Over the Fence Urban Farm

Cooperatively farming small patches of Earth in Columbus, OH


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Scenes from the Field: 2.3.2019

Yesterday the sun came out and melted the dumping of snow we got last Friday, which followed a multi-day Polar Vortex that brought temperatures down to 0 degrees with windchills around -25.

As I ventured out back to see what survived, I was reminded of a story Eliot Coleman tells in Four-Season Harvest. I’m quoting it at length because a) I love it, and b) because it remains an inspiration for the season extension work we do at Over the Fence, and the seasonal eating we do in our home.

During [our] January trip across France, we had an experience that emphasized the point. We were visiting the Jardin des Plantes in Montpelier, one of the oldest botanical gardens in France. Like many such venerable institutions, it was showing its age. Some of the walls were beginning to crumble and panes were missing in unused glasshouses. But we were not there for the architecture. We had come to see the “non-existent” vegetables. When we had called ahead to learn the winter hours and had inquired about the vegetable garden, the nice Frenchman on duty told us not to waste our time because the vegetable garden was “non-existent” in the winter. Ah, well, we had heard that song before. “There is nothing in the garden” is usually synonymous with “it doesn’t look nice like it did last summer.”

The vegetable garden at the Jardin des Plants occupies one quarter of a parterre in front of the orangerie. Admittedly it probably did look nicer during the summer, but it was just what we wanted to find in January. Despite the disclaimers of the garden staff, this abandoned Zone 9 garden, which had probably seen no care since October, still contained ready-to-pick crops of chard, salsify and scorzonera, six different types of lettuces, radicchio, sorrel, mustard greens, turnips and turnip greens, kale, cabbages, winter radish, red and green scallion, leeks, and spinach. If that garden were in our backyard, we would have considered it a source of fresh main course and salad vegetables for the rest of the winter. It was a cornucopian example of a garden truth we have long notes–if you just look around in a post-season garden, you will almost always find something to eat.

After you read this post, head out to your winter garden and see if you can score some greens for your next meal. Here’s what I found yesterday, when the high got up to 55.

Not too surprisingly, Tatsoi did great.

Lacinato Kale is also tough and super cold hardy.

The few heads of  Napa Cabbage still hanging around lived to see another day.

And even these tiny heads of Romaine (which I left as a test) were insulated enough to survive.

The Arugula I didn’t chop down in January still tastes amazing.  Hoping for a small bounce back crop from these plants as temperatures return to the 30 and 40s.

The Swiss Chard was glowing.

A few heads of Raddichio are waiting for their turn at the table.

This Pac Choi was in the high tunnel, under a second cover, but managed to get burned. Need to investigate that.

Another cold weather winner, Giant Red Mustard, is ready for a growth spurt to welcome back Persephone.

As are these baby Red Russian Kale. Though they look like they could use a drink of water. The high tunnel can get a little dry this time of year. Might try to catch some of the rain coming this week and move it in before the overnight temperatures dip down again.

Our cold frame-within the high tunnel started seedlings are patiently awaiting transplant. In this box, Pac Choi, Red Russian Kale, and Tatsoi…

…and here, spinach….

…which looks amazing up close, and tastes like good health.

The biggest Polar Vortex surprise by far is that one of the chickens started laying! I suspect Hermione or Ginny since their combs and waddles are the most fully formed. Won’t be much longer until we’re (happily) drowning in eggs again!

As a reward, the girls got to come under one of the low tunnels for a snack and dust bath.

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And the humans all enjoyed post-Vortex salads with dinner!

 

 


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Naming Our New Flock

Our new flock of chickens are nearly five months old and finally have names. We (Read Cora who was 4 at the time) named most of our first flock the day we got them. When one died after just five weeks, a friend cautioned us not to name them so early again, it was bad luck or something like that. (Reminds me of the Jewish superstition against naming babies before they are born.)

At any rate, if we weren’t going to name them right away, at least we could talk about names. For me, it started with “Professor McGonagall.” When we got these chicks in September, I decided I wanted to name one after her. It’s just fun to say, and the thought of a chicken professor made the human professor in me laugh.

When a friend pointed out that McGonagall’s first name was Minerva, I got even more excited. Hens and vintage lady names go together like peanut butter and jelly. If you aren’t familiar with this habit, search the interwebs for “old lady chicken names” and read on.

