Over the Fence Urban Farm


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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.

 


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Scenes from the field: 5.16.17

It’s been a busy couple of weeks since my last field report. I’ve started and saved this field report with three different dates. It’s gotten longer and longer every time and its time to let it go!

Made my first restaurant sale! 11lbs of greens to Rooks Tavern. Chef Aaron was a great customer.  Flexible and appreciative. Not sure when I’ll get back down there again, but at least now I have an idea of how the wholesale thing works.

The high tunnel is always thirsty.

Raddicchio in the tunnel – almost ready!

Winter sown spinach is going to seed.

Moving the compost to make room for more flowers. Here’s a cross-section. Inside its all broke down and ready to go!

The mild winter harbored last year’s Dahlias which I was overjoyed to see. Then the near freezing temperatures took a bite. They’re back again now but this just seemed too ironic not to document.

Carrots and radishes coming up where cucumbers will eventually dwell. Radish is supposed to repel cucumber beetles, one of my greatest nemeses! Will report more later on the results of this little experiment.


Itty bitty field sown fennel.

Visited with Columbus City Council member Elizabeth Brown to talk about the City of Columbus Green Business and Urban Agriculture Strategic Plan. This deserves a blog post of its own. Will get to that ASAP!

First bouquet of the season. Happy Mother’s Day to me!

Pulled the final bulbs of 2016 garlic out of storage. Wondering if we’ll be able to stretch it until the 2017 scapes come in…

Trying some new bush varieties of sweet potatoes this year.

Beyond thrilled to be planting the majority of our sweet taters at our friends’ Melissa and Andrew’s new place, our farm annex this year. I’ve missed being in the garden with them, so much. If ever there were folks who wanted a BIG garden in their yard its these two and I’m so psyched to see them get growing.

I’ve been going out at night to hunt slugs. Seems to be making an impact on the cabbage patch. Next up, strawberries…

 


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Hope for the Future

This is Leo.

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In February, he wrote me this email:

Hi my name is Leo and I’m currently a freshman at Ohio State. I happened to find the Facebook page for Over the Fence Urban Farm, and immediately knew it was something I wanted to support. I’m originally from Hawaii, where through school trips and community service opportunities I was able to go to and help out at multiple local organic farms. I would love to be able to come and help out in your garden. Please email me back with any info regarding ways I can help.

I wrote back and let him know things would get going in March and gave him a rough idea of what days of the week might be good to come around. Low and behold, the first week in March, he got back in touch! He wanted to try to come around before he left for spring break. Things didn’t work out that week, but once he was back in town and completed his midterms, he reached out again. We went back and forth for a month and a half until, yesterday, we connected, just days before he leaves for summer recess.

Leo showed up on time. He was enthusiastic about what we’re doing here – asked questions, shared stories from his own experiences, smiled, helped with the chores, played with the chickens, and took a big bag of greens back to the dorm to make a salad for his friends.

Thank you, Leo. Thank you for reaching out and keeping in touch. Thank you for giving me hope for the future at a time when so many things in our country and around the world seem to be upside down and falling to pieces. Thank you for being a mensch. Have a great break and we’ll see you again in August!

(If you’d  like to read more about young people working on the farm in this post from last summer, “Help from Abroad.”)


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Field Report: Earth Day 2017

Happy Earth Day. Thanks for making this visit to the farm part of your celebrations. It’s cloudy today in Columbus. These photos were taken yesterday afternoon when it was a perfect combination of sunny and cool. The way spring ought to be.

This is a post dedicated to local greens geeks everywhere.

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Napa cabbage. Interesting to see how it is doing up against various companions. Parsley and yarrow seem to be the winners.

Loads and loads of lettuce.

Garlic up front with radish, carrots, peas, and parsley in the back.

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Red Russian Kale and Radicchio. Transplanted to the field in mid-March.

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Radicchio transplanted to high tunnel in February.
Interplanted with fennel, cabbage, mustard, and tomato.

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Overheated winter-sown spinach and transplanted onions.

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Spring planted garlic up front, fall sown in the back.

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Trimming and thinning recycling team.

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