Over the Fence Urban Farm

Cooperatively farming small patches of Earth in Columbus, OH


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Quick Hoop Hooray!

 

 

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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.

Hoping to make a journey to Peace, Love, and Freedom Farm this week for a tutorial on venting these mini greenhouses. Thanks in advance, Milan!

 

With another cold snap expected over the next few days, we took things slow and left lots of starts in the cozy cold frame. Just about the best box of jewels we can imagine.

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Farm School Grows On

Put 40 amateur urban farmers in a room with an Extension Educator to talk about vegetable production planning, and it’s bound to get personal. Everyone has a pet product they want to know how to grow better. And so it was Wednesday night at farm school. One person asked why her onions never get much bigger than a golf ball. Another wanted to know what was eating her radishes. I wanted to know how to keep the flea beetles off my arugula.

Jacqueline Kowalski, who also led our session on soil, did a nice job balancing these queries with her prepared remarks about vegetable production planning, tomato production (yes, this was a presentation onto itself – they are that popular!), and plant nutrition. As with all the other sessions, I heard some things I knew before, but from a new perspective, and had my mind opened to new things I’ll need more time to consider and explore.

Jacqueline likes to teach through problems and for this session she presented us with questions we answered by looking up information in the Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalogue. I found myself drifting from the assignments – for example, “You have an order for 500 Wee-B Little, 500 Snowball, and 500 Baby Bear pumpkins. How many plants do you need to grow?”or “What are the best lettuces to grow in the summer?” – to drooling over the season extension supplies featured in the back of the book. I returned to the group consciousness for the answers to our assigned questions and learned some new strategies for reading the seed catalogues and analyzing and selected varieties to grow. Then, when I got home I placed a great big order for row covers and and other supplies that have been on our list through Johnny’s website.

We talked at length about starting seedlings, intercropping, succession planting, crop rotation, and fertilizers. So much interesting and useful information to refer back to and share with you all as the season grows on.  Hard to believe, but next week is the last session of farm school.

 


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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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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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Warmth in Our Hearts & in Our Soil

A few years back, Dan bought me a compost bin for my birthday. It was a bit unconventional as far as gifts go, and I went totally gaga over it. Neither one of us is too particular about holiday gifts and years go by when one or the other of us misses a birthday or anniversary. Valentine’s Day doesn’t even make it on the radar.

But we did work on something together this past week for the farm that seems worth mentioning in honor of this day dedicated to spreading the warmth of love; a heating mat for seed germination. We borrowed the plans from The Vegetable Gardener. Dan did the carpentry, Cora and I ran the drill. The mat will help us raise the temperature of our coco as we start seeds for heat-loving plants like tomatoes and peppers. We’ll be testing it out this weekend on some marigold seeds. Stay tuned.

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