Over the Fence Urban Farm

Cooperatively farming small patches of Earth in Columbus, OH


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A Peek @ Our Indoor Seeding Operations

IMG_9477There are lots of great things you can grow in your vegetable garden from seed. This is the kind of gardening kids learn about in picturebooks – dig a hole in the ground, put in a seed, add water, and wait. “Direct seeding” in gardening lingo. But there are other things that need more sun and heat to mature than our northern North American climate can offer in a single season. These must be started indoors, in late winter or early spring. Tomatoes, for instance, make up some portion of 85% of kitchen gardens in the U.S. and we’re starting ours this week!

Growing your own seedlings is a rewarding way to get through the final days of winter and save money in the garden. But it’s not for everyone. It’s a lot of work to keep things growing strong, healthy, and on schedule. Plants that mature too early can be hard to acclimate to their outdoor environs. And plants that don’t receive the right amount of light and nutrients may never catch up. Sick seedlings are also more susceptible to disease and pests, neither of which you want hanging around.

So, if you don’t have the time or equipment to give your seedlings a good start, stick with locally grown plants, raised by folks that do. You’ll be supporting your local farmers and ensuring that you’ll have something to harvest when the time comes. Be sure you get organic stock to avoid seedlings raised with neonic insecticides that can be harmful to bees, contaminate your soil, and leave chemical traces in your produce.

Here are three of our top tips for growing your own seedlings:

1) Dedicate space to your endeavor. Be sure it is out of reach of young children and pets. Make it somewhere you don’t mind getting messy. And locate near a water source, if possible. We set up in our basement. It’s grown a bit each of the past few years. We now have a nice sized potting area with space for our DIY heating mat and two large shelves dedicated to growing space. There is a utility sink a few feet away in the laundry area. Nothing fancy, but it gets the job done.

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2) Invest in grow lights. We didn’t have them when I first started seeds inside, but they are a must if you are really trying to do this right. (And, to reiterate my point above, if that isn’t your plan, I’d leave it to the experts.) We got our lamps from a commercial supplier that Dan knows through work. They are super efficient, T12, four-ft. flourescent bulbs, 6 bulbs per unit. When we first started using them I was terrified to see the electric bills, but they didn’t change at all! Goal for 2015-2016 is to always have something growing under there, winter, spring, summer, and fall to increase our yield (indoors as well as out) as much as possible!

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3) Know before you sow. I used to start my seedlings in potting soil. Seemed to make sense since the plants were in pots. But last year when we started this venture, I headed to one of the hydroponics shops in our neighborhood for some education on indoor growing, under lights. Mike taught me about coir – or coconut fiber which provides a light, neutral medium for seedlings to grow in. Since the coir doesn’t have much nutrition to offer, he also recommended some food – Nectar of the Gods’ Gaia Mania. (The coir is probably the least sustainable part of our operation as it’s sourced from Sri Lanka and produced in Holland, but I have tried other brands and this one really is amazing. Your recommendations for alternatives most welcome.)

The nutrients are not important for germination, but as soon as I see sprouts I start feeding them once a week. I generally broadcast seed a bunch of seeds in a single container and then transplant them to their own individual containers. Just like when transplanting in the field, when I move plants to their new spaces, I give them a healthy snack.

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Hope to be reporting from the fields soon!


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Eating From the Garden, All Year Round

We haven’t been posting much lately, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy. While there isn’t much to do outside, these cold dark days beckon us to the kitchen to bake cookies and simmer soups.

Here are a few of our favorite things.

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Baked sweet potato fries with bulgar salad featuring our mustard greens and delicata squash. (12/23)

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Cream of butternut squash soup with roasted radicchio. (12/14)

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Foundation for a salad we brought to a holiday potluck – spinach, radicchio, and kale. (12/6)

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When we harvested the garlic scapes in July, we made a few pounds of compound butter, some of which we froze with the holidays in mind. (I don’t know how to take a great picture of butter, but these biscuits from Christmas dinner made a great vehicle for eating ours.)

Hoping to continue eating from our own backyard and basement as much as possible in 2015!


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Winter Harvest Report

Officially, it’s only been winter for 8 days, but it’s felt like winter around here for at least a month.

We last reported from the field November 11th, seven weeks ago, which is a pretty long time in the life of a plant. Especially at this time of year with overnight highs as low as 10 and as high as 50.

So, what does it look like out there now?

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Pretty brown from a distance. But up close, and under that plastic caterpillar, also known as a “low tunnel”. . .

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It’s wet, warm, and things are still growing. This must be what it feels like inside a terrarium. We haven’t watered since September.

The arugula and chard have died back, the spinach has slowed to nearly nothing, the kale, mustard, scallions are slow and small but still producing. The tatsoi is still remarkably happy and wins, hands down, the prize for best cold climate producer.

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The  carrots are sweet, crisp, and beautiful. Cora and I dug some up for Christmas dinner. (I used the most crooked fruta feia we found to make a soufflé – saving the long slender roots for raw snacking – and it was delicious.)

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One really incredible surprise has been the herbs. Oregano and parsley are still doing well, and cilantro is still standing if looking a bit puckered.

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It’s about time to get planning for the 2015 season in earnest. These experimental beds will certainly play a role.