Yesterday was overcast and the high temperature only reached 33 degrees, but somehow it didn’t feel as cold as it had the few days before. I spent a solid hour and a half out back harvesting greens and playing with the chickens who ventured into the yard for the first time in days. The weather is supposed to get nasty again the next few days and through the weekend, so I pulled up my snowpants and made the best of it.
Here are a few scenes from the field.
A solid blanket of snow covered everything and made accessing the tunnels a chore. I did a little maintenance, but have more to do to support the ends of our low tunnels when this melts…
While the world outside the tunnels was white, a bounty of greens lay beneath. This short tunnel (covered in Agribon and plastic) contains tatsoi, pac choi cilantro, romaine, and arugula. I’ve noticed growth increasing already since the winter solstice. I harvested most of the lettuces and left a little to see how they would hold up to the sub-zero temperatures coming early next week. I wondered if plants packed closer together would fair better than those hanging out alone, which I’m noting here to remind myself to check.
A bowl of arugula, some of which was buried under the row covers, which collapsed on the ends, from the weight of the snow.
Swiss chard, tatsoi, and pac choi under a low tunnel.
Same low tunnel – Lacinato and Red Russian kale in front, spinach in the back.
Close-up of arugula in a second short tunnel.
The high tunnel continues to enchant us. The pac choi on the left was hit hard by cold two nights before but completely bounced back (see below). I plan to add some low covers inside the tunnel in advance of the super cold temperatures coming next week.
Did you know cilantro embraces the cold?
Spinach starts in a cold frame, inside the tunnel. Surprising to me (but perhaps not to someone with more scientific understanding), these frames are not holding temperature as well as the tunnel itself (see chart below). These will be transplanted into a bed the next warm spell we see. (Note: This experiment was introduced in an earlier post, referencing the MidOhio Food Bank that made it possible.)
In the basket, chard, kale, and mustard for our harvest. On the ground, the chickens’ fodder.
After school, Cora helped me document temperatures in various locations.
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)
September 16, 2017: A wee neighbor helps add potting soil to the base of the frame. (about an inch)
September 23rd: Sprouting in progress.
October 6: Frames removed and low tunnels installed. Seedlings ready for transplant.
October 22: Tatsoi and Pac Choi interplanted between perviously established Swiss Chard.
A peak under some of our caterpillars. Clockwise from top right – spinach under frost blanket (planted 2/5), potatoes under low plastic tunnel (planted 2/22: Thanks for the inspiration, Milan!), and the view inside our high tunnel panted with various herbs and greens in January).
Homeschool on the farm today included measuring and recording air and soil temperature in 5 different growing situations (high tunnel, low tunnel w/plastic, low tunnel with frost blanket, glass-topped cold-frame, and no cover.)
This fall I watched from afar as my students in Texas and Florida prepared for hurricanes Harvey and Irma. I felt powerless to help them, and guilty that my house was standing tall, dry, and coursing with electricity. But as autumn settles into central Ohio, I’m preparing for the coming of another powerful force of nature: the Persephone Days.
From The Gods and Goddesses of Olympus by Aliki.
I first learned about Persephone Days from Eliot Coleman’s Winter Harvest Handbook (you can read an excerpt here). Put simply, folks who grow food in areas with sub-freezing winter temperatures must think as much about hours of sunlight in planning crop rotations as the cold. The Persephone Days are those with fewer than 10 hours daylight. (See a timetable for your zip code here.) Here in Columbus that means mid-November through late January.
If you plan right -Coleman has lots of recommendations – you can harvest greens and some root vegetables (including the most amazingly sweet winter carrots) grown in the fall and stored in your garden throughout that dark period. Just don’t count on your plants doing much new growing. Coleman suggests things be at least 3/4 of the way to maturity before the coming of Persephone.
I started paying more serious attention to these dates last fall as we began using our high tunnel and did some winter-sowing for early spring harvest. This year I feel behind. I didn’t get a full crop of fall greens out early enough for our family’s winter harvest, let alone a fall or winter CSA, which has been a goal for the past few years. Looking back on this field report,however, I realize I am ahead of where I was last year so… I’m learning.
This year I am homeschooling our daughter, Cora, 2 days a week. We have spent the past two months studying ancient history with a strong emphasis on the stories of the Greek gods and goddesses. Through the process I spent more time with Persephone. I got a refresher on her mother Demeter (goddess of the harvest and fertility) and Hades (god of the underworld) who, with permission from her his brother, the all-powerful Zeus, abducted Persephone to keep him company in the underworld. In her loneliness and suffering, Demeter caused a famine. Eventually Persephone was returned to her mother, but because she had eaten four pomegranate seeds while in the underworld, she had to return to the land of the dead for four months each year to keep Hades company. We experience these months as winter, the time when nothing grows. (Click here for an extended version of the story told from a contemporary and feminist perspective.)
Unlike the ancient Greeks, I don’t need a story to help me understand why the days are shorter and the nights are colder this time of year. I don’t need one, but it certainly makes things more interesting.
Happy Earth Day. Thanks for making this visit to the farm part of your celebrations. It’s cloudy today in Columbus. These photos were taken yesterday afternoon when it was a perfect combination of sunny and cool. The way spring ought to be.
This is a post dedicated to local greens geeks everywhere.
Napa cabbage. Interesting to see how it is doing up against various companions. Parsley and yarrow seem to be the winners.
Loads and loads of lettuce.
Garlic up front with radish, carrots, peas, and parsley in the back.
Red Russian Kale and Radicchio. Transplanted to the field in mid-March.
Radicchio transplanted to high tunnel in February.
Interplanted with fennel, cabbage, mustard, and tomato.
Overheated winter-sown spinach and transplanted onions.
Spring planted garlic up front, fall sown in the back.
Thanks to a grant from the National Resources Conservation Service High Tunnel Initiative program we are building a high tunnel to expand our season extension practices. The kit has been hanging out in the garage waiting for the sweet potatoes to come out of the ground. Now that they have, the location for the tunnel has been sited, posts planting, and hoops installed. Stay tuned for more updates on the progress.
Thanks, as always, to The Spurgeon General for his building assistance.
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.
We haven’t been posting much lately, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy. While there isn’t much to do outside, these cold dark days beckon us to the kitchen to bake cookies and simmer soups.
Here are a few of our favorite things.
Baked sweet potato fries with bulgar salad featuring our mustard greens and delicata squash. (12/23)
Cream of butternut squash soup with roasted radicchio. (12/14)
Foundation for a salad we brought to a holiday potluck – spinach, radicchio, and kale. (12/6)
When we harvested the garlic scapes in July, we made a few pounds of compound butter, some of which we froze with the holidays in mind. (I don’t know how to take a great picture of butter, but these biscuits from Christmas dinner made a great vehicle for eating ours.)
Hoping to continue eating from our own backyard and basement as much as possible in 2015!
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.