Rural Studio Farm

Planting Garlic

The garlic cloves are beautifully arranged for planting

One of the students’ favorite fall-time activities on the Rural Studio Farm is planting garlic.

It is important not to plant the garlic too early, as this makes it more vulnerable to disease and damage from rodents, and not too late either, or else the roots won’t have time to establish themselves before winter. Here in Newbern, the farm team plants our garlic in mid-November. Fall-planted garlic has larger yields than spring-planted garlic.

First, the students split each individual clove of garlic from the heads that were saved from our own garlic harvest back in June. It is important to not bruise the cloves from rough handling and to keep as much of the papery outer coating intact as possible, as it protects the cloves from rotting. Then, all the cloves are placed out in their proper spacing (six inches) before burying them under about one to two inches of soil.

Finally, the students mulched over the top of the newly planted cloves with several inches of hay. The new garlic shoots will push their way through the mulch while weeds are suppressed and moisture is preserved.

Leaf, Stem, Root

The crisp, cool fall mornings are some of the best times of the year to be working at Rural Studio Farm.

Two students take a moment in the field to talk with one another as the dawn casts spectral light across the morning clouds

With the fruits of Summer harvested, the Fall crops of leaves, roots, and stems have become the farm’s focus.

Students and staff can now enjoy fresh green salads from the farm every lunch until the weather becomes hot again.

Full heads of salanova lettuce, both red and green, look beautiful in their neat arrangements within raised beds in the greenhouse in the morning light

In addition to a variety of fresh lettuces, the farm is also producing spinach, baby greens, kale, collard greens, beets, hakurei turnips, radishes, peanuts, turnips, scallions, carrots, mustard greens, sugar snap peas, and snow peas.

Two rows of carrot foliage in the foreground with trellised sugar snap peas in the background

With the next freeze right around the corner, most of the field production is halting for the Winter. To maintain and promote healthy soils, as well as to protect against erosion, the students broadcast a cover crop mix into the beds and winter rye grass into the aisles. It is also a good time to tidy and clean things on the farm so that it looks good while it rests in the cold.

Morrisette house with rows of bright green cover crops planted out in the farm

Sweet potato harvest

Students harvested the first sweet potato crop since the Rural Studio’s farm reboot in 2019.

But unlike previous sweet potato crops, these were grown in the greenhouse. The Farm’s passive solar greenhouse gets so hot and still during the long Alabama summers that it can be difficult to grow many crops in the peak of summer, and sweet potatoes take up so much space that they are difficult to grow in our small, intensively managed outdoor cultivated areas. Growing the potatoes this way solved both difficulties at once!

Sweet potatoes are most often grown from slips, which are small shoots cut from mature sweet potato tubers and rooted. The farm team planted 200 sweet potato slips into the raised beds in the greenhouse on June 7.

In only a matter of weeks the vines from the growing slips swallowed up the greenhouse: filling the aisles, climbing the barrel wall, and bursting through the windows. It was a beautiful transformation of the space that required almost no maintenance all summer long.

After four months, students dug up the new tubers and cleared out all of the vines.

Once dug up, the tubers then needed to be placed in a warm, humid environment in which to cure for about two weeks. During the curing process, the sweet potatoes’ skin thickens somewhat, any wounds or nicks heal over, and the sweet flavor of the flesh concentrates. Not only does this improve the flavor, but it significantly lengthens their storage potential, so students and staff can enjoy sweet potatoes all throughout the winter.

Hello, Goodbye

Rural Studio Farm is a small-scale, organic vegetable production farm run by our farm manager, Eric Ball, who relies on the labor of each and every Rural Studio student who passes through the program. Each year, two new 5th-year students are hired part time to work alongside Eric in co-managing the farm’s operations.

Eric poses with two student workers

With the beginning of a new academic year, it means we must say goodbye to our two former farm workers: Cory Subasic and Madeline Ray. Madeline and Cory were both diligent and hard-working students who, together, managed the operations of the farm and acted as leaders to the other students for several months while our farm manager, Eric, was away on parental leave. Cory, who worked on the Thermal Mass & Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project has since taken a fellowship with Brian MacKay-Lyons in Halifax, Nova Scotia. And Madeline is devoting all her time to finishing up work on the Myers’ Home. Their contributions to the farm were essential, and their presence will be greatly missed.

Two new student workers pose in front of the greenhouse
Jackie (L) and Laurel (R)

We are also excited to have two Project Horseshoe Farm fellows working with us on the farm as part of their community engagement. This will be Maggie Rosenthal’s second year working at Rural Studio Farm, and we welcome Diana Omenge to Hale County!

Fresh Summer Corn

We grew sweet corn for the first time ever on the Rural Studio Farm!

A view of the storehouse between tall rows of corn plants

Throughout the year Chef Cat prepares meals for our students, staff, and faculty several times per week using our fresh produce from the Rural Studio Farm. One of our goals this summer was to provide the freshest and sweetest corn for the meals. Approximately 12 hours after sweet corn is picked, the sugars in the corn kernels begin to convert to starch. To achieve this goal of having fresh and sweet corn, we grew three different varieties that mature at slightly different times, which allowed for staggered harvests over the summer. Cat was also able to process any leftover corn for future meals.

Proper pollination is essential to a good yield. We planted the corn in blocks of at least four rows to encourage more thorough pollination by honey bees.

A nice view of corn rows with tassels

The male part of the corn is called the tassel, and it grows at the top of the plant producing pollen. The pollen must then be transferred to the familiar female silk; each strand of which acts as a tube to transfer a pollen grain to an ovule. Each mature corn kernel represents a successful pollination from tassel to silk to ovule.

Typically, one stalk only produces about one or two (possibly up to four) ears of corn. Corn doesn’t produce as much per square foot as some other food crops, but having fresh organic corn to eat at lunch was a rare summertime treat for our students, staff, and faculty! We will definitely grow corn again next summer. It was absolutely delicious!