Over the Fence Urban Farm

Cooperatively farming small patches of Earth in Columbus, OH


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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.


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Field Notes: 7.1.2017

Here are some shots from the farm this past week.

Back in March or April, I planted a row of radicchio seeds I got through a swap. There were a taller variety than I usually grow. They leafed out just fine, but the early hot weather we got seems like it doomed them. This is one of the last ones I kept around, in the hopes it would form a head. It’s too bitter for the hens so it’s off to the compost pile for it. Bummer.

On a more positive note, this bed yielded a bounty of tight purple Leonardo radicchio alongside Red Russian kale. The kale is still producing – though it is slowing down – and has been joined by ginger and a few small heads of Sparx romaine which as on their way out already.

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The tomatoes are stretching towards the sun and beginning to produce a few small field snacks.

The apple trees out front received their solstice pruning. I mulched them yesterday (after this photo was taken) before the rain came. They seem to be liking the companion plants I introduced this year – borage, yarrow, and chives – as the leaf rust has kept away and I don’t see any of the aphids which a neighbor has been complaining about.

 

Lima beans are sprouting.

 

Garlic is curing in the garage….

…Leaving fresh spaces for the fall crops. I have some brussels sprout seedlings ready, I’m just a little worried about how they will do in the heat. Lemme know if you have any advice there…

Meanwhile, over at the Carolyn Ave. annex, the potatoes and sweet potatoes are coming up really nicely. And our hosts have some space to grow their own crops beside them.

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Field Notes 6.19.17

After a week away, it was good to be back home and at work. Sadly we had ZERO rain, but thanks to our irrigation system, we’re still growing strong.

Napa cabbage was ready for harvest and Father’s Day cole slaw.

We’re continuing to enjoy scallions from various sites around the farm.

Roots are starting to come in

We harvested about 20 pounds of potatoes, from volunteer plants!

The last of the radicchio came out of this bed which is now interplanted with with a heat tolerant Sparx Romaine, ginger, Red Russian kale that is still going strong.

Another bed where we’re trying intensive intercropping. Here shallots, basil, and tomatoes.

These winter sown onions are just about ready. (Wish we had about ten times more than we do!)

Peas making way for lima beans as winter sown carrots make way for more carrots.

Hot temperatures meet sprouted ginger!

Mustard went to seed while we were away. So long…

Flowers are coming in to brighten everyone’s day!


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Kids Garden Club

This year we’re hosting the Clintonville Farmers’ Market Kids Garden Club. I’m excited to be working in the soil with kids–seeing what works with little hands and lots of little bodies and what doesn’t.

The club currently has 8 members and we’ve had two meetings so far. We’ll be meeting formally ever other week, with some informal meetups and effort by Cora and other kids from our CSA in between to keep things growing. I have made a pact with myself to not work in the garden without at least one child present aside from watering.

Here are a few highlights from this week’s session.

Upon arrival, all members, including our youngest age 4.5, sign themselves in. This small gesture is a first step in giving the kids ownership of their time in the garden.

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As I was setting up and getting my head together for our time together, I thought about how to bring the kids who missed the session (5 of 8!) up to speed on what they missed. I pulled out a composition book and started a garden club log. We’ll use this to keep track of what we do each session and I’ll record anything that happens when they are not around in the journal to give them a sense of what’s happening when they aren’t around. Each week, during our welcome time, we’ll review what happened the previous session and the interim. Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote for Week 1. The next pages included lists of everything we planted: transplants, seeds, and the volunteers we found on the site.

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After the review, we went over the days agenda which I’ve been writing on a white board. IMG_9961

I planned for us to weed and then label plants but the moment we stepped into the space I realized that was backwards. We sat back down and the kids enthusiastically made labels to mark the plants we already had in place. Then we went back inside the gate, reviewed some of the common weeds we found – grass, sorrel (which we tasted and left a bit around for future snacking, and ground ivy.

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Weeding the potato patch.

We adopted a weed, seed, feed mantra for our work sessions. So, following some light weeding session, we spread compost and dug some fertilizer in around the tomatoes. We also planted a few seeds we hadn’t gotten in the ground the week before.

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We ended the session with a scavenger hunt over the fence on the farm. The kids got to pick and taste a spectrum of things from sweet strawberries to spicy radishes. Not surprisingly, there were mixed reviews.