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Gardening on a big scale

By Staff | Oct 17, 2013

STEVE JONAS carries his 3-year-old son, Nolan Jonas, as he scouts through a broccoli patch on their vegetable farm in rural Boone.

BOONE – On one of the last remaining weekend before winter settles in, Red Granite Farm – a fresh food roadside market eight miles south of Stanford and 13 miles northeast of Boone, was open for business on Saturday and Sunday.

Managed and operated by Steve and Nicole Jonas, both horticulture graduates from Iowa State University, niche market farming allows the couple to make more dollars on less land.

Plus Nicole Jonas’ sideline of growing and selling more than 200 perennial plants “allows me to stay home with the children, and run our own business.

“It’s what I want to do.”

He said she finds satisfaction in helping people meet their gardening goals.

NICOLE JONAS inspects a green pepper plant in a high tunnel structure on Red Granite Farm. She said the plants were attacked by aphids early in the season, but treatment has allowed the peppers to recover.

In addition, she said, growing fruit and vegetables allows them to market through much of the year.

“We’re giving people a choice to buy fresh locally,” Jonas said, “or to buy from a store where (produce) is trucked in.”

Red Granite Farm has three acres of vegetables and fruit trees under cultivation and run a flock of free-range Gold Star chickens from which they sell eggs.

Steve Jonas said he wanted to do conventional farming when he completed college, but that wasn’t going to work on his family’s west Iowa farm.

In 2007, the Jonases purchased a Century Farm along Boone County Road E-18, a mile east of where the road intersects with Iowa Highway 17.

NOLAN JONAS, 3, is a picture of concentration has he picks a cherry tomato on his family’s Red Granite Farm. He has other tomatoes tucked into his shirt.

“We both wanted our children to grow up on a farm,” Jonas said. “We also wanted to find a way to make more dollars on less land.”

They settled on what another era would have called truck farming – growing vegetables and fruit.

“Steve would be gardening anyway,” said Nicole Jonas, “so he said, ‘let’s grow enough to sell some, too.”

Steve Jonas said he inherited his mother’s love for tending gardens.

“We’re gardening on a big scale,” he said.

STEVE JONAS picks a tomato from a vine in the high tunnel structure. The Jonases planted a variety of tomatoes to see which worked best for them and have decided shorter varieties will be easier for Nicole to pick next season.

Nicole Jonas agreed and said, “It turns into something bigger than you thought it would.”

They started their big garden in 2007. By 2009, they added a greenhouse where they start 95 percent of the plants from seed, then transplanting them outside.

When son Nolan was born in 2001, Nicole Jonas said she made the decision to stay home and tend to the farm, while her husband maintained his off-farm job.

The couple added a hoop house, for her perennials, and a high tunnel structure to grow vegetables longer on both ends of the growing season.

Adding perennials expanded the family’s operation with another revenue stream. She now has more than 200 varieties, she said, many of which cannot be found at chain store garden centers.

Red Granite markets primarily through local farmers markets and on-farm sales.

Nicole Jonas said as they developed a customer base at the Ames farmers market, the ethnic diversity of Ames led them to plant a wider assortment of non-traditional vegetables, including eggplant. She said they are looking at other ethnic vegetables for next season.

She said the secret to successful marketing n this fashion is providing not only what customers expect to see, but items that may not be readily available at a grocery store.

That includes the perennials where she offers prairie plants, succulents, sedums and ornamental grasses.

Although Red Granite is not an organic operation, Nicole Jonas said they are careful about using sprays.

“We eat these, too,” she said.

All-year management

Just as the conventional farm operation, Red Granite requires year-round management.

Plants have to be started in late-winter so broccoli, cabbages and radishes can be ready in the spring; followed by tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, cantaloupe and watermelons in the summer; then pumpkins, squash, sweet potatoes, and more broccoli in the fall.

Plus the orchard supplies apples, peaches, pears and plums.

The Jonases use plastic mulch with drip irrigation under the plastic in their gardens and the high tunnel. It keeps weeds low from around the plants and keeps a fresh supply of water, since the plastic creates a desert climate underneath it.

Steve Jonas said he adds liquid fertilizer as needed through the irrigation line.

“And whatever we don’t eat or sell,” Steve Jonas said, “the chickens eat.

“It saves on a lot of feed.”

The Jonases have an egg-handler’s license to sell eggs to their on-farm and farmers market customers, but also to restaurants and food processors.

Steve Jonas said he thinks he may have a buyer through the winter for his eggs. If that works out, he said, they are considering adding more chickens next spring.

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