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.
Statistically, February is our wettest month with a 30-year average of just over 5.5 inches, but we have already exceeded that number in the first two weeks, making this a very wet and warm winter thus far.
Nevertheless, our last frost date is typically mid to late March, so we are planning accordingly. In the seed house we are starting cold-hardy crops for transplant soon: collard greens, kale, mustard greens, turnips, beets, lettuce, and spinach. Other crops like carrots, arugula, and parsnips will be direct-sown in the next few weeks. We also started early tomatoes for transplant into the greenhouse in early March.
Meanwhile, with things in danger of washing away, the students are doing some landscape work to help improve the campus and make areas ready for planting flowers and perennial herbs—many of which are culinary or medicinal. In addition to being more beautiful, these accessory plants support the farm in other ways like attracting beneficial insects and pollinators and deterring other pest insects. They also make better use of different parts of the campus, turning more of the land into an active and productive resource rather than just a passive lawn that requires so much maintenance without returning much material benefit.
We began cultivating additional land for crop production last fall, which will add about 33% more growing area. Using the walking tractor, Eric and the students first shaped the new in-ground raised beds before adding soil amendments and compost. Since we are promoting soil health, it is best to have something growing in the beds at all times, so it is important to start growing as soon as possible.
Students planted seed potatoes, which we covered in a layer of hay, and transplanted out collard greens. In some beds they also sowed a cover crop mix for early spring—hairy vetch, field peas, and oats—all to improve soil health and to keep the ground growing before crops are added later in the spring.
We are no-till, but we just tested out a new tool, the tilther. Run by a cordless drill, the tilther is like a baby rototiller, only working the soil to a depth of about two inches. This improves the tilth of the soil by fluffing and smoothing out the soil surface, making it ready to be transplanted into. It also mixes in any amendments, fertilizers, and minor crop residues.
In the greenhouse meanwhile, more seedlings are being started, and the early crop of tomatoes are being moved to larger quarters to allow their roots to expand and grow before they are transplanted to the greenhouse once March arrives.