Over the Fence Urban Farm


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Happy Hour Report – April 26th, 2015

We had a great day on the farm yesterday with lots of friends stopping by and helping us get through our chores.

Thanks SO much to Damon, Elizabeth, and Julian for completing the important, but not too exciting task of clearing weeds from the east and west pathways. (I promise to buy more wood chips like those we have in the central path to try to keep that task to a minimum in the coming months and years.)

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Thanks to Melissa, Julian, and Nina for setting up the trellis netting for peas, beans, cucumbers, and squashes.

Thanks to Melissa and Nina for helping harvest greens.

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And to Ezra, Asa, Cora, and Maya for harvesting our first (small) round of radishes! (There really are few things more magical than pulling edible roots out of the ground.)

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Thanks to Emily for mounding the soil up around our tender leeks.

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And thanks to Nina, Cora and all the kids for watering.

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See you next Sunday!


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O-H-I-Grow!

April 11th was a crazy day around here. Dan was in Cincinnati for a Reds game, George had a Destination Imagination competition, Rosa was at a volley tournament, and Cora had her first soccer game. Still, with the help of Grandma Joyce (let’s hear it for intergenerational homesteading!), I made it to Franklin Park Conservatory for O-H-I-Grow!, a summit on urban agriculture and community gardening hosted by the Growing to Green Program.

The day started with one of the most dynamic speakers I’ve heard in awhile – Mud Baron. Mud spoke to me as both an urban farmer and educator. I loved that he spoke without a script, had a powerpoint with a few hundred beautiful images of people and plants – rather than bullet points – playing in no particular order on the screen behind him, and that he repeatedly dropped the f-bomb. How refreshing. A real person sharing his passion and experiences. He wasn’t there to teach us anything per se, but to inspire us and as far as I’m concerned he nailed it. You can get a taste of Mud’s philosophy and approach to gardening with teens in L.A. (though he’s an Ohio boy originally) by watching this video produced by one of his students at John Muir High School.

The rest of the day was filled with three panels representing urban farmers and community gardeners in the Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland areas. It was great to hear about so many projects around the state I didn’t know about (field trip anyone?!), as well as to hear more about organizations here in town whose names I knew but didn’t know much about.

Here are a few of my highlights from each panel.

Our Harvest Cooperative (Cincinnati) has three main objectives: to provide agricultural jobs that pay a living wage, all year long; to serve as a local food hub, strengthening access for consumers and restaurants; and to train new farmers. They operate on 4 acres of leased farmland with good soil and infrastructure like hoop houses and a resident farmer who serves as a mentor. In partnership with Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, they recently designed and offer a one-year Sustainable Agriculture Management certificate program.

“Garden Station (Dayton) is more about community than the garden,” reported founder Lisa Helm. A local performance art group called The Circus was the driving force behind the garden and volunteers make it happen. They host a range of community events including EarthFest at which Dayton Urban Grown sells plants and funds are raised to help pay for projects at the Station. The garden is currently being threatened by development plans; you can read and sign a petition to try to save it here.

I visited Franklinton Gardens (Columbus) a few seasons ago on an urban garden bike tour with Yay Bikes! I was impressed then and continued to follow their progress online and through a classmate in the OSU Extension Master Urban Farmer program last winter. She was an Americorps Vista working with the program, an example of how garden Nick Stanich and others are leveraging support for their work in a neighborhood where 70% of households live on less than $30,000/year. If you live in Columbus and aren’t familiar with and supporting their work, you should! You can volunteer on your own or with a group. They are radical revolutionaries doing amazing things in a part of town that time forgot.

Also here in town, if you want to learn more about aquaponics – symbiotically growing fish and produce – you don’t have to go far. St. Stephen’s Project Aquastart is located in Linden and houses six 1,200 gallon tanks capable of growing 1,200 tilapia at a time – they reached 800/tank in their first season. Henry Pittigrew runs the program and did an awesome job presenting what he’s learned (cabbage moths are evil and fish poop makes amazing fertilizer) and hopes to do in the future (want to buy some of that poop?). After some time in the Columbus City Schools, he’s found there’s more room to educate on the farm than in the schools.

Urban Farms of Central Ohio (Columbus) is an off-shoot of the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, farming multiple acres of unused institutional land in and around downtown Columbus. They hope to demonstrate how urban farming can be financially viable while meeting the demand for fresh food in another part of town that is a relative food desert. In addition to providing education about and access to freshly grown produce, they are working to increase civic engagement – hosting a neighborhood leadership group, youth apprenticeships, and community events.

Lady Buggs Farm (Youngstown) was the perfect bookend to Mud Baron. After studying education at the graduate level, Sophia (Lady) Bugg realized what was missing for her from schooling was joy and she went in search of that in the garden. She joyfully farms in all kinds of containers at the house she grew up in, which she inherited from her grandmother. She’s known around her neighborhood as “the kiddie pool farmer” and she says she’s “on a journey to bring people together through food.” Sophia exuded a sense of self-confidence, patience, and passion I aspire to.

