Over the Fence Urban Farm

Cooperatively farming small patches of Earth in Columbus, OH


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Kids on the Farm: Spring 2018

It’s just the start of the season and already we’ve had lots of young visitors at the farm! We’re proud to be a place in the community folks seek out to learn what urban farming looks, feels, and tastes like. Here are a few images of groups who visited us in May.

Cub Scout Pack 41, a member of whom lives down the block, came around as part of their Fur, Feathers, and Ferns merit badge adventure. They held their regular meeting around the fire pit, helped plant potatoes, and transplant basil and tomatoes.

For the second year, students from The Graham School came by to get some ideas for the garden at their school. They are researching and applying for grants to support their work and I told them about the seed donation we received this year from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They set some of those seeds – three kinds of squash – in addition to helping with some light weeding, basil transplanting, and visiting with the chickens.

Finally, The Clintonville Farmers’ Market Kids Garden Club had its first official meeting of the season. The kids (and their parents) were excited to see what’s been growing since they came out in April to prep the beds as part of our Earth Week event.

If you have a group that’s interested in visiting the farm. Let us know!

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Scenes from the Field: 5.20.18

I returned this morning after being out of town for nearly a week to visit my parents. I was anxious about leaving the farm since we hadn’t had any significant rainfall in a long long while and the temperatures had been really high. Luckily, it rained almost everyday I was gone(!) and I returned to see everything refreshed and thriving. This afternoon, we had another great turnout with lots of CSA members and other curious volunteers showing up to help with chores.

While I was away The Spurgeon General started to install this year’s tomato trellises (there’s one in the very front of this photo – see the rebar) which allowed us to tie up the plants today.

You might be wondering where the tomatoes are in the second photo of Julian cutting twine. They’re hard to see because they’re hiding in the fava beans (photo below) which were planted as an early spring cover crop. The hope is that these will produce some beans and we’ll chop them down in the next few weeks.

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Nancy thinned beet seedlings, producing some very pretty little microgreens.

Brooke, Amie, and Claire attacked the weeds that made a home across our entrance threshold.

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And Andrew made a rare appearance to spray beneficial nemotodes all over the place.

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Things are looking brighter then a week ago. Let’s see what Mother Nature brings us next!


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Scenes from the Field: Good Ole-Fashioned CSA Work Day!

This past Wednesday I sent out a call for a CSA workday this afternoon. At that time the forecast was for sunshine and temperatures the 60s. This morning, the high was forecast to be 51 with clouds. As folks started to arrive at 3pm, it was about 43 with wind. But they came!

When we first started the farm, and for the first year or two, our work days were well attended social affairs. People warned me the novelty might wear off and attendance might dwindle. Each year brought enough new members to keep everything growing and the dream of our little cooperative going, but the past year or two overall numbers have been down. If I’m being honest.

And so I was genuinely amazed when an intrepid group of folks (OTFUF veterans and new recruits) showed up to lend a hand planting, spreading compost, and doing some other general maintenance on the farm today. It felt like the good old days. I didn’t take my boots off and crack a beer until 7:30. Here’s to more days like this. If perhaps a bit warmer…

Julian supervised the potato planting efforts, and took amazing photos, of course!

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Liz, Elizabeth, and our new friend Julian (the 2nd) spread compost in the high tunnel.

Cora and a few other kids on the block who are all members of the
Clintonville Farmers’ Market Kids’ Garden Club
planted a few surprises* to welcome their friends back next month.
The girls brought their mom, not shown, who lent much appreciated help
watering in our wake.

*Thanks to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds who provided us with a $50 credit to their online shop in support of the work we’re doing! Thanks to your generous support, we’ll be experimenting with some new varieties of corn, squash, beans, and carrots this season.

 


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Celebrating Earth Week Columbus with the Kids Garden Club

Members of the Clintonville Farmers’ Market Kids Garden Club came to the farm today to celebrate Earth Week and get the garden ready for the 2018 season.

Here’s a few scenes of the garden before we got started.

One of my goals for the event was to move the fence from the edge of the raised beds to the space beyond them. This will provide the kids a lot more growing space and room to move. With the help of a few handy moms, we got that job done. Now the kids have a bigger space to grow, and the chickens have better boundaries.

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The kids cleared the straw blankets that were sheltering the soil over winter and spread compost all over. Then they played around with the broadfork.

We planted some seeds even though though my go-to garden calendar said it wasn’t a good day for it. We aren’t due to start regular club meetings for a few weeks. I’m hopeful that Persephone will look kindly on our efforts and the kids will have some seedlings to welcome them back.

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In all the excitement of getting to know new garden friends and keep activities moving throughout the evening, we forgot to water. Luckily, shortly after we said our final farewells, it rained. Fingers crossed for more good luck ahead…

Thanks to Trish Clark for suggesting we have a pre-season event as park of Earth Week, and thanks to Green Columbus for sponsoring our activity as part of Earth Week Columbus, “the largest Earth Day volunteer service opportunity in the nation, [planned] in partnership with community leaders, non-profits, and businesses.”