The Professor was reluctant to have her photo taken, she kept coming after the camera and pecking at me, so this is the best I can offer of her at this time. She’s the Golden Laced Wyandotte pecking at the ground.

Hermione Granger, a Rhode Island Red, was more accommodating.

Ginny Weasley proudly posed for her glamor shot. Ginny is a Golden Buffington.

Luna Lovegood, a White Plymouth Rock is a favorite of Cora’s.

Madame Maxime is one of my favorite’s and the most gentle of the bunch. She is, appropriate to her namesake, a Black Jersey Giant.

Finally, Nymphadora (another amazingly fun name to say!) Tonks is a Dominque. Her comb is coming in the slowest. She’ll look a lot fancier once she’s got her crown.

Here’s looking to your six month birthday which we will celebrate by feasting on quiche, egg salad with fresh mayonnaise, and fried eggs on EVERYTHING!


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Scenes From the Field: 1.16.2019

Yesterday was overcast and the high temperature only reached 33 degrees, but somehow it didn’t feel as cold as it had the few days before. I spent a solid hour and a half out back harvesting greens and playing with the chickens who ventured into the yard for the first time in days. The weather is supposed to get nasty again the next few days and through the weekend, so I pulled up my snowpants and made the best of it.

Here are a few scenes from the field.

A solid blanket of snow covered everything and made accessing the tunnels a chore. I did a little maintenance, but have more to do to support the ends of our low tunnels when this melts…

While the world outside the tunnels was white, a bounty of greens lay beneath. This short tunnel (covered in Agribon and plastic) contains tatsoi, pac choi cilantro, romaine, and arugula. I’ve noticed growth increasing already since the winter solstice. I harvested most of the lettuces and left a little to see how they would hold up to the sub-zero temperatures coming early next week. I wondered if plants packed closer together would fair better than those hanging out alone, which I’m noting here to remind myself to check.

A bowl of arugula, some of which was buried under the row covers, which collapsed on the ends, from the weight of the snow.

Swiss chard, tatsoi, and pac choi under a low tunnel.

Same low tunnel – Lacinato and Red Russian kale in front, spinach in the back.

Close-up of arugula in a second short tunnel.

The high tunnel continues to enchant us. The pac choi on the left was hit hard by cold two nights before but completely bounced back (see below). I plan to add some low covers inside the tunnel in advance of the super cold temperatures coming next week.

 

Did you know cilantro embraces the cold?

Spinach starts in a cold frame, inside the tunnel. Surprising to me (but perhaps not to someone with more scientific understanding), these frames are not holding temperature as well as the tunnel itself (see chart below). These will be transplanted into a bed the next warm spell we see. (Note: This experiment was introduced in an earlier post, referencing the MidOhio Food Bank that made it possible.)

In the basket, chard, kale, and mustard for our harvest. On the ground, the chickens’ fodder.

After school, Cora helped me document temperatures in various locations.

 

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And the hens came out to play.

 

 

 


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Extending our Season Extension

Thanks to a grant from MidOhio Foodbank, we purchased some new season extension supplies this year. Some of what we got replaced things that were worn out or damaged, including the endwalls of our high tunnel. The most useful thing so far were two lightweight cold frames (also known as “hot boxes” since they capture sunlight like tiny greenhouses) we used to start seedlings for fall greens.

For the past few years we’ve been starting seeds in a cold frame The Spurgeon General build and set in the ground up by the house. It’s a great way to start a lot of plants all at once, without need for acclimatizing. Since they germinate and start growing outdoors, the seedlings are prepped for their move to the farm, under low tunnels to protect them from hungry bugs and and quadrupeds. With this system we can start hundreds, probably more like thousands, of seedlings at a time, with minimal effort. Keeping a 2 x 4 foot seedbed moist is a lot easier than a 24 foot row! The jump start the plants get in the frame, saves us time and space on the farm. Since we’re so small, this really impacts our growing capacity.

These new hot boxes are so light they can be lifted by one person. They have aluminum frames and UV-stable polycarbonate sides (which I am curious to see the longevity of) and screens – as well as solid – tops so they keep pests out and let rain in. We can use them in various locations, as space becomes available, then lift them up, move them to another spot, and start again.

We’ve used the frames for two rounds of seedlings over the past month and look forward to playing with them again, inside the high tunnel, after the Persephone Days have passed and things get growing again at the end of January.

Here are a few images of the cold frames in action! (Click for captions)


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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.