Rural Studio Farm

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!

Dog Days of Summer

The long, hot, busy summer on the Rural Studio Farm is finally starting to wind down toward autumn.

A student uses an oscillating hoe to weed between rows of pinkeye purple hull peas

With several of our recent graduates once again spending their summers here in Hale County, we have been experimenting with the timing and varieties for multiple crop cycles of summer favorites: tomatoes, squash, eggplant, sweet corn, and cherry tomatoes. The Sun Gold cherry tomatoes have been the biggest hit of the summer!

We’ve been able to provide fresh produce for those students working over the summer (with extra to be preserved for the future) and still have some fresh for the students whose semester has just begun. We have also harvested mountains of pinkeye purple hull peas, garlic, onions, zucchini, peppers, melons, butternut squash, and many leafy brassicas.

This summer we added sweet corn and sweet potatoes to the crop rotation (more on these in future posts). The fresh sweet corn was a big success with two crops of fresh juicy corn. The sweet potatoes have also proven to be a great choice because we have been growing them in the greenhouse where few other crops are able to thrive during the long hot summers. They have performed so well that there is no longer any room to walk!

A long shot of the sea of sweet potato vines that has blanketed the inside of the greenhouse in palmate leaves

Autumn On The Farm

Autumn at Rural Studio Farm is in full swing.

A student uses a sprayer to apply foliar fertilizer to growing plants with a good view of the farm

Some of the lingering warmer season crops are still yielding, like eggplant, peanuts, and bell peppers.

Mostly we have been busy planting seeds into soil blocks and direct-sowing with the push seeder. These crops are lettuces, mustard greens, baby brassica greens, carrots, beets, chard, collard greens, rutabagas, broccoli, radishes, spinach, hakurei (salad) turnips, and turnips.

Once the seedlings are ready, we prepare the beds and transplant out all the crops.

We have been reaping great harvests of many of these crops too, with all of Rural Studio’s daily green salads coming straight off the farm.

Now that the weather is beginning to cool, we have also been preparing for winter by sowing fall cover crops to leave in the field for overwintering. This ensures that there is always something growing in the beds, which helps with drainage and compaction and overall soil health. In the spring, these crops will be mowed down, adding good organic matter back into the soil.

Finally, we are also preparing the greenhouse for production over the winter, which is where most of Rural Studio’s food is grown in deep winter.

Peanuts: come shell or high water

Since Rural Studio Farm is a not a commercial farm, we get to grow a wide variety of crops that many other small-scale organic farms might find inefficient to grow, in terms of space and time. Lately, we have been enjoying such a treat: peanuts.

We began peanuts in soil blocks way back in May before transplanting to the field. As they grow, the plants produce little yellow flowers, which then fade and produce a peg, called a peduncle, that pushes several inches underground to produce the tasty little morsels. Typically, they require around four months to mature, but are low maintenance and pest-free, making them a great crop for us to grow during the summer when Eric was without his usual student workers.

A few weeks ago, we dug up the plants and left them to dry in the greenhouse for several days.

Then we separated the peanuts from the plant and took them to kitchen where our cook, Catherine, made some delicious boiled peanuts for our lunches. We got 10 gallons of dried peanuts from about 80 linear feet of plants.

Rural Studio's cook, Cat, boils a large pot of peanuts

The Return of Students to the RS Farm

Students are back on the farm! With masks in place, all 3rd-year, 5th-year, and graduate students have started their early morning rotations on farm duty.

We have been busy harvesting some of the remaining summer crops, like tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplants, watermelon, okra, and black-eyed peas. The peas were grown both as a cover crop and a food crop, which meant that they covered most space in the field.

Once their yields began to drop off, the crop residue needed to be cycled out to add organic matter to the field and to make room for future crops. Traditionally, this is done by tilling the crops under the soil, but because we are no-till, Eric mulched the crops with a flail mower and then covered the areas with a tarp to break down all the organic matter left behind. The root masses were left in the ground to break down naturally, opening the soil for water and aeration, as well as adding a large quantity of organic matter.

A student picks peas into her bucket

Meanwhile, the team has been starting seeds and transplanting seedlings into the field that are fall and winter crops: baby mixed brassica greens, lettuce, collards, kale, beets, turnips, broccoli, rutabagas, and mustard greens.

Finally, students have been direct-seeding out several other crops like hakurei (salad) turnips, radishes, and carrots.