Over the Fence Urban Farm

Cooperatively farming small patches of Earth in Columbus, OH

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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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Death (and Rebirth) by Cold Frame Solar Oven

(This post is dedicated to our friends Tim Chavez and Suzanne Csejtey, local masters of solar power.)

I guess I didn’t really check the forecast all that well yesterday morning because I decided to leave our cold frame closed to benefit some seeds I had set to germinate. I wasn’t thinking at all about the sprouts and greens already growing in there. When the temperatures approached 80 degrees, everything baked.

From the overwintered mustard:


To the new sweet pea seedlings.


At first I was really pissed at myself for making such an amateur mistake. But then I sat back and looked at what was in the soil and thought about what could be.

Using the cold frame as a seedbed, not just a tool for growing plants when it’s cold, is a concept I picked up from Eliot Coleman and it works. It’s so much easier to keep a 2 x 4′ bed damp for germination than a 27 foot row. And the seedlings are able to stretch out form the start in the ground as opposed to in a plastic cell. (The space under our grow lights is presently overrun with tomato plants so that’s not an option anyway!)

So, I ripped out everything that was left growing – the aforementioned mustards and some lettuces that had been growing in the basement this winter which I moved out to the frame a month ago but were so root-bound they would never amount to much more than they already were, and made a giant harvest salad.


I added some of the potting soil mix I picked up at the Columbus Agrarian Society and am now using instead of the totally unsustainable coir I was using for seedlings (turns out it is made in Holland from coconut husks grown in Singapore!) and now we’re’m ready to start over again. Spring is all about new beginnings, afterall!


Introducing Our New Vole Patrol(man)

[WARNING: This post contains both supremely cute and kinda icky imagery.  But it’s all real; nothing has been Photochopped folks. Understanding more each day that what it takes to get food to our tables isn’t always pretty, whether we’re talking about industrial pesticides or mousetraps. But I promise we’ll start on a positive note.

Shout outs to Melissa F. for pushing me to write about this here, and to Courtney at Milking Chickens who wrote so openly about her recent encounter with some stillborn goats.]

Meet Thompson. We’re told he’s some kind of terrier/hound mix so we’re counting on him to be our new vole (and rabbit and mole and squirrel and …) patrolman. DSC_0032 He’s four months old, super sweet, and a lot nicer to have around than our previous rodent trapper… DSC_0021 I caught this little rascal and his partner a few days after we learned about integrated pest management at farm school.  I was out looking at the cold frame, checking on some seeds and seedlings I’d set out when I discovered tunnels running through the soil with a few big holes on the sides. I knew immediately that we had a problem and unlike in the past, I wasn’t willing to live with it. It was us against them. I ran to the hardware store, picked up some mousetraps, and set them out with a bit of peanut butter bait. Within 12 hours I’d caught my first furball. I immediately reset the trap and within 2 hours caught another. We haven’t had any problems since then.

I have never killed a mammal before. Caterpillars, ants, beetles, stinkbugs for sure, but nothing with ears, and eyes, and claws. Nothing with body parts that resembled my own. My initial reaction was a combination of nausea and elation. But the more I read about voles, the less guilty I felt.

See, for example, this from Wikipedia:
“[Voles] can have five to 10 litters per year. Gestation lasts for three weeks and the young voles reach sexual maturity in a month. As a result of this biological exponential growth, vole populations can grow very large within a very short period of time. Since litters average five to 10 young, a single vole can birth a hundred more voles in a year.”

I figure catching these two saved me, and Thompson, from having to catch another 98. I’m sure he’ll find someone else to chase down.

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Easing Our Way Outside

Finally. It’s been warm enough for three days in a row to go outside with no coats! Our bikes are out again, as well as our shovels. The soil finally thawed deep enough to get our soil sample ready to send down to OSU for testing. (More on our burgeoning partnership with Kerry Ard and the School for Environmental and Natural Resources later…) The test will help us understand what is, and what is not, in our soil at this point and how to amend it to make it the most hospitable home for our plants as possible. First sign of good news; we found tons of earth worms!

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Softer soil meant we were also finally able to push our low tunnel hoops down far enough into the ground to stabilize them. They are set in the raised beds on our side of the fence for now but, if all goes as planned, we’ll be getting a BIG dump of compost at the end of the month and will install some over the fence as well. We’ll be having a few gorgeous days early this week that will be great for planting out the seedlings we’ve been hardening off (see below). Though we’re wondering, should we put them out there with snow and ice in the forecast for Thursday? Gotta love Ohio in March!

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If all goes as planned, we’ll be able to serve our CSA members a sneak peak of what’s coming their way during our upcoming work days!

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