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