Over the Fence Urban Farm


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Early Spring Progress Report

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.

Here’s a quick round-up of what we accomplished.

I started reading up on potato planting and got our potato seed out of the basement and into a sunny spot to sprout…We had such great success with sweet potatoes last year, we’re hoping to get these Satina multiplying.

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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.

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As with any great happy hour, Andrew and Dan dressed up for the occasion.

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Melissa put her nimble fingers to work thinning and transplanting spinach seedlings. (Photo credit: Juilan Haliday)

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Dan and George started pouring concrete footings for the chicken coop! (Chicks are coming May 4th.)

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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.

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Andrew got the irrigation system up and running on the west side beds. He makes it seem so easy. (Photo credit: Juilan Haliday)

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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.

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I tucked everything in for the night. (Photo credit: Juilan Haliday)

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See you next week…


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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.


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What’s in your basket? (Vol. 1, No. 1)

Katie and Melissa helped with this morning’s harvest of greens. So much more fun with friends…

DSC_0228Here was the bounty we found in the field when we pulled up the insect nettings.

DSC_0215And what we brought in.

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I wish I were doing a better job of weighing things, but greens are tough. They come in in bits and pieces, and they don’t weigh a whole lot. So looking at the scale isn’t all that gratifying. I need to learn more about how the professionals bring so much to the farmers’ market each week.

For those of you eating with us at home, here’s a leaf by leaf guide to what’s in your basket this week.

MIZUNA

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SPINACH

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DINO KALE (LACINATO)

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BLUE CURLY KALE

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RED RUSSIAN KALE

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Seedbed

This past fall we were on a tour at Swainway Urban Farm when our pal Milan, from Peace, Love, and Freedom Farm, asked Joseph Swain who inspires him. It was a great question and without hesitation, Joseph cited Eliot Coleman, the guru of Four Season Farming. I was somewhat familiar with Coleman’s work from articles he published in Mother Earth News, but we promptly checked a few of his books out from the library and haven’t looked back.

In Four Season Harvest (1999), Coleman offers advice on sowing seeds and raising seedlings in the coldframe. Knowing full well we are in for a few more weeks of very cold weather, we decided to give his method a try today as temperatures soared above 50. As promised, I picked up a soil thermometer and found the soil was fluctuating between 45-60 degrees for the past few days. Perfect for kale, beets, onions, chard…

With the coldframe already cleared of old growth and the soil smooth, we laid a 2-3 inch blanket (about 1 yard) of Happy Frog Potting Soil over all but the small section where we transplanted some seedlings earlier in the week. We set the seeds down in well marked rows and gave them a drink. And now, we wait.

It used to be if I heard the term “seedbed,” my thoughts turned to performance artist Vito Acconci’s (1972) work of that title. If you don’t know it, look it up. (Just be warned, this work is not appropriate for all readers.) I won’t go into it here except to say, that I have new understanding of the term. These seeds are warm and cozy and we’re going to do all we can to keep them that way.

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[Quick note on the transplants. They seem to be doing okay. We moved a few straw bales that were lying around to the west and southwest sides of the coldframe as a windbreak to help these next last few weeks of winter. The transplants aren’t growing as fast as the seedlings still sitting in the kitchen, but they are holding their own, gaining inner strength and waiting to flouirsh as soon as temperatures stabilize. As soon as the grow lights we got are installed, we’ll move some of the guys on the windowsill under there and then they will really start to take off. Can’t wait!]

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Check out our “true leaves!”


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Sowing Seeds in the Dead of Winter

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
Robert Louis Stevenson

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Like much of North America, we’ve been experiencing record cold temperatures in central Ohio this winter.  This has folks all over town dreaming of warmer days.  And gardens.  We’re doing more than just dreaming. We’re sowing seeds.

The past few years we’ve been planting things earlier and earlier, but this is definitely a new record.

The past 48 hours we’ve been priming a few spinach seeds Jodi picked up at the City Folks Farm Shop seed swap a few weeks back.  We have some nice south-facing window sills in the kitchen we’re going to try to grow them on, but if that’s not enough light, we’ll move them under the grow lights. Next week we’ll plant another round.

There are few things more magical than watching things grow up from seeds.  With the weather as cold as it’s been around here, we could all use the distraction.