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Scenes from the field: 4.2.18

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The sun was shining and The Farmers Almanac Gardening by the Moon Calendar  said it was a good day for transplanting. We were lucky to have friends free to help us move some things around. Here are a few highlights.

A peak under some of our caterpillars. Clockwise from top right – spinach under frost blanket (planted 2/5), potatoes under low plastic tunnel (planted 2/22: Thanks for the inspiration, Milan!), and the view inside our high tunnel panted with various herbs and greens in January).

Homeschool on the farm today included measuring and recording air and soil temperature in 5 different growing situations (high tunnel, low tunnel w/plastic, low tunnel with frost blanket, glass-topped cold-frame, and no cover.)

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The girls potted some plants for our upcoming sale with partial proceeds going to Red Oak Community School.

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Then the moms broke our backs transplanting hundreds of onion, kale, beet, and spinach seedlings. Like I said, it was a very good day.

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More Stories of Life and Death on Our Little Farm

[Warning: This, like my posts about rabbits and voles, includes discussion and images of dead animals. Vegans beware.]

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Our first flock of hens are nearing the end of their productive egg laying years. As such, we’ve been having lots of conversations around the farm about what comes next, and seeking advice and options for how to make room for a new group of ladies. In the meantime, and after a long cold winter with many days when they didn’t want to leave their sheltered run, I’ve been letting our girls roam around the yard from dusk ’til dawn.

Leaving them out on their own while I’m not in the yard with them has always been risky. We’ve had our share of predatory visitors over the years – hawks, fox, feral cats… But those risks don’t seem worth worrying about much anymore. I figure if their time earth-side is limited one way or another, they should enjoy their days as much as possible.

Still, it was with a heavy heart that I found this old biddy Thursday afternoon. All signs point to death by opossum. The only thing I’m having trouble understanding is the time of day it happened. Right around 3:30 in the afternoon. And so, for the time being, the other ladies are on fairly strict lockdown.

As usual Thompson, our farm dog, found her first. He nudged her with his nose and I joined him to investigate. We have lost chickens before, but all to what seemed like heart attacks or some other internal failure. This was the first time I saw evidence of attack. The first time I saw bloody entrails and flesh resembling what you’d find at the butcher shop. I took a moment to examine the wound, to look at her insides now that they were on the outside. This brought me one step closer in understanding the creatures that have been sharing our yard. Somehow, in death, I felt closer to her and more responsible for her than ever before.

I picked her up without any hesitation and pet her one last time. Then, in keeping with Jewish tradition of burying the dead as soon as possible, I said my own silent blessings of thanks for the time we had with her as Dan, a neighbor, and I buried her.

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Postscript: Shout out to our friends at Two Blocks Away Farm and Foraged and Sown for their support and council during this event.

 


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Preparing for Persephone

This fall I watched from afar as my students in Texas and Florida prepared for hurricanes Harvey and Irma. I felt powerless to help them, and guilty that my house was standing tall, dry, and coursing with electricity. But as autumn settles into central Ohio, I’m preparing for the coming of another powerful force of nature: the Persephone Days.

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From The Gods and Goddesses of Olympus by Aliki.

I first learned about Persephone Days from Eliot Coleman’s Winter Harvest Handbook (you can read an excerpt here). Put simply, folks who grow food in areas with sub-freezing winter temperatures must think as much about hours of sunlight in planning crop rotations as the cold. The Persephone Days are those with fewer than 10 hours daylight. (See a timetable for your zip code here.) Here in Columbus that means mid-November through late January.

If you plan right -Coleman has lots of recommendations – you can harvest greens and some root vegetables (including the most amazingly sweet winter carrots) grown in the fall and stored in your garden throughout that dark period. Just don’t count on your plants doing much new growing. Coleman suggests things be at least 3/4 of the way to maturity before the coming of Persephone.

I started paying  more serious attention to these dates last fall as we began using our high tunnel and did some winter-sowing for early spring harvest. This year I feel behind. I didn’t get a full crop of fall greens out early enough for our family’s winter harvest, let alone a fall or winter CSA, which has been a goal for the past few years. Looking back on this field report, however,  I realize I am ahead of where I was last year so… I’m learning.

This year I am homeschooling our daughter, Cora, 2 days a week. We have spent the past two months studying ancient history with a strong emphasis on the stories of the Greek gods and goddesses. Through the process I spent more time with Persephone. I got a refresher on her mother Demeter (goddess of the harvest and fertility) and Hades (god of the underworld) who, with permission from her his brother, the all-powerful Zeus, abducted Persephone to keep him company in the underworld. In her loneliness and suffering, Demeter caused a famine. Eventually Persephone was returned to her mother, but because she had eaten four pomegranate seeds while in the underworld, she had to return to the land of the dead for four months each year to keep Hades company. We experience these months as winter, the time when nothing grows. (Click here for an extended version of the story told from a contemporary and feminist perspective.)

Unlike the ancient Greeks, I don’t need a story to help me understand why the days are shorter and the nights are colder this time of year. I don’t need one, but it certainly makes things more interesting.