The sun was shining bright in Columbus, Ohio today. The temperature only got to about 38°F, but it I had a purpose to be outside, down on the ground, with my hands in the soil. And I was glad for that.
I transplanted onions I started inside and moved around field sown spinach seedlings so they were more evenly distributed.
This is the last night forecasted to go below freezing for the foreseeable future. While it seems awfully weird, we’re going to take advantage of it. Hope this inspires you to do the same.
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.
Today’s happy hour was all about seeds. We got a bunch of radishes in the ground that should be ready for Thanksgiving and planted out a row To test under winter cover. Thankfully we had an architect on hand to help us install our low tunnel hoops! (Inside joke, really anyone can do it…)
Hoping for a small winter harvest of spinach and arugula from that bed and a nice crop of beets and carrots in early spring.
Todays’s harvest: arugula and mustard greens, rosemary, parsley, Thai basil, chives, and dahlias. Lots of things that go well with sweet potatoes and butternut squash. Bon appetitio!
Thanks to some help from a few good friends, we got our first quick hoop (or low tunnel) planted out and erected today. It isn’t on the farm property since it’s still too cold and damp to till the new beds on that side of the fence, but this experiment will certainly inform the work we do there in the fall and next spring. This hoop covers 2/3 of one of the raised beds we’ve been using at the house. Today, we loaded it with spinach, mizuna, beets, and kale for an early spring salad mix. If all goes well, we’ll have a few fresh greens for our Passover seder plate.
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!
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!
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!
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.
As 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…