When you love to grow things and see a new sign pop up in your neighborhood like this, you stop and take notice.
Christy Harris started Wild Hare Prairie Native Nursery as a pandemic project at her home on E Beaumont Road in Beechwold (aka northern Clintonville). I didn’t get a chance to stop by last season but took advantage of a free hour Friday afternoon to hop on my bike and make visit. Not only was it Earth Day, but I was just a few days out from hearing an inspirational talk about re-wilding private lands by Doug Tallamy through Sustainable Upper Arlington and the UA Libraries. (Thanks as always for the tip, Bernadett!) In addition to all that, it’s peak spring ephemeral season here in Central Ohio so you could say I have native plants on my mind…
I hopped off my bike and starting checking out the dozen or so varieties of plants Christy had on display in the driveway. They looked healthy, and while some seemed familiar, there were plenty of new things too and Christy was ready to tell me ALL about them! Latin names, growing habits, and more. I was impressed.
I followed Christy through the privacy fence across the driveway into the back yard. I was speechless; seedlings as far as the eye could see. Countless cultivars, literally as I asked Christy if she was keeping track and the answer was something like “not yet.” Even more remarkable, Christy is learning everything by doing. She has no formal education in horitculture and is so humble about her knowledge. She told me, “It all started with milkweed for the monarchs… Now I just try to grow as many plants as I can.”
The backyard nursery was like no place I have ever been before, and I’m no stranger to garden tours. In addition to thousands of seedlings (including some that she’s been nursing for three years – Hello, Compass Plant!) there were established beds in sun, shade, part shade and even a wetland habitat with blooming marsh marigold. I can’t wait to visit again later in the season. As I told Christy, I intend to spend a lot of money at her house this year as I work on diversifying what’s growing at our place.
Christy is a local plant shero and neighborhood treasure. Visit her throughout the season – her inventory will change as things mature – and tell her I sent you!
Wild Hare Prairie Native Nursery is open from “sign up to sign down.” You can also find Christy at farmer’s markets all over Central Ohio this season, including Bexley, Franklin Park, and Worthington where she’ll be May 7th, as well as Facebook and Instagram.
One of the best parts of my gig leading the Clintonville Farmers’ Market Kids Garden Club are the field trips. These three evenings provide a great excuse for me to get out during the season and see what other farmers in Columbus are up to. Tonight we visited with Marcie Todd at Freshtown Farm, at their northside growing site.
The kids (and their parents) had a great time walking around checking out the space, a parcel FF leases from a generous long-time supporter of urban growers. The site is just over two miles from our farm, but feels like the country.
We tasted young hibiscus leaves, broccoli, zucchini, and mulberries. And we got to meet and pet the property owner’s two goats – both males so no milk, sadly…
This aspect of the program really gives the kids perspective on the various ways people are growing in our city. Meeting the folks they see at the market is good for the farmers too. Our kids (and their parents, aka the ones who have the money!) are excited to go find Marcie’s booth and buy her produce.
A final note of thanks to the folks at Acre for a gift card we presented to Marcie to thank her for the time she gave us. If you haven’t eaten there, summer is a perfect time to try their farm-to-table offerings.
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.)
The Clintonville Kids Garden Club has been chugging along. So far we’ve talked a lot about weeding, seeding, and feeding as well as working with what you find at your site, including volunteer plants and the bounty they offer with minimal effort. Two weeks ago the kids harvested 3 pounds of potatoes from plants that came back from last year within the bounds of their garden. This week, we harvested seed from an overwintered cilantro plant. As we collect things, we discuss how we might sell them at our first market day – July 15th.
This week we had a pretty small group. The girls who were with me harvested a nice bunch of cucumbers. They had a snack at club and took a few home to share, maybe, with their families….
Here they are harvesting cilantro seed. We talked about how amazing it is that one little seed made this plant, which produced so many more seeds! We also talked about selling packets of these seeds and encouraging people to plant them now. It’s never too late to “seed” afterall!
After some weeding, feeding, and seeding (radish, beets, and squash), the girls and I made some line drawings of flowers we’ve been growing. We hope to get a little coloring book together to sell at our stand.
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.
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.
After the review, we went over the days agenda which I’ve been writing on a white board.
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.
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.
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.
City Council Member Elizabeth Brown stopped by for a visit recently. I invited her over to “put her eyeballs on the land” as my friend Chris would say. The council is currently finalizing the Columbus Green Business & Urban Agriculture Strategic Plan, the focus which “is to enable, support, and grow green businesses and urban agriculture facilities within the City of Columbus (p. vi).” While a plan isn’t policy, but I’d like to think its progress.
After meetings with the OSU Franklin County Extension’s Columbus Urban Farmers Network, I have a developing awareness of the plan and some related efforts (See: Green Memo III and City of Columbus Food Action Plan). However, I still have a lot more questions than understanding, and I’m still unsure how such the plan will relate to my objectives and activities at Over the Fence. What is clear, however, is a need for advocacy for the work we and our friends on other growing sites in town are doing. As a group, the network has discussed communicating with elected officials about the work we are doing, sharing our triumphs and discussing our challenges. I saw the GBUA plan as a doorway, an invitation to a conversation with stakeholders and I was ready to knock on it.