Growing to Green plans to host another O-H-I-Grow! summit in 2016. It will be interesting to see whom they find to bring to the table. Special thanks to Rachel Tayse Baillieul of Harmonious Homestead, Swainway Urban Farm and Columbus Agrarian Society, who presented on the Columbus panel, for inviting me to be her guest!


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Foraged & Sown

This afternoon we were blessed with what The Weather Channel app predicted would be “a steady soaking rain.” But before it started, I threw some flower seeds in the cold frame, transplanted some watercress seedlings, and visited with Kate from Foraged & Sown.

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Kate, with support from Thompson, foraging blackberry canes in the easement fenceline behind our place.

She helped us pull a few blackberry starts from along the fence line and the easement behind our yard. If you’ve ever been to Pacific Northwest, you know that blackberries can be really invasive. We started with one plant about 6 years ago and now we have at least a dozen. And then there are the volunteers. When their canes reach down to the ground, blackberries send out roots and produce new canes; which produce new plants. After a few years with little attention, our plants were reproducing faster than the bunnies living under our shed.

The canes we harvested this weekend will go in the berry beds Kate’s starting at her place this season. We’re so excited to hear a final count of how many shoots we gathered and to see what becomes of them in the space Kate is cultivating!

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Buckets of blackberries!

You can find Kate every weekend starting April 25th at the Clintonville Farmer’s Market. Be sure to stop by her booth to check out what she has for sale and pick her brain about edibles that may be hiding out in your backyard. Today we learned that this little weed is Hairy Bittercress. It’s edible and tastes an awful lot like broccoli.

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Weed no more! Hairy Bittercress.


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Death (and Rebirth) by Cold Frame Solar Oven

(This post is dedicated to our friends Tim Chavez and Suzanne Csejtey, local masters of solar power.)

I guess I didn’t really check the forecast all that well yesterday morning because I decided to leave our cold frame closed to benefit some seeds I had set to germinate. I wasn’t thinking at all about the sprouts and greens already growing in there. When the temperatures approached 80 degrees, everything baked.

From the overwintered mustard:

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To the new sweet pea seedlings.

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At first I was really pissed at myself for making such an amateur mistake. But then I sat back and looked at what was in the soil and thought about what could be.

Using the cold frame as a seedbed, not just a tool for growing plants when it’s cold, is a concept I picked up from Eliot Coleman and it works. It’s so much easier to keep a 2 x 4′ bed damp for germination than a 27 foot row. And the seedlings are able to stretch out form the start in the ground as opposed to in a plastic cell. (The space under our grow lights is presently overrun with tomato plants so that’s not an option anyway!)

So, I ripped out everything that was left growing – the aforementioned mustards and some lettuces that had been growing in the basement this winter which I moved out to the frame a month ago but were so root-bound they would never amount to much more than they already were, and made a giant harvest salad.

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I added some of the potting soil mix I picked up at the Columbus Agrarian Society and am now using instead of the totally unsustainable coir I was using for seedlings (turns out it is made in Holland from coconut husks grown in Singapore!) and now we’re’m ready to start over again. Spring is all about new beginnings, afterall!


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Early Spring Progress Report

I hereby declare our first “Happy Hour on the Farm” of the 2015 season a smashing success. Thanks to Sarah, Melissa, Andrew, Julian, and Liz for coming out. I know it wasn’t easy, it being the first truly lovely afternoon this spring. The weather really was perfect for working outdoors and we’re so grateful that you put in your time with us.

Here’s a quick round-up of what we accomplished.

I started reading up on potato planting and got our potato seed out of the basement and into a sunny spot to sprout…We had such great success with sweet potatoes last year, we’re hoping to get these Satina multiplying.

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Sarah and I thinned radish seedlings and set a few more seeds in the ground here and there. This is a before shot. You can see how overcrowded the row in the left-side bed were.

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As with any great happy hour, Andrew and Dan dressed up for the occasion.

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Melissa put her nimble fingers to work thinning and transplanting spinach seedlings. (Photo credit: Juilan Haliday)

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Dan and George started pouring concrete footings for the chicken coop! (Chicks are coming May 4th.)

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Liz leveled our work area to better accommodate the work table we got at the end of last season, the wash tub we got from a neighbor and will be installing soon, and the shed roof Dan has planned so we can store some hand tools and supplies on the farm including some speakers for a radio.

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Andrew got the irrigation system up and running on the west side beds. He makes it seem so easy. (Photo credit: Juilan Haliday)

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Julian communed with the kale – transplanting some overwintered, but now misplaced plants, and doing some light weeding. Liz and Melissa followed him with arugula starts to will out the space to either side of the kale.

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I tucked everything in for the night. (Photo credit: Juilan Haliday)

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See you next week…