Over the Fence Urban Farm

Cooperatively farming small patches of Earth in Columbus, OH

Preserving Lessons from Our Semi-Wild Season

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Fall on the farm is the time for preservation: collecting and saving seeds in the field, canning produce in the kitchen. This growing season has been like no other in our farm’s short history. We went from planning a sabbatical to planting a victory garden. We limited visitors on site while attempting to stay connected and relevant. We weathered another hot and dry summer as we tried a few new strategies for planting, tending, and letting things grow wild.

I’m sorry I didn’t share more. Not because I think I let readers down, but because this blog is my memory. For the last seven years it has served as a preservation space for my experiences and day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, and year-to-year observations. And I’m so glad I did the work to build that archive. I use it all the time.

A few weeks back, for example, our neighbor Leslie sent me this text:

Using the blog’s search function, I found a post from April 12, 2014 featuring a slide show of one of our first full work days on the farm. Included was this photo of Leslie and her son along with other neighbors and friends helping us plant four apple trees out front:

Here’s what our neighbor saw when she walked by last month:

Seeing these photos together is a gift. It’s amazing to see the change in the land that we created. Two of the four trees are loaded with fruit and the other two are offering us more than they ever have before. I’ve been excited to see this abundance appear this year as it aligns with the concept of shmita (sabbatical) as I intended to practice it. According to this ancient Jewish tradition, farmers are required to take every seventh season off to rest the land and themselves. We are allowed to eat wild and perennial crops and some Jewish farmers have suggested that it takes about seven years for such plants to get established. Our trees seem to prove that theory which has me excited about planning for year 14. Maybe by then I’ll be able to convince my mother-in-law, who lives in the farmhouse, to let me convert the rest of the front yard to edibles. (I know the resident deer herd would appreciate it!)

Which takes us to my first lesson from the wild season I want to preserve – living in harmony with our urban wildlife. This season we really embraced those living in our midst, even in the moments when they were destructive – to our bodies and our plants.

In the course of a few weeks, I shot this video of our passion fruit plants which have hosted an enormous collection of big fat beautiful bumble bees this year and then stuck my hand in a yellow jacket nest and suffered the consequences, as did the wasps.

We also tested an idea for keeping tomato thieves at bay, which worked reasonably well. The strategy came to me by way of Kate Hodges (Foraged & Sown). When weather is dry, animals go looking for water, as they should. When puddles and other sources are unavailable, they poke holes in tomatoes and suck out the liquid, leaving you with a perfectly good looking fruit, save for the hole. It’s a frustrating site for any grower but the past two years, as our local rat population has been displaced by road and sewer construction, we’ve seen a big rise on little farm. When Kate first proposed the idea I scoffed. Leaving water out for the very creatures who were robbing from me seemed like an invitation for further trouble. But, it seemed to work! I even caught one on the trail camera enjoying the oasis.

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(Photo note: Time stamp should read am, not pm.)

Determining to only grow seeds already in our possession–once we decided to grow anything–we realized we were living in abundance we weren’t fully aware of; enough to grow a farm full of food.

A surprisingly good producer were Roma tomatoes grown from seeds we got through a MidOhio Food Bank grant program 2 years ago. In reflection, I probably didn’t grown them because I was being a snob. They game from one of the big seed companies (Burpee or Livingston) and the picture on the packet looked pretty basic. Like the uniform plum tomatoes you find in the grocery store that are pink inside and have no flavor. Turns out, they grew an incredible amount of delicious fruit, perfect roasted for Pasta Puttenesca (now on regular rotation. Yes, we are spoiled). I wish I had weighed the output of a single one of these plants. Lesson learned. Don’t shun the hand that feeds you. (And still, I will support smaller-scale seed farmers…)

My daughter and I also found a “wild” tomato plant growing between the curb and street in our neighborhood. After visiting it over a few weeks among its neighbors–“weeds” who were bound to be pulled or poisoned–we carefully rescued, transplanted, and labeled it with the name, “Fuzzy Wuzzy.” Like any good healthy tomato seedling, its stem was covered in a billion tiny hairs (aka trichomes. Super cool. Look them up. After you finish reading this.). We enjoyed a few nice big slicers care of this adoptee.

Which leads to the final lesson I wanted to record, for memory and further contemplation, and action, I hope. I had set an intention for shmita of learning more about wild edibles. Towards this end we went for a bunch of hikes with foraging friends. On one we found morels, on another boletes but overall, the hot dry weather prohibited this activity. I did harvest a ton of chanterelles over two weeks spent in the mountains of Georgia. Which was awesome. And I learned that the purslane and poke weed in the yard is edible and highly nutritious.

All in all, it was a very good season. I shouldn’t complain. (Note, I could but I won’t).

Shanah tovah to all the Jewish Farmers out there.

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