Over the Fence Urban Farm


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Tomatoes Growing Up One Vine

People sometimes look sideways at our tomato vines. We grow them up strings tied about 6 feet up from the ground, prune them down to a single fruiting vine, and they grow to be about 10-15 feet long by October. We fit around 20 plants in a 25 foot row. This practice was the result of reading Fell’s Vertical Gardening and watching a pruning tutorial on YouTube. (It’s linked in this post from a few years ago: “Tomato Fingers.”)

This year I’m trying to train more of our CSA folks to prune the plants. This is something I like to do myself both because I enjoy it and because it is somewhat exacting work. But I need to teach others what I’ve learned the past few years and I need to let go so I can get away from the farm from time to time! Pruning must be done at least once a week.

The hardest part for people to watch and understand is when I cut the suckers, some with stems 3/4 of an inch wide with flowers. They shouldn’t ever get this big but sometimes I miss one when they are young. I see the potential for fruit on those vines too, but I know from experience that it is easier for the plants to breathe, and for me to harvest their produce, when they are cut back.

People always ask whether the plants make as much fruit as they would if I let them grow out. I don’t have a scientific answer but have always assumed that since they are directing their growth in fewer directions the yield is concentrated to those areas and does better than spreading itself out. I still don’t have hard numbers to share- I’m a qualitative researcher afterall – but as the fruit sets this season, I do believe the proof is in these pictures. (top to bottom: Marbonne, Amish Paste, Sun Gold)

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Help from abroad

This is Carla.


She is sixteen. She’s from Berlin, Germany and visited Columbus this spring for a few months. While she was here she attended a local high school a few days a week and volunteered at an elementary school. Her host families took her on a few road trips. And she hung around the farm, learning and lending a hand.


It was nice having Carla around. She followed directions and shared memories of her family’s balcony garden. I appreciated hearing her observations about the school she attended while she was here and about her own school back home. Her friends were also out and about visiting new places, meeting new people. I wish I could hear them share stories of their adventures when they get back.

I wonder how different teens in this country would be if they lived in another place for a few months before they left high school and home. Some alternative schools in our area have a walk-about term for seniors. While I haven’t heard of any yet who have worked on urban farms I am sure there have been some have. (If you know of any, I’d be curious to know…). And those kids might decide to pursue lives connected to the earth as a result of their experiences. They might be the future farmers of America, working to shape our food system.

Carla came to Over the Fence because one of her host mothers is a friend and member of our CSA. She doesn’t have plans to farm at this point or even join a community garden back home. But maybe, someday, in some small way, her time with us will have an impact on the choices she makes.

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Ginger’s in the Ground

There’s been a lot going on around here. I feel alternately okay and guilty about not blogging more about it. I guess I feel like in year three much of what we’re doing has already been documented . It doesn’t make the miracles of growing any less amazing nor the commitment of those helping us out any less meaningful. It just means I’m tired of running to the computer every week. I have been maintaining our Facebook feed and hope readers will follow us there. And there have been lots of new developments and differences this year from last. There always will be. Thanks global weirding.

As I shared in March, this season we’re trying our hand at growing young ginger. (Here’s a link to my post about the workshop I attended to learn how to grow this tropical root native to Asia in central Ohio.) I’m really excited to see how this goes and so far it seems good.

After about six weeks of staring a tray full of soil, the spouts were finally growing.

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The light yellowish part between the rhizome in my palm and the plant shooting out the top is young ginger. In a few months, if all goes as planned, it will be bigger and pinker and so delicious!

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After running into Joseph at the market and receiving some last minute advice, I planted the sprouts in a bed that gets part sun. I’m hoping I can keep them wet enough to do really well here. Have no fear, I’ll be sure to post those results here.

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Learning to Grow Ginger in Central Ohio

The first week in March I attended a workshop at the Columbus Agrarian Society on growing ginger in central Ohio. The workshop was led by Joseph Swain who has been growing young ginger a mile down the road for five years and selling it through Swainway Urban Farm. His ginger has always blown my mind – from a gardener/ artist / foodie perspective. It’s gorgeous and it tastes like longevity.

Typically grown in tropical locales, ginger needs some extra attention in these parts of the world. The workshop focused on how to cut up a hand of ginger to produce “seed,” planting and caring for rhizomes while they pre-sprout, and what to do with them once outside temperatures are ready for their transplant (regular temperatures in the 70s or above).

