harvest

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.

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!

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