Planning the visit with Elizabeth’s aides over email I confessed that I didn’t really know how to plan for our meeting. I wrote: “I’ve never done anything like this before so if you have any advice, let me know. Otherwise, I’ll just plan to show her around, let her ask a few questions, and share a few of mine.” They said a tour and conversation would be great so when she arrived I took her out back.
My biggest regret from our visit happened at this moment. We stepped inside the gate, took a pause for an initial lay-of-the-land view and that’s where we stayed for the next half an hour. NOTE TO SELF: WALK FOLKS INTO THE SPACE, DON’T STOP AT THE GATE! The farm is an immersive experience. In order to get a sense of its magnitude, you must walk the rows and look at the variety of things growing. You can’t just peek over the fence, you must cross the threshold and step inside. Fortunately I convinced Elizabeth to harvest a little spinach before she left (joking that it would make a good photo op for us both – see below). So she had a moment in the space but next time around I’m going to make sure the tour is more active.
Elizabeth asked what policy makers could do to help folks like me and what they do that gets in the way. I reported that while I have supportive neighbors who are happy to see my farm from their backyards, others are not so lucky. Our city’s complaint-driven zoning enforcement means someone like me – a white, middle-class woman living in Clintonville (a progressive neighborhood) – can do pretty much whatever I want as long as I clean up my toys at the end of the day and don’t turn the radio up too high. Other friends north and east of here have had to talk to police summoned by neighbors who felt inappropriate things were happening, like vegetable plants in the front yard, chickens in the back. Should one of my neighbors sell their house and a new, not-so-hip-to-urban-farming individual move in, I might find myself in a different situation. I’d like to know that the folks downtown has my back, that there are some regulations in place that will protect my efforts from any one individual who might not be into what I’m doing.
Beyond my general concerns about some unknown the future, I am concerned about growing my operations and encouraging others to start similar projects. The latter is a prime objective of mine. I’d like to see a farm like ours on every block of the city, with neighbors working together to feed one another. But, as far as I understand, under current zoning rules, a CSA (community supported agriculture) endeavor is considered a business and therefore not permitted off a residential lot like ours. Elizabeth and I discussed the complications of rezoning a single lot as agricultural and the possibility of some sort of permit or certificate to operate a small scale farm like ours as a business on a residential plot.
I’ve had a few other thoughts since Elizabeth was here. One relates to water. We’ve been having major dry spells this spring and I’ve had to water the plants a lot. I am still hoping to have a deduct meter installed so we don’t have to pay sewer fees on water we use on the farm, but that is a process that involves not only installation but also certification with the city’s Public Utilities office. From what I have heard, the city has not made this process easy for folks in the past. I wonder if the GBUA plan can help us get some kind of urban farmer water policy and practices put into place. For instance, if residents have water restrictions placed on us during a drought, could we have a variance to water our crops to keep them alive?
I hope more folks trying to make a living growing food in Columbus will get in touch with Elizabeth and other members of the council to keep the conversation going. Mine is only one perspective, one experience in urban agriculture, and I think it’s important for policy makers to hear, and to see first hand, the spectrum of activities being done in Columbus in the name of urban agriculture.
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.
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.
Red Russian Kale and Radicchio. Transplanted to the field in mid-March.
Radicchio transplanted to high tunnel in February.
Interplanted with fennel, cabbage, mustard, and tomato.
Overheated winter-sown spinach and transplanted onions.
Spring planted garlic up front, fall sown in the back.
We’ve had a busy and highly productive couple of weeks around the farm as winter surrenders to spring. We started a farm annex, weathered what we hope was our final arctic blast, and got lots of things growing in the fields.
This season we’ll be growing most of our potatoes and sweet potatoes at the home our friends and long-time CSA supporters, Andrew and Melissa Freuh. They bought a house in August and the yard is a blank canvas. Melissa marked out a 20′ x 60′ plot and we got a crew of friends to help us cover it in cardboard and compost. (We moved 10 yards in under 2.5 hours!) While we would have liked to have done this in the fall to give our lasagna garden some time to cook, we planted Groundhog Daikon Radish Cover Crop seed which should biodrill through the turf for us in the next few weeks.
I picked up ginger root then weighed, cut, cured, and tucked it in bed. Now we wait a few weeks and watch for sprouts. Lots of seedlings – kale, romaine, fennel, radicchio, and cabbage were hardened off and transplanted, once the cold past.
These onions were seeded in the cold frame. They lifted out effortlessly from the soil and were ready for transplanting to the field. I’m going to reseed the frame and try to stay on a cycle so we can have regular stock of scallions as well as some larger onions.
Temperatures got high enough that we were able to test the roll-up sides on the high tunnel.
And finally, we found a nest of baby bunnies under one of the low tunnels as we transitioned from winter plastic to spring row covers. We replaced them once our work was done to allow their mother to continue to visit and nurse them as we decide what to do next. They opened their eyes today. They are super cute which is super scary. I’ve been burned by bunnies a number of times before. The only things saving them right now are their sweet little faces and the fact that their mother didn’t touch a single plant under the tunnel when she nested. A recent read through Tammi Hartung’s The Wildlife Vegetable Gardeneris probably also to blame.
This seems like a lot of work, and we got a lot of chores accomplished that weren’t sexy enough to make this post, but there is still SO much to do!