Over the Fence Urban Farm


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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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Failure in the field

Like all bloggers, I tend to emphasize our successes in the field. (I did write about some ugly carrots at one point and I stand by my love of fruta feia.) Today I thought I would share a failure.

About 3 weeks ago, we set out some red cabbage starts. You can see them on the bottom right of this image. Looking back on them now, they definitely look like they could have used a few more weeks under the lights inside before transplanting. But, it was warm and the plants on the other side of the tray were ready to go.

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Before planting, I consulted folks on the Ohio Homesteaders and Gardeners Facebook group.

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As you can see, I wasn’t alone in my poor previous attempts. I took the comments about feeding cabbage well and providing a stable environment to heart and set them out with a nice dousing of fish emulsion and a frost blanket. I should have taken more seriously the post wishing me luck.

I’m sad to those seedlings are not looking great at this point. In the photo below you can see a few (top let and bottom right) which are pretty leggy and have burnt leaves. These were two of the best looking ones I found.

Thankfully, I had some cilantro and boc choi in need of a home so I spent yesterday afternoon interplanting those between a few cabbages that will get one more chance to get going. With overnight temperatures in the 20s expected on and off this week, their outlook is not all that great.  I might try starting a few more red cabbage plants before we get much closer to the frost our date. Maybe.

Below is another problem we’re facing. The Napa cabbage we set out the same day as the red is looking good — leafing out and emitting a gorgeous green glow. However, slugs have been feasting on them. Yesterday I set out a few beer traps and hope to find some treats for the chickens later today. This is my first try with this so I’m not sure I did it right. I’ll be sure to report later.

Below is a shot of shows some of the plants that haven’t suffered much from slug attacks (see center row). I believe there’s hope for them yet…

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Farm Fresh Start

New Year’s is all about fresh starts. For lots of people this means cleaning up what they eat. Following that tradition, Over the Fence held our first winter harvest salad party today.

After a short, finger-numbing time in the field, we shared a quick bite to eat with some of our most intrepid CSA members. We even sent them home with some goodie bags to keep them on the path to a healthy new year. Hope you find ways to be clean and green in twenty-sixteen!

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Hoops Dreams

One of the things we’re most excited about experimenting with this spring and fall are tunnels – high and low.  Tunnels are used to extend the growing and harvesting seasons. A tunnel over a garden bed creates a microclimate which magically transports the soil and air 500 miles south. So, in the spring, we can use low tunnels to get a jump on the growing season, and in the fall, we can use them to protect crops from the frost. The tunnels will behave similarly to our coldframe.

Last week, Jesse Hickman of Local Matters – Columbus’s leading non-profit dedicated to “transforming the food system” and a co-sponsor of farm school – offered to lend me a low hoop bender the organization owns. I jumped at the opportunity and made use a few recent sunny days with temperatures over 30 degrees to give it a spin. I stabilized the bender on picnic table in a green space behind a bank and a funeral home at the end of our block and set to work. Dogs from adjacent lots were barking at me and I was waiting for the bank security to come ask me what I was building. All part of the urban farming experience, I suppose.

IMG_4862As Jesse predicted, my first attempt at bending the 1/2 inch electrical metal conduit was a wonky, lopsided mess. But I quickly got the hang of it and we now possess 16 hoops 4 ft in diameter and 4 feet high. Hope to install these guys the second week in March and move some seedlings into them. Will also be experimenting with direct seeding under the tunnels. Stay tuned…

 


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Seedbed

This past fall we were on a tour at Swainway Urban Farm when our pal Milan, from Peace, Love, and Freedom Farm, asked Joseph Swain who inspires him. It was a great question and without hesitation, Joseph cited Eliot Coleman, the guru of Four Season Farming. I was somewhat familiar with Coleman’s work from articles he published in Mother Earth News, but we promptly checked a few of his books out from the library and haven’t looked back.

In Four Season Harvest (1999), Coleman offers advice on sowing seeds and raising seedlings in the coldframe. Knowing full well we are in for a few more weeks of very cold weather, we decided to give his method a try today as temperatures soared above 50. As promised, I picked up a soil thermometer and found the soil was fluctuating between 45-60 degrees for the past few days. Perfect for kale, beets, onions, chard…

With the coldframe already cleared of old growth and the soil smooth, we laid a 2-3 inch blanket (about 1 yard) of Happy Frog Potting Soil over all but the small section where we transplanted some seedlings earlier in the week. We set the seeds down in well marked rows and gave them a drink. And now, we wait.

It used to be if I heard the term “seedbed,” my thoughts turned to performance artist Vito Acconci’s (1972) work of that title. If you don’t know it, look it up. (Just be warned, this work is not appropriate for all readers.) I won’t go into it here except to say, that I have new understanding of the term. These seeds are warm and cozy and we’re going to do all we can to keep them that way.

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[Quick note on the transplants. They seem to be doing okay. We moved a few straw bales that were lying around to the west and southwest sides of the coldframe as a windbreak to help these next last few weeks of winter. The transplants aren’t growing as fast as the seedlings still sitting in the kitchen, but they are holding their own, gaining inner strength and waiting to flouirsh as soon as temperatures stabilize. As soon as the grow lights we got are installed, we’ll move some of the guys on the windowsill under there and then they will really start to take off. Can’t wait!]

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Check out our “true leaves!”


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Season Extension 101

IMG_4780You can’t go anywhere this time of year in Central Ohio without hearing folks begging for the end of winter. Yesterday the temperature reached above forty degrees – for the first time in a very long time – and the sun shone brightly so Cora and I suited up and ventured outside to move our bodies and get some fresh air. The melting snow was calling her, the coldframe was calling me.

As I lifted the lid, the smell of fresh soil rose up with it. There was not much alive in there, a few kale plants that made it through the polar vortex were stretching up towards the light, taller than I had seen them in awhile. Some arugula was showing signs of rejuvenation but were mostly brown and wilted. We pulled all these old suckers out to make way for some new seedlings. (I briefly thought about leaving the the kale, but flashbacks of  the cabbage worms that were feasting on them in the fall quickly changed my mind.

It was so nice to have our hands in the soil again. And the soil was warm!

Dan built our coldframe in the Summer of 2012. We used it that fall to provide shelter for some greens. Last spring, I started a bunch of arugula, kale, and spinach in the box, some of which I moved out to the garden when the weather got warmer.  These were my first experiments with season extension. I had read a few articles about such practices in Mother Earth News, but mostly I was just testing things out and seeing what worked for me. This year is a bit different. I’ve been doing lots of reading and have greater expectations for the frame as a result. Now that I know what it’s capable of, I’m ready to put this thing to work.

IMG_4785My first experiment of this season involved a thermometer, my garden notebook, and the flashlight app on my phone. As Cora was marking rows in the soil with the back of her hand rake, “just like Big Anthony!” in Strega Nona’s Harvest, I dashed inside to find an indoor/outdoor thermometer I picked up last weekend. I placed it in the sunny corner of the frame and shut the lid. 15 minutes later, it read 86 degrees! Amazing. It was 47 outside. I moved it to the shady side and checked again in a few hours (64), after the sun went down (47), just before I went to be (40), and first thing in the morning (39). The temperature went down overnight, but I could tell the soil was still warm. (Shopping note: buy a soil thermometer…)

The sun was out again today. I took a few of the spinach and kale seedlings I started inside and put them in a few inches of potting mix laid on top of the soil in the frame. I also left a few plants in the frame in the plastic cells I started them in. I closed the lid and went to farm school. The topic of the evening was, appropriately, season extension. At some point the instructor was speaking about hardening off seedlings before putting them out in the spring to acclimate them to heat and sun and I thought, oh no! The seedlings I moved outside probably needed something similar to prevent them from getting shocked by the cold. So, when I got home, I grabbed the first thing I saw, a bright orange plastic sled, and placed it over the little guys hoping it would act as a kind of low tunnel, adding an additional layer of protection. IMG_4828

[Morning report: The sled frost cover seemed to do it’s job. The temperature in the frame dropped to 35 overnight, but the plants don’t look wilted or burnt at all! Daytime temperature is suppose to jump to near 60 today and then dip down again tonight so we’ll have to do some venting and then frost protection again at night. My guess is these little guys are going to be stronger for all these early experiences, but we’ll be sure to let you know how it works out.]


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Sowing Seeds in the Dead of Winter

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
Robert Louis Stevenson

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Like much of North America, we’ve been experiencing record cold temperatures in central Ohio this winter.  This has folks all over town dreaming of warmer days.  And gardens.  We’re doing more than just dreaming. We’re sowing seeds.

The past few years we’ve been planting things earlier and earlier, but this is definitely a new record.

The past 48 hours we’ve been priming a few spinach seeds Jodi picked up at the City Folks Farm Shop seed swap a few weeks back.  We have some nice south-facing window sills in the kitchen we’re going to try to grow them on, but if that’s not enough light, we’ll move them under the grow lights. Next week we’ll plant another round.

There are few things more magical than watching things grow up from seeds.  With the weather as cold as it’s been around here, we could all use the distraction.