Here’s some of what we saw when we arrived.

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And here’s Joseph showing us how to measure and cut seed.

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A few folks gave it a try…

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And then we all prepped our seed beds and took them home. Keeping the tray around 70 degrees and sunlit has not been easy. I’ve moved mine from the southfacing kitchen table (where it was always in the way and in danger of being turned into a fairy garden) to a bedroom upstairs that gets great light and is empty most of the time, and then finally to the basement to rest on our heating mat.

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Six weeks later, we have sprouts! This is one of those gardening projects I’m really proud of, but really, it was mostly about patience.I know it doesn’t look like much, but just wait…

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Failure in the field

Like all bloggers, I tend to emphasize our successes in the field. (I did write about some ugly carrots at one point and I stand by my love of fruta feia.) Today I thought I would share a failure.

About 3 weeks ago, we set out some red cabbage starts. You can see them on the bottom right of this image. Looking back on them now, they definitely look like they could have used a few more weeks under the lights inside before transplanting. But, it was warm and the plants on the other side of the tray were ready to go.

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Before planting, I consulted folks on the Ohio Homesteaders and Gardeners Facebook group.

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As you can see, I wasn’t alone in my poor previous attempts. I took the comments about feeding cabbage well and providing a stable environment to heart and set them out with a nice dousing of fish emulsion and a frost blanket. I should have taken more seriously the post wishing me luck.

I’m sad to those seedlings are not looking great at this point. In the photo below you can see a few (top let and bottom right) which are pretty leggy and have burnt leaves. These were two of the best looking ones I found.

Thankfully, I had some cilantro and boc choi in need of a home so I spent yesterday afternoon interplanting those between a few cabbages that will get one more chance to get going. With overnight temperatures in the 20s expected on and off this week, their outlook is not all that great.  I might try starting a few more red cabbage plants before we get much closer to the frost our date. Maybe.

Below is another problem we’re facing. The Napa cabbage we set out the same day as the red is looking good — leafing out and emitting a gorgeous green glow. However, slugs have been feasting on them. Yesterday I set out a few beer traps and hope to find some treats for the chickens later today. This is my first try with this so I’m not sure I did it right. I’ll be sure to report later.

Below is a shot of shows some of the plants that haven’t suffered much from slug attacks (see center row). I believe there’s hope for them yet…

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Service Learning with OSU EEDS Students

This afternoon I hosted half a dozen OSU students and their friends for some hands-on learning. I had visited and spoke with them last month during a Rural Sociology course at Ohio State they are enrolled in called “Population, Place, Environment.” My article, “Art Education in My Backyard: Urban Placemaking on an Urban Farm,” was included on their syllabus. Most are majoring in a multi-disciplinary degree program,”Environment, Economy, Development, and Sustainability.” I’m still trying to figure out what all this means, but it was great hanging out with them and hearing about their interests and academic pursuits.

Sarah is conducting a survey of people who live in the vicinity of urban farms in Columbus.
Joachim was recently appointed a parcel of land to garden through the city’s land bank.
Molly has been working for clean energy solutions.
Laura is interning with OEFFA.

It took me a little longer than usual to get things ready for the workday since we are still unpacking from the off season. With a little effort, I got the workspace opened up and found the tools we’d need.


Thelma and her friend Laurel arrived first, eager to get to work. I saddled them with resizing the last beds on the west side. This wasn’t easy as things have been out of wack from the start.

They got things marked off and moved soil around to get the beds back in line.


Then George, Sarah, Alayna and her friend worked on reestablishing the walking paths between the beds.


On the other side of the farm, Laura, Molly, and Joachim worked on the garlic beds. They removed the straw that was set in the fall, counted the plants, fertilized, and recovered them with a new blanket of straw.

It was a great afternoon – relaxed place, productive energy, engaging conversation – and I lamented the fact that there are only a few weeks left of the term, leaving us little opportunity for additional time together. A number of the students are graduating this spring and I feared that coming to the farm today might not have been well-timed. On the contrary, they reported that garden therapy was just what they needed. Since I’ve been grading my own students’ papers night and day with no end in site, it was just what I needed too.

Come back anytime, y’all.