Apr ’16- Mike Atkinson of Atkinson Farms

From May 9,2016

Mike Atkinson of Atkinson Farms  spoke about his family’s long history of farming in this area. Mike has lived on a vegetable farm as far back as he can remember.  He now grow a variety of over 60 different vegetables year round at there 100 acre farm  in Spring, TX where you also pick your own strawberries & shop their farm stand market.

His family emigrated from Italy and ended up in Texas in the teens where they worked in the vegetable trade for years eventually ending up working at the old downtown Produce Row and farmed land on Airline near Canino’s market.  Mike began farming with his father and grandfather in the 70s. They supplied Weingartens grocery with standard items until they closed in the 80s. By the 90s his elders had retired leaving Mike on his own in the vegetable business.  In 2004, he decided to open a store at his farm and began to grow more varieties. He now runs the operation  with his wife, son and a dozen employees, using a lot of new mechanization.

Atkinson Farms are not organic growers and operate on a pretty large scale, for example planting 1,000 tomato plants per week in the spring, but they had a few tips we can use. He plants a few marigolds among the thousand tomatoes not for nematodes as we are always told, but because spider mites will attack the marigolds first and he can deal with it before it become a problem.  He also said to boost potassium on any plant that blooms to boost blooms over foliage.  I didn’t think to ask that night, but I wonder if low potassium would retard blooming and so slow bolting of greens & herbs.
Most of the crop varieties he buys have numbers not names.  Big retail suppliers give them names & sell to the public.  He named a few that we might look for.  He said Sun Leaper tomatoes are a good hybrid variety that will set fruit here in the summer. And Grand Vantage was a favorite cabbage.  Dealing with pests is a battle and he is in constant contact with his seed supplier in Florida(our latitude) to see what to expect.
You can find Mike every Saturday at Urban Harvest’s Eastside Market.

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