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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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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Field Report: 2.21.2017

I have been doing a lot more reading, thinking, and planning for companion planting after hearing Dan Kittredge speak at OEFFA a few weeks back. (Read about the conference and talks in this post on OEFFA Conference 2017.) I’m interplanting things I haven’t mixed up before and looking ahead to what I can add later to long season crops beds I am sowing now. All this in order to create symbiotic relationships between the plants so they are feeding and protecting one another, and the microbes in the soil, better.

I’m also looking at the Farmer’s Almanac’s Garden Calendar for some advice on optimal planting dates.

“The Farmers Almanac Gardening by the Moon Calendar is determined by our age-old formula and applies generally to regions where the climate is favorable. Because the gardening calendar is based on the phase and position of the Moon, it is consistent across all growing zones.”

I’ve been wanting to get a better handle on biodynamics. Using the Farmer’s Almanac in conjunction with a few biodynamic calendars I’ve been consulting seems like a relatively easy way of getting started.

According to the calendar, today was an optimal day for planting root crops so I set some radishes, carrots, and beet seeds out. I added a bit of innoculant to the seed packs, per Kittredge’s suggestion that the minerals in this dust help germinating seeds develop the systems they need to absorb and digest nutrients throughout their lives. Kittredge compared this with the precious colostrum nursing mammals produce for their babies in the first few days of life. Colostrum helps human infants develop healthy gut flora. I want my plants to have healthy guts because I’m sure it’ll mean I’ll have healthier gut too!

Tomorrow is a good day too, so it isn’t too late for you to get busy on your own early-early spring planting plan. Here are a few scenes from the field this afternoon to get you planting your own fertile ground.

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Arugula.

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Winter Density & Bloomsdale.

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Red and Green Giant Mustard with Radicchio.

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Bloomsdale Spinach.

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Unidentified Red Leaf Lettuce, Raddichio, and Sassy Salad Mix.

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Vitamin Greens.

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Soil is starting to look REALLY good. Hard to believe this was compacted clay three years ago.

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Felt a little guilty moving these cilantro seedlings but they were in the high tunnel only temporarily and suffering because they were planted over a spot that had been compacted, wood-chipped lined paths.Hoping to see their leaf color and vigor improve in the field.

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Fall planted Red Russian Kale and Red Giant Mustard with January sown spinach coming in between. Under a low tunnel.

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All three kids ate a raw salad tonight! Green and Red Giant Mustard, Tatoi, Spinach, Winter Density Lettuce, Red Russian Kale, Mizuna, Vitamin Greens

 

 

 

 


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Field report: 2.16.17

The sun was shining bright in Columbus, Ohio today. The temperature only got to about 38°F, but it I had a purpose to be outside, down on the ground, with my hands in the soil. And I was glad for that.

I transplanted onions I started inside and moved around field sown spinach seedlings so they were more evenly distributed.

This is the last night forecasted to go below freezing for the foreseeable future. While it seems awfully weird, we’re going to take advantage of it. Hope this inspires you to do the same.

 

 


Inside the high tunnel.


Spinach sown in high tunnel November 5.


Winter density lettuce transplanted in January, Radicchio transplanted 2.15, Mizuna sown in November, Sassy salad mix sown in January.


Tatsoi, Kale, Chard transplanted in October. Pac Choi transplanted early February.

 

 

 

 


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Validation by Six Year Old

An important mission of our farm is demonstrating that good food, lots of good food, can be grown within city limits. I am particularly excited about passing this knowledge on to children, so they might imagine a new future for our public and private spaces. And so, it was with GREAT joy that I opened this text from one of our CSA families this morning.

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And then…

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So yeah, I’m feeling pretty validated today. Thanks Ezra.

Note: This post was previously called “Validation by Text Message” but after thinking about it, I realized it wasn’t the texting that made this exchange so powerful, it was the sic year old behind it.

 

 

 


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Tunnel Visions

Thanks to a grant from the National Resources Conservation Service High Tunnel Initiative program we are building a high tunnel to expand our season extension practices. The kit has been hanging out in the garage waiting for the sweet potatoes to come out of the ground. Now that they have, the location for the tunnel has been sited, posts planting, and hoops installed. Stay tuned for more updates on the progress.

Thanks, as always, to The Spurgeon General for his building assistance.