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.
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.
Students always call them soil brownies, and they do look tasty!
Soil blocking, which was developed in Europe and largely popularized in the US by legendary organic farmer, Elliot Coleman, is a practice of starting seedlings in cubes of compressed soil. While Rural Studio Farm still makes use of plastic flats for starting seeds of certain crops, soil blocks eliminate the waste and expense of using plastic containers.
The blocks are made in metal molds from a mixture of soil made here on site at Rural Studio Farm, which makes them more labor-intensive to begin with—and thus might not be suitable for larger scale farms.
However, farm manager Eric has found that, overall, seeds tend to germinate and grow better in blocks, and transplanting soil blocks into the field is faster and easier than having to remove each individual seedling from its tray.
Throughout the past two weeks, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers that were started in 2-inch soil blocks were upgraded to 4-inch blocks to allow the roots to continue to develop before being transplanted to the field once the soil has warmed up more. The 4-inch mold is made with a 2-inch cavity to accommodate such an upgrade.
There are other advantages to soil blocks. As the growing roots reach the edge of a block, they stop growing in what is called “air pruning,” as opposed to wrapping themselves about as they would in a conventional pot or cell. Indeed, as the blocks are transplanted directly into the ground, root disturbance is almost entirely eliminated, meaning that more delicate plants that cannot tolerate root disturbance can be started this way.