberry production significantly increased.
“In year two we put up the first high tunnel structure, which allows us to get our berries growing quicker and extend our season until October,” Anderson said. “We start strawberry picking by mid-June and go until Oct. 1.”
The following year, another section of strawberries was added, and this year a second high tunnel was constructed.
“We’re still learning with this system and there is nobody that grows them like this in Illinois that we know,” Anderson said. “So, we spent some time with a professor at Ohio State University that specializes in the way these strawberries are grown and we’ve learned a lot from him.”
The farmers tissue sample the plants and send those samples to a lab in Georgia.
“This year and last year they have been high in boron, so we had a two- to three-week period when the production went down significantly,” Anderson said. “We worked through that and then the production went back up.”
Since the strawberries won’t survive in the pots over winter, they offer the plants for sale at the end of the season.
“We send out an e-blast to offer the plants to people who want to plant them in their gardens,” Anderson said.
As former FFA members, the couple works closely with the local FFA chapter.
“We work with the ag teacher to identify a couple of kids who can use our farm for their FFA record book,” Anderson said. “We want it to be a learning experience, not just a job. We want them to understand the why of what they’re doing.”
Vegetables are also grown at the farm, including sweet corn, tomatoes, cucumbers and summer squash.
“We also have three-quarters of an acre of watermelons and this year we’re doing a u-pick pumpkin patch for the first time,” Anderson said.
There is a field of zinnias growing on the farm and in the red barn the Andersons host several Farm to Table dinners.
“We want to make that a local experience so we work with partnering farms,” Anderson said. “We also did a butterfly release which was magical experience.”
“We like to do fun, unique things to get people out here to enjoy our farm and meet the people behind growing products in our local community,” she said. “We are trying to be innovative and think outside of the box.”
For more information about Triple M Farm, go to www.mariahsmums.com.