Hale County has been scrubbed, painted, and shined twice over this week. The first “Neckdown Week” of 2023 is complete! We spent the week maintaining community projects around Newbern and Greensboro alike. In Greensboro, the Safe House Black History Museum got a fresh coat of paint. The Newbern Firehouse, Bodark Amphitheater, and Newbern Playground were also cleaned and repainted.
One of our biggest tasks for Neckdown Week was building a new set of raised garden beds in the Rural Studio Farm Greenhouse. It took a lot of hands and shovels, but the Farm is now ready for a new planting season. The team also found some surprises hiding in the soil. We took a brief mid-week intermission from diggin’ and paintin’ to help Patriece’s Home team unload some of their roofing material. The projects are still moving right along as we all get our hands dirty!
It was a long week of early mornings. But there was plenty of time for fun (and sometimes, cake) while we took care of this place we call home. Neckdown Week was a perfect warm-up for what’s looking like a great semester. Our students and faculty are ready to really get to work! Follow along to see what spring brings for all of the current projects: Patriece’s Home, C.H.O.I.C.E. House, Rosie’s Home, 18×18 House, and Rural Studio Bathhouse.
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.