The last Friday of September I started my day hosting a farm tour for 2017 Master Gardeners of Ohio state conference. It was my second such tour in two weeks and I was, in all honesty, getting a little weary of playing host. I was also humbled and a little nervous to be showing such an esteemed group of growers around my yard. All I could see in the days leading up to the tour were my failed experiments – broccoli that wasn’t flowering and powdery mildew on my squash vines. I was happy to hear their compliments and answer their questions and compliments like how did I kept my basil so healthy, and how bountiful the butternut squash crop was (despite the mildew).
After I said good bye to the tour bus, did some farm chores, and graded a few papers, I drove up to New Albany, OH to check out my friend Bernadett’s homestead. I met Bernadett through various central Ohio Facebook pages and we’ve spent some time together in person attending female farmer meetups, local foods events, and working on a garden project at our children’s school. She had been over the fence a few times but I had never had a chance to see her spot. I am so glad I finally made the drive!
As my touring season ended, it was great to start gathering inspiration for next year from Bernadette.
New Year’s is all about fresh starts. For lots of people this means cleaning up what they eat. Following that tradition, Over the Fence held our first winter harvest salad party today.
After a short, finger-numbing time in the field, we shared a quick bite to eat with some of our most intrepid CSA members. We even sent them home with some goodie bags to keep them on the path to a healthy new year. Hope you find ways to be clean and green in twenty-sixteen!
My freshman year of college, I heard John Robbins speak about his book Diet for a New America(1987). It was my first introduction to the impact our food choices have on the planet. I was already a vegetarian, though I can’t remember why. After hearing Robbins and reading his book, however, I could articulate a clear rationale for giving up meat. Robbins cited quantitative comparisons between the amount of resources it takes to grow a vegetarian versus a meat-based diet. For example, 20 herbivores could live off the same amount of land it takes to feed just one carnivore. He argued fewer people would be starving to death if everyone ate less meat. His observations seem all the more relevant today in relation to current discussions about irrigation in California. The idea that one pound of factory-farmed meat requires 2,500 gallons of water to produce makes those one gallon almonds seem downright sustainable.
I’ve read countless other arguments for eating a vegetarian diet since that talk. I’ve been inspired by folks who have tried to grow a well-rounded diet including Quarter Acre Farmand Shagbark Seed & Mill in Athens, OH. And so it was with tremendous pride that I cooked a pot of chili tonight using beans we grew ourselves. Beans that were fed purely by rain showers.
Last year our friend and CSA member Pam brought us a packet of Scarlet Runner Bean seeds she’d saved from the previous season. She said they would grow pretty vines with bright red flowers (see top of post) the humming birds would coming flying for.
They did. And when they were gone, we gathered the beans and saved them to plant again this season. While we planted the seed beans all along one fence last year, this year we spread them throughout the garden in keeping with our goal of providing invitations for pollinators throughout the farm. The bees, birds, and beans have benefit.
With extra room to roam, the beans are flourishing. Last week Cora shelled a full cup of dried ones that I soaked and cooked to use in the chili in place of kidney beans. See this post from Eat the Weeds and Other Things, Too for more information on harvesting and processing these little gems. We’re looking forward to getting a few more cups this season and sharing seed beans with our supporters next year.
(This post is dedicated to our friends Tim Chavez and Suzanne Csejtey, local masters of solar power.)
I guess I didn’t really check the forecast all that well yesterday morning because I decided to leave our cold frame closed to benefit some seeds I had set to germinate. I wasn’t thinking at all about the sprouts and greens already growing in there. When the temperatures approached 80 degrees, everything baked.
From the overwintered mustard:
To the new sweet pea seedlings.
At first I was really pissed at myself for making such an amateur mistake. But then I sat back and looked at what was in the soil and thought about what could be.
Using the cold frame as a seedbed, not just a tool for growing plants when it’s cold, is a concept I picked up from Eliot Coleman and it works. It’s so much easier to keep a 2 x 4′ bed damp for germination than a 27 foot row. And the seedlings are able to stretch out form the start in the ground as opposed to in a plastic cell. (The space under our grow lights is presently overrun with tomato plants so that’s not an option anyway!)
So, I ripped out everything that was left growing – the aforementioned mustards and some lettuces that had been growing in the basement this winter which I moved out to the frame a month ago but were so root-bound they would never amount to much more than they already were, and made a giant harvest salad.
I added some of the potting soil mix I picked up at the Columbus Agrarian Society and am now using instead of the totally unsustainable coir I was using for seedlings (turns out it is made in Holland from coconut husks grown in Singapore!) and now we’re’m ready to start over again. Spring is all about new beginnings, afterall!
The seasonally-changing sign outside City Folks Farm Shop, our local urban homesteading store, currently reads “Experience the Germination Sensation.” It captures the magic I feel when we see seedlings peaking their heads out of the soil, or in the case of these little guys, out of the coconut husk fiber. So, the only question left to ask, “Are you experienced?”
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
Robert Louis Stevenson
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.