Over the Fence Urban Farm


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We GREW Our Own Protein!

DSC_0074My freshman year of college, I heard John Robbins speak about his book Diet for a New America (1987). It was my first  introduction to the impact our food choices have on the planet. I was already a vegetarian, though I can’t remember why. After hearing Robbins and reading his book, however, I could articulate a clear rationale for giving up meat. Robbins cited quantitative comparisons between the amount of resources it takes to grow a vegetarian versus a meat-based diet. For example, 20 herbivores could live off the same amount of land it takes to feed just one carnivore. He argued fewer people would be starving to death if everyone ate less meat. His observations seem all the more relevant today in relation to current discussions about irrigation in California. The idea that one pound of factory-farmed meat requires 2,500 gallons of water to produce makes those one gallon almonds seem downright sustainable.

I’ve read countless other arguments for eating a vegetarian diet since that talk. I’ve been inspired by folks who have tried to grow a well-rounded diet including Quarter Acre Farm and Shagbark Seed & Mill in Athens, OH. And so it was with tremendous pride that I cooked a pot of chili tonight using beans we grew ourselves. Beans that were fed purely by rain showers.

IMG_2841Last year our friend and CSA member Pam brought us a packet of Scarlet Runner Bean seeds she’d saved from the previous season. She said they would grow pretty vines with bright red flowers (see top of post) the humming birds would coming flying for.

They did. And when they were gone, we gathered the beans and saved them to plant again this season. While we planted the seed beans all along one fence last year, this year we spread them throughout the garden in keeping with our goal of providing invitations for pollinators throughout the farm. The bees, birds, and beans have benefit.

With extra room to roam, the beans are flourishing. Last week Cora shelled a full cup of dried ones that I soaked and cooked to use in the chili in place of kidney beans. See this post from Eat the Weeds and Other Things, Too for more information on harvesting and processing these little gems. We’re looking forward to getting a few more cups this season and sharing seed beans with our supporters next year.

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Scarlet Runners

Are these not the most beautiful gems you’ve set your yes on? Pam gave us a handful in the spring. Said the flowers would attract the hummingbirds. We didn’t see too many this time around, but are eager to try again next year.

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Addendum: Realize this doesn’t show scale and these babies are huge. Check out “Fall Cleaning and Gleaning” for an idea.


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Top Five Farm School Tips on Pests and Pollinators

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This week’s farm school session was by far the best yet. Denise Ellsworth was the most dynamic instructor we’ve had and the three hours whizzed by. (The art educator in me is convinced this is in some way related to the fact that she started her college career as an art history student.) Denise had so much information to share she ran out of time, which was kind of a bummer. Some of what she shared was a little unnerving – there are so many natural threats to a good harvest – but in this game it’s best to know your enemies. Thankfully, she provided lots of resources we can use to get started on the right foot, to expand on what we’ve been doing well, and make changes as we move forward. She also taught us a thing or two about our allies. I can’t wait to use some of these tips to more effectively lure the bees from the hive down the block to our yard. (Thanks, Jen and Tim, for letting them come over to play!)

Here are the top five things I took away from the evening:

If you see fungus, it’s too late to treat it.
If you want to have a healthy garden, you have to take a long-term and proactive approach to pest management. This includes understanding the culture of your landscape – “how actions impact balances and relationships.” There is so much happening beneath and around our plants that we need to be aware of. Too often we focus too intently on the plants themselves. Attention to drainage, air flow, and crop rotation are examples of areas for pro-action.

Banish old tomato plants from your kindgom.
Most backyard compost piles don’t get hot enough to kill the diseases and pests tomato plants can accumulate over a season. It’s not worth risking next year’s crop by holding onto any part of these plants. Pull roots completely and remove all fruit and foliage from beds as soon as the harvest is over. Bury the remains somewhere in the yard a foot down or put them in the trash. (Need to find out whether they can be put out for city yard waste pickup. Do their piles get hot enough or are we just spreading the disease throughout the city?)

Embrace your inner scientist.
Scientists’ work develops from observation-based questions. Come this spring I’ll be “scouting” for problems in the garden everyday, then exploring options for addressing them. For example, if I see insect “frass” (aka bug poop), I’ll follow the trail and see where it leads and take action based on what I see. I’ll record the “ground truth” for weather related patterns as they arrive at our property like “growing degree days” as they pass.

Be the hostess with the most-ess.
Invite pollinators into your “insectary” and show them a good time. Find ways to provide a successive feast with at least three pollen sources spring, summer, and fall to keep them around your property rather than flying off to the next way station. That’s gonna take some research and planning. We’ll start by rearranging some of our perennials in groups and by incorporating flower beds throughout and around the the farm. This will help us create” corridors of connectivity,” or highways, for bees and butterflies to follow through your space so they don’t have to cross scary pathways where predators might gobble them up.

The more you grow, the more you need to know.
As urban farmers growing a variety of things in small spaces, we are both at an advantage and disadvantage over the large-scale, one product grower. We’ll need to learn the ideal growing conditions for a wide variety of plants. At least we won’t ever get bored.