Over the Fence Urban Farm


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Preparing for Persephone

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.

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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.

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Field Report: Earth Day 2017

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.

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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.

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Red Russian Kale and Radicchio. Transplanted to the field in mid-March.

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Radicchio transplanted to high tunnel in February.
Interplanted with fennel, cabbage, mustard, and tomato.

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Overheated winter-sown spinach and transplanted onions.

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Spring planted garlic up front, fall sown in the back.

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Trimming and thinning recycling team.

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Field Report: April 6, 2017

It’s been a busy week and getting busier everyday. Here’s a quick look at what’s been happening on the farm.

Chicken run unwrapped! The girls are very happy to have the air flowing again.

…very happy hens.

The work table and area was emptied and out for spring cleaning.

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Unearthed a mouse corpse in the process.

New CSA member John Grimes helped us move one of the two compost bins. One more to go.

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Spring garlic planting experiment…

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.…with help from Mia Grimes.

Transplated radicchio and kale with new CSA member Benn Vaughn.

I planted a green onion vortex.

 

 

 


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Tunnel Visions

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.
  


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Welcome to the 2016 Season!

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. IMG_4994

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.IMG_4995

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)

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Melissa pulled the plants from the trays…IMG_4991

…and I tucked them into their freshly (re)made beds.IMG_5010

Then we covered them with a frost blanket (sorry no photo), just in case Jack Frost comes back around this way.

Next week: The Return of Happy Hour on the Farm!


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Eating From the Garden, All Year Round

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.

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Baked sweet potato fries with bulgar salad featuring our mustard greens and delicata squash. (12/23)

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Cream of butternut squash soup with roasted radicchio. (12/14)

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Foundation for a salad we brought to a holiday potluck – spinach, radicchio, and kale. (12/6)

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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!


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Update from Our Fall Laboratory

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.

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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 corner of the tunnel. Note the moisture dripping down the sides!

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Outside

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Inside

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.

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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.