In keeping with the unusually mild winter weather we enjoyed this year, overnight temperatures are predicted to be above freezing for the foreseeable future. That means it’s time to get the farm back in action. Here’s what it looked like yesterday morning.
The chickens have wrecked havoc on the beds all winter, scratching and kicking straw and soil every which way. Going into our third season it was time to remark our beds anyway – some had shrunk by a couple of feet on the ends – so the girls kind of did us a favor.
With help from die-hard CSA member Melissa, we got started measuring, moving and prepping the soil, and put a few trays of greens in the ground.
These babies were hardened off and ready to embrace the cool crisp air. (clockwise from top left- radicchio, lacinato kale, buttercrunch lettuce, rainbow chard, and romaine)
Melissa pulled the plants from the trays…
…and I tucked them into their freshly (re)made beds.
Then we covered them with a frost blanket (sorry no photo), just in case Jack Frost comes back around this way.
I hereby declare our first “Happy Hour on the Farm” of the 2015 season a smashing success. Thanks to Sarah, Melissa, Andrew, Julian, and Liz for coming out. I know it wasn’t easy, it being the first truly lovely afternoon this spring. The weather really was perfect for working outdoors and we’re so grateful that you put in your time with us.
Sarah and I thinned radish seedlings and set a few more seeds in the ground here and there. This is a before shot. You can see how overcrowded the row in the left-side bed were.
As with any great happy hour, Andrew and Dan dressed up for the occasion.
Melissa put her nimble fingers to work thinning and transplanting spinach seedlings. (Photo credit: Juilan Haliday)
Dan and George started pouring concrete footings for the chicken coop! (Chicks are coming May 4th.)
Liz leveled our work area to better accommodate the work table we got at the end of last season, the wash tub we got from a neighbor and will be installing soon, and the shed roof Dan has planned so we can store some hand tools and supplies on the farm including some speakers for a radio.
Andrew got the irrigation system up and running on the west side beds. He makes it seem so easy. (Photo credit: Juilan Haliday)
Julian communed with the kale – transplanting some overwintered, but now misplaced plants, and doing some light weeding. Liz and Melissa followed him with arugula starts to will out the space to either side of the kale.
I tucked everything in for the night. (Photo credit: Juilan Haliday)
Pretty brown from a distance. But up close, and under that plastic caterpillar, also known as a “low tunnel”. . .
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.
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.)
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.
It’s about time to get planning for the 2015 season in earnest. These experimental beds will certainly play a role.
One of our goals at Over the Fence is to find ways to produce fresh food throughout the year. To this end, we consulted the first name in North American season extension, Eliot Coleman. After traveling to Europe to research year-round crop production and conducting experiments on his own land in Maine, he developed a variety of techniques for covering crops, overwintering seedbeds, and winter harvesting. Anytime you speak with someone who is trying harness Mother Nature’s more subtle powers, you’re likely to hear his name. We’d love to visit his aptly named Four Season Farm. Someday… In the meantime, we’ve seem some of his ideas in action around Columbus at Swainway Urban Farm, Harmonious Homestead, and Peace, Love, and Freedom Farm.
After reading as much of Coleman as we could get our hands on, we purchased 20 – 10 foot lengths of 1/2″ EMT and borrowed a bending tool to make our first low tunnel hoops last winter. You can read about that process here. We experimented with them a bit in the spring for an early harvest, but didn’t have much luck. We needed to start earlier, producing a fall garden that could evolve over-winter. This year we were ready.
In late August, we got a variety of cold-hardy seeds into the ground and sprouting – kale, arugula, swiss chard, spinach, scallions, beets, carrots, tatsoi, and a variety of mustards. We tried corn salad, or mache, a Coleman favorite for winter harvest but after two rounds of planting saw no germination and gave up. For now. By September we had two full rows of greens going just as strong as we had in the spring. We’re eating from them everyday, occasionally sharing with CSA friends though at this point we are selfishly relishing the fruits of our experiment.
A mid-Octover harvest.
Last week, in anticipation of our first overnight frost, we covered the beds with our low tunnel hoops and 6-mil greenhouse plastic. The plastic is secured with clamps and, for the time being, held down on the ground with burlap coffee sacks. Something a bit heavier will likely be in order as it gets colder and windier.
A corner of the tunnel. Note the moisture dripping down the sides!
A quick temperature experiment showed that on a partly sunny day in the mid-forties, inside the tunnel was just above sixty. Yesterday was unseasonably warm, in the low sixties. We didn’t measure the temperature inside the hoop, but it felt warm and smelled of rich, damp earth. A true joy to behold in early November.
It’s like the tropics in here!
Hope to keep these going at least through our Thanksgiving feast! We’ll let you know how it